Shaka’s CUPA Hoops…
Maya Smart, two weeks ago, maybe it was six weeks ago in this interminable offseason, threw out a question to social media. It was simple, until you thought about it: which is more important, information or inspiration?
I was in the inspiration camp then, and I am there now when considering last night's exhibition against California of PA. There's plenty of information–points, rebounds, assists, turnovers, final score–and none of it matters. Not to me.
There was plenty of inspriation, and it wasn't all the good kind. Personally, I'm glad I saw a few things rotten. Just as a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a man's mind, the enemy of progress is a fool's arrogance. I want the VCU players feeling good about themselves, but not that good.
One of the reasons I choose inspiration over information is because any number you put forward immediately gets placed into the "level of competition" funnel, an ugly and distracting wormhole. Last night was about what we saw, what we think we saw, and what it means to next Friday. Here's what I saw that inspired me:
Depth can mean a lot of things, most of which are about insurance. What I mean is that depth is generally overrated. If there's foul trouble or if there's an injury or if somebody is playing poorly is a passive benefit. It doesn't do you any good unless something else, usually bad, occurs.
For this team, though, depth is an active ingredient. The Rams have multiple players that can play multiple positions. That allows the coaching staff to dictate terms to the opponent, and it also allows them to better balance inside and outside play. That also means VCU can have three or four Plan As.
We're bigger and stronger than last year. That's going to give the offense an option last year's team did not have and will be a benefit against bigger and stronger teams. I'm looking at you, St. Louis. The first set of both halves saw the same play: an isolation play to Terrance Shannon.
Let me write that another way: we ran an offensive play for a big man
in the post, and his name was not Juvonte Reddic. Let that marinate.
Doug Brooks is going to play minutes. He made a couple freshman plays,
but he looks like a college basketball player. I'm still amazed at Brooks making a layup and then tipping away and corralling the inbounds pass–at midcourt. Think about that.
the type of player he is. He will make mistakes that drive
you nuts and there will be nights he plays two ineffective minutes, but
that kid has a future. I told Robby during the game that no matter where the ball was–offense or defense–Brooks was never more than five feet from it. Brooks reminds me of Jesse Pellot Rosa–though they have a totally different kind of game, both looked like a player from day one, and both simply make plays.
Ditto JeQuan Lewis. There were two passes in the second half, both right in front of me, that most players cannot make because they don't have the court vision. Lewis has a pure talent that needs seasoning, but like Brooks you can see he has a bright future.
I left encouraged by the new guys, all of them. Jordan Burgess lived up to hype. He plays with a controlled barmoeter, like an assassin. He does everything with a purpose and with vigor. That's the toughness
the coaching staff has talked about. It isn't that Burgess is a bad ass
on the court. It's that he does everything powerfully and naturally.
I will also make this bet: if Burgess has two hands on the ball, it will not be knocked out of his hands all season.
Mo Alie Cox is going to help in spurts. Cox moves bodies around. CUPs Alonzo Murphy was a
chiseled 260 pounds and Cox pushed him around at will. Cox creates
space, which has to be considered. He also needs some polish and some work with his hands, but he can
make a physical difference.
As for the old fogeys, Briante Weber looked confident, especially on his shot. Competition level is irrelevant when it comes to making
shots. You just have to make them. Weber fired a 16-footer in the middle of the first
half, and a three-pointer, that were in synch. Both swished.
Rob Brandenberg's back tightened up on him, but put your mind to that drive late in the first half–the one where he missed the layup. Ridiculous explosion, more so than last year.
After about five listless minutes, Juvonte Reddic went back to the bench where a team manager must've slipped him a cup of rattlesnake venom. Reddic was a different player once he settled in. His combination of size, strength, and athleticism is going to cause people problems.
The Freight Trein was himself–I barely remember him on the court, but he scored double-figures. Direct deposit all the way.
Back to Juvonte: I saw him smile. I promise.
VCU played a ton of zone–a classic 2-3 and then a 3-2 look–and expect
that to continue. That's another option for this team that last year's
team didn't have. With Shannon's bulk in the post and the length of Cox
and Brooks we can now play it with effectiveness. That gets an opposing
offense out of rhythm, and gives VCU a chance to buy time in case of
It wasn't all good news and leftover Halloween candy. The end of
the first half and the first handful of minutes in the second half were
sloppy. When you hear coaches talk about focus, you got lesson number
one about what happens when the guys relax–bad things happen.
It's very basic but very true for this team: turnover avoidance is critical. While everybody loves to focus on the turnovers created by the defense, the offense deserves more credit for protecting the basketball. Post passing wasn't the greatest, and the guys got ahead of themselves at times and made those sloppy turnovers.
I was also a little concerned about Melvin Johnson. He didn't have a
great start, but compounded a tough evening by forcing a couple bad
shots to get out of his funk. That's a neck-up adjustment worth keeping your eyes on. You could see Melvin pressing. It's a matter of having a baseball closer's mentality. Forget the homer you gave up and move on to the next play.
The final concern is halfcourt defense. It just didn't look connected last night. Granted, that's a typical early season concern for every team in the nation, but that's something that, if we do well, can make us a much much better team.
Then again, perhaps I was blinded by all the zone.