Are You Chicken Little, Or The Boy Who Cried Wolf?
That's a trick question: it's neither.
Yesterday’s Black and Gold game was an ugly 32 minutes, to be sure. It was one part shudder, one part cringe. Relax. It’s an intrasquad scrimmage. This is the first time the players have gone up and down the floor with actual officials, and without coaching stoppages to correct mistakes.
Honestly, I prefer ugly at this stage. I’d be concerned if yesterday was a free-flowing funfest where we smile and laugh and sip cocktails. I want to see guys struggle, even if they are Our Guys and it’s painful.
There were breakdowns on defense that led to wide-open shots, because we still have a long way to go on that side of the ball, but there were far fewer than last year. We saw some grit. Some closing out on the shooter instead of “look, there’s a guy taking a shot” defense.
I think it looked disjointed at times because the new guys are lucky to know which basket they are shooting towards while the old guys are trying too hard. We love Mike Gilmore but he was clearly pressing. Kel Simms tried to be the man, sometimes at inopportune moments.
What I’m trying to say is a game like that, at this stage…it isn’t the big things; it’s the small things. You have to look for them—both good and bad—to find true value in what we saw. Sweeping statements are useless. For me, here are a handful of those small things…
Issac Vann: on a 3-on-2 break, instead of flaring to the wing for the softer, easier three-point attempt, Vann cut into the lane. He took a pass and dunked it. On another play, he took a one-more pass behind the arc and instead of taking the open three, pump-faked a defender closing him out (!!!) and tried to drive. He got called for walking, but that’s my point about small things. Sure he walked, but both of these are the aggressive plays that did not happen enough last year.
There was one true loose ball I can remember, a squibbler into the backcourt. PJ Byrd and Corey Douglas attacked it and dove onto the floor, bodies be-damned. Douglas landed on Byrd and both popped up and moved on. That’s VCU basketball.
The black team scored 20 second half points. Vann scored 16 of them. As I’ve said for years, I’m never worried about who is going to pick up the scoring slack. “I want you to shoot and score more” is never a difficult conversation to have with a player. So stop worrying about who is going to score.
I admit I choose to pay more attention to the new guys than old guys. Sean Mobley had a statistically horrid game, but if you watch, he is one play ahead of everyone else. Kid is a senior stuffed into a sophomore’s body. More than once the Black team scored and set up the press. More than once Byrd cut to the coffin corner to receive the inbounds pass. Twice he was trapped into turnovers. With the game tied late, Byrd cut to that exact spot. Mobley, inbounding the ball, looked off an open Byrd—he was open for a reason!—and threw a high safe pass to the outlet, De’Riante Jenkins.
The newbies were most impressive, especially Keyshawn Curry and Douglas. Curry is game-ready. Seems like he’s one of those guys that’s not great at anything, but really good at a lot of things and doesn’t mind mixing it up. Curry is an involved player, and that makes everyone better. Douglas is active and a big body. A friend who knows such things told me Douglas’ footwork has improved exponentially since he arrived. I like that arc. I could be wrong, but I feel like Mike Rhoades can surround Douglas with any combination of four players and the Douglas role doesn’t change. “You go do this” is a powerful message.
Byrd is interesting. He tried too many things yesterday he could get away with in high school but will not get away with in college, but he played unafraid—important for a point guard. That’s part of the adjustment that will make Byrd far better in January than he is now. Vince Williams is also interesting. Williams had some rough edges but you can see he has an advanced feel for the game—very similar to the things we were saying about Mobley last year. Both of those guys are upgrades in talent and need time.
So what do I make of it? Not much.
Guys tried too hard, which led to a lot of ugliness. We saw good, bad, and ugly. The reality is that we have a long way to go but it’s October 20. Nobody said anything about the full monty.
The most important thing to look for at the Virginia-Wise exhibition next week is a tidying up of those things that looked bad. Those cannot be a trend. We’ve got plenty of reasons to sweep yesterday’s filth under the rug and they are legit—but they cannot linger. Last year’s issues tended to linger. That’s why I’m not making any sweeping beliefs from yesterday—we have time to get there. There’s too many variables between now and then.
No, wait, I lied. I’m making one sweeping statement: I think this year’s team, come January, beats last year’s January team by double-digits.