Sunday, November 30, 2014

Frank Booker's Exceptional Holiday Week

Frank Booker is doing a difficult job exceptionally well.  The Westside alum has been a pure shooting scorer most of his life.  And like all of us, he is at his best when he has the opportunity to take and sometimes miss many shots and get a rhythm and comfort level on offense.  But his role on what was once a nationally ranked Oklahoma Sooners team is to play several minutes in the middle of each half, and to provide an instant scoring punch.  After he scored 21 points in 35 total minutes of action against three of the country's best teams, I'll say Frank is playing his role like a champ.

During his team's march past #22 UCLA and Butler (who had just upset North Carolina), and in the Sooners' championship game loss to #2 Wisconsin, the sophomore provided a spark each time that lifted his team.  The boost didn't always come in the form of long range bombs.  He also defended, attacked the basket, and facilitated for teammates.  Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger has to be thrilled to be able to count on a versatile threat who consistently provides a lift, quickly and efficiently, and within the flow of the team's system.  Here is a tour through Booker's 72 hours of action in the Bahamas during Thanksgiving week:

Wednesday, Nov 26
Oklahoma 75, UCLA 65

Trailing 15-8 and seemingly stalled by UCLA's zone defense, Kruger had an instant remedy in Booker.  Shortly after checking in around the 14 minute mark, Booker buried two threes to erase the deficit.  The first was from so deep that commentator Jay Bilas actually complimented the Bruins' defense for forcing such a difficult shot, no matter the result.  After Frank's second consecutive make, Bilas caught on:  "UCLA will have to make Frank Booker put the ball on the floor."  Good idea!  Frank had officially "busted" the UCLA zone and forced the Bruins to pick up man to man.

Later in the half, Booker was fouled on a three point attempt.*  He made two of three free throws to log 8 first half points.  He followed with another three in the second half, scoring 11 points (the team's second most) in 12 minutes of action.

*Fouling Frank on three point attempts was something each Sooners' opponent did once per game last week.  Frank's name obviously has a big circle around it on teams' scouting reports.  The UCLA foul came on a Booker three that was created by an Oklahoma offensive rebound.  The scrambling defender knew he had to close the gap, but could not do so in time.

Thursday, Nov 27:  Thanksgiving Day
Oklahoma 59, Butler 46

Frank established a rhythm shortly after entering this game, running off a double screen on the baseline and fading to the corner for a catch and shoot three.  His defender made the mistake of not trailing the shooter and in trying to make up for it sent Booker to the line for three shots.  After missing the first (even pure shooters sometimes need at least one or two attempts to get on track!) he sank two and then proceeded to affect the game in other ways.

Oklahoma was playing a stifling half court defense and making Butler look unable to score, and Frank's fresh legs gave the team a new energy.  He spent trips guarding Butler's best players, Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, and did a great job moving his feet and keeping his hands off the dribbler.  He took a charge against Dunham that put an exclamation point on Oklahoma's 21-8 first half advantage.  On the offensive end he finished a layup in transition and fed Ryan Spangler for a long two on a nice pick and pop play.  Butler never recovered from the Sooners' early run and it was on to the Battle for Atlantis championship game versus the nation's #2 team, the Wisconsin Badgers.

Friday, Nov 28
Wisconsin 69, Oklahoma 56

The Sooners stayed within a point of the Badgers heading into halftime.  Frank made a minimal impact during the first 20 minutes.  But after Wisconsin sprinted out to a 15 point second half lead, Booker checked in and instantly brought his team back to within striking distance.  Trailing 57-42, Frank took a dribble hand off and made the defense pay for going under and switching the screen late, making a long three and converting a free throw after being fouled on the shot.  Whether or not teams know not to give Frank daylight, it must be difficult for defenders to quickly switch mindsets when Frank enters the game in the middle of a half.  I attribute his constantly being fouled on threes to this dynamic.  And it can't hurt Frank's fortunes when he kicks his legs out and falls when defenders close in on his space after releasing the ball!  Shortly after converting the 4 point play, Booker scored a tough left handed layup in transition to reduce the gap to 59-50.

The Sooners would not seriously threaten the team Jay Bilas calls "the Spurs of college basketball" the rest of the game.  But in a field with #2 Wisconsin, #5 North Carolina, #18 Florida, and #22 UCLA, a second place finish for the (newly) unranked Sooners qualifies as a good way to spend the holidays.  And Frank's 21 points in 35 minutes of Battle for Atlantis action qualifies as an A+ in my book for executing a very difficult assignment in expert fashion.  Frank always has been a good student.  So an A+ while on an island away from school is no surprise!

Friday, November 28, 2014

GRU's Statistical Wonders

GRU sophomore point guard Keshun Sherrill opened the season with 37 points in a home win over rival Anderson College.  Impressive.  He entered Wednesday's game against then undefeated Valdosta State with this stat line after the season's first three games (all wins):  22 ppg on 58% field goal shooting, 53% 3 point shooting, and 94% FT shooting.  Very impressive.  I thought that unless he is destined to rewrite the college basketball record books, this pace will have to slow.  And it would seem that Wednesday's game would be as likely a time as any.  Not so.

Sherrill scored 20 points and made 6 of 9 field goals, 2 of 3 three point attempts, and 6 of 6 free throws in the Jags' 92-61 thrashing of Valdosta State.  And he was not the only statistical wonder Wednesday.  Senior inside-out threat Devon Wright Nelson scored 17 points, making 7 of 9 from the field and 2 of 4 from deep.

