By Dave Glenn and staff
ACCSports.com January 31, 2005 Melchionni Living Up To Name DURHAM If Lee Melchionni's last name were Smith or Williams, it might be easy to forget that Duke's junior forward is a second-generation ACC player.
But Melchionni is not a common name. His father, Gary, was a gifted point guard for the Blue Devils from 1971-73. He was a second-team All-ACC pick as a junior and a first-team choice as a senior. He averaged almost eight points a game in two seasons with the NBA's Phoenix Suns.
Lee Melchionni has a long way to go to approach his father's individual achievements, but on one level the son already has eclipsed his old man. The current Blue Devil has been a part of two ACC championship teams one tournament and one regular season and has played in a Final Four. He has emerged in the last month as a vital component for a top-10 Duke team that keeps winning despite a succession of physical setbacks.
Team success is something that eluded Gary Melchionni at Duke. He arrived on campus as part of a heralded recruiting class collected by first-year head coach Bucky Waters. It was a group that was supposed to restore Duke to the excellence it had achieved just a few years earlier under Vic Bubas. At first the hype seemed justified, as the Duke freshman team (that was the era before freshmen were eligible for varsity competition) recorded a 16-0 record and dominated its Big Four rivals.
But that celebrated class soon fell apart. Jim Fitzsimmons transferred to Harvard; Jeff Dawson left for Illinois; Richie O'Conner transferred to Fairfield. Gary Melchionni saw the once-proud Duke program go into decline, as player after player left Waters' program. Instead of restoring Duke's glory, his senior year turned out to be the school's first losing season in 34 years.
The younger Melchionni, who arrived at Duke as the least celebrated member of the heralded "Super Six" recruiting class, hasn't had to endure the team struggles his father faced. But the 6-6, 205-pound junior has struggled to find his niche amid all the McDonald's All-Americans that coach Mike Krzyzewski has collected at Duke. Melchionni played little as a freshman and wasn't much more of a factor as a sophomore. The closest thing to a big shot he hit all last season was a buzzer-beating three-pointer just before halftime against Clemson to stretch a four-point lead to seven.
Melchionni's junior year didn't start off a lot better, but then a not-so-funny thing happened as Duke broke for two weeks over the holidays. Starting forward Shavlik Randolph was diagnosed with mononucleosis and sent to the sidelines. Senior Reggie Love, slated to replace Randolph in the lineup, promptly broke a bone in his foot.
Suddenly, necessity thrust Melchionni into a major role. He relieved the injured Love against Clemson and made three huge plays, hitting a pair of crucial three-pointers and drawing a timely charge on the defensive end, to help Duke hold off the stubborn Tigers. After moving into the starting lineup, Melchionni hit back-to-back three-pointers against Temple to help break open a close game early in the second half. At N.C. State, he hit a career-high 16 points to help rally the Devils from a 10-point first-half deficit.
"Unfortunately, we've got some guys that have been hurt, and I've just been able to step up and fill a void that this team needed (filled)," Melchionni said. "I've had an opportunity this year and have started to carve out a little niche for myself."
Melchionni has averaged almost 10 points in about 26 minutes per game as a starter. He's among the ACC leaders in three-point percentage in league games.
"It's especially satisfying because of how he came in," Krzyzewski said. "Lee came in where he had to pay his first year and then was put on scholarship. So to see him starting and contributing? I'm really proud of him."
Only at Duke would the younger Melchionni be regarded as a sleeper recruit. He generally was rated a top-100 prospect at Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania, and he had an early offer from Villanova, plus interest from a number of other top schools. But he elected to follow his father to Duke, even though it meant paying his own way for a year to evade the NCAA's (since repealed) limit of five scholarship newcomers per season.
Melchionni isn't going to challenge for All-ACC honors and may not even hold his starting job after Randolph returns to full health. But he's used the opportunity given him to prove he can be a significant player on a contending team, something his father never was able to experience.
Lee Melchionni never will match his father's individual achievements, but Gary always will envy his son's contributions to a team that is better than any he played on in Durham.
Al Featherston, ACCSports.com
Downey: Quiet, Unselfish Winner
WINSTON-SALEM In some ways, Taron Downey's adventures in mid-January were typical of his entire career at Wake Forest. He came off the bench to boost the Deacons with solid guard play and clutch shooting. But no matter how solid or clutch his performances, he managed to get overshadowed by something else.
What wasn't typical? This time, it was Downey who upstaged himself with some out-of-character actions. To understand how typical and atypical the moments were, it's necessary to look at Downey's history first.
Downey led the state of North Carolina in scoring at 30.7 points per game as a high school senior, helped by 44-percent shooting from three-point range. He then went straight to a prep school, even though he had qualified for college. He chose not a basketball factory but Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, known more for its football. Downey realized that a more mature body and game would pay off, so he sublimated his ego to get it done.
A year later, it was Downey who worked his way as a rookie into what had been an all-upperclassman starting lineup at Wake. He closed his freshman season with 11 points, seven assists and no turnovers in an NCAA Tournament loss to Oregon.
As a sophomore, Downey took over the point, starting all 31 games and leading the team in minutes played at 34.4 (2.1 more than super senior Josh Howard) per game. He led a team that went 25-6 and won Wake's first ACC regular-season title in 40 years.
By this time, his teammates began to understand that Downey would step forward in clutch time. As a freshman, he was thrown into his first extensive action at Duke because of injuries to other players. He responded with seven points, five assists and no turnovers at Cameron. Later, his running three-pointer sent the game at Clemson into overtime. As a sophomore, he hit 12 of 20 threes in postseason play, upping his scoring average in those games to 13.3.
But something was always in the way of Downey finding the spotlight. The Duke and Clemson games were losses. His sophomore postseason was a flameout for the highly ranked Deacons. In addition, many of Downey's big shots seemed to come in the middle of games, the kind that stop an opponent's run or start one for Wake, but the kind that were forgotten by game's end.
Then there was his personality. Howard was the star, Justin Gray was brash, and Eric Williams was funny. Downey was bland, something that also was bemoaned by his coach, Skip Prosser, who wanted a stronger voice on the court.
Finally, there was Chris Paul. Before Paul had even enrolled, fans (and writers) were speculating about how long it would take before Downey sat down and Paul took over. That's right: The point guard on Wake's best team in recent memory already was being pushed aside for a high school player many had never seen dribble.
And when the predictions came true? Downey moved over for Paul after 11 games, and he did it without a public word or private turmoil an almost unbelievable act in higher-level sports today. This was after Downey had opened the season with 20 points, five assists and no turnovers eight days after an appendectomy and had scored 19 with seven assists in an upset win at UNC.
A year later, Downey continues to blend in on the court, playing both guard spots with aplomb. He's also a blender off the court, fun enough to joke around with everyone, but mature enough to reel them in when needed.
That brings us to the events of mid-January. Against UNC, Wake trailed 13-8 when Downey entered. He promptly grabbed defensive rebounds on three straight possessions, then followed each with a three-pointer. Wake never trailed again, but it was Paul's 26 points and Wake's 32-for-32 free throw shooting that grabbed headlines.
Next time out against Florida State, it was Downey who completed Wake's huge comeback with a deep three-pointer, despite getting fouled. It was then that he did two things so far out of character that everyone around the program was shocked. His throat-slashing gesture was one; missing the potential winning free throw was the other.
In typical Downey fashion, his 18 points and huge shot were overshadowed, as the gesture and the miss went nationwide. Prosser spent a lot of time defending a player whom he frequently has called the most selfless ever to play for him.
"This is a kid with tremendous fabric," Prosser said.
In the end, it's that fabric that Downey will be known for.
His stats bear out his heart. Last year, he averaged more points in ACC games than in non-conference games. His stats were better yet in ACC road games. For his career, in home games, he's shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 29.1 from three-point range. Those numbers jump away from home to 46.3 and 42.7, respectively. In 12 postseason games, he's shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 50 percent (22 of 44) from three-point range.
Downey will win more games and play more minutes than most in Wake history, yet he's also one of those players most people likely will struggle to remember in 20 years. In sports these days, glue players with talent don't come around very often.
Recently, Gray gave Downey the ultimate compliment in that regard: "He just come in, does his job, and leaves."
Tech: Jack Makes Jump To Elite
ATLANTA Paul Hewitt once needed a cornerstone player, a recruit around whom he could build his new Georgia Tech program. He found his man in Jarrett Jack, who was looking for a program to make his own.
"I wanted to go somewhere where I could be part of a rebuilding process and be responsible for bringing that school back to prominence," Jack said, explaining why he chose Tech over Michigan State, Maryland and Arizona. "(Hewitt) told me I could be the start of a legacy here, with me being the first point guard he recruits."
