Balanced big men provide endless possibilitiesFebruary 24, 2019
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
The days of the traditional center are long, long gone.
Shaquille O’Neal shooting a three-pointer? Forget it. Dikembe Mutombo bringing the ball up the court? Rare.
But in the era of what some may call, “positionless basketball,” it’s becoming more and more common to see big men act like guards.
While this is very prevalent at the professional level with players such as Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, it’s been talked about even more recently at the collegiate level with Duke superstar Zion Williamson.
Evan local big men around the area have watched some players at the collegiate level and have tried to work on some of their skills for their own game.
“I kind of like to watch (Indiana’s) Juwan Morgan,” said Forest Park forward Curt Hopf, who averages 15.9 points per game for the Rangers. “He doesn’t come outside too much but he does at times. I also watch the guys in the NBA and those guys can definitely do it all.”
For a lot the area’s big guys, they begin to learn these skills as soon as they start playing basketball at the AAU level.
As ball-handling skills and shooting are being taught at a younger age to a wider variety of player types, the multi-dimensional “big” has developed.
“I always think back to when I first started AAU way back in third grade,” Hopf said. “My parents always drilled it in (my head) for me that you have to be able to handle whatever is thrown at you. You have to be prepared to play any position and I’ve been working on that all the time.”
Southridge senior forward Jaden Hayes echoed that sentiment: “My guard skills started to develop the summer before my junior year while I was playing AAU with DistinXion. This past summer, I felt like my game really took off — my shot has developed really well and I had developed some passing skills.”
So what’s brought on the change in philosophies?
Southridge head coach Mark Rohrer points back to a trend that started in the NBA around the 1990s and early 2000s.
“I really kind of think it’s because of the European big guys that started coming over to the NBA and it just trickled down from there,” Rohrer said. “That wave of that type of player coming over enhanced it a little more.”
Forest Park head coach David Welp believes that the change in play style is due to the increase of athleticism in young players.
“I think guys have gotten a lot better over the past 15 years,” Welp said. “For us, we try to utilize skill sets in various ways. With Curt (Hopf), if someone is being physical with him we can pull him outside or if they’re shorter or not as physical then we can send him down low to post up. Utilizing the skill sets is important.”
Teams will often gameplan to prepare how they can best utilize their big men, depending on their opponent’s projected lineup.
But well before the preparation for each individual game comes the drills that big men participate in at practices.
“Ever since I’ve been coaching, I always make our post guys go through our ball handling drills,”said Heritage Hills head coach Nate Hawkins. “We’re just trying to improve everyone’s game — not that we’re trying to turn these guys into guards, but at the same time we want them to feel comfortable with the basketball in their hands.”
It’s not just the ball-handling skills that have helped the big men evolve, it’s also the shooting from beyond the arc.
Looking at stats from around the area, several area big men have impressive three-point numbers.
Junior forward Quentin Harmon leads Jasper in three-point percentage at 46 percent while fellow big Jared Englert has made 31 percent of his shots from downtown.
Hayes leads all Raider shooters with 38 three-pointers made while Heritage Hills’ sophomore forward Blake Sisley is making 33 percent of his shots from downtown.
“It makes teams have to focus on guarding me,” said Sisley. “Because if I were to screen, I can either pop (a shot) or drive to the basket.”
Hayes added: “It has just allowed me to offer more to my team — it’s allowed me to become more versatile and our offense is now more efficient and lethal.”
For Englert, he started to work even more on his three-point shot during his junior year alongside Eric Nordhoff as the Cats would sometimes run a four-out system with four players along the arc.
“That skill is important because the defender can’t just limit you to the post,” Englert said. “They have to come out and guard you and respect your shot.”
Having the ability to be multi-dimensional has always helped several local bigs become heavily recruited by colleges.
One of those is Sisley, who already holds a Division I offer from the University of Evansville.
His head coach is well aware of how these skills he continuously is improving on will only help him as he searches to take his game to the next level.
“Most colleges are looking at Blake as a three (small forward) or a stretch-four kind of guy right now because who knows how much more he’s going to grow? He’s still a young kid,” Hawkins said. “We give him free reign because he can shoot the basketball and we expect him to be shooting threes.”
Another player that’s had several Division I visits at places such as Indiana University is Hopf.
“We know he’s going to be able to utilize that skill set wherever he goes,” Welp said. “He could still get a little taller but everywhere across the country, bigs are starting to play more outside and not just inside. Having that mindset is important as he continues his career.”
But no matter what the future holds, the goal is the same for each of these players — find a way to continue to improve on different facets of their game.
And with basketball continuing to evolve nearly everyday, it’s a surefire bet that we’ll see positions evolving more and more.
“What we want to do is find a way to improve these kids overall games,” Hawkins said. “We just want to develop them to become the best players that they can be.”
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