The Jaguars essentially put on an offensive clinic in Wednesday's first half, making nearly 65% of their shots.  A bunch of guys made an impact.  Sherrill is consistently the most dynamic scorer of the bunch, dropping shots from deep (like the one he created all by himself as the Jags held the ball for the half's last shot); beating his man and pulling up for his soft jump shot or floater; or challenging at the rim:

Devon Wright-Nelson's offensive performance was on a par with Sherrill's, which says a mouthful.  I especially liked the variety of ways in which he scored, and the ways he did it within the flow of the Jags' offense.  He screened, opened up to the ball, and buried a three on the right wing in the first half.  That possession was shortly after screening down for Sherrill, who received the ball and fed Devon in the post, leading to a sweet lefty jump hook by Wright-Nelson.  But my favorite was in the second half when he caught the ball at the top of the key, ripped through and blew by his defender, stopped short and swished a soft floater in the paint.  These possessions are stitched together in this video:

Senior guards Devonte Thomas and D'Angelo Boyce were hitting on all cylinders as well.  Along with Wright-Nelson, these two have been connecting for baskets for four years.  Every time Thomas catches and shoots I think it is going in.  He made 4 of 8 from deep Wednesday.  And Boyce always makes the right play.  His three off the inside-out action with Henry McCarthy was a good example of his knack for providing whatever is needed at the appropriate time.  But my favorite play from this veteran duo was the baseline drive by Boyce that ended in DA's pass to the opposite corner to Thomas, who drained the long ball.  There is no telling how many times these two have executed such a play over the years of game, practice, and pickup action.  Very fun to watch.  See for yourself here:

Contributions from the four players featured above would probably be sufficient to take GRU on a fun ride.  But newcomer Keith Crump and post players Henry McCarthy and Vlad Cobzaru all complement these veterans nicely.  And I will surely be breaking down their strengths and contributions here soon.

Statistically speaking, it is difficult to imagine GRU executing more effectively than they did Wednesday, or even during the first four games of the season, all double-digit victories.  The Jags face real tests this weekend at Shaw and at Mt. Olive before returning to Augusta to visit Paine at the HEAL Center next Wednesday (Paine knocked off rival and Division II power USC Aiken Tuesday).

But it is not difficult to imagine this GRU team being as good as any I've seen in a while.  And that is saying a whole lot given the consistent success coach Dip Metress has brought to the school.  The team is already a thrill to watch.  Here's hoping they become as good a team by the end of the season as their stellar offensive statistics have been at the beginning.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Alleluia Wins 6th Straight!

Alleluia's season opening loss, a heart breaker to the homeschool Eagles when Alleluia gave up a double-digit second half lead, must seem like ages ago to Angels players and coaches.  The guys have responded with six consecutive wins, including a tournament championship in North Georgia against the likes of GISA power Furtah Prep and formidable Faith Baptist, and a convincing victory Tuesday over cross town rival Curtis Baptist.  The Angels are starting to turn heads with their unique combination of unselfish, heady play mixed with a crew of long range bombers, an athletic front line player, and a gritty leader who makes things go.  Mix all that with coach Dennis McBride, a consummate gym rat who during games has almost as much fun as his players, and you get an entertaining evening whenever the Angels take the court.  I put these clips together from Tuesday's game to try to show what I like so much about these guys:

And speaking of turning heads, I hope Matt Miller (sophomore USMMA hooper and former player whom I am also tracking) doesn't mind my sharing a text exchange from earlier this morning regarding the Alleluia boys.  He was evidently following my live tweeting of Tuesday's game.  And I neglected to send the most important tweet of the night:  the one with the game's final score.  Matt wanted to know how one of our new favorite squad's game ended.  Here is the exchange:

I am in blue. Matt is in white.
And I meant "layups," not "labs," Siri!

Matt and his teammates will soon discover their own secrets to having fun AND winning.  Just like Alleluia is currently learning to do.  And they are learning in good style!

***Here are posts from the past about Alleluia***

Nov 26, 2014
Alleluia Wins 6th Straight

Nov 19, 2014
Video Breakdown of Key Alleluia Players

Nov 5, 2014

Alleluia is on the Rise

Monday, November 24, 2014

Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tourney

8:00 P.M.
Laney vs Stephenson

A friend of mine and Augusta hoops fan, Matt Scott, remarked Friday afternoon that if Laney were to finish its first four games with a 1-3 record, coach Buck Harris could claim a moral victory.  The logic makes sense given Saint Francis is one of the country's best teams, Morgan County (this Saturday's opponent) is a defending state champion, and Friday's opponent Stephenson beat Laney last season.  Well, after sweeping two games in the Will Avery Tip-Off tournament, Harris' bunch has a chance to emerge this Saturday with a 3-1 record if they are able to knock off Morgan County at home.

Friday's win over Stephenson was convincing.  The Wildcats took an early lead and never looked back.  After leading 24-8 early in the second quarter, Laney's pressure defense was way too much for the visitors from Atlanta to overcome.  The Wildcats forced turnovers that led to easy transition hoops, seniors Jashawn Brooks and Jalen Taylor electrified the crowd with nifty passes and finishes in the open floor.  And juniors Colin Young and Christian Keeling were impressive on the perimeter and slashing to the basket.  Enjoy the highlights below.  And stay tuned for Saturday's showdown at Laney between two of the southeast's best high school teams.

6:30 P.M.
Butler vs Salem

I have known Butler's Don Coleman since the summer before his freshman year.  And I have gotten to know Coach Cervantes Boddy and most of the Bulldogs since about that time.  The guys have been regulars in the AugBball off-season leagues during the past four years.  So I was proud of the Bulldogs two seasons ago when, after going 4-1 versus the area's two best teams (Laney and Glenn Hills) at the time, Butler emerged as the area's best team.  And I was equally disappointed to see the Bulldogs take a step backwards last season.  So I went to Evans Friday in time for Butler's matchup with Salem for one reason:  to see if the 2014-15 would be as good as their talent dictates.

