Friday, July 23, 2010

A July look at November, Part Two

The odd situation is that even though unproven newcomers will dominate the makeup of San Jose State's frontcourt, it is the Spartan backcourt upon which the 2010-2011 season is predicated.


That may read counter-intuitive to most so let us explain.

It's backcourt time in 2010-2011 for SJSU basketball, specifically Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham at the fore.

One self-report has Oliver working on his ballhandling plus quickness, speed and strength in order to become a better defender and more of an all-around player. He will be situated at the point come NBA time so these specific self-improvement tasks are right on target.

Overall, what Oliver needs to display in his final collegiate go-around is greater efficiency -- that is, making positives happen a vast majority of the time with each possession of the ball. However, he can't do this on his own.

Oliver can lead the WAC in scoring and probably will -- it's very close to a given -- even with less shots attempted than in 2009-2010.

What we sense will really demonstrate a 'clicking on all cylinders' is Oliver's fellow teammates putting themselves into better offensive position more often and then finishing upon receiving the ball -- performing in a less watching, greater movement mode. Plus, having teammates who can create themselves will force opponents into amid-action choosing between multiple threats. That leads to easy buckets.

Again overall, It is a tremendous asset to have Oliver on your side when seven or so seconds remain on the shot clock but the less situations like that taking place the better. Like Mikey on the old Life cereal commercial, a 'let Adrian try it' is fine, but dropping that number will translate into greater overall productivity. .

With Graham, it boils down to enjoying a full health season, minus any wrist limitations of the past couple of years. Remember the numbers from his freshman year? (52% overall shooting, 50% on treys in league play, 43% overall on three-pointers) We see Graham as being the second-leading scorer in the upcoming go-around, at 15 points or so per contest and that's what will be needed. We fully expect him to again lead the squad in assists but less unselfishness from Graham will only be beneficial overall. Plus, his trademark fierce drives into the paint will only be more effective if he is stopping and popping a few times a game or nailing a trey or two -- each nourishes the other.

With Oliver and Graham in full contribution mode, the Spartan frontline will also enjoy less guarded shooting and greater putback opportunities.

Plus, both seniors need solid assist-to-turnover ratios -- accomplishable tasks.

Finally, in the Oliver/Graham in-box is leading the way defensively on the perimeter. Our projection is that the SJSU frontcourt will be more active and aggressive in getting and maintaining defensive position -- via improved mobility and intensity. But outside the paint is also a critical defensive action area in need of improvement. Fighting through screens, greater talking among themselves and a better sense of 'seeing/knowing what is coming' and trying to prevent it are areas needing a team upgrade. The fifth-year seniors need to both physically demonstrate and verbally captain the Spartan defensive mindset.

Another situation that fascinates us is the question of who will play predominate minutes on the wing? Calvin Douglas, the transfer from City College of San Francisco, is one candidate. He was the best defender on the Ram squad last season and demonstrated the ability to knock down the open jumper when the opportunity was presented. Douglas was a scorer in high school but shifted into a different role upon entering community college ball. Douglas has the capability of facing off against the one, two or three spots on the opposing team and his forcing his opposing number to work harder than usual for shots will be critical to San Jose State's defensive success.

We had high expectations for Chris Jones last season and still see him as the foremost Spartan possessing all-WAC level defensive potential. For another season at least, we see him as more an opportunity scorer.

Anthony Dixon returns and we envision this season as a make-or-break one for him. That may come off as an overly dramatic statement but he needs to show up with added strength and some bulk -- elements that would allow him to both get to and also remain where he wants to be on the court. Minus those additions and opponents simply knock a player off balance and out of position.

Aalim Moor also comes back as a sophomore and we see him being one of the bricks in the hopefully budding defensive wall. His development at the point would be a tremendous asset due to his physicality.

It's obviously early but Keith Shamburger appears to be cut in the mold of a tough-minded points producer. We're overusing the word but that is a critical need-to-step-up component since Oliver and Graham depart after this season.