It's been a perfect match for player and school. Hewitt turned the team over to Jack the day he arrived on campus three seasons ago, installing him as the point guard. Jack has started every game since, including the Yellow Jackets' national title game against Connecticut last April, a first in school history.
Jack, a junior who is expected to declare for the NBA draft after this season, had his career-defining moment in last year's Elite Eight victory against Kansas. His line: 29 points (eight in overtime), nine rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Despite his success, Jack doesn't get the attention or accolades of Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul or North Carolina's Raymond Felton. Jack was third-team All-ACC last season and didn't receive preseason All-ACC recognition this year.
"He is, in my opinion, one of the best players in college basketball," Hewitt said. "It's amazing to me how much people overlook him. Every year, he gets better and better."
This year is no exception. Jack, at 6-3 and 202 pounds, always has been able to penetrate, draw contact and finish in the lane. Before this season, it was his primary scoring method. No matter how much contact is involved, Jack always seems to find a way to get the ball to the basket.
Then Jack spent the summer expanding his shooting range, firing up 400 to 500 three-point attempts every day. The work paid off. A 30-percent three-point shooter in his first two seasons, Jack is shooting better than 45 percent from behind the arc this season. He's also shooting almost 90 percent from the free throw line, up nearly 10 percent from last season.
"It goes a long way when you see all your hard work paying off," Jack said. "All those jump shots when the lights weren't on."
His value to the Yellow Jackets resides not just in his points and assists, but in his leadership. Jack is the unquestioned leader of this year's team, a role that's taken on added pressure with the lingering hamstring injury to senior shooting guard B.J. Elder.
"He won't allow these guys to even think about whether somebody is hurt or not at 100 percent," Hewitt said. "He does a great job of talking to these guys on the court and in the locker room about taking care of their responsibilities. He knows what I want done on the floor."
Jack, a basketball historian and junkie, is well aware of the legacy he can leave behind in Atlanta. He's already taken the Yellow Jackets further in the NCAA Tournament than any point guard in the school's illustrious history, further than Stephon Marbury and Kenny Anderson and Mark Price.
Like Price, his jersey might someday hang from the rafters at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Like Price, Jack might one day be seen as the start of another point guard pipeline at Tech.
Right now, he's more worried about carrying the Yellow Jackets back to where they were last season and beyond.
"If we're the last team playing on the last day," Jack said, "I think I'll get my just due in the end."
Miami: King Full Of Surprises
CORAL GABLES The knock on Anthony King coming out of Southern Durham High in North Carolina was that his game wasn't consistent, and that the work habits he needed to turn himself into a contributor on a top-tier college team might not be there.
While scouting other prospects during recruiting trips to the heart of ACC country for Texas, Frank Haith shared a similar scouting report on the forward whose dream was to play in the ACC. So when Haith inherited King this summer after becoming Miami's new head coach, he admitted that he viewed King as a long-term project.
Little did Haith or the rest of country know that King would blossom into one of the league's biggest defensive forces this season, immediately providing the physical post presence that filled one of UM's biggest voids. Some of the same ACC coaches who once passed on King now find themselves making game plans to limit his disruptive nature.
King has been top-five in the conference in rebounds (more than eight per game) all season, and he's been dueling with Duke center Shelden Williams for the rights to the league's shotblocking crown, deflecting nearly 3.5 attempts per game. Not bad for a player who most thought wouldn't cut it.
"I've surprised a lot of people," King said, "including myself."
King finds some redemption in his emergence this season, after suffering through a forgettable freshman campaign in which he contributed only sparingly while averaging about six minutes in 21 games. But the journey there wasn't easy.
He dropped 30 pounds during the summer, trimming fat off his 250-pound frame. He also gradually added about 10 pounds of muscle, which helped the 6-9 athlete bulk back up to 229 pounds. He's also had to rebuild his psyche, with a little help from Haith.
Here's a prime example of the depth from which King came. He inherited a starting spot in the season opener because senior forward Will Frisby was serving a one-game suspension. In that win over Wofford, King scored eight points and pulled down 18 rebounds. At Miami's next practice, with Frisby's suspension over, King assumed he'd be relinquishing the starting role and initially lined up with the second-team players without being instructed to.
Haith said he found that especially disturbing, so he took King aside for a chat: "That's your spot. You earned it. You let someone beat you for it. Don't give it up. If you keep playing hard, you'll hold it."
That's exactly what King has done. He's started every game for the Hurricanes this season and put together a handful of stand-out performances, including a 10-point, 10-rebound outing against Duke.
He'll go down in history as the answer to a UM trivia question about the first player in school history ever to record a triple-double. He did it during UM's 84-68 win over Florida Atlantic in November, scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking an ACC-record 13 shots.
"It's been a process," Haith said. "We've built on each game, each week, and he's gained more confidence in his game. That's been good to see. He's been more assertive, and you can just see him getting better with each game, and that's going to help us as we progress along this year."
Next on King's agenda is to overhaul the offensive side of his game. He's averaging 6.6 points and is one of two Hurricanes shooting better than 50 percent from the field, but he's still working on his post skills. A few reliable back-to-the-basket moves would make him much more of a threat down low.
"I didn't play much last year, so with each game I'm gaining confidence. I'm just taking the shots that are there," King said. "In high school it wasn't difficult (to score). I was so much better than everyone. Now it's only a slight margin that separates a lot of people, so with my moves and stuff I have to be very precise."
His new goal is to leave Miami as a "double-double" guy.
"Rebounding is there for me. It comes easy. Blocking shots isn't hard," King said. "The points will come."
Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Williams Finally Realizing Hopes
CHAPEL HILL Jawad Williams once sat in the stands at Cameron Indoor Stadium on his first trip to Duke and talked about how he planned to be a star for North Carolina.
"Personally, I'll think I'll go in there and be an impact player from the start," Williams said as a high school senior, while in Durham for the McDonald's American game. "I won't slack off. I'll go in there and work hard every day. I'll be on top of the ACC pretty soon. I plan on bringing North Carolina back to the Final Four, with a little help."
Four years later, Williams may have enough help to make a trip to the Final Four. But the young man who has made the journey has evolved dramatically from the cocky kid from Lakewood, Ohio.
These days, Williams says very little. Back in 2001, he bragged that he could play anything from point guard to power forward. Today, he consistently diverts any talk of his personal development toward the team. He is so consistent that he all but refuses to address his own game in any way.
"I've taken great strides since I stepped foot on campus," Williams said. "I actually try to lead more by example than doing any talking. Talking only goes so far."
When he speaks to this, his senior season, he says: "I didn't really focus on myself. I just wanted to be a great teammate and do whatever it takes to win."
That is exactly what he has done. He neither seeks nor gets much of the attention that centers on this star-studded team. What he does command is the utter respect of his teammates.
"Spectacular. That is one word that describes his season," junior forward David Noel said. "He's doing all the little things and all the big things that we need him to do as a senior on this team. He's becoming a player to be reckoned with, and he's doing big things."
In a recent game against Miami, the Tar Heels went six minutes without a bucket. Carolina turned the ball over time and again, failing to even get shots. This infuriated coach Roy Williams so much that he called a timeout.
"At one point, Miami came back and Coach said, Where's our leader? Where's our leadership?'" junior center Sean May said. "Jawad came out and got a dunk, got a jump shot. I just think that says a lot about his character and the kind of person he is. He doesn't say much, but we know as soon as they throw that ball in the air, he's always ready to play."
From the first days of practice this season, Roy Williams described Jawad's play as the steadiest on the team. Statistics support this assertion. His 16.1 points per game is second only to Rashad McCants' 16.6. His free throw percentage of 82.4 is second to Marvin Williams' 86.7. His field goal percentage of 61.5 is tops on the team.
"He's been steady every day, trying to do the right thing," Roy Williams said. "I don't see him losing focus out on the court. I don't see him taking bad shots. I don't see him not getting involved defensively. I just see him having great focus, and he's really had it since day one."
Williams actually started his junior season in a similar fashion, but a series of injuries deflated his performance in the final two-thirds of the season. He suffered two concussions and a broken nose. This season he has managed to remain relatively healthy and extremely productive.
"I really thought last year, Jawad started off the year the same way he did this year," May said. "He just had some misfortune and some bad luck. He's continued every night to bring it, and he's playing well."
Eddy Landreth, Chapel Hill (N.C.) News
Brackman Helping NCSU Early
RALEIGH The conventional wisdom was that Andrew Brackman would make his biggest impact this season on the baseball field, but Brackman has changed all that with a surprisingly good freshman season so far with the N.C. State basketball team.
He quickly has turned into State's best big man, averaging 9.2 points and 4.9 rebounds and leading the team in blocked shots through 18 games. He's still averaging only 20 minutes a game, but there's little question that number will increase as the season progresses.
Brackman, a 6-10, 205-pounder from Cincinnati, insists this shouldn't be so surprising.
"I'm not surprised at all," he said. "I've been doing this pretty much my whole life."
Don't blame the rest of the world for getting caught off-guard, though. Brackman's biggest claim to fame in high school was a 91 miles per hour fastball that made him a bonafide major league pitching prospect. For that reason, he flew under the basketball recruiting radar for the most part, rated as a marginal top-50 prospect by most analysts. He clearly was ranked below fellow freshman Cedric Simmons, and it was Simmons who was supposed to make the bigger impact on the Wolfpack's frontcourt this season.
Coach Herb Sendek portrays Brackman as a late bloomer, someone who might have been written off by others early in the recruiting process.
"Andrew is a young man who really came on fast," Sendek said. "I saw his high school team play in December of his junior year, and I don't know that I really would have noticed him if I didn't have a scorecard. He was a nice player, he blended in, he ran the floor, but that was about it. Then I had a chance to watch him play the summer before his senior year, and it was as if he had gone into a phone booth and come out a different player. He was dramatically improved."
That improvement continues today. Brackman had his best all-around game yet
in a win over Georgia Tech on Jan. 16, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds
and six blocks. Then he had his first double-double three nights later i
n a loss at Virginia Tech, with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"I just think he has tremendous potential, and he's going to get better and better," Sendek said. "He has great size, and he also knows how to play. He's a great competitor."
Many already are comparing Brackman to former State great Tom Gugliotta, because their styles are similar. Both are smart, hard-nosed players who have the size to stay inside and the shooting range and agility to play on the wing.
But Sendek is right. Brackman's competitiveness is clearly one of his biggest strengths. He's a savvy player, with a solid understanding of the game. And for a freshman, he has been remarkably poised for the most part.
"Before the season," Sendek said, "I told his parents he reminded me of that old Colt .45 commercial where the guy is sitting there in an outdoor courtyard with his legs crossed, and this bull comes in and knocks over the table, and the guy doesn't so much as uncross his legs. He has another sip of his drink.
"Andrew's one of those guys. He doesn't get knocked out of sorts. He's just, OK, that happened. I can't change it, let me go to the next thing.' Which is how you need to be."
UVa: Cain Gets His Opportunity
CHARLOTTESVILLE With his failure to remain eligible for an eighth semester at Virginia, Jason Clark unwittingly may have hastened the Cavaliers' frontcourt movement.
There was no greater immediate beneficiary of Clark's academic probation than
Jason Cain, a 6-10, 210-pound sophomore who got his first college start
Jan. 22, when he played 20 minutes in an 81-79 victory over Clemson. On the
day Clark was declared ineligible, Cain played 16 minutes Jan. 19 in an
82-68 loss at Maryland.
Until that night, Cain had played a total of 24 minutes all season, including a four-game span in which he did not leave the bench. Before the reversal, it was reasonable to wonder if Cain had a future at Virginia beyond 2004-05. For most of the season, he played behind classmate Donte Minter and freshman Tunji Soroye.
At least one of those three will have to start next year, when current post fixture Elton Brown will have exhausted his eligibility. UVa began the season with three seniors in the frontcourt, including Devin Smith, whose background as a post player in New Castle, Del., has helped him remain a contributor on the boards despite his relatively short (6-5) stature.
Cain owed some of his playing time against Maryland to an injury to Minter, who underwent minor surgery to repair a break in the little finger on his left (shooting) hand. The coaching staff was pleased by Cain's seven-point, four-rebound performance against the Terps, where the only negative was his one-for-four performance at the free throw line.
Cain had been a fan favorite of UVa students since his freshman year, when he was the object of a student website, "The Assemblage Of Cain," that once attracted as many as 1,000 per hits a day. The site paid homage to the player's "cheesy" mustache and penchant for hooded sweatshirts, among other things.
Gary Forbes started in Clark's place against Maryland, but it appears that UVa's fifth starting spot will be up for grabs for whichever of the Cavaliers' young players has the most to offer. Rebounding will be the key. At 6-6, Forbes is a more natural wing player, but he did have 10 rebounds eight of them offensive in an 80-66 loss at Duke.
When the UVa coaches look at Cain, they envision another Jamaal Levy, a lanky frontcourt player who has carved out a niche for himself at Wake Forest because of his rebounding ability. Cain has a similar build, but when given his big chance at Clemson, he had four points and one rebound. The Tigers out-rebounded UVa 23-11 in the second half.
"He didn't rebound well against Clemson," Gillen said. "He did box out. He screened out. So he did some good things. He's got a great IQ for the game. That's one of the best things about him. He has a good feel for the game. He sees things. He certainly has to get stronger in the offseason."
Cain is taller and more athletically gifted than Minter (6-8, 245). Minter has a better knack around the basket but is seldom a force around the boards. Soroye (6-11, 210) is the most natural shotblocker of the three but took just one shot from the field over a two-month span.
Virginia signed Cain and Minter in the spring of 2003, mostly to provide frontcourt depth. But Cain in particular was an intriguing prospect from the Philadelphia area, which has been mined by UVa assistant Walt Fuller. Cain was believed headed to Villanova before then-Wildcats assistant Joe Jones took the head job at Columbia. Cain actually played more as a freshman in Charlottesville than he did in the first six weeks of this season.
"He wasn't in the mix, but he's going to have a chance now," Gillen said. "He gives us a little more size and a little more rebounding than some of the others. He's got long arms and can run, and you certainly can't teach that."
Doug Doughty, Roanoke (Va.) Times
Opportunity Knocks For Jones
COLLEGE PARK Maryland fans expected Mike Jones to be an immediate-impact player. After all, he was a McDonald's All-American, rated by some recruiting services as the nation's No. 2 prep shooting guard behind NBA-bound LeBron James. Surely those credentials meant instant success, possibly on the way to eventual superstar status.
But as Maryland coach Gary Williams has told anyone who will listen, it doesn't always work that way.
Jones built his reputation by averaging 24.8 points and 14.2 rebounds per game in Massachusetts at Thayer Academy, which played in a weak private-school conference. He impressed the recruiting analysts by displaying tremendous athleticism and shooting ability at summer camps, where defense often is an afterthought.
"In high school, Mike could pretty much do anything he wanted, because he was athletically superior to the guys he was playing against," Williams said. "When Mike came here, he was really one-dimensional. He was just a shooter, believe me."
When Jones arrived in College Park, he had no idea how to play defense, no concept of team offense and could not dribble the ball under pressure. While the physical skills were all there, the mental understanding of how to properly play basketball was not.
"Because of the McDonald's All-America stuff, people think Mike should be a complete player right away," Williams said. "Mike had a lot of hype coming in, and I think he went through what a lot of freshmen go through, in terms of understanding what it takes to compete at this level and learning how to become productive in all areas of the game."
Jones appeared in 30 games as a freshman, averaging 10 minutes and 4.9 points. His most extensive action came against non-conference patsies such as Maryland-Eastern Shore and American, but he did see double-digit minutes in nine ACC games.
Jones flashed his potential by scoring 25 points against Mount St. Mary's and by grabbing six rebounds in the ACC Tournament championship upset of Duke. However, the raw rookie had far more outings in which he looked lost, confused and unconfident.
That didn't stop large numbers of fans from criticizing Williams for not playing Jones. Those folks saw only the player who soared high above the rim for a dunk and not the one who didn't move his feet on defense. The outrage may have peaked earlier this season, when Jones played less than one minute against George Washington.
When was Williams going to finally give the talented sophomore a legitimate chance? Why did the coach seem so intent on destroying the kid's confidence? Actually, Williams was trying to preserve Jones' confidence, by not putting him in position to fail. He was attempting to develop the player in practice before counting on him in big games.
By all accounts, Jones has gotten better, gradually. The sophomore's defense is light years ahead of where it was last year, to the point that he at least can stay in front of the man he's guarding. He's also learning to take the ball to the basket when defenders crowd him on the perimeter.
"If I had to point to any one skill that Mike has really gotten better at, it would be ball-handling," Williams said. "Mike has got as good a (shooting) release as I've seen. Other teams knew that and would not let him shoot an uncontested three. Mike needs to learn how to take people off the dribble, how to create his own shot. That's the only way to keep a defender honest, and Mike knows that now."