Coleman and company answered that question with an emphatic yes after an 81-58 beating of Salem. More important than the score was the demeanor of the players.  It was obvious to me that this season's squad is committed to making 1+1 equal 3 by sharing the ball and using all of its weapons.  And the weapons are everywhere, starting on the perimeter with future Florida Atlantic University guard Coleman.  I've never seen Don play as well as he played Friday.  He shot a high percentage from three, he involved teammates, he rebounded, and set the tone for the Bulldogs' fast paced, unselfish style of play.

Coleman is not the team's only threat.  Inside players Ricquail Smoot (6'6" junior) and Will Lambert (6'5" sophomore) rebound and score in the post, in the open court, and on the offensive glass.  And seniors Tyekeith Mclattie and Ben Rhodes can score from all over the court.

I am anxious to see the Bulldogs in action in our area's most competitive region, which also features Laney, Glenn Hills, and Josey.  If Friday's performance foreshadows the future, Butler will not take a backseat to any team in the coming months.  See for yourself here:

3:30 P.M.
Greenbrier vs Thomson

It makes good sense that Greenbrier junior Jakob Nelson was the standout performer in the opening game of the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament Friday at Evans High School.  Nelson, a long time Avery protege, scored 18 of his 31 points in the game's final 8 minutes and led Greenbrier to a 58-54 win over Thomson.  The Wolfpack improved to 2-1 on the season before Saturday's 1:30 P.M. matchup with Effingham County at Evans High School.

Nelson has started the season with a bang, averaging 22.7 ppg.  Jakob is a throwback of sorts.  He spends a lot of time in the gym working on his shooting, ball handling, and the other important fundamentals.  By comparison, he spends little time in the vans, hotel rooms and all day game play of the AAU scene.  This is a great strategy for rapid improvement and it seems to be paying off.

He is also a well rounded young man who sports a 3.8 GPA and a polite demeanor.  Kudos to Jake and his teammates for a strong rebound after a season opening loss to Harlem.  I look forward to seeing more of the Wolfpack in the coming weeks and months.

Matt Miller Finds the Right Fit

Fit is everything in basketball.  Meaning someone who is playing well always looks comfortable and confident.  He looks like he is enjoying playing and it seems his teammates' tendencies and his team's systems fits him well.  If this were not the case, he would not be playing well.  For almost every player at the college level is a good player.  But those who are having the most success are the players who have become most comfortable and are therefore enjoying themselves immensely.

During the first couple weeks of the 2014-15 season, USMMA's Matt Miller (a former GAIS Eagles player of mine) is showing all the signs of a player who is comfortable and confident, and having a lot of fun playing the game.  It is always nice to see a player figuring things out.  And it is extra nice to see Matt, who is an exceptionally fine young man, finding his way so early in his sophomore season.

After four games, Miller is scoring 13  points, grabbing 4.5 rebounds, and dishing 2 assists per contest.  He is also shooing over 40% from the field and from behind the three point line.  His best game was probably Sunday's 84-52 loss to Division 1 Stony Brook.  Miller scored 15 points, including 3 three pointers.  He shot with confidence, creating great looks off the dribble, and scored from everywhere.  See Miller in action here:

***Here are more posts from the past about Matt Miller***

Nov 19, 2014
Miller Returns from Sea and Hits the Courts

Jan 7, 2014

Nov 21, 2013

Sept 16, 2013

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stroman's Still a Winner

Freshman South Carolina point guard Marcus Stroman was once the leader of a special AAU team (Southern Stampede) that was based in Augusta and coached by good friends Mike Stokes and Matt Scott. He also led Keenan High School, coached by Augusta native Zach Norris, to two South Carolina High School League state championships and was featured on the blog many times (see below).

As Len Elmore noted in a recent ESPN broadcast of South Carolina's home game versus Baylor, Gamecock head coach Frank Martin calls Stroman a "consummate point guard" with a great feel for the game.  In a Facebook conversation, I told Stokes and Laney coach Buck Harris that Marcus reminds me of longtime friend and former AAU teammate Ricky Moore.  Both Moore and Stroman make teammates better.  Players like these have a knack for doing the things that put their teams in position to win, which is why I am not at all surprised to see that Marcus is the first player from that old Southern Stampede group to make a big impact on a big stage this early in his freshman season.

Playing heavy minutes in a narrow home loss to Baylor, Stroman did a little bit of everything, including penetrating the Bears' zone defense for an early score in the paint, burying a three from deep, and generating 6 fast break points (scoring two on a putback and assisting for another two on teammate Tyrone Johnson's three point play) for his team following three Stroman steals.

Besides sophomore teammate and Gamecock leading returning scorer Sindarius Thornwell, Stroman probably had the biggest impact on this game of any South Carolina player.  Not bad for a 6'2" point guard who is not a stand out athlete and who has never been known as a shooter or scorer.  However, Marcus does stand out as a winner, whether playing alongside Ahmed Hill (VA Tech) and Jakeenan Gant (Missouri) or playing as a freshman in South Carolina's ESPN broadcast versus Baylor.

***Past posts about Marcus and his former Southern Stampede AAU team***

Nov 12, 2012

Dec 9, 2012

Ahmed Hill Backs Up Statement

July 19, 2012

Stampede Opens Peach Jam with Win

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Miller Returns from Sea and Hits the Courts

As I watch major college basketball teams and players take off for their annual Fall trips to places like Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands, I am reminded of the silliness of the NCAA's insistence on overusing the term "student athlete."  Sure there are players who buck the trend and act as true students who are also athletes.  But most major college basketball players represent their schools first and foremost as an athlete.  And many help their schools earn a good deal of money along the way.