Derek Brown is a crafty ballhandler, with a solid shot and he and Shamburger are not lacking in court confidence. We do want to see the level of his defensive capabilities though.

So who on the team, if anyone, will work into the role/earn the identity of a defensive stopper? This Spartan squad will score points but we want to see a team identity emerge that also is fixated on pressuring opponents defensively. Shooting ebbs and flows, defending is an element that can become a constant.

Can the lead players on the team bring about positive answers to the various questionmarks?

Garrett Ton and Jerry Casey also returns as walk-ons. We're unsure of Kyle Thomas' status at this point.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A July look at November

Let's call last season's San Jose State University basketball frontcourt the Oakes and Webster Administration. A hefty part of the offensive design was to try and pound the ball inside for as many touches as possible. Both have departed, therefore each starting position is wide open.

The 2010-2011 frontcourt portion of the Spartan roster indicate change in multiple aspects. However, keep in mind we have witnessed but one of the centers and forwards in action to date so, like in a sideview mirror, figures and also production of these players may be larger or smaller than what what we speculate or comes to actual fruition.


Let's delve into the various talents.

6-foot-8 Wil Carter and 6-foot-7 Brylle Kamen brings 'reps' with them -- more so Carter -- of face-the-basket shooting prowess. We're talking 15-to-18 foot range. This will allow the entering of a pick-and-pop offensive element into the Spartan playbook. We're not indicating this will necessarily be a consistent feature but certainly a new option for which opponents will have to defend.

Salt Lake Community College Coach Norm Parrish offered this earlier about his former top player: ""Wil has a really high ceiling. He has the ability to hit the 15-to-18-foot shot. He is also a good rebounder who is fairly long and can run and jump."

Here is Russ Beck, Kamen's community college coach: "He [Kamen] is a good rebounder with a big, strong body and can shoot off the dribble and with the pullup jumper. He can also pick-and-pop, shooting on the perimeter."

Additionally, both Carter and Kamen are proficient playing with their backs to the baskets

Plus, 6-foot-8 Matt Ballard self-described one of his basketball skills as scoring ability via his mid-range jumper.

Joe Henson, also 6-foot-8, returns and indications are that his progress is noticeable. He has been working out with a physical and basketball skills trainer this summer.

The joker that remains in the frontcourt deck of five card stud (sorry, we couldn't resist) is 6-foot-8 Moses Omolade. His eligibility determination remains tangled up in the court system and is rapidly approaching proportions of Jarndyce and Jarndyce -- the interminable legal case in Charles Dickens' "Bleak House."

Omolade would provide a missing element not offered by the other SJSU quartet -- shotblocking and defensive intimidation.

Here's Tyson Aye, a former SJSU assistant basketball coach now heading the Imperial Valley College men's basketball program, on Omolade: "Moses was in our league and we've played him four times in the last few years. He is a defensive force in the paint. At 6-8, Moses is quick and extremely long. He has one of the longest wingspans I've ever seen, and I've actually seen Moses block 10 shots in a single game. I've heard nothing but great things about his character. The Spartans got a good one with Moses."

We believe he is going to be eligible in 2010-2011 and therefore are including him in the forecast.


Haley Joe Osment saw dead people in "The Sixth Sense" -- what will sportswriters envision for the Spartan bigs in the 2010-2011 season?.

This is an aspect that is going to be fascinating. That being, how the various prognosticators handle their San Jose State pre-season previews. More than likely, none of the non-San Jose area based reporters and bloggers will have even witnessed any of the Spartan frontcourters in action, let alone even have a modicum of familiarity with who we're going to call The Spartan Five.

So just what will appear in print on the quintet? Probably not much, with the emphasis being on Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham taking SJSU are far they collectively can. .

What do we forsee?

