Thursday, October 30, 2014

I am thinking

that Leeper-White-Woods or White-Isom-Woods will be a pretty solid Belt front line.

Stay healthy, stay healthy, stay healthy

Health is the one factor absolutely no one can predict. The Georgia State juggernaut already has been slowed down somewhat by an injury to one of their Big Three players. ULL's prospects definitely would take a devastating blow if their big guy were to get hurt. It is great to have star players, but they have to be on the court to help you.

Maybe we will stay healthy this year. As far as I know, at the moment we look to be in pretty good shape, but that could change at any moment. Last year we had a good bit of injury problems, and they hurt our performance noticeably. Let's hope for the best this time around.

Foreign connections

It is interesting how certain schools in certain sports develop connections to certain foreign countries. We have several Bosnian players on our volleyball team, and our women's golf team has a strong Scandanavian representation. I just noticed that the Troy women's soccer team has four players from England on the roster. I would love to see an article about how these various recruiting connections are established.

What will we do well?

To be a winning team, you have to do several things pretty well, or one or two things exceptionally well. Well . . . I think we will shoot FTs well above the average, but probably not exceptionally well, since Georgia State probably will do better than we will. Our defense should be above average, if Shields can get the intensity from the team that he normally requires. I think our assist/turnover ratio this year should be good, with essentially three point guards who will get lots of playing time. There is no reason we should not be a good 3-point shooting team, although we were not one last year. However, I think that since we have more good options from the arc those who do not produce will be more restricted in their shooting.

We still have things where we need to get better, but I think the 2014-2015 version of the Trojans will have lots of legs to stand on.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Calipari's two platoons

Even at Kentucky there has to be some significant differentiation in the ability of your #1 player and your #10 player. With the two hundred media timeouts per game that we have these days, why would you want to have your tenth player in the game that much of the time, since your best player should be well rested? Most normal college rotations would not even go that deep. And "first man off the bench" sounds way better than "second platoon."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fitting the Shields profile

We have a couple of players this year who fit what has become a common profile for players during the Shields era, those being Maurius Hill and Roger Woods. Stocky, muscular, undersized 3/4 combo types. We have had some pretty good players who fit that description over the years. Maybe the first of them was Co Willis, who was a real warrior.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brooklyn-Iceland connection

What is it with the Brooklyn to Iceland recruiting tie-in? LIU Brooklyn has two Icelanders on their roster, and St. Francis Brooklyn has another. That might make an interesting media story.

And now the waiting

This is always a hard time of the year. We know a little about the team, but not nearly enough. We cannot see most of the practices. We have just about chewed all the speculation to death. It is only a few more days until "real" things happen, but it is SO hard to wait.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Where the volleyball spotlight shines

Volleyball is like other sports in that the spotlight usually shines, not where the greatest worth is, but upon that which pleases the fans most. The spectacular play in volleyball is the kill: the big players up front slamming the ball home for the points. To me, however, the much more impressive aspect of the game are the digs, which require amazing reflexes, and making really skillful sets for the striker. But, as usual, the home run hitters get the press, and the shortstops only get the appreciation of teammates.

Maximize your strengths

A really good coach puts the strengths of his team to the best advantage. Our, no doubt, is our depth on the perimeter. I am not smart enough to know how to put this to use, but Steve Shields should know. Georgia State, for example, will substitute very little for their guards. With all the media timeouts these days, that will be less of a disadvantage than it would otherwise be, but even at that we ought to be able to use it well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We lack a superstar

We were picked to be third in the Belt in the official preseason polls. That shows that the voters have a lot of respect for our team this were, but we do not have any superstars like Georgia State and ULL do. But that is OK. We have always emphasized team play, anyway. It is the sum of the parts that counts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Proud to be a Trojan!

Under the best of circumstances this program would have to fight against the stream. This is a football state, and folks' attention is not going to be turned to basketball until the first of the year; so really, we really only get a half-season in the average public's mind.

But the bigger problem is in our outlook. We suffer from the "At" University Syndrome. The University of Arkansas AT Little Rock. Kind of an ugly step-sister. (The main reason I wish we would banish "Arkansas" from all our uniforms and logos and just let it be "Little Rock.) As long as that "at" is there we are being reminded by the Powers That Be to keep in our place. One reason older fans love Mike Newell so much was that he had a little "in your face" swagger, which is what it will take from those in the entire department for our program to be successful in terms of establishing its own identity in this State That Oinks.

I like what the Interim AD is doing relative to student involvement. We need to get the entire student body away from that old walk-on campus mentality. "This is MY university, and I am proud of it," is what the we need to get the students thinking.

We need to do as much as we can to get T-Shirts, bumper stickers, license plates, etc. into the hands of students and local fans. (Preferably these would emphasize the Little Rock instead of the Arkansas.) Whether a particular team is winning or not, we need to get the student body as a whole and that portion of them that are sports fans in particular thinking positively. Proud to be a Trojan!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When good players sign with slow teams

I love it when top tier players sign with teams that play at a slower pace. ESPN's #39 recruit just committed to Virginia, who are stigmatized for their deliberate pace.

Balance does not naturally occur

Water flows downhill, even if only gently. Even in Kansas there are rivers. So, purely for the sake of illustration let us suppose that Mareik is the real deal and our starters turned out to be Josh, Ben, Roger, Mareik and James. Good lineup. All of those would be scorers. But still they probably will not all score double figures, because the scoring load is going to drift toward certain players. Some of it will be how opponents react: they are going to put their best defenders on what they perceive to be our biggest threats. Second will be just the chemistry of the team, which will in itself force some players to the forefront. James is not a passer, and he is going to have to be a rebounder. If Josh were to be our main point guard (very unlikely), he would have to be worrying about those duties, not just scoring. The ebb and flow of team play is constantly changing, and because of that it will not and cannot stay perfectly flat.

Some teams have lots of double-figure scorers because they play at a fast pace and there are lots of points to go around. That will not be our case. I think we will have three players in double figures, and possibly even four, depending on the mix. But not five.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Moser/Shields era has not produced a lot of 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.


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.


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.


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".



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.


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.

Ricky Davison 668006

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.


Monday, October 13, 2014


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.


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.

Mareik Isom 818234

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.


John Fowler

Thursday, October 9, 2014


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.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Will we still be blue collar?

In the last decade or so this team has built its reputation and identity as a hard-nosed blue-collar team. With the new talent we have brought in, that may be changing somewhat on the offensive end, and that probably is a good thing. However, it remains to be seen if we will still have that hard edge of intensity on the defensive end. It is possible to play faster and looser on offense and still be brutally physical and intense on defense? We shall see - but that is what we need to do.

How big is the Georgia State gap this year?

They won the regular season by FIVE games last season - totally blew away everyone else. (They got caught in the tournament, but tournaments prove who is hottest, not necessarily who is best.) This season they have THREE money conference players. However, they lost two starters and several reserves off last year's roster. What does that tell us? Will they be 50% better with 50% more high level players. Not likely, although it is not inconceivable that they could be significantly better. The chemistry issue might have to be addressed, but the talent is overwhelming enough that they can endure some of that.

Fast start - this year especially

We have the talent to make some noise this year, so it is even more important than usual for us to get off to a fast start so that our confidence is established. Beating BYU would be a definite upset, but we at least need to play well and show that we belong on the same court with them. That is our only opportunity for a (somewhat) high-profile win in non-conference play, so we need to win most of the rest of them. And there are some solid teams on our schedule where wins would get the attention of people who really follow college basketball. We, at least, need to think we are pretty good, and have some wins as evidence, when we head into conference play, because we start off with the predicted top two teams on the Belt.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A big-time talent in Little Rock?

Sometimes high D1 talent surfaces on lower level teams. It happens every year. Fish was not highly recruited out of high school, but look what he accomplished in the NBA. Kenneth Faried went to an OVC school. Just two examples. So every team is watching and hoping that a big-time player will emerge on their roster. We are no different. James, Josh, Mareik? Or maybe someone else? Will someone emerge into the limelight this season and start being mentioned when the national sites do their periodic "good players at lower levels' articles? That might be all it takes to make a pretty good team into a really good team.