Matt Miller, an Augusta native, a former high school basketball player of mine, and an outstanding student and person, is not your common "student athlete."  He has chosen to take a particularly challenging academic path through college, one that rarely affords him the chance to visit home and one that is certainly preparing him for a productive career after college.  The United States Merchant Marines Academy is training him to be an "engineer at sea," including spending one full year of his four years of study on a ship during voyages around the globe.  After a grueling first year of college, his "plebe" year in which he serves the upperclassmen, he set sail for four months on a trip that began in New York and proceeded through the ports of Charleston and Savannah before visiting Spain and Gibraltar (UK) and crossing the Mediterranean Sea.  Other stops included ports in Dubai, India, and Pakistan.

Besides giving Matt a practical education in geography and hands on training in what may eventually become his career, the trip gave him a four month break from basketball.  After this break, Matt recently returned to the hardwood, and he is averaged 11.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in his team's first two games of the 2014-15 season.  His scoring has been very efficient.  He has made 8 of 17 field goals, including 3 of 6 three pointers.  And he has made all four of his foul shots.

It's great to see Matt walking his own path.  He is likely to be named to the Landmark Conference All Academic Team this season.  And if he keeps scoring this efficiently, he may garner more honors as well.  But Matt has never done things for the approval of others.  So my biggest wish for my former player is that he has loads of fun playing the game in between all of his hard work and practical training.  The basketball community needs more examples like his.

Here are some of the highlights of Matt during his first two games this season:

***Here are more posts from the past about Matt Miller***

Jan 7, 2014

Nov 21, 2013

Sept 16, 2013

Video Breakdown of Key Alleluia Players

I have tried my hand at "community building."  No easy task.  But like all experts, Alleluia head coach and community builder extraordinaire Dennis McBride makes it look easy.  I am happy to say I have gotten to know the players and families associated with the Alleluia basketball program.  And it is an impressive bunch.  Through all the years of hosting basketball activities, the Alleluia Community School is the only place that allowed me to use its facility rent free with no strings attached to offer the free basketball leagues and programs to Augusta's schools and children.  And after I stopped coaching the GAIS Eagles, Dennis even allowed me to coach his guys during a recent fall league, meeting whatever urge I may still have to teach the game to young people.

Today is Dennis' birthday, so I'll repay him for everything he has done for me with this analysis (what a bad birthday present!) of his exciting 2014-15 Alleluia Angels, the team I call "pound for pound the most skilled group of basketball players in town."  The core of this group has been taking its lumps in "AugBball off-season leagues" for over three years against the city's best teams and players.  But the guys have recently established themselves as a force.  And after an opening weekend split of games in a tournament hosted by Victory Baptist, I can't wait to see what kind of damage the Angels will do this season in GICAA (Georgia based private school league) action.

McBride has installed a new offensive system.  And he has done it the right way, using almost every minute of available preseason practice time to drill the principles from the ground up.  As each day and week passed, the players' use of the "read and react" principles became more advanced and second nature.  I visited a practice roughly two weeks before the team's opening game, a narrow loss to the homeschool Augusta Eagles team.  Between that practice, the practice shown in the video footage below (taken roughly a week later), and the team's first game (about another full week later), the players' grasp of the required spacing, cutting, passing, and reading of the defense has progressed significantly.  Watch the guys put into game use the principles learned in practice here:

Of course it's easier to get a lot out of a passing and cutting offense when your players are highly skilled and extremely unselfish.  Almost everybody on the team can shoot from deep.  Sophomore Ben Dresser is probably the most dangerous long range bomber.  I have him pegged as our area's best long range shooter.  See here:

As shown below, Junior Mac McBride takes on a lot of responsibility, initiating the offense, penetrating the defense to get to the foul line, and giving teammates easy looks.

Hayden Hebert is a very versatile forward who gives inside players fits with his ability to face the basket, shoot from deep, and penetrate and finish with either hand.

I underestimated Steven Milligan's ability to score.  His instincts are great.  He is always moving without the ball, and putting pressure on the defense.  He consistently makes shots from long range and finishes in the paint after a dribble drive or a pass from a teammate.

The Angels are scoring over 70 points per game after the season's opening weekend.  After playing in a tournament this weekend in North Georgia, Alleluia returns to face Curtis Baptist Tuesday, November 19.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hall has it all figured out

Many years ago I taught and coached Rod Hall.  That's one reason I know he's smart.  In May Rod will complete his undergraduate studies at Clemson, earning his college diploma in exactly four years.  That is another reason I know he's smart.  The Tigers' leading returning scorer and assist man is also a very kind and respectful young man.  I know this because Friday before his first regular season game he humored his old teacher/coach (me), allowing me to give him some basketball advice.

Before I share more I'll say that I usually try to refrain from butting into a former player's current basketball business.  The last thing guys need is multiple people telling them how to play the game.  And I think of the current coach and usually realise this is not my place.  But in this instance I could not help myself.

After watching Rod confidently stroking two three pointers in three possessions in the second half of Clemson's exhibition game win over Anderson, I wanted him to know that I believe he is a darn good shooter (and I know a lot about shooting a basketball!).  That he always has been.  And that his teammates - the ones who undoubtedly love playing with him because of his toughness, his unselfishness, and his knack for playing best in the biggest moments - will love him even more if he let's it fly from deep when opponents give him space.

Rod politely thanked me.  What a nice kid... I mean young man (it's hard getting used to the fact that my former players are now men!).  Later that night he started Clemson's season with a bang, making two driving baskets in the first four minutes versus Florida A&M.  See here:

After making these two baskets and establishing himself as an offensive threat, Hall would not shoot again.  But he WOULD dish out 10 assists without committing a turnover the rest of the evening. See the assists here:

So my old student and player taught me something (or reminded me of something):  Leave the advice giving to the former players up to the current coaches.  Two field goals made out of two field goals attempted, and 10 assists handed out without a turnover committed is basically the point guard's equivalent of a pitcher's perfect game.