The collective shooting percentage of this bunch won't rival that of the departed C.J. Webster -- very few could -- but will offer a variety of scoring options heretofore unavailable. A plus is that this addition will require more movement from defenders. It will also be difficult to match the shotblocking and rebounding proclivities of Chris Oakes.

However, we see an actual plus forthcoming on the defensive end from the new group. The number of blocked shots will tumble but this 2010-2011 collective will provide very good quickness in leaving the paint whenever necessary to defend and also a greater desire to fight in establishing and maintaining defensive positioning within the paint.

A final attribute worthy of listing is proficiency of getting up and down the court, especially on offensive. Carter, Kamen and Omolade have demonstrated this talent -- an addition not on display from any recent SJSU frontcourters.


The ultimate question is: will San Jose State have a better, the same or a worse frontcourt than that of last season?

The answer: nobody truly knows -- that's why there are so many tall, expansive and swanky casino buildings in Las Vegas. The answer to this question will ultimately play out before our eyes.

But we see this group of guys having a different mindset -- a do-what-needs-to-be-done-for-the-team attitude.

Our senses about the frontcourters indicate this:

The best scorer: Wil Carter

Best defender: Moses Omolade

Most explosive: Omolade and Kamen

Most physical: Kamen and Ballard

An addendum: We believe Garrett Ton and Jerry Casey will again walk-on as members of the frontcourt. We're unsure of the status of Kyle Thomas but here's hoping he is participating as a Spartan as well in 2010-2011.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

APR versus real academic progress

It's called APR, short for academic progress rate. Instituted in 2005, it's the NCAA measurement for college sports teams.

Here's the Wikipedia definition: a metric established by the NCAA to measure the success or failure of collegiate athletic teams in moving student-athletes towards graduation.

The theory/reality is that the APR is designed to publicly 'expose' coaches and athletic directors giving lip service to academics and 'reward' those seemingly committed to an emphasis on working towards a degree.

However, the tremendous disparity in college athlete academic service budgets -- millions of dollars at some BCS institutions versus a veritable collecting recyclables to fund the assistance at many other schools -- is not factored into the APR equation.

Plus, the coaches at the higher level schools also complain that the preparation necessary to perform one's best in NBA draft tryouts interferes with their respective stars finishing out semesters/quarters. The NBA realistically forces a prep basketballer into a year, sometimes two, of college attendance due to its age limit even when there is no desire on the player to be situated in the halls of higher education. These coaches deem any APR calculation is inherently unfair without taking such a factor into consideration.

Like with most legislative efforts of any manner, one size is supposed to but doesn't fit all.

Individual explanations pertaining to the failure of certain student-athletes to progress or graduate are inexplicably not allowed.

It's fair to call it a sledgehammer employed to catch fireflies approach to confronting a problem.

Imitating the late Walter Cronkite, that's the way it is -- for better and for worse.

Closer to home, the collective academic standing of San Jose State men's basketball was submerged, to put it mildly, in 2005. Making progress wasn't emphasized, funded or staffed, and it truly appeared that no one cared.

Since that dead end five years ago, tremendous work was done and continues to take place to pull SJSU hoops out of an academic morass.

How so?

To the best of our knowledge, only three players since 2005 have decided -- THEIR CHOICE -- not to finish the units necessary to earn their respective college degrees. Each was provided that opportunity to complete the coursework but declined.

This ratio indicates an extremely positive trend underway -- no, make that a norm -- now at Washington Square for men's basketball.

This certainly raises a question: should a school be penalized for enrolling a student-athlete who ultimately decides not to avail himself of the assistance in place for him earning a degree?

If the answer is yes, why so? Is the thinking that the coach and school shouldn't have recruited this individual in the first place and therefore a penalty must be paid?

That might be fair in some cases but generally the ones involving student-athletes flunking out early on in college. But not so for a student-athlete who enjoyed solid academic progress for two or three years who then decided to move on to another chapter in his life.

But fairness, of course, isn't found anywhere in the NCAA by-laws and regulations.

