08
Jul
09

The New Big Sky Conference Basketball Athlete


******* Warning this gets long! *******BSky Montana St Weber St Basketball

OK my topic, title is a little over stated, as mainly I will be addressing the Men’s programs, but I believe much of what I am writing also pertains to women’s basketball.

There has always been the argument big verses athletic when it comes to Big Sky team, but recently that argument has changed from big versus small to big versus athletic and skilled, with small(er) athletic and skilled seemingly hands down the trend in the Big Sky Conference. This new trend, as I call it, in Big Sky Basketball actually has been slowly coming over about 10 years now, but two or so years ago the trend became a reality.

Before I go further I wasn’t to talk about the “Big Sky Player”

One of the things that drives me crazy, is when fans/boosters bitch about a Big Sky coach not recruiting enough 6-10 to 7-0 centers. Then once they do have the big behemoths in the program, complaining about their centers being lead footed big men. The same is true in football with lets say the wide receiver. “We need to recruit the taller wide receivers”, which is quickly followed by “we need to need quicker wide receivers that get in front of the coverage”. Well folks, you need to understand, that if they had both size and quickness/athleticism they would be playing for a Pac-10 school, and not a Big Sky school. It is very hard to find the perfect player at this level, and, that is nut that Big Sky basketball, volleyball, and football coaches have been trying to crack for decades. Generally they can get one or the other or someone who mediocre at both but not everything.

There are a couple other factors that go into Big Sky recruiting and those are player skills and the hidden / or under recruited talent.

In the past, just about every prospect was expected to have a certain skill set to be considered a D-1 prospect depending on the position he played. Power forwards would had certain skill sets and while one guy may be a better rebounder or shooter rarely did you see a power forward with shooting guard skills or a coach who even wanted those skills in their power forwards. While certain skills were a given that a player must possess, they were not the recruiting factor that they now are. Now every player on the court wants to be Michael Jordan. They want to shoot the three pointers, drive the lane, and make the no look pass. These are the skill the prospects have been developing sin grade school. The day of the low post center is waning.

sharpWhen I say hidden or under recruited talent, these prospects were always the wildcard in most Big Sky coaches’ bag of trick. They still are but, are now a lot more difficult to find. These are the guys that turn out to be the Tom Damako’s, Danny Sprinkle’s, Kevin Criswell’s, or Brain Qvale’s to name a few. Player hidden off the recruited trail, or players who develop /grow very late in their high school career. Every single Big Sky coach I have ever met, has relied on these prospects, and hoped and preyed each year that they stay hidden under the radar. These are the coaches most closely guarded secrets. The problem is that with the internet and AAU ball exploding it is getting more and more difficult to find kids who are not already getting exposure and even more difficult to keep them hidden.  Ten year ago, hardly any Montana kids were playing AAU ball in the summer. Today, I do not know any Montana kids, even with an out side chance, of being a D-1 prospect, who is not playing AAU ball. They are all playing and they all think / hoping they are going to get an offer from a bigger school that the Big Sky.

The landscape has change significantly in the last 5-10 year. The upper level Big Sky players are hard to find, they all want to go to higher levels, and the upper level teams know who they are. The other major shift, I see, is that players are much more skilled now. Big men are better passers, shooters and ball handlers. It seems all big men want to be small forwards or shooting guards, often at the expense of post up skills and rebounding. If you have paid attention to D-1 basketball you will have noticed the trend not only on the Big Sky level but even more so at the elite level.

The big catalyst for change, in the Big Sky, happened a couple years back, when a few teams – Portland State being one of them- fielded teams that were smaller at each position, but quicker, athletic and more highly skilled teams. These teams could beat you down the floor, for three on five breaks, on an inbounds play, pass the ball or pull up and take three point shots from any position. I talked to Brad Huse at a 6th man club meeting after that season, he said the Cat’s needed to get more athletic and quick in order defend teams like PSU. A few day’s later in a Missoulain article I saw, Tinkle say almost the word for word exact thing. Getting quicker to play defense, was mantra for the entire Big Sky recruiting class that spring. It is kind of a chicken or an egg thing, in order to play defense against a quick offence you needed quicker defensives.

To large part, coaches must, recruit/coach the players that are available to them. The best players available to be recruited are more multi-tooled players, and maybe they lack the post skills of the past. The big boys are sucking up most of the athletic 6-10 centers or 6-1 point guards so the Big Sky coaches have to make their choices from what is left to them. Right now, though, the coaches seem to be taking the 5-9 point guard, with a set of jets, and shooting guard range over the 6-1 great shooter, heady, but slow of foot. The biggest change is at the front line, though. How many, 6-10 or bigger, stalwarts started, in the Big Sky last year? Qvale did for a while, but not when it counted. The days of the 6-10 and 6-9 twin towers are gone. Now you see 6-8 centers who play high post, and 6-7 quicker (combo) forwards who are counted on to handle and take three point shots. You also see Small forwards who are interchangeable with shooting guards. This is what you see in most of the successful Big Sky teams. HeckWeber St Montana Basketball even a lot of shooting guards are more of a point guard who can shoot (Combo Guard). Size is no longer the determining factor in defending, especially when everyone else is going small, quickness is. This concept also allows you to get your best players on the floor at the same time. Are your best players a power forward, two small forward, and two points? No problem put them all on the floor at the same time.

Where Big Sky coaches used to make their recruiting decisions based on how size versus athleticism fit into their system, now the defensive systems and the players available are making the choice clear. Athleticism and skills will trump size in the Big Sky. I think this trend is going to continue for some time until there is a major shift in the rules or some other major shift in college basketball landscape. I do not expect either change soon.

Just to make this longer

Before anyone points out the players who are exceptions to the rules, there always will be the guy that a Big Sky team is not supposed to get. Hopefully Big sky coaches will be able to pick a Selvig, Lillard, and Cherry who are exceptions to the rules, but they are very hard to come by, and the coaches who are successful at this generally move on quite quickly.

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