But I am not worried about steering Rod wrong.  Remember what I wrote at the beginning:  Rod is a smart young man.  Too smart to listen to bad advice from me!

***Rod and the Tigers play Winthrop tonight at 7:00 P.M.  Here are some related posts from the past about Rod***

Nov 10, 2014
Rod Hall Explodes Late in Exhibition Opener

March 31, 2014
Michaux: Ex-Laney star Rod Hall helps light fire under Clemson basketball team
from the Augusta Chronicle

Nov 25, 2013
Rod Hall Jr. is on the Right Track

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Laney falls short in season opening thriller

Teams can be measured by how well they respond to a "punch in the mouth," figuratively speaking, of course.  And because Laney coach Buck Harris' non region schedule is probably the most difficult in the state, his Wildcats wasted no time before receiving their first blow of the new season in the form of an 18-3 game opening run by the nation's #21 ranked Saint Francis.  Playing away from home and against likely McDonald's All American Kobi Simmons and Florida State bound Malik Beasley, the Wildcats looked tentative and overwhelmed.  Facing a possible rout in the opening minutes of the opening game, Harris must have wondered if he had bitten off more than his group could chew.  But almost before that thought could form in any of our minds, senior sharpshooter Jashawn Brooks ran off five quick points and Laney spent the rest of the night clawing back, trading leads, and doing everything Harris could have hoped for... except completing a shocking upset on the road.

The Wildcats would eventually fall to the defending Class A state champs 67-64.  A last second try at forcing overtime by junior Zep Jasper came up short and the guys walked out with heads high and to a standing ovation by the sizable crowd from Augusta that travelled to see the boys play.  I choose to believe that Saturday's result is the best long term outcome for Harris' bunch.  The guys now know first hand that no matter how good the team is, there is always another bunch a short drive away that may be better.  They know that hard work and improvement will be keys to achieving their lofty goals.  They know they can take a great team's greatest shot.  And they know they can beat any team in any environment.

The Wildcats have no time to contemplate what may have been Saturday night.  Friday's opponent, Stevenson High School, comes to town Friday as a part of the Will Avery Tip-Off Classic at Evans High.

But before we move on to the next steps in Laney's brutal pre-region schedule, let's take a look at some of Saturday's most memorable moments, at least from our home team's perspective:

Film Session

There can actually be a huge advantage to being an underdog and to seemingly be on the way to being blown out early in a game like this.  At some point someone gets the attitude that "if I'm going down, I'm going down swinging!"  In my opinion, Jashawn Brooks made that step Saturday during this two possession, five point spurt that narrowed the Saint Francis lead to 18-8.

After Brooks helped Laney gain a little momentum, juniors Zep Jasper, Christian Keeling, and Colin Young made timely baskets; and before the Laney crowd (including me!) could finish screaming its approval, the Wildcats had answered the home team's run with a 17-4 spurt of their own.

With Saint Francis leading 22-20, and despite Laney's run, it became clear to me to that the Wildcats would have to play nearly flawless basketball to have a chance to win.  Simmons and Beasley's size and athleticism enabled them to score easily once they got into the open court and into the paint.  Laney could not rely on these easy baskets.  Everything they would get would have to be earned.  Shots had to be made.  Opportunities had to be created out of nothing.  And turnovers needed to be forced in all 94 feet of the court.

Laney's guys were definitely up to this task.  But senior Jashawn Brooks looked particularly confident in his ability to make something out of nothing, repeatedly sizing his man up, beating him off the dribble, knocking down shots in the mid range before the long help defenders could affect his shot, and when appropriate getting all the way to the hoop and finishing with either hand.  See here:

Speaking of making shots, junior Colin Young has gotten SO MUCH BETTER!  During one possession in the video below I could see him (through my phone's camera) telling teammate Zep Jasper with his body language to hurry up and get him the ball because he knows exactly what to do with it!

I am loving Colin's game more every time I see him play.  Not only was he ready to make Saint Francis pay every time daylight was given for a three point shot, but he also patiently worked his man over and got to the basket when space was taken away.  See Young here as he had us Laney fans "going bananas" as he scorched the nets Saturday:

But darts by Young and Brooks still would not have been enough to keep the Wildcats in this game.  The defense would need to create turnovers and loose balls had to be grabbed.  Senior backup point guard Tommy Smith and senior forward Jervon "Rabbit" Walker would do much of this work.  Here Walker sprints ahead to finish in transition (so fast I almost couldn't get it on film!) and Laney creates a turnover that leads to a trip to the line for Smith, who made both tries and gave Laney its first lead at 33-31 heading into halftime.

Junior point guard Zep Jasper had the responsibility of handling the ball and getting his teammates the right passes at the right times.  He performed this task well.  But he also made tough shots in big moments.  His early floater put Laney on the board for the first time.  His transition three in the second quarter capped Laney's important 17-4 second quarter burst.  And his third quarter "and 1" floater sent the crowd into a frenzy.  These moments were all caught on film (below).  But one basket that I missed on film showed what I found new and exciting about Zep after seeing him play for the first time in months:  Zep has gotten bigger and more athletic.  The basket I didn't film was a coast to coast drive that ended in Jasper finishing above the rim in traffic over Saint Francis' long defenders.  I predict it will be soon when Jasper turns that ball over and sends it home with a dunk off the stride.  Buck puts a lot of trust in Zep.  All I have to say about that is Buck is a smart guy!

Senior Jalen Taylor did a particularly good job of adapting his game to the circumstances Saturday.  Accustomed to being as long and as athletic as anyone on the court, the 6'6" forward found himself in the land of pogo sticks and trees.  And early foul trouble didn't help.  But Taylor's activity in the open court, his relentless attack on the offensive glass and his movement without the ball led to timely baskets (including three dunks, only one of which I caught on tape).

With non region opponents like Stevenson (Nov 21), Morgan County (Nov 29), Pebblebrook (Dec 6), and Norcross (Dec 13) on the horizon, Laney will need to build on the Saturday's good points to survive pre-region schedule Harris has put together.  Based on the way the guys took Saint Francis' best punch, I'll predict the Wildcats will be in a great place come January, February, and hopefully mid March!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sherrill Drops 37 in GRU's Opening Win

Returning Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year Keshun Sherrill exploded for 37 points and led his GRU Jags' to an impressive 75-62 win over regional rival Anderson in the first of two PBC/SAC Challenge games this weekend at Christenberry Fieldhouse.  The Jaguars face Brevard at 5:00 P.M. Saturday.

The more I've gotten back to watching a lot of college basketball (sounds crazy but 99% of what I've watched for years has been high school hoops), the more I am remembering the huge difference in the level of play.  I know that sounds ridiculously obvious.  But this has struck me nonetheless.  The Jags and the Oklahoma Sooners have been the two most impressive teams that I have tracked so far.

Sherrill is dynamic.  His 37 points were all in the flow of the game and all very fun to watch.  He makes threes, pull-ups, floaters, and clutch shots;  and he gets steals, rebounds, and assists while taking good care of the ball and getting others involved.  And teammates Devon Wright Nelson, Keith Crump, D'Angelo Boyce and Devonte Thomas round out a five man group that can all score from deep, get to the basket, and finish.

So if you are in town, go see the Jags at 5:00 P.M. as they face Brevard and attempt to go 2-0 to begin the 2014-15 season.

I selected clips from the second half of Friday's game and shared them below.  Stay tuned for Jags news.  And if you can't make today's game and want to watch online, or if you just want to know how to get all the Jags news your heart desires, frequent the following cyber places:

Keshun Sherrill Scores Career-High In Season Opener - from - GRU Athletics Facebook page

GRU's Hoops Schedule

The link to watch today's game online

Link to keep up with the live stats for today's game

Booker and his OU teammates look ready for prime time

Earlier this week I posted video footage of Frank Booker and his Oklahoma teammates in the first half of the team's first exhibition game.  And I promised to follow up with footage of the second exhibition game later.  Below I fulfill that promise and walk you through highlights of the Sooners' exhibition game rout of Southwest Oklahoma State.  Booker scored 15 points in 15 minutes of action.  He looked loose and confident scoring off the catch-and-shoot, off the dribble, and in transition.  See here:

The more I watch the Sooners, the more I am becoming a fan of more than just Frank.  Their guard play is very impressive, as you can see here:

Oklahoma is the #19 team in the preseason rankings for good reasons.  They officially open the season Sunday afternoon.  And I'll be sure to do my best to bring you the action!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reid Leads Harlem to Season Opening Road Win

It was not surprising that Harlem was able to win its home opener on the road at Greenbrier Thursday.  Senior Reggie Reid is as good a player as there is in our area.  And his return makes Harlem an instant contender in the AA state championship race.  But I wasn't expecting the 96-59 (score not official) rout of the Wolfpack that Reid and his teammates accomplished Thursday.

Reid led all scorers with 25 points.  Torien Beard contributed 18 and Kanes Dunn added 13.  Greenbrier's Jakob Nelson scored 19 points.

To be sure, the game was extremely sloppy, which is understandable in the season opener.  Over 60 fouls were called.  But I learned that Reggie has gotten stronger and even more athletic in the 18 months since he left for Florida to play his junior season.  And I learned that Reid has a good bit of help, particularly from fellow seniors Beard, Rashawn Morris, and Dakota Madigan.  Here is a quick overview of the game's key points, with video clips included.

In the game's early moments, Greenbrier's strategy of keeping multiple players around Reid whenever he handled the ball was exploited by Rashawn Morris, who scored all 10 of his points in the first quarter.  Morris scored 6 of those points with his off hand (his right), including a dunk in the open court that set the Harlem crowd on fire (although his post-dunk celebration was excessive and earned him a quick spot next to coach Kim Chambers on the Harlem bench).

After Harlem built a double digit first quarter lead (one the Bulldogs never relinquished), Greenbrier was forced to play Reid straight.  And it quickly became apparent that he would proceed to blow by defenders and score, or help others score, at the rim.  Reid did a little bit of everything, as you can see here.

Torien Beard's play may have been the night's biggest surprise.  He is strong and very athletic.  And he looks very comfortable scoring and distributing.  A year playing without Reggie has likely made Beard a better player and one more capable of helping Reid make Harlem a force in region and statewide AA competition.

  ***Here are more posts from the blog about Reggie Reid and his Harlem Bulldogs, one of the 10 major story lines I am following this season.***

Nov 7, 2014
Welcome Back, Mr. Reid

July 11, 2014
Reid Impressive in his Return

Dec 21, 2012
Grovetown @ Harlem (Triple OT Thriller!)

Dec 15, 2012
Evans vs Harlem Boys (Live)

Jan 26, 2012
Harlem's Reid is a Dynamic Player

Dec 11, 2011
Reggie Reid has a Bright Future at Harlem
- by Ashley Brown in the Columbia News Times

Booker Can Score in Many Ways

See Frank's Full OU Bio at this Link
With a year of Big 12 basketball behind him, Augusta's Frank Booker (Westside HS) looks poised to make a significant impact this season for ESPN's #19 ranked team, the Oklahoma Sooners.  As a freshman, Booker scored 5 ppg and grabbed 1.5 rpg while playing 14 mpg for the NCAA tournament bound Sooners.

