Contributed by Tom A:
Finally, a Bluenanza that really hit the mark. After a rocky ending to last season and the loss of 3 core players, there was a real air of suspense to see the new guys and what was coming back. In recent years we’ve had some new guys that didn’t live up to the advance billing (Curtis Wilkinson and Anthony Johnson) or that weren’t quite ready for the D1 stage. And the conference competition, despite the loss of Belmont, is stronger and deeper than ever, with experienced, quality, well coached teams at Mercer, USCU, FGCU and UNF.
But this year, the Bluenanza left no doubt that the Bucs have talent on the floor. At guard, the returning guys are ready to go. Sheldon Cooley looked like he’s ready to pick up where he left off the last 15 games of last season, where he hit 15 of 33 for 45% from 3. Marcus Dubose meanwhile was masterful, slashing and shooting with confidence. I think that this year’s talent will remove a little of the pressure on him to be perfect from the field, and will allow him to let the game come to him and be a little more relaxed about his play. When he’s playing with this kind of confidence, he’s remarkable.
The real head turner of the returning guards was Jarvis Jones. On a very athletic squad he may have the best vertical leap of all, and flashed it to good effect in the slam dunk contest, especially in a whirling 360 reminiscent of Justin Tubbs. More importantly he flashed it on the floor where he was not content to hit catch and shoot 3’s but slashed to the basket. He seemed really fired up by the challenge of young shooting guard Mario Stramaglia. In a scrimmage where defense was not exactly a priority, Jones climbed all over Mario. And when Mario hit a 3, Jones would come right back and go for one himself. If Jarvis can play with this kind of athletic fire, he could be a revelation this year. Hopefully he can bring it every night, since consistency was a problem last year.
The ASun is loaded with quality guards this year, from Langston Hall at Mercer, to Torrey Craig at USCU, Parker Smith and Jerron Granberry at UNF, and a fleet of them at FGCU (Sherwood Brown, Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer). But the Bucs could be fielding one of the best front court rotations of all in Cooley, Jones and Dubose. Pity that we won’t be seeing Jarvis in action till December.
And we haven’t even mentioned the new guys at guard. Petey McClain certainly showed the speed to blow by people and get to the rim. He can penetrate and finish, or pass off. We’ll need to see more about his shooting and defense. We’ll need to see what he can do against heavy defensive pressure. Mario Stramaglia had to battle Jarvis for everything, but that rivalry can only help. He’s got surprising leaping ability, muscle and a work ethic that guarantees that he will only improve with experience.
In the frontcourt, Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, aka KGG, has offensive skills made to order for a freelance scrimmage session, and he did not disappoint. At a big 6’5” and at least 250 pounds, he looks like a right tackle turned loose on the basketball court. But a right tackle with mad basketball skills. He could power to the hoop and throw down with either hand like Kevin Tiggs, pull up without hesitation and knock down a three, thread the needle with a bounce pass to Lukas Poderis from just past midcourt, hit Poderis with a wrap around pass in the post. This guy has got a really high basketball IQ – he’s a smart player. And he’s got other weapons in his arsenal that he didn’t even bother to show, like the clever step backs and fall aways featured on his highlight reel. What can you do with a guy who can power past you, using his big body to clear space…, or step back and fall away if you play him for the drive? And who can hit the open man if he’s double teamed? This guy will be a godsend for perimeter shooters like Dubose as defenders try to collapse on him. And for the cherry on top, Murry calls him perhaps the teams’ best defenders – quite a compliment on any team that’s got Sheldon Cooley. Although defense wasn’t exactly at a premium last night. KGG will be worth the price of admission any night he takes the floor for the Bucs.
Hunter Harris looked much as advertised at a rangy, powerful 6’7”, 220. He can run, jump and play with energy and enthusiasm. Murry once called him “a wild deer running in the field”. Maybe so, if your deer spends a lot of time in the weight room and isn’t afraid to muscle his way into a crowd. We’ll want to see how he can match up against, say, 6’9” 260 Adam Pegg , or 6’10” Daniel Coursey. We’ll also want to see how he adjusts to the offense, and ETSU’s tricky combination of zone defenses.
Lukas looks in great shape and stronger than ever. Hopefully he’ll benefit from the added muscle of Harris and KGG in middle, drawing the other side’s big man. We’ll want to see him playing with energy and abandon. Likewise with John Walton, who flashed his athleticism in a couple of nice moves to the hoop.
Then there was Lester Wilson, who clearly put his redshirt year to good use. “The Action Figure” is even bigger, stronger and more athletic than last year, with athleticism and speed that seems effortless. This is a guy who is still developing, but looks about ready to explode with potential. Give him the playing time and encouragement, and he should be something memorable.
The scrimmage setting does not favor players without a flashy offensive skill set. So freshman Yunio Barrueta (he called his dunk the “Cuban Missile”)who is a complimentary player who does the little things well was not shown off to advantage. At 6’4” Barrueta reminds one more of 6’4” Ben Rhoda than Mike Smith. He might face be wise to choose a redshirt course while those skills develop. Likewise Providence transfer Ron Giplaye, another powerful addition, who looks like a slimmer version of KGG – he has no choice but to sit out the year. Rashawn Rembert is another player who is still working on offensive skills. With a long, muscular 6’3” body Rashawn would be most likely to get lineup time as defender on big guards and swing men. Next year, after Cooley, Dubose and Jones graduate, the guard spot will belong to him and Petey and Mario.
There is no doubt that there is athletic talent on the floor and more muscle than we’ve had in a while, if a little less height than would be ideal. Next step is to assemble these parts into a team that plays together, runs an effective offense and defends as a unit. I think that most folks leaving the Minidome last night couldn’t wait to see the next installment.
J.C. Press recap: