Monday, October 20, 2014

Moser/Shields era has not produced big numbers

Big individual totals have been the exception rather than the rule since the year 2000. There have been a few. Laverne Smith scored 36 points in 2000, and Brandon Freeman had 37 in 2004 and 38 in 2005. In rebounding, we had the privilege of watching Rashad Jones-Jennings, who had four efforts of 20-plus, including the all-time record of 30.


Freeman

Good schedule this year to peg the team

Last year we had had too many games that we either couldn't win or couldn't lose. This year's non-conference slate looks a lot more like the Sun Belt will be. The only team that might be beyond the Belt is BYU, but we shall see how that goes. The rest of them should at least be in the ballpark of SBC teams somewhere along the ladder. The advantage, of course, is that we will know a lot better how good we really are before we hit conference play.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

We should be good in tight games

As of the beginning of this season, we will have the #5 and #10 career FT% shooters in school history - Ben Dillard and Josh Hagins, respectively. That makes me feel pretty confident about close games, especially when we can throw in Gus Leeper, who is a very good FT shooter for a big man. In fact, the lowest percentage by a player who will be returning this season was .609 by Maurius Hill, which, while it is not particular good, is far from some of the awful percentages we have had in the past.

The familiarity advantage

Leeper 4 yrs
Dillard 3 yrs
White 3 yrs
Osse 2 yrs
Hagins 2 yrs
Billings 2 yrs

These are the players who have had multiple years in the program. We talk about the experience factor and the maturity factor, and those are very important; and we have a lot of both of them this year. However, there is one other factor, and that is the number of years that players have played together on the same team under the same coach. Each year playing together in the same system lets players get to know each other, know their habits, know how they react, coordinate their timing. If they mesh well enough, they soon begin to function like the wheels in a watch. Maturity and experience can help this process along, but it will not finally happen until players actually have played together over a period of time.

If and when this condition occurs, when players know each other and are functioned like a well-oiled machine, it can sometimes overcome superior talent. There is no way to know if this year's Trojans will have that sort of instinctive timing and teamwork, but the elements are there. For instance, suppose this lineup is in the game: 1-Hagins, 2-Dillard, 3-Billings, 4-White, 5-Leeper. Those guys have been playing together for at least two years, and three of them have played together for three years, at least in practice. They know each other, and that goes a long way.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A nice mixture

If we need muscle, we have Gus and Maurius and Woods, and maybe Kemy if he gets healthy. If we need lightweight agility, we have several options. Nice mix. We don't have much height on the team, but we do have several players who are sturdy-looking.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Back to the rebounding question

Josh Hagins is a very good-rebounding guard. He will get lots of minutes; it would not at all surprise me to see him lead the team in minutes played. And on what Shields has described as a weak-rebounding team (at least pre-season), a guard who helps solve that problem will only make himself even more valuable.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lou Costello played basketball?

According to Wikipedia:

He attended School 15 in Paterson, NJ, and was considered a gifted athlete. He excelled in basketball and reportedly was once the New Jersey state free throw champion (his singular basketball prowess can be seen in Here Come The Co-Eds (1945), in which he performs all his own tricky hoop shots without special effects). He also fought as a boxer under the name "Lou King".

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Patrick Ewing played four years

This man played four years of college basketball?! Can you imagine that today? How good was he? Well, over his career he averaged 15.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, shot an unbelievable 63.5% from the field, and averaged 3.4 blocks per game.

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One thing has to change

These days it is hard to win much if you cannot defend the 3-point line. Last season we allowed opponents to shoot 35% and lost 17 games. (We only shot 32.5%.) That ratio needs at least to flip-flop. My personal goal is always to hold the opposition to under 33%.

Leeper - an overlooked key?

Particularly with the new guidelines implemented on defense last year, Gus Leeper may suffer from a lack of quickness. Thus there may be times when he will not be the player to have in the game.

However, even if a little slower afoot, Gus brings a lot to the table. He is obviously very intelligent, is our most experienced player, is bull-strong, and he makes free throws. Those are all good qualities to have in a post player.

Gus is quiet, but do not overlook him, because he will get his minutes in his spots.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lack of info dampens expectations, increases hope

When a team has several recruits, especially if any of them need to fill important roles, it is always a little difficult for fans to get too confident simply because we do not really know anything about them. Oh, we have stats at a lower level, and we have the gushy optimism of coachspeak, but we are not sure how good they will be. So we temper our optimism with mental asterisks: "IF he is as good as we think he might be." Lack of information dampens expectations.

On the other hand, ignorance is bliss. "He may be a bust, but WHAT IF he turns out to be something special. What if he plays over his head and is one of those kids who significantly over-achieve?" That does not happen very often, but it does happen. A Jones-Jennings leads the nation in rebounding. A Matt Mouzy turns walking on into a solid career. A lightly-recruited Derek Fisher becomes an all-time great. I does happen. It has happened. Sometimes the surprise player has little to go with him, as was the sad case with JJ, but every once in a while he is that final piece to an exceptional team. Who could have predicted that the 1986 Trojans would vault from a 4-9 start to their classic victory over Notre Dame at least partially because a guard named Paul Springer was inserted into the starting line-up? It does happen. We not know for sure how good the recruits are, but that lack if info allows us to hope.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Great Ricky Davison Mystery

In the 2009-2010 season, guard Ricky Davison had the single hottest 3-point shooting season in Little Rock history. He was a sizzling 36 of 70 (51.4%) from the arc. (The closest anyone else has come was Nick Zachery in 2000-01 at 46.6%.) Davison only started seven games that year, averaging 14.8 minutes per game. While he was in there, however, he made his shots at a torid rate.

What is curious is that the next year Davison did not return. That seems strange: the best shooting in school history, and there was not a curtain call. He played for North Alabama the next season, where he was First Team All-Conference and averaged 16.5 points per game. Probably we will never know why he did not return, but those of us who were fans during that season will not soon forget it.

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No fear

I am scared of Georgia State, but I surely do hope that our team is not. NO FEAR! was a decal you used to see on car windows. That is the attitude we need. You cannot win with doubt in your mind. I look at GaState and I see all those glamor recruits, all those money conference players, and I ask myself, "How can we possibly beat them?" But if the team thinks that, we have lost already.

No fear, Pappy, no fear! Trust your Trojans.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Rebounding

Shields says we are not a good rebounding team at this point, which is not surprising given our lack of team size. Last year we were 6th of ten in offensive rebounding and 2nd in defensive rebounds. So, we were a better-than-average rebounding team. However, we lost our leading rebounder in Will Neighbour (#5 in the conference), so that will hurt. And we are replacing Will with players not nearly his size and without his experience. However, James White was #11 in the conference, and will be one of the leading returning board men. As has been pointed out many times, rebounding is less about height and more about positioning, timing and rebounding. We just have to instill a culture of getting it done.

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The engine

To win, you have to have talent, you have to have discipline and you have to have motivation. Our talent level is as good as it has been for at least a decade. Shields' teams generally have had the discipline, to his credit.

The motivation, however, has to come from within the roster. Someone has to be a cheerleader and someone has to be the enforcer - positive and negative motivation. I think we have the former; J. T. Thomas seems to fit that role, and maybe others as well. Good enforcers are harder to find, because they generally are not the rah-rah type. They are quieter, and blunter when there is a need for it. They are the ones who do not allow retreat, who stop sloppy play, who "by main force and obstinance" will not allow the team to panic or get soft when the going gets tough. I do not know who that player(s) will be for us, but we will have to have one if we are going to be really good.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Where Mareik will play

The roster lists him as G/F, which typically means a swing man or 2/3, or in rare cases a 2/3/4. I am guessing that because of his size Isom is the latter. It is not likely he will be at the 2 unless we get into foul trouble, but having him at the 2 would allow us to play small at another position.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Competition everywhere (almost)

I figure James White's position is the only one where there logically will be no competition for the starting position. There could be some question as to where he will play. If someone makes a strong statement that he deserves to start at the 4 or the 5, then James probably will be in the other spot. Put another way, the competition will be for the "other" big man spot, wherever that is.

The competition for the other four starting spots should be fierce. At each of them there are at least two very capable candidates. The competition will be real enough that I personally would not at this time venture a guess as to will be in each spot at the start of the season. And that is a good thing.

We are a small team

Even if Mareik Isom is really 6-9, this is a very short team. We have only three players over 6-6, and only four over 6-5. Granted that some of the shorter players are husky, still they are short. It would be interesting to know if this was by design, or because we did not get some of the taller players we had wanted.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The face of Trojan basketball

To most of the current generation of long-time Little Rock fans, Derek Fisher is the face of Trojan basketball. He is the Trojan who went on to accomplish the most in the pros, and is by far our best-known player in the sports world at large.

However, Fish was before my time as a fan. Ironically, I climbed on board the Trojan Train in 1999-2000, their worst year since the '66-'67 season. So, I do not have any memories of the player who currently sits third in career points, first in free throws made, second in assists and second in steals.

The two faces that are burned in my mind as the representation of Trojan basketball are those of Rashad Jones-Jennings and John Fowler. Neither was phenomenally gifted, but both came to Little Rock via the juco route, got a chance to play Division 1 basketball, and made the most of it. JJ's story is epic, of course - the player who was not even allowed to walk on at Tennessee State but pushed his way up the basketball ladder by pure grit and determination. Fowler was the prototypical player of the Moser/Shields era, who has come to represent hard-nosed defense.

The two photos below are my favorites of these two great Trojans: JJ with that warrior look, ready to rip down another rebound, and Fowler locked in on the opponent like radar.

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Jones-Jennings


John Fowler

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ownership

To get fan interest up we have got to get them to take "ownership" of the team; we have to get them to think, even subconsciously, that the Trojans are "my team" or even "one of my teams." Fans have to "buy into" or invest in the team in some way or other - money, emotion, or even sincere casual interest. They have to have, even in the backs of their minds, some vested interest in the Trojans' success.

How to accomplish this will take a better mind than mine, especially if we have no money to spend. I still say a billboard on a main highway that reads, "Little Rock's Team," would be a great move, because that is precisely what we want local people to think. But there are probably a dozen good, relatively inexpensive ways to move in that direction. The PR folks just need to set their minds to it and show a little creativity. There seems to be a new optimism in the athletic department these days. Perhaps what budget cannot accomplish enthusiasm can.

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