Frank has always been fun to watch play.  He was the first player outside of my old high school team featured at the old blog.  He scorched the nets at Westside for 4 years.  And I predict anyone expecting Frank to be only a designated shooter this season will be mistaken.  Although his two made field goals were both from deep in the team's first exhibition win over Washburn College, Frank looked at home playing all phases of the game.  In the first half alone, he blew past his defender twice, drawing a foul and getting a good shot in the paint the other time.  He nearly tapped in an offensive putback in traffic.  And he blocked a shot and took a charge on defense.

*Side Note:  the Sooner announcing crew informed us during the broadcast that Frank's teammates voted him the "team's best singer (who knew?) and the sideline reporter informed us Frank has lost 20 pounds during the off-season and he now weighs 193.  (I'm going to say the reporter was mistaken because if Frank played at 213 pounds last season that would shock me!)*

But let's get back to Frank's play during the exhibition season.  After a good all around first game when the many of his shots didn't fall, Frank got things going in a big way versus Southwest Oklahoma State Tuesday.  Booker scored 15 points in 15 minutes, making 3 threes and 3 twos and leading the team in scoring along with guard Isaiah Cousins.

So after having a major impact, mostly as a three point marksman (making two or more threes in 13 games and making 42 three point field goals to 7 two point field goals during the season) on an NCAA tournament team, Booker looks ready to do what comes as natural to him as shooting... scoring!

And he'll fit right in as he is surrounded by dangerous perimeter players.  6'5" guard Buddy Hield was described by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla as a possible NBA lottery pick.  And fellow guards Cousins, Jordan Woodard, and Dinjiyl Walker can all make things happen on the perimeter.  This should be an exciting team to watch.  All the more so because our hometown boy will be a big part of its success.

Watch Frank's teammates play in the video below:

***Here are some related posts from the past about Frank***

Nov 12, 2014
OU Basketball:  Sooners Roll Over SWOSU
by Ryan Aber of OKNews

Feb 28, 2013
Flashback Post - Booker Explodes in Final Home Region Game

Dec 10, 2012
Westside's Impressive Road Win

May 23, 2012
Avery and Booker Instructors of Summer's First Camp

Feb 20, 2012
Westside vs Josey: 2012 Region Championship Game

Feb 4, 2012
Flashback Post: Aquinas vs Westside (2012)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Another Exciting Year Ahead for GRU Augusta

Georgia Regents University (GRU) Jaguars basketball is simply "the best game in town."  Coach Dip Metress has built an NCAA Division II powerhouse during his first 10 seasons, tallying a 229-83 record and leading the Jags to the Elite Eight National Championship game, semifinal game, and quarterfinal game during one three year stretch.  Metress has never had a losing season at GRU.  And the Jaguars' 2013-14 record of 24-8 is the sixth 20+ win season in the past eight years.

The Jaguars lost three double digit scorers from last year's teams, including All Peach Belt Conference seniors KJ Sherrill (15 ppg, 6 rpg) and Ryan Weems (16 ppg, 4 rpg) as well as mainstay Harold Doby (10 ppg, 7 rpg).

But the 2014-15 Jaguars are an experienced and capable bunch.  Returning Peach Belt Freshman of the Year Keshun Sherrill (12 ppg, 3 rpg) joins seniors Devon Wright-Nelson (10 ppg, 4 rpg); Devonte Thomas (7 ppg); and D'Angelo Boyce (5 ppg; 3 apg) to lead the way.  Newcomers and Augusta natives Keith Crump (Sophomore, Josey) and Tamyrick Fields (Freshman, Aquinas) join this group of veterans to form an exciting perimeter oriented team that should be near the top of the Peach Belt standings.

The Jaguars open Friday and Saturday at Augusta's home court, Christenberry Fieldhouse, versus regional rival Anderson College (Friday, 7:30) and Brevard (Saturday, 5:00).  Above are some clips from GRU's recent thrashing of exhibition game opponent Fort Gordon.

***Here are some related posts from the past about GRU***

Nov 12, 2014
Another Exciting Year Ahead for GRU Augusta

Nov 13, 2013
This Week in Jags Hoops: Episode 2

Oct 27, 2013
This Week in Jags Hoops: Episode 1

Oct 25, 2013
GRU Pep Rally: Dip Baby Dip

Jan 12, 2013
Jags Top Armstrong

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Laney Opens with Nationally Ranked St. Francis

Laney's head coach Buck Harris has been the favorite coach of many players during the past few decades.  He is certainly mine.  One of the best things about my time not coaching will be the chance to follow his Wildcats through the 2014-15 season.  And Buck's guys are positioned to have a memorable one!

The Suwanne based website chose Laney as its favorite to win the AAA state title, and it named senior guard Jashawn Brooks as one of the five players most likely to win the AAA state player of the year.  The Wildcats will be tested early when they visit St Francis, 's 21st ranked (nationally) team this Saturday.

This is Buck's second season as Laney's head coach.  The Wildcats have reached the state semifinals five consecutive seasons, winning the state championship in 2012.  Buck was the assistant coach for three seasons prior to becoming head coach last season.  And he spent over 15 years coaching college basketball prior to that.  He has firmly put his mark on his program.  He has taught his players to play hard, play smart, and play together, which is much easier said than done.  I recently popped into a Laney practice and I'll share some written and visual (video) notes that shed light on Buck's coaching style, which has had great results:

- Laney's practice was super competitive.  Games had winners and losers, time and score was always kept on the scoreboard and verbally by coaches and players.

- Speaking of players being verbal, I've never seen as much (purposeful!) talk on defense by a high school team.

- So impressed with the aggressive ball pressure and the readiness of help defenders to make up for a guy being beaten off the dribble.