While Jones is still very much a work in progress, his recent play in practice and games has earned him more minutes. He had a possible breakthrough performance against Temple, scoring 21 points on five-for-nine field goal shooting while also grabbing four rebounds. What Williams took note of in that game was that Jones attempted eight free throws, an indication that he is taking the ball to the basket more often.
With fellow backcourt reserve D.J. Strawberry sidelined for the season with a knee injury, Jones likely will be asked to play even more minutes. He was not very productive recently in extended action against Virginia and N.C. State.
"People have to realize this is only the (midpoint) of his sophomore year. Mike still has plenty of time to grow and develop as a basketball player," Williams said. "I think games like (Temple) will help Mike become the player I'm sure he should be."
Surgery Sparked Hokies' Collins
BLACKSBURG Coleman Collins was beaming from ear to ear. It would've been difficult to find somebody who gained more pleasure from Virginia Tech's recent 70-69 upset at then-No. 12 Georgia Tech.
Collins, a 6-8, 228-pound sophomore forward, hasn't had a lot to smile about since the start of the season. He couldn't walk without grimacing six weeks before the Georgia Tech upset. He has come a long way since then, and Virginia Tech's stunning win in Atlanta served as the culmination for the native of Stone Mountain, Ga.
"I've been coming here for years, man," said Collins, who had 13 points and six rebounds against Tech and helped hold 7-1 center Luke Schenscher to just four points. "Since I was about eight years old at (former Georgia Tech coach) Bobby Cremins' basketball camp, man. This means a lot to me, to get this win right here on this court."
That's the kind of win that makes a nightmarish November and December worthwhile.
The pain Collins endured in the early season was the product of a cyst "the size of a quarter," according to Tech coach Seth Greenberg, on the small toe of Collins' left foot. It was the same toe he broke at the start of his freshman season, causing him to miss seven games after surgery.
He tried to play through the pain this season, telling reporters in October that the toe wasn't causing him much trouble. Instead, it only got worse.
In late November and early December, he couldn't even manage to get up and down the court for half the game. He started against Maryland-Eastern Shore, William & Mary and Virginia Military Institute, but he was forced to sit for long stretches and played for 20 minutes or less in each of those games.
Collins was trying desperately to get to Tech's first ACC game against North Carolina on Dec. 19, but he couldn't make it. The injury finally caught up to him. He had surgery on the cyst Dec. 12 and missed Tech's next two games, including the UNC matchup.
The decision to have surgery wound up being a stroke of genius. In Tech's first seven games of the season, Collins averaged 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. After surgery, he averaged 13.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in his next seven outings.
He's a new man, but it's hard to tell while watching him play. Collins isn't big on public emotional displays. The grin in the postgame locker room at Georgia Tech made a huge statement. It was a triumphant symbol, both for his team and for himself.
"Since he's been back from the surgery, and we were smart in taking our time in bringing him back and having him sit out those two games, he's rebounding a little bit better and he's defending the post a whole lot better," Greenberg said. "He's kind of anchoring our frontcourt. He's pretty even-keeled. He doesn't get too high, and he doesn't get too low. He's got the ability to kind of analyze things and put things in perspective. He's not your normal 18-year-old, that's for sure."
Waleskowski Shining As Senior
TALLAHASSEE There was a point early in Florida State forward Adam Waleskowski's career when many fans wondered aloud what former coach Steve Robinson saw in the high-profile prospect out of Kettering, Ohio.
Air-balled baseline jumpers and unforced turnovers eroded Waleskowski's confidence. When asked recently to look back at his humble beginnings on the college level, he half-jokingly assessed himself this way: "slow white boy." The early stumbles were hard for the FSU coaches to imagine, given Waleskowski's fundamentally sound background.
The process of rebuilding that confidence was slow to develop under new coach Leonard Hamilton, but by the end of last season, Waleskowski began to show signs of becoming a solid ACC player. He led the team in rebounding and scored in double figures in five of the Seminoles' final eight games, including back-to-back double-doubles the first of his career to close his junior campaign. Not bad for a guy with just five double-figure scoring performances in his first 83 games with the Seminoles.
"Part of the process was convincing him he was capable of more," Hamilton said. "Some players look at themselves and (are surprised) when you show them their mistakes. (Waleskowski) was the opposite. Sometimes he thought too much about the bad and not enough about the good things he was doing."
Following a tentative start to his final season, Waleskowski answered the call for greater expectations following an unseemly loss to Florida International. Following up a career-high 24-point performance against South Alabama with 23 points and 14 rebounds in an overtime loss at Maryland, Waleskowski seemed to find his stride. It didn't go unnoticed.
"To have seniors like (Waleskowski) and (Andrew) Wilson, those guys obviously don't jump as high or run as fast, but they enable those other guys to run and jump and make plays," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said, following the Seminoles' 77-70 win over the Hokies. "Coming into the game, I thought Waleskowski was their best player, and he did nothing to change that."
Waleskowski scored seven of his 13 points in the final 5:35 to help hold off Tech.
"Throughout the start of the season, in some of those losses, we let those teams hang around and they came back to bite us in the butt," Waleskowski said. "We had some points in the second half there (against the Hokies) where we got a little anxious on offense and were turning the ball over. I just wanted to calm the team down and let them know (the need) to stay under control and everything would work itself out."
It seems to have turned out that way for the 6-8 forward, who is one of the ACC's best three-point shooting big men and clearly the Seminoles' top post defender. Still coming off the bench, he poured in 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a convincing 92-80 win over Florida.
Though his play leveled out during a six-game stint as the starter, Waleskowski clearly has improved his production. Through 20 games, he had nearly doubled his career scoring average at 8.9 points, led the team in rebounding (5.0) and was shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 45 percent from beyond the three-point arc. He entered the season as a 41.4-percent shooter, 35.1 from three-point range.
With the Seminoles' postseason aspirations seemingly slipping away, Hamilton sent Waleskowski back to the bench when FSU traveled to N.C. State on Jan. 26, looking to end its 26-game ACC road losing streak.
Sure enough, it was Waleskowski who helped provide the Seminoles with the happiest of endings. In a season-low 12 minutes in part because of foul trouble he scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds against the Wolfpack. Most satisfying of all, his two free throws with eight seconds remaining sealed FSU's 70-64 victory, the first league road win of Waleskowski's career.
Hammonds On Firm Foundation
CLEMSON It made sense that Cliff Hammonds chose Clemson for his college basketball career, because he always has been a builder.
As a boy, Hammonds often built structures out of blocks and Legos, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a brick mason. Hammonds said he especially is proud of a spaceship he built out of Legos about 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, Hammonds has built himself up on the basketball court. Described by his teammates as Clemson's hardest worker, he has exceeded expectations as a freshman guard and become a building block for Tigers coach Oliver Purnell.
Through mid-January, Hammonds led the team's freshmen with 9.6 points and 2.7 assists per game, while also grabbing 3.7 rebounds. In the classroom, he has even gaudier numbers. Majoring in architecture, he carries a 3.42 GPA, and his first-semester classes included an introduction to architecture and calculus.
But those assignments are nothing compared with the ones Purnell gives him. As the Tigers' best perimeter defender, Hammonds often guards the opponent's top scorer.
"He's got a desire, long arms, and he's a pretty good guy in terms of the scouting report," Purnell said. "He picks up on things that we give him, how to stop guys and how to play things."
Hammonds' father, Michael, is a retired U.S. Army sergeant. Hammonds lived in several places as a child, and not surprisingly he learned to work hard.
With the schedule he keeps now, Hammonds might as well be in the military himself: push-ups and sit-ups before 7:30 breakfast; class from 8 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m., followed by lunch; 400 to 500 shots before practice, with more push-ups and sit-ups mixed in; practice, followed by dinner and study hall; more studying on his own, then more push-ups and sit-ups before bed. Hammonds said he tries to do 500 push-ups and 500 sit-ups every day.
"Everybody's strong, everybody's tough, so it's just something I've got to do to try to gain a little edge on the other point guards," Hammonds said. "If I find out they're doing the same thing, I'm just gonna do more."
Though he is not the biggest, strongest or fastest player on the Tigers, Hammonds is one of the most valuable. He has the intangible skills coaches crave, with the intelligence and versatility (at 6-3) to play three positions effectively. Through 18 games, Hammonds had turned the ball over only 32 times.
Some day, Hammonds hopes to build apartment complexes or houses. But for now, he just wants to build a winner at Clemson and a solid relationship with the Tigers' fans.
"I know being an athlete at a major college, you're gonna have kids looking up to you," Hammonds said. "So I want that kid to see me doing all these positive things he doesn't talk back to the ref, he doesn't get into arguments with his coach. He just does what's right and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."
Adam Davis, Greenville (S.C.) News