Sunday, July 31, 2016

Where big guys ought to be

I'll make my case. Many (perhaps most) will disagree with it, and there are no doubt exceptions to this rule. Still this is my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

If I have a tall kid, unless he has bona fide, full-fledged guard skills, I do not want him playing on the perimeter on offense. I want him down underneath. My reason for this is simple. Three-point shooters are a dime a dozen; big men are scarce. If I have a big man I want him acting like a big man and not trying to steal a job from some poor little guy. So what if the big guy can shoot three-pointers. Almost everyone can do that these days. What a lot of people cannot do is to play down low. I can find a truckload of players who can shoot three-pointers, but quality big men are scarce as hen's teeth, relatively speaking, so if I have any of them, I want them doing what big men do, which is something I cannot find on every street corner.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Big guards vs. small guards

One of the visible differences between teams at our level and those at the money conference level is that they have guys who can play just as well and are just as quick, but are two or three inches taller. That might not make a difference in a given comparison - after all, we did beat Purdue - but on the average it will make a big difference. Last year we started 5-11, 6-1, 6-3 on the perimeter, and that is about average for the Sun Belt level, I would guess.

Stetson Billings

I was intrigued by this young man from the day we signed him simply because of his first name. It has a certain swaggering style about it - something John Wayne might have been called in one of his movies.

Stetson arrived advertised as an outstanding defensive player, and he has been that, plus he has been an above-average rebounder. Certainly he has been no offensive whiz, and sad to say, it is the scorers who get the lion's share of the attention, and fans complain that defensive specialists are somehow sub-par players. (They never seem to notice if the scorers' defense is like a sieve or if they couldn't snare a rebound with a bushel basket.)

Stetson is a fifth-year senior and is part of a large senior class that ought to supply outstanding leadership for the team. Presumably his role will increase somewhat just because of his experience and maturity. In many ways Stetson is the prototypical Trojan: blue collar, just get it done. I have made no secret of the fact that that is the type of player and team that I like.

Friday, July 29, 2016

I would like to see us play

Well, let's start with Memphis. They are one of the strongest programs in our area, and should generate good interest. And why did we quit playing Missouri State? Most years they have a pretty good team. Of course, I would love to see us schedule Louisiana Tech. They would be more-or-less a border opponent, and beating them would be an accomplishment. North Texas would not be a bad team to schedule, either.

Then, looking beyond logical geographic foes, let's sign up Boston College, TCU, St. John's, Rutgers, Washington State, or Missouri. But we had better hurry, because these won't always be the cellar-dwellers in the top conferences.

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!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Biggest step forward

Of the returning players who were active last season, my guess is that Jalen Jackson is going to take the biggest step forward. This is a very talented kid ("kid" compared to my advanced age), and if he can get things in order from the neck up, he should be ready for a big season. He shot for a good percentage across the board, and averaged 8.5 ppg despite playing only 15 minutes/game. He is a senior now, and this is his year.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Interesting Bob Feller info

from Wikipedia

Due to Feller's pitching speed, Lew Fonseca was commissioned by the Office of the Commissioner to pit Feller's fastball against a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in a speed trial. The test was conducted in Chicago's Lincoln Park and required Feller to hit a target 12 inches (300 mm) in diameter, 60 feet 6 inches (18.44 m) away. The motorcycle passed Feller going 86 miles per hour (138 km/h) and with a 10 foot (3.0 m) head start but the ball beat the bike to the target by three feet (0.91 m). Feller's throw was calculated at the time to have reached 98.6 mph (158.7 km/h), and later 104 mph (167 km/h) using updated measuring methods.

Early previewing Coastal Carolina

They were 21-12 last season and 12-6 in conference. They should return two starters. including leading scorer Elijah Wilson, who averaged 13.7 ppg. Lastr year their defense was really outstanding, as they held opponents to 39.4% overall and 30.4% from the arc. Their head coach, of course, is former Auburn and Clemson coach Cliff Ellis.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

PT opening up

Exactly how much playing time is opening up from last season?
Hagins 1074, 30.7 avg/game
Woods 802, 22.9
Isom 649, 19.1
Ruttley 643, 18.4
Green, 145, 6.9

That is a total of 3313 minutes or 98 minutes per game. Given the amount of experience we have returning, that is a lot of minutes up for grab. Competition should be fierce.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Keep the pressure on

I hope and assume we will be picked in the top tier of the SBC this season. We need to keep our expectations high if the program is to take a step forward. Good seasons we have had before, but now we need to elevate our expectations of what a "bad" season will be so that our consistency improves. And I don't think this one will be a bad one.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


One place I do hope to see improvement this year is on the boards. We were OK last season, but no better than that. We have adequate size, but will we have a rebounding mentality? Someone seeking his B.B. degree (Bachelor of the Boards)? Someone who figures the backboard belongs to him?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Enough size

My rule of thumb for sufficient height for a team at our level is to have two players 6-9 or taller. Nothing cast in stone, just a personal measuring rod. We should have three players that size, plus a muscular 6-7 inside banger to boot. So, by my standards at least, we are well set up for the immediate future. What we did not have last year were very many players in the 6-6 to 6-8 range, but the signing of Corbyn Jackson helped there. Plus, we have Maurius Hill, who plays bigger than he is. We are in good shape up front.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sports enemies

Rooting in sports is not nearly as much fun unless you occasionally have a "bad guys" team to root against. You know, "I am for Little Rock and anyone who plays (fill in the blank)."

Friday, July 1, 2016

The article

If any of you have not read it, here is a LINK to the Sports Illustrated article about the Magazine State Champion football team, and especially the Hmong ethnic community that were a key part of it. It is outstanding.

PT harder to come by?

Last season we had ten players who played in at least 30 games and averaged 7 minutes or more, and that does not count Daniel Green, who was injured part of the season. That was a fairly long rotation. I am guessing that Coach Flanigan's substitution pattern might be just a little tighter than that, and so minutes might be harder to come by. Just a guess.