Kyle Sherwood looks at changes WSU Basketball should make now in preparation for next season.
I need to come up with a new adjective; I've been using "ridiculous" way too much lately.
All my comments on twitter are ridiculous; all my rebuttals in the comment section are ridiculous; Cougar Basketball is ridiculous.
I'd be more annoyed with my smaller vocabulary if it weren't so fitting.
The time to defend-or-attack this particular ridiculous basketball team is coming to a close, at least for me, anyway. We're at the point the Mariners find themselves every July when they bring in the barrage of minor leaguers to finish out the fall. WSU isn't going to go on an 8 game winning streak to close out the season and fight for Zebra Pens next month, so it's time to start focusing on what to do about next year and what WSU can do to get a head start on that right now.
In other words, I'm breaking up with this season this Valentine's Day in hopes this team gets its act together by the next one. Because this relationship has become ridiculous.
If I have Ken Bone's ear (which I don't), here are the three things I'm looking for throughout these last eight games.
1.) ALLOW JUNIOR LONGRUS TO MAKE MISTAKES.
Nusser's been bugging me to write about my love for Longrus since roughly 2009, and I only wish I had listened sooner in order to create the groundswell of support that would've allowed him to get onto the court more often this season (In my mind, I have that sort of power). But it is not too late for all of us to recognize the greatness that is Junior.
In addition to watching bad WSU basketball, I've also had a penchant for watching bad Indiana Hoosier basketball over the past decade. The two schools' victories have really ebbed and flowed in an incredibly convenient fashion for someone who can only watch one of them at a time, but that's a story for a different day. Back in 2010, during the season everyone forgot while waiting for Cody Zeller to show up, I fell in love with an 18-minute-per-game unheralded freshman named Victor Oladipo. The kid's skills were ridiculously raw, but you couldn't take your eyes off him the entire time he was on the court. Watch an Indiana game and compare the fluidity of Oladipo's movement to anyone else on the court. Other players are furiously pumping their legs while Oladipo is effortlessly dodging bullets in the Matrix.* I remember watching Oladipo that season completely out-athlete every person he went up against and every game he'd make a play that you weren't quite sure you had seen a human pull off.... and in that same game, he'd also commit five turnovers and miss three layups. My favorite Oladipo story was when IU played Michigan and he made a bad pass which started a Michigan fast break. Oladipo caught the Michigan player from behind and slapped the ball from UNDER the ball (i.e.: he didn't come at it from the side, he had the ability to literally catch a dribbled ball as it was coming down from behind) and tipped it back to himself in such a way that he gave himself a lead pass to start a fast break of his own. And in the process of wrapping up one of the most amazing feats I had seen on a basketball court, he missed the wide open layup.
(* I apologize for not seeing a new movie since 1998)
Which brings us back to Junior Longrus. During Junior's first game against Eastern, I saw one of the more athletic feats ever performed this side of the halftime karate kids. While the Eagles rotated the ball around the perimeter, Longrus is positioned about 3 feet above the elbow. The ball whips around to Longrus' man and Junior leapt at him to close out and ended up blocking the shot all in one motion and started a fast break. This was a six-foot standing long jump that ended with a blocked shot! It was so ridiculous; you had to figure it was almost on accident. I remember having to confirm what I just saw with Nusser and Powers over twitter just to make sure it wasn't a tailgate-campfire induced fever-dream. You know how impressive that play was? It was the only thing I could talk about despite it happening within 20 minutes of the Marquess Wilson letter being released.
The next time Junior Longrus is in the game, note how he glides on the court while the other nine mortals are wasting their time running. Did you see the play towards the end of the game last night where Joe Burton faked out DJ Shelton in the low post? In the time it took Burton to give one head-fake, Longrus made it from the elbow to the opposite block in two steps and forced Burton into an off-balance 3 footer that allowed WSU to head back the other way. Of course, Longrus rewarded himself on this play by missing a dunk 30 seconds later, which brings me to his "Oladipo" mistakes.
Longrus' head has not caught up to his body yet. The only thing that is going to fix this is reps. Against Arizona State, he attempted a similar close-out move to the one he pulled off in the Eastern game, but the ASU guard gave a head-fake and went right past Junior for an easy layup. The times he's simply in the wrong position on defense are too numerous to count (although you may not notice it based simply on how much room he can cover.) His post-game needs work and he telegraphs passes. But he needs time to work through his mistakes. When you have a smart kid like a Victor Oladipo or a Junior Longrus who has not learned how to control his super powers, the only thing that is going to help is reps. Give him time to set picks in the high post and see how he does. Give him time to guard the other team's best player. Give him time to give us more head-jerking moments, where we call each other to make sure what we just witnessed was real.
Give Longrus the appropriate amount of playing time now and you may have a Victor Oladipo on your roster within a couple years. When your team is 2-10, you have no excuses not to try.
(after writing eleven hundred words about Junior Longrus, my "What I Want to See" column is probably going to have to become a two or three parter, as I'm sure I exhausted your patience right around "karate halftime". Stay tuned for Part 2 soon!)