Thursday, July 28, 2016

Marcus Johnson, Jr.

What a find this kid was last year! I expected that he would be good, but not in the way he was. He had been an outstanding point guard in juco, but we already had a point, so he just moved over and became an outstanding shooting guard. All he did was to tie for the second-best all-time season 3PT% in school history, behind only  Ricky Davison's unbelievable season in 2009-10. He averaged 12.5 ppg on a team that did not usually score at a high level.

So how does Johnson improve on last year? It won't be  easy. Shooting at the same percentage is not very likely, but he just might be taking more shots if the team plays at a little faster tempo and the main scoring burdens falls on him, and that probably will be a good thing if he takes good shots. His assist/turnover ratio could use some improvement, even for the #2 spot.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rooting for Kim Anderson

I do not follow Missouri basketball, but I am sort of rooting for Anderson to succeed. He inherited a royal mess from his predecessor, and he will be under his third AD in three years. There is no telling what the new boss will do, but I am hoping Anderson makes it.

Golf on radio?

Golf is a made-for-TV sport, but one would not think it would work on radio. However, I listened to the third round of The Open this year on satellite radio, and it was great drama. First off, the announcers did a great job, and the back-and-forth competition with Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson was made to order for them as they built the tension verbally. Great fun!

Arlington's advantage in rebounding

I do not advocate the team rebounding concept, although many schools use it very successfully. If perimeter players are down low trying to rebound, that puts you at risk when defending against fast breaks. Also, it is difficult to start a classic fast break if your guards are not releasing.

Arlington is a case in point. They are totally dominant on the boards: 43.7 per game to 35.3 for opponents. Two of their players, Kevin Hervey and Jorge Bilbao, average 9.8 and 7.1, respectively. When you have a couple of guys like that cleaning the boards, it cuts a lot of slack for the other players. How much they use it, I could not say, but that at least gives them the opportunity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lis Shoshi

Certainly Lis was one of our surprises last year - both on the good and not-so-good side of the ledger. He came in advertised as a dominant rebounder, but we never saw that. Decent, but not dominant. He did not come in as a major three-point threat, and he almost got there. I have very mixed emotions about that. I am happy to get scoring wherever it can be found, of course, but three-point shooters grow on almost every tree these days; kids who are 6-11 do not. I sort of want my big guys down where they can do what the 6-2 kids cannot.

Be that as it may, Lis had a very solid season. All-in-all, it was everything we could have hoped for. Now his task is to translate "solid" into "dominant." In order to do that, the first thing he is going to have to do is put on some weight. Another 15-20 pounds of muscle would be wonderful. Statistically, I would love to see his rebounding numbers move up several notches, but that may depend upon the role Wes has for him. With the new guys available, we may not need as much rebounding from him.

I do not think there is any doubt that the upside for Lis is tremendous. He has not been playing basketball that long, and after all, last year was his first at the D1 level. An All-Belt season would not surprise me.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Glue guys

Every team needs to have a glue guy. You know, those hard-working kids who score a little, rebound a little, play defense always, play good fundamentals, and who are always causing havoc with the opposition by things that do not make headlines. They never have big stat numbers in any one column, but they spread numbers all over the stat sheet. They are not after the glory; they just want to win.

John Fowler was a prototypical glue guy. Co Willis was one. Alex Garcia-Mendoza probably fit the bill. So did Leroy Isler. Maurius Hill and Stetson Billings probably would qualify on our current roster. We have had a number of them. In fact, with the hard-nosed style for which the Trojans have become known, they have been pretty much essential to our success.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Oliver Black

To me, this is the most intriguing new player for this upcoming season. He put up nice numbers in high school, but not more than you would expect from a 6-9 kid who is reasonably athletic. He did average 15.8 minutes per game at Mississippi State as a true freshman, and that does tell us something. His numbers were not staggering. He averaged just 1.8 ppg and 2.4 rpg, but shot 48.9% overall. The fact that they kept using him tells us something about the fact that he was producing in the areas they where they required production from him - probably mainly defense. He was fourth on the team in offensive rebounds and blocks.

Black has had a year to learn his teammates and the system. Call it a gut feel, but I think this guy is going to have a sterling career in Little Rock. And the nice thing is that we should have him for three years. If he has any ability and work ethic at all, he ought to leave here as one of the more accomplished big men we have had in recent years.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


How to define the "class" is problematical, but I'll take the practical approach: it consists of the players who be available to play for the first time. If you take it that way, this is an outstanding group. Here is who we lost: Woods, Green, Hagins, Ruttley. Or, put numerically, a combo guard, a swing man who could play point, a 3/4 forward, and a big man. You don't plug the holes left by seniors with true freshmen, but you can say that help is on the way. Is it?

Watkins, Black, Corbyn, Pippins, Jones, Goldman

Hopefully, Watkins can come as close to filling the point guard situation as anyone we might have found. Throw in Johnson, Burns and Pippins, and we should be in good shape there. Job done.

Ruttley's versatility will only be replaced by committee, and that is likely what will happen. Physically, Jones is the closest match from the recruits, but Billings/Hill/Jackson likely will get most of Ruttley's minutes. This spot really was already covered this year without recruiting. Next year is another story, but hopefully Jones is the man we needed.

With the departure of Woods we lost our only reliable inside scorer, and that is a problem. Neither Black nor Corbyn come in advertised as prolific scorers, but they should help some. Goldman might help a little, but that is a lot to expect from a true freshman big man, even if he has good skills. Job only partially done.

Green never got to play much, but he provided a space-filler in spots. Black and Corbyn should easily handle his role.

Grade: B
Job pretty well done by the staff, but some question marks left inside.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Maurius Hill

For some reason, when I think of Maurius Hill, I think of Columbus Willis. Co was ten pounds heavier, but they were pretty much look-alikes physically. Furthermore, they had the same style of play. Both were essentially undersized power forwards who made things happen through hard work and good fundamentals. Hill is one of those players who gets little credit, but who does a lot of the little things that help a team win. Don't look at the stat sheet expecting to find his value to the team, but the players and staff will know it.

Hill averaged more rebounds per minute played than Roger Woods did, and just a tick less than Lis Shoshi. So, the coach could throw him into the fray and know that even though he was somewhat "vertically challenged" for his position, the team would not give up anything on the boards. Also, although he has not shot from the arc a great deal, he is averaging 33% from there for his career, which certainly is respectable, so he exactly fills the bill as a swing forward.

Perhaps some of the minutes vacated by the departing seniors will fall to Maurius, I hope so. He has been an effective role player for three years. Maybe he can go out with a little bigger role. One thing for sure: we are going to miss his broad, infectious grin when he is gone.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The dislike of Steve Shields

I have never understood the almost visceral dislike of Steve Shields by some of the Trojan fans. Certainly he is not the best coach we ever had, but to read some of the comments I have heard, one would almost think he went about punching elementary school children on their noses or denying Americans of some basic right. Little Rock has had eleven 20-win seasons, and he coached two of them. The Trojans' 23 wins in 2009 stand tied for the fourth-most in program history. And, by far the most important point to me, Shields evidently ran a clean program, free of controversy and things that could have given a black eye to the program. His players usually represented the school well. He had a team you could urge your grandchildren to root for without fearing that you would have to retract the statement later.

Shields stayed a little past what he should have because he was protected by the AD of the hour, but that was not his fault. He is not our greatest coach, but he was a decent coach and apparently a decent guy and he at least deserves to be remembered with fondness instead of vituperation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hollywood lost an opportunity

Back in my high school and college days I followed track and field pretty closely. German runner Harald Norpoth was usually described as "cadaverous," which was fairly accurate. There was not a spare ounce of flesh on him. I have thought that Hollywood lost an opportunity to produce a movie about an escapee from a concentration camp who later makes good in the sports world. Norpoth could have played the lead role admirably - at least from a visual standpoint.

Norpoth actually was a very good runner, winning the silver medal in the 5000 meters at the 1964 Olympics, and setting the world record at the difficult and seldom-run 2000 meters distance.

Jalen Jackson

He was a 3-star recruit out of high school, a top-150 recruit, and yet he landed at UCA. As a true freshman at UCA he averages 9.8 ppg and shoots 50% from the field, and yet he leaves there and goes to a juco in Florida. He leads that team in scoring while they win the national championship, and yet the best offer he can get is in Little Rock. Here at LR he has a pretty good year after getting suspended for an unspecified issue.

Jalen Jackson's career has been one of unfulfilled potential. It is obvious that the ability is there.  From the neck down he is an outstanding talent, but he is down to his last chance. On the positive side we hope he finally will put it all together and become the player he can; he would not be the first player who matured late in his career. On the other hand is the spectre of a locker-room headache for a first-year head coach, one who puts a crimp in whatever chance we might have had to be really good. I don't think Jalen is a make-or-break player for us this season (thankfully we are too deep for that), but an honest effort on his part would make things a lot easier.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

David Thompson

I still say he was the most exciting college basketball player I ever saw. The guy absolutely exploded into the air!

Why developing players still matters

Wisconsin redshirt sophomore Ethan Happe was a 3-star coming out of high school. A nice prospect, but nothing special at the Big Ten. According to the Verbal Commits website, the only schools besides Wisconsin that offered him were Green Bay and Milwaukee. He did not even play his first year, because he was behind POY Frank Kaminsky, but his redshirt year was time well spent. What did he do this past season, his first at the D1 level? He only averaged 12.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg playing against some of the best big men in the country. This is not a 5-star, this is a 3-star. This is a kid who could not even make the active roster his true freshman season. This is a kid that now every coach in the country would give his eye  teeth to have on his roster.

Developing players does still matter. Raw talent is not everything.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The tyranny of time in sports

In one sense, I prefer sports such as baseball and tennis in which the clock plays no part at all. In timed sports, the clock is a tyrant. It does not matter if you were ahead early; it does not matter if you might have surged ahead later on. It does not matter if you led for 99% of the game. The only moment that counts is when the clock expires. The clock is all-powerful.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Home schedule weak, but interesting

Central Baptist
Pine Bluff

Except for Tulsa, there is not much in our non-conference schedule to excite the basketball fan. However, with the exception of Idaho, all the opponents are fairly local and for that reason alone have some interest.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Truly an international event

United States
South Africa
Northern Ireland
South Korea

Those are the nationalities represented among the top 27 scores mid-way through the third round of The Open.

This team's weaknesses

Unless we improve in rebounding in rebounding, that will be a soft spot, although I am hopeful we will make strides there with Black and Corbyn coming in. But we still have it to do; names on a roster never pulled down a board. Our offensive rebounding in particular was weak last year.

Similarly, our point guard situation has to be proven yet, and it will be quite an accomplishment if it does not take a step backward after the year Hagins had.

We did not really have many glaring weaknesses last year, so what we might have this year will depend on how well we replace themissing parts and get the new players to meld with the veterans.

Friday, July 15, 2016

This team's strengths

We should be a good 3-point shooting team, with Johnson and Osse returning and a good supporting cast. Obviously, maturity will be a strength; this team ought not to be easily panicked, since many of them have been on the big stage. Oddly enough, our size should be unusually good. We could put up a front line of 6-11, 6-9, 6-6, with 6-9 and a husky 6-7 on the bench.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Good for Wil Myers

I saw Wil Myers bat in the All-Star game last night, and it was very refreshing. He did not use batting gloves! None of the silly preening and adjusting the gloves before every pitch that you see even
Little Leaguers doing these days, more like they are in a fashion show than a ballgame. Just hit the ball!