Monday, October 6, 2014

We need to get Ben Dillard on camera a lot

He is a wonderful face for the team. Poised. Thoughtful comments. Presents himself well.


Where A&M has other teams beat

Texas A&M has yell leaders. They get the crowd involved. As opposed to cheer leaders whose main function evidently is to look nice. (And we do not even have cheerleaders any more,)

One more time - Shields can't play everyone

Steve's player strategy over the last couple of years of giving almost everyone significant minutes has paid off in that now we have a deep and experienced team. But we are not preparing for the future any more. This year we are picked to be one of the better teams in the league, and we have to get it done - NOW. So Steve has to keep his best players on the floor the maximum minutes in which they can play effectively. And now it is not the players' necks on the line for continuing scholarships: now it is his neck on the line for a continuing job. No Mr. Nice Guy this year, Coach.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

It would be nice to strike early

This is not our year, logically. It should be next season when all these juniors are seniors. However it certainly would be nice to strike a year early, wouldn't it?

In order to benefit from depth

In order to benefit from depth you have to use it. Otherwise it is only like a spare tire. Since Shields emphasizes defense, we may be able to turn up our defensive intensity to the High marking, and keep throwing players into the fray. The problem with that is that you take players out of any rhythm they may have found by running them in and out.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Calculating your chances

You know who you lost and how good they were. You know who you return and how good they were, and you factor in some degree of improvement. So far, so good. You know how good your recruits were in another context, but factoring in how good they may be here is much more difficult (unless they are transfers). You figure you will have some injuries or off-court issues, but you cannot factor those in because you do not know for sure they will happen. With all that, you add a pinch of gut feel, and let fly with your prediction.

This year's team has been relatively easy to predict (for better or for worse) because we have ten returning players and one recruit who has played a year in D1.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Defending with shorter players

In this era of the 3-point shot, few people worry very much about team height on offense, since the rules tilt the table away from big men so drastically. However, on the defensive end, it is more of a factor. The goal is still at ten feet, and players who are taller and have longer arms have a built-in defensive advantage. Still, what is more difficult is not necessarily impossible. Wes Unseld played center in the NBA at only 6-7. Charles Barkley was only 6-6.So, it can be done; you just have to learn how and work at it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Is Woods the key?

As always, there are a lot of things that have to happen in order for this team to reach its potential. (That is true of anyone, even Kentucky's Rent-a-Title bunch.) However, it is looking more and more as if Roger Woods may be the biggest factor. With him at the 3 spot, depending on the lineup, we could have bona fide double-figure scoring threats at every position. We will not want to use that combo all the time, but just having it as an option is something we have rarely had in the past.

Having to lengthen our abbreviations

Last year we could write ASU and GSU and it was clear who we meant, With the addition of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, however, we will have to come up with something else in order to be specific.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I like our seniors

Smith, Dillard, Leeper. They are no-nonsense, get-it-done type players. Not much flash. No foolishness. Just the sort of guys you like to have as leaders on a team.

Remember the old Cajun rosters?

They were filled with middle-sized players who were very versatile. Six of the 13 scholarship players on our roster are from 6-4 to 6-6. I wonder if that is by design.

Joe must teach James to defend without fouling

Because of our lack of size, James White is probably the player we can least afford to have in foul trouble. Because he is our leading returning shot blocker (and very athletic), he is going to feel some responsibility to defend the rim. That is good to a point, but we cannot afford for him to get past that point. So, Coach Kleine is going to have to work hard at teaching James how to defend aggressively without fouling, and that is a fine line.

Who will cause doubleteams?

The biggest advantage the offense has is that of reaction time. They know what they are going to do next and the defense does not, and once the offense moves the rules of basketball are all with them. Because of this, defenses take a real chance when they doubleteam, because the second player at some point will have to return to his primary assignment, and that will put him a step and a split second late.

Which of our players will force teams to have to doubleteam him? James White is the first one that comes to my mind. If he is very active underneath, teams will have to react, and then Advantage Trojans.