football

Tourney proving small guards have big game

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OhiopointguardD.J.CooperhelpedmakehisteamthefirstNo.13seedtoreachtheSweet16since2006,butthe5-foot-11junior'semergenceonthenationalsceneactuallyhasaccomplishedmuchmorethanthat.
Cooperalsoisprovidinghopeforalltheundersizedpoint-guardrecruitswhosomedayhopetoperformonasimilarstage.
"It'ssortofaninspiration,"saidCharlesTucker,a5-11juniorthree-starprospectfromLansing(Mich.)Eastern.
ThreeteamsadvancedtotheregionalsemifinalsoftheNCAAtournamentwithstartingguardswhoareunder6feet:Cooper,Baylor'sPierreJackson(5-10)andFlorida'sErvingWalker(5-8).Noneofthethreeweretop-100prospects,thoughWalkerwasranked102ndinhisclass.
Xavier'sTuHolloway,Indiana'sJordanHulls,Louisville'sPeytonSivaandCincinnati'sCashmereWrightare6feeteven.Louisville'sRussSmithisa6-footerwhogenerallycomesoffthebench,butheheadedintotheregionalsemifinalsastheCardinals'second-leadingscorer.
ThepresenceofsomanyrelativelysmallguardsinthesecondweekofthetournamentlendscredencetothenotionthatheightisanoverratedattributeforaDivisionIpointguard.
"Ireallydon'tthinkheighthasanythingtodowithit,"saidJackson,whowillfaceoffwithHollowayinaSouthRegionalsemifinalFridayattheGeorgiaDome."Ithinkifyouknowhowtoplaybasketballandaregoodatit,itshouldn'tmatter.Youcan'tmeasureheart,andIthinkwe'veallgotthat.We'reprovingittoeverybodynow."
Andplentyofundersizedrecruitsaretakingnotice.
"NoweverythingishappeningwellforthelittleguardbecauseofguyslikeD.J.CooperandTuHolloway,"saidJ.J.Frazier,a5-10juniorguardatLudowici(Ga.)FaithBaptistChristianAcademy."Thoseguysarehelping.''
Frazier,athree-starprospect,endedhisrecruitmentlastmonthbycommittingtoGeorgia.Butthereareplentyofotherjuniorsalsounder6feetwhoarestilltryingtoraisetheirstockandcatchtheattentionofamid-majororhigh-majorprogram.
Tucker'sonthatlist.
HewatchedOhio'sNCAAtournamentupsetofMichiganlastweekwithkeeninterest.TuckerplaysonthesameAll-OhioRedAAUorganizationthatproducedMichiganguardTreyBurke.HealsohasoffersfromthreeofOhio'sMid-AmericanConferencerivals:KentState,ToledoandWesternMichigan.
Hecouldn'thelpbutgetcaughtupinCooper'sperformance.Nowhe'shopingCooper'sstarmakingperformancecanhelpshowcollegerecruitersthatyoudon'thavetobeatleast6feettalltosucceedatthehighestlevel.
"Withhimplayingwellinthetournament,Ithinkthathelpsusalot,"saidTucker,whoalsohasanofferfromJacksonville.
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Alookattheclassof2012Rivals150showstherealreadyisplentyofroomforshorterguards.
Kevin"Yogi"Ferrell,a5-11guardfromIndianapolis(Ind.)ParkTudorwhohassignedwithIndiana,isthenation'sNo.17overallrecruitandoneoffiveseniorsunder6feetinthe2012Rivals150.Baltimore(Md.)Patterson'sAquilleCarr,a5-9juniorwhohascommittedtoSetonHall,headlinesalistoffourguysshorterthan6feetinthe2013Rivals150.
Ofcourse,asrankedprospects,mostoftheseguysalreadyhavecaughttheattentionofcollegeprogramsacrossthecountry.ButthebigtournamentperformancesbyCooper,HollowayandCo.couldprovidehopetosomeoftheshorterguardswhoareoutsidetheRivals150.
"Ialwayswanttobelikearolemodelorbeaninspirationtoahighschoolguy,"saidHolloway,whoindicateshebenefitsfroma6-foot-6wingspan."IftheycanseeusdoingitinahighlevelintheNCAA,Iknowtheyfeelliketheycanmakeithappen."
TuckerisoneofthosesmallerjuniorguardsrankedoutsidetheRivals150.ThemostnotableexamplemightbeStevieClark,a5-10guardfromOklahomaCity(Okla.)Douglasswhoalreadyhasearnedsomehigh-majoroffersandhasboostedhisstocktremendouslyonthestrengthofaspectacularjuniorseason.Thistournamentalsocouldbenefitamoreunder-the-radarprospectsuchasRichmond(Calif.)Salesian'sMarioDunn,a5-10juniorwhoseonlycurrentofferisfromUCIrvine.
"Eventhoughhe'sunder6feet,heplaysbiggerthan6feet,"SalesiancoachBillMellissaid."Hecandefinitelyplayabovetheriminadditiontoattackingthebasketoutofouroffense."
Ofcourse,thesetypesofguardscanonlysucceediftheyhaveenoughotherstrengthstocompensatefortheirlackofheight.Quicknessobviouslyisamust.Soareacoupleofothertraits,accordingtoRivals.comnationalrecruitinganalystJerryMeyer.
"Thekeyforasmallerpointguardishereallyneedstobeabletoscoretheball,"Meyersaid."Ithinkthat'swhatwe'reseeingwiththeseguys.Ifyoucanputuppointsandalsoknowhowtodirectateamandhavegreatleadershipabilities,itdoesn'tmatterifyou'rethreeinchesshorter."
Indeed,Cooper,JacksonandHollowayallleadtheirteamsinscoring,whileWalkeristheSEC'ssecond-leadingactivescorer.It'salsoworthnotingthatallfouractiveDivisionIplayerswithatleast1,700careerpointsand500assistsare6feetorshorter:Holloway,Walker,5-11ReggieHamiltonofOaklandand5-10CasperWareofLongBeachState.
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ClickHeretoviewthisLink.Andwhat'stheotheressentialqualityforanyundersizedguard?
"Certainplayerscanmakeclutchshots,evenunderpressure,"Meyersaid."That'sprobablytheNo.1determiningfactor.Heightgetsthrownoutwhenyoudeterminethat....Really,whatitcomesdowntois,howclutchareyou?Canyouperformunderpressure?Ifyoucan,youcanovercomedeficiencieslikethemeasurables."
That'sonetraittheshorterguardsinthistournamenthaveinabundance.
CooperproveditSundaywhenhemadeanoff-balancejumperastheshotclockwasexpiringtogivehisteamaseven-pointleadoverUSFwith1:34remainingintheBobcats'62-56victory.HollowaydeliveredoneofthebestclutchshotsofthistournamentFridaywhenhebankedinago-aheadshotover6-9forwardJackCooleywith21.3secondsleftinXavier's67-63triumphoverNotreDame.
"Whenyou'resmaller,Ijustfeellikeyouhavetohavethebiggestheart,"Hollowaysaid.
Holloway'sbigplayfurthersthenotionthataDivisionIpointguarddoesn'tnecessarilyneedgreatheighttohelphisteamreachgreatheights.
"Allotherthingsbeingequal,thetaller,bigger,strongerandfasterplayer'sthebetterplayer,"Meyersaid."Butveryrarelyisitallequal.Sometimesinscoutingandrecruiting,wemakethemistakeinthinkingthatit'sallequal,sowegowiththeguywhohasallthemeasurables.
"Alotoftimeswhenyouscoutandrecruit,it'stoughtomeasurehowclutchaplayeris.That'swhytherewillalwaysbeplayerswhoslipthroughthecracks."
Ifoneoftheseundersizedguardscanleadhisteamtoanationaltitle,perhapsnotsomanyoftheseshorterguardswillslipthroughthecracksinthefuture.
SteveMegargeeisthenationalcollegecolumnistforRivals.com.Hecanbereachedatsmegargee@rivals.com,andyoucanclickheretofollowhimonTwitter.
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