However, that shouldn't stop us from being proud of the verifiable academic progress made by all involved in Spartan men's basketball.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Talking with Talvin Hester

The saying goes "don't mess with Texas" and new SJSU Assistant Coach Talvin Hester is certainly familiar with the Lone Star State life, attitude and most certainly basketball.

That's because in Prairie View, Irving, Tyler, Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and undoubtedly other in-state locations are venues where he has established his hoops imprint as both coach and player and that influence continues to be felt today.

But he will indeed be doing some TX 'messing' of his own when utilizing his contacts there -- and elsewhere -- come recruiting time. Spiriting out a talent or two from any of those aforementioned towns and cities or say San Antonio, Pflugerville, Galveston or Austin and getting them to Silicon Valley is one of his goals as a Spartan.

So who is Talvin Hester? Here's the Cliff's Notes version, Spartanhoops style.

Well, he grew up playing football. Why was that his foremost sport? "I have an uncle who went to Ohio State and played 10 years in the NFL," Hester explained.

But he played every sport as a youngster and even earned letters in tennis during high school.

Eventually a growth spurt got him to 6-feet-4 and football was left as an avocation, sent to the wayside in favor of hoops.

His decision is our gain.

So why did he enter coaching?

"In college, I wondered what to major in as I had this vision of wearing a suit and working downtown," according to Hester. "That was a strong lure so I focused on business and marketing."

Then family issues intervened.

School was put on hold and he went to work at Delta Airlines.

But Hester felt "something was missing from my life."

In one of those moments of kismet, "one of my old coaches invited me to help coach an AAU youth team."

During the first practice, something clicked for Hester. "I knew I wanted to help young people."

So began his coaching résumé. It was a time to finish college (Texas Wesleyan), gain experience and build contacts. He accomplished just such, building his personal brand at multiple locations:

* Dallas Mustangs AAU team

* North Lake College

* Texas Rim Rockers, USBL

* Texas College

Hester was then hired on at Prairie View A&M and worked his way up to an Associate Head Coach position.

Prairie View A&M is part of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which also consists of Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Grambling State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Texas Southern and University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

The league plays an 18-game league schedule. His most memorable Panther season? "2008-2009 because we started 5-0, then lost four in a row but we went 7-2 in the second half of our schedule," Hester explained.

Especially in the second go-around, a change took place. "It was our 'D' that carried us," Hester offered. "Everyone can't score all the time but if we got stops, we knew we had the chance to be in every game. We decided to make defense important and focused on half court, man-to-man defense."

Then in 2009-2010, the transformation expanded when Prairie View finished 14th nationally in field goal percentage defense, 11th in three-point field goal percentage defense.

"We had been there for a few years, a year or two on the edge of being good," explained Hester. "We were losing games by 2, 3, 5, 7 points, losing 'easier' games on the road. Last season especially, our older guys took defending to heart and our new guys joined in."

We recall a couple of quotes we previously came across about general differences between California and Texas high school ball and asked Hester about this.

His reply: "It is different though not necessarily better in either place. It's like the PAC-10 versus Big 12 -- skill level versus hard-nosed physicality. There is a little more skill and finesse in California versus power and strength in Texas. But both translate into success. Of course, there are other situations too. Drew Gordon (Archbishop Mitty, UCLA and now New Mexico) plays like he is from Texas where someone like Nolan Dennis {a former Texas prepster now a sophomore-to-be at Baylor) is more California on the court."

Hester added, "In Texas, basketball was football-driven for so many years in that really good football players were good enough in basketball to play both sports. But in the last 10 to 12 years, players like T.J. Ford and Daniel Ewing came around. They were good and just basketball players -- they were not football kids."

The easily recognizable coaches Hester admires the most are Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan. The reason for his ardor: "They don't get the players Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas do but are always competing for the title and their players play tough."

In closing, if you do desire to mess with Coach Hester, begin with the fact that he is, yes, a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan.