The headline? Great players make their teammates better. Once they learn how to do this, they become winners. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan–they all did it. Kobe Bryant wasn’t considered one of the greats until he recently learned how to do it. But what does that statement mean? How do you do it? How do you make your teammates better? Michael Jordan obviously didn’t make the plays for his less talented teammates Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington, Horace Grant, etc. What great players do to make their teammates better is instill confidence in them by being tough, being consistent, being positive but yet being demanding. It’s leading by example, it’s accountability, it’s trust. Kemba Walker proved today why he was the best player on the floor, potentially the best player in the country and truly a great player.
Every UConn scouting report in the country is going to focus on Kemba Walker. The one thing that you can’t scout, are the little things he does to help his team win basketball games. He didn’t take many tough shots to get his numbers, he didn’t try to force many tough passes, he guarded his position, and most importantly, he made his teammates better doing ALL of the things mentioned above. He is a great player. Throughout the entire game–in which he scored a season-low in points–he distributed the ball to his teammates on the way to his second-highest assists total of the year and led his teammates through his toughness, body language, communication and basketball IQ. Our basketball team could learn a lot from him.
Their role players were HUGE. Guys that haven’t shot the ball well from 3-point range, (in the last 7 games, #22 R. Smith was 12.5%, #4 Coombs-McDaniel 25% and #3 Lamb 29%) all made numerous big threes this game. But that isn’t where or why we lost this game. WE, and I repeat, WE lost this game because of unforced turnovers, bad decision-making and rebounding. Attempting to do things that go away from your strengths lead to mistakes and are unacceptable. Not getting the last shot at the end of the first half is inexcusable. Giving up rebounds and loose balls is intolerable.
Don’t get me wrong, UConn is a very good basketball team. They wouldn’t be ranked 8th in the country if they weren’t. BUT, they were very beatable. We made too many mistakes that beat ourselves. Unforced turnovers and bad shots led to easy layups and open threes at the other end. This is where we said they were great. I have never seen a stat sheet that showed a team scoring 24 points off their opponent’s 12 turnovers. You do the math. 12 is not a ton of turnovers, but they led to WAY too many easy points. You can’t defend turnovers. Other than giving up too many offensive rebounds, our half court defense was effective.
Overall, I thought most of our guys played hard and purposeful. But, we need everybody! Every guy has off nights. Shoot, from a scoring stand point Kemba Walker had an off night. The difference is, he found other ways to make a positive impact on the game to help his team get the win. He knew our defense was focused on him, so he found the open man and their supporting cast responded by stepping up their play, We too are capable of that. We have seen it done time and time again this year. If we can get more consistent, stepped-up play from a larger number of our guys we could be very, very good. Until then, our inconsistent play will be reflected by an inconsistent win/loss column.
Due to the practice schedule we have had since school has been back in session, we are forced to take a day off on Sunday. No film, no weights, no practice, no nothing. You never want an off day to come after a loss, but I think our team needs this one. Mentally and physically. However, I hope our players will evaluate themselves once again and think about what they can do, within their abilities, to help this team be consistent. If we do that–if we go to our strengths and help our teammates–we can have great success the remainder of the season. If not, we will remain inconsistent; and inconsistency is mediocrity and mediocrity doesn’t make the NCAA tournament.
On the other hand, consistency is greatness. Consistency is accountability. And those two things are a reflection of your mental toughness to do what’s right no matter how much adversity you are facing. Beating a very good Villanova team, dominating Pitt on the road, battling back to a W vs. Vandy is proof we are capable of it. Now, together, it’s time to show everybody what we are truly made of. The headline on the season is yet to be determined. It begins to be written Wednesday night vs. LSU. How will we tip it off?