- I think Coach K said something like "you are what you repeatedly do under pressure."  In other words if something is not a habit, don't expect it to be able to be called upon when the pressure is on.  These are the defensive habits that stood out to me:

  1. Talk!
  2. Talk to the on ball defender to let him know you have his back
  3. Pressure the dribbler
  4. Help when the on ball defender gets beat and force the kick out
  5. Respond quickly to the kick out and help the helper if he gets beat
  6. Get to the line of the ball, especially on a baseline drive
  7. Be in the paint (sprint to it if you aren't there!) when your man is two passes away
  8. Box out and rebound and go!
Here is a visual showing these habits being developed.

- Competitive 3 on 3 and 4 on 4 work puts pressure on defense because there is so much space.  With all the ball pressure guys are constantly being beaten.  Communication, help and hustle are the only ways to survive defensively.

-  3 on 3 and 4 on 4 games also help develop offensive skills.  Everybody gets lots of touches and opportunities to make things happen off the bounce.

- Sometimes high school teams aren't very deep (not so with Laney).  So 3 on 3 and 4 on 4 games help by putting the teams best 6 or 8 players against each other at one time.  Guys get practice going against high school starters every possession every day.

- Needless to say, Laney's players are split up "evenly" and not by "first team versus second team" action.  I am a big fan of this.

I'll be in the gym Saturday for Laney's opener versus St. Francis.  Stay tuned for updates!

***Here are some related posts from the past about Laney***

July 11, 2014
Brooks, Taylor, and Walker: ABR Live Summer Send-off

Nov 25, 2013
Laney and Aquinas Open Season with a Statement

March 15, 2012
Laney Makes History

Monday, November 10, 2014

Looking Forward to Following Matt Miller

Matt Miller is a former GAIS Eagles player of mine.  He is one of my favorite people.  After getting to know him well during his four high school years, I am glad I am still in contact with him.  And I am going to use his coming United States Merchant Marines (USMMA) basketball season as a way to continue to keep up with him and to share some of the things that I think make him so special.

Matt Miller - USMMA
Matt is a good person.  How good?  Last year I posted a question about math and how to answer the question that is so often asked by young people:  "When will I ever use this?"  The two nicest people I know answered:  My father and Matt.  Matt's answer was very thoughtful (as was my dad's) and it taught his old coach something.  Matt also regularly writes with updates from college.  He probably puts as much care into his emails as many students do in the papers they write for classes.  Special people take this kind of care.

Matt is a great student.  He attends a highly competitive, engineering centric college that pays its students' (those who are admitted) tuition and expenses.  He is entering his second season on the basketball team after starting half his games, scoring 8.4 points per game, and averaging over 20 minutes played per contest as a freshman.

I plan to follow his games online and to see him in play in person December 19 and January 25.  And I will update this site along the way!

***Here are some related posts from the past about Matt***

Jan 7, 2014

Nov 21, 2013

Sept 16, 2013

Rod Hall Explodes Late in Exhibition Opener

Hometown boy Rod Hall ended the first exhibition game of his senior season with a 9 point outburst spanning three possessions, putting Clemson comfortably ahead of Anderson College before the Tigers closed out the 62-36 win. I expect Rod to be the team leader this season. Here is a rundown of some of his accomplishments at Clemson:

Junior Season
- Only player to start all 36 games
- Team's second leading scorer (9.7 ppg)
- Team leader in assists (4.0 apg)

Sophomore Season
- Second on team in minutes played per game (29.8 mpg)
Team leader in assists (3.5 apg)

One reason I expect Rod to play so well this year is because I believe he is Clemson's best scorer.  And the Tigers need guys who can score.  In past seasons he has deferred to KJ McDaniels, Milton Jennings, Devin Booker, and Andre Young.  In doing so he has in effect chosen not to use a key facet of his game, the ability to shoot from deep.  Rod's athleticism, strength, and basketball IQ are obvious and he has employed them well as he has become the Tigers' most reliable player.  And each year he has gotten more comfortable pulling the trigger from the perimeter.  The season-by-season 3 point field goal attempts partially tell this story:

3 Point Field Goals Attempted by Season

2011-12:  5 three pt FG Attempts
2012-13:  9 three pt FG Attempts
2013-14:  67 three pt FG Attempts (made 33% of attempts)

2014-15 First Exhibition Game:  2-6 three pt FG

As you can see from the figures above, Rod didn't shoot threes his first two seasons.  His role was to defend, distribute the ball, and not make mistakes.  Last season he took on more of a scoring role, but the responsibility still rested on KJ McDaniels' shoulders.  He seemed to still be in the "set-up man" mode for much of Saturday's game, attempting only five field goals before his explosion midway through the second half.

After turning it on late, he had tallied 12 points on 8 field goal attempts.  That is highly efficient and the six three point field goal attempts were more than he has attempted in a single game since playing at Clemson.  But I believe he will soon become much more aggressive offensively.  Backcourt mate Jordan Roper shot 14 times Saturday, joining Hall in scoring 12 points.  Rod will probably soon be taking more shots and his confidence will grow.

I told his mom after the game I was hoping he would shoot more during the game's first 30 minutes.  She agreed.  And most importantly she said the coaching staff was shouting "shoot!" to him much of the game as well.  I am glad he eventually listened.  And I hope he continues to let it fly and that he shows Clemson fans that side of his game during his senior season.

And I plan to follow Rod's progress and post updates here.  These are Clemson games I will track in November (check back for updates):

Nov 14 - Clemson hosts FAMU
Nov 17 - Clemson hosts Winthrop
Nov 21-24 - Clemson plays four games in the St Thomas Classic in the Virgin Islands
Nov 28 - Clemson hosts High Point

***Here are some related posts from the past about Rod***

Nov 10, 2014
Rod Hall Explodes Late in Exhibition Opener

March 31, 2014
Michaux: Ex-Laney star Rod Hall helps light fire under Clemson basketball team
from the Augusta Chronicle

Nov 25, 2013
Rod Hall Jr. is on the Right Track