Monday, November 17, 2008

A look at SJSU's 'bigs' in 2008-2009

We covered the San Jose State 'smalls' earlier so now it's time for the 'bigs.'

To put it bluntly, we as fans are spoiled -- and that is something hard to type considering the marathon of mediocrity the Spartan basketball devoted have endured. The Spartans have two of the better frontcourters in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) -- but we aren't satisfied.

We want more.

But maybe that's actually good -- more later on that.

Granted, it's human nature, the nature of the beast -- supply your own phrase here -- but it's curious how quickly we have forgotten the troubled times where either undersized or undertalented stopgaps did their best in the middle for SJSU but were simply never going to be enough to be competitive.

But the past need not haunt -- so where are we today?

C.J. Webster is a 2008-2009 pre-season all-conference WAC pick and Chris Oakes posted the best rebounding number, 7.2 per game, of any league returnee.

Webster is the best passing big man in the WAC, no ifs ands or buts. He scored 12.3 ppg. while shooting 66% and nabbed 6.6 rebounds a contest in 27 and a half minutes each time out.

Oakes delivered these numbers during conference play: in 25 minutes a game, he averaged 10.1 points, the aforementioned 7.1 boards (51 offensive, 63 defensive) and blocked 16 shots. He was charged with 54 fouls (Webster was whistled for 56).

All of these statistics are lights years better than anything produced in the many previous decades.

For comparison sakes, Utah State's Gary Wilkinson averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game (41 offensive and 84 defensively respectively), along with seven blocked shots in 30 minutes of play per league game. Referees called 34 fouls on him -- for perspective, 'banger' teammate Tai Wesley was nailed with 55 infractions.

Wilkinson is a unanimous pre-season all-league selection and some have him as the mostly likely to be the WAC most valuable player come March 2009.

So despite the trickiness of using numbers for determinations and the subterfuge that numbers can provide in masking true contribution, the indications are that both Webster and Oakes, at the very least, reside in the same neighborhood as Wilkinson. Maybe not the same street but close by. And if Wilkinson is being so highly lauded for his play...

But we want more.

However, so does the Spartan coaching staff and Webster and Oakes themselves. Everyone in the equation expects more.

The point here is that we need a greater appreciation for what we are currently seeing out on the floor from this pair. Oakes is entering his junior year, having just become an upperclassmen. Webster is listed as a junior but is truly a sophomore in experience -- still an underclassmen. Such is a factor whether one wishes to accept this or not.

We say the best is yet to come and that time is both on the sides of Oakes and Webster and aligned with our predictions.

So we will get more.

But we would be guilty to some degree of simple excessive fan-dom in stopping here.

With Ollie Caballero an unknown at the moment, San Jose State's 'bigs' are Webster, Oakes, redshirt frosh Clint Amberry and senior DeVonte Thomas, who is nominally a small forward. Depth and experience are valid concerns as Amberry is getting his first taste of D-1 action and Thomas at 6-4 has matchup limitations.

Our observation is that Webster and Oakes need to play more consistent positional defense this season, with less reaching. This at least theoretically would translate into fewer fouls and less time on the bench due to foul concerns.

The duo needs to extend their playing time this season to at least 30 minutes a game, even a couple of minutes higher if fatigue won't hinder their respective effectiveness and if their respective production can grow commensurately with the added court time.

That's because Amberry is going to endure what almost all freshman go through -- the ups-and-downs of a first season, especially but not solely at the defensive end where physical play reigns. Although his public exposure has been fairly limited, Amberry has displayed the potential to be a contributor but it would be foolhardy to count on him for consistent production so very early in his college career.

DeVonte Thomas is going to help this season -- there is nobody stronger or more athletic on the roster. However, to expect him to hold his own against opponents four or five inches taller during substantial playing time is going too far out on the proverbial limb. He will certainly bang others around on the court and back down to no one but there are limitations.

We also need to mention Garrett Ton. The 6-8 walk-on will help at the defensive end this season. His offensive game still looks raw but containing others while Webster and/or Oakes are getting a breather will be a valuable asset.


Webster and Oakes are two very valuable if sometimes under-appreciated assets. Keeping them on the court longer this season will be huge given the inexperience or lack of size that their backups present. Depth with the 'bigs' may be problematical but let's see how Webster and Oakes progress as well as how Amberry adjusts and Thomas matches up.

No comments: