Demetri McCamey returned to Illinois for his senior season in 2010-11. He had already proven to be a dominant player statistically. But the NBA scouts said he needed to return to school to prove that he was a winner. He needed to demonstrate that intangible ability to take over games and will his team to victory in crunch time. Unfortunately for McCamey, he could not do that, and he went un-drafted in the 2011 NBA draft.
This summer, I have read similar criticism of University of Miami guards Malcolm Grant and Durant Scott. I love Grant and Scott as players, and what is not to love? Their assist rates of 20.4 and 21.2 prove they play off each other well. And both were solid three point shooters last year. Grant shot 42% from deep and Scott shot 39%. Of course Grant made 94 threes to Scott’s 27, but Scott also got to the line more often. Overall, their ORtgs of 113.4 for Grant and 106.7 for Scott were fantastic for high usage rate players. But they were not winners in ACC play. And no matter how good their numbers look, all most people remember is their failures in crunch time.
Unlike football or baseball, one player can make a huge difference in basketball. There are only five starters, and a truly great player can easily elevate his team’s performance. So today I wanted to pick out a few more players like Grant and Scott who have more to prove before we call them stars. Who needs “wins” more than “made baskets”?
But I wanted to include two caveats in my search. First, I want to eliminate true post players from my list. Trevor Mbakwe was often a man among boys last season for the Gophers, and I think he could do more to show he is a winner. But you usually do not blame post players for close losses. If the Gophers did not get the ball to Mbakwe in the paint in the final minutes, there was not much he could do to take over the game. Second, I wanted to eliminate players on truly dreadful teams. You cannot really blame DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin for not winning more games, because the collection of talent around him was so poor.
Instead, I am going to focus on the teams that came close to winning more games last season, Ken Pomeroy’s proverbial “unlucky” teams.
Here are three returning players from those teams who need to show us something before we officially call them stars:
Indiana: Jordan Hulls was one of the first big recruits to commit to Indiana after Tom Crean took over. And he has been a fantastic three-point shooter in his career with the Hoosiers. But he needs to find ways to create his own shot. He needs to do more to demand the ball in crunch time. He cannot afford to be a role player and defer if Indiana is finally going to compete for an NCAA bid again.
Maryland: Maryland lost a slew of heartbreaking games early last season. The Terrapins narrowly lost to Pittsburgh and Illinois in New York, Temple by 3, and BC by 4, all by mid-December. The feeling was that the team could have been dominant, if the guards had a little more experience. But Terrell Stoglin cannot afford to use inexperience as an excuse anymore. First, let me be clear that Terrell Stoglin was a star in the making last season. He posted phenomenal numbers for a rookie PG in a BCS league. But with an even more inexperienced team this year, when Maryland has a chance to win, Stoglin has to take over this season.
Clemson: There needs to be a name for great three-point shooters who were also really effective at feeding the post. Call it the Jon Diebler award or something similar. That would seem to describe Clemson’s Andre Young who had a sort of perfect balance last season. If the defender would sag off him, he was a cold-hearted three-point shooter. But if the defender played him close, he had an almost turnover-free post feed. But this season, Young cannot continue to be a role player. He cannot continue to defer in crunch time. For such a natural shooter (80 made threes and 40% three point shooting last year), he needs to force his shot more and be the difference maker.
There are probably some other great examples out there. But Miami, Indiana, Maryland, and Clemson were not devoid of talent last season. And all four have guards who have already shown themselves to be good scorers and efficient scorers. Now they need to prove they are winners.