Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Brock: The final call for Rootes, Murray and Co.

It seems like only a few weeks ago when a skinny, slight young point guard out of Niagara Falls entered the CIS out of high school with a flurry, dominating games as a freshman and leading the Badgers to the CIS nationals. Fast forward to five years later and 5'10" Brad Rootes has again led his Badgers to the Nationals for the third time in his brilliant five year career. As hard as he plays and as many minutes as he has logged throughout his career, it is amazing how resiliant he has been. Earlier this year, in the pre-season, Rootes missed time with an ankle injury and later played through another tweak of the ankle, again proving, as he did in last season's OUA West semi-final when he went possession-for-possession with McMaster's Martin Ajayi while playing with a broken rib and spitting up blood during timeouts, that he is as tough as they come. As Rootes enters the final weekend of his career, his Badgers are showing the resiliancy he has typified over the course of his career. Brock is also defending as a group consistently at a level not seen in many years and, led by Rootes but also by third year 6'3" forward Mike Kemp, are playing as hard as they ever have on every possession, almost with a desperation. Kemp is leading by example, especially defensively, taking personally the challenge to stop every difficult check he is assigned. Offensively, Kemp is a streak shooter who launches everything with confidence no matter what the situation and can carry his team from the perimeter as he showed early in the third quarter in the play-in game against Ottawa when he hit 3 big shots including back-to-back 3's during decisive part of the game that gave the Badgers the lead for good. With 6'0" Scott Murray and 6'3" Rohan Steen both also quite capable of going off from downtown, Brock can stay in and win games (rewind to their win at Air Force in November) solely with their three point shooting. Murray, although not shooting up to his standards in the second half of the season, nevertheless knows how to get open for Rootes and Steen, another fearless shooter with a quick release who is playing on a bad foot, both have played several games in big spots in a Nationals-like venue. Still, relying on the perimeter almost exclusively is a high-risk proposition: Brock was shooting as many as 30 3's a night in the first half of the season and usually losing when shots weren't dropping. In an effort to balance his offense, Coach Ken Murray made a concerted effort to establish an inside game, giving 6'7" Owen White many touches inside and White responded by building on a terrific end to last season by becoming a legitimate scoring threat in the post, occasionally drawing double teams. 6'7" Dusty Bianchin has fortified the paint defensively and can keep teams honest from 15' while 6'8" Michael Muir, who joined the Badgers after the break, has added muscle at both ends. In two recent wins including Sunday's victory over Ottawa, the Badgers shot less than 25% from downtown (6-25, 6-28) and still were victorious. The constant reminder that this is Rootes and Company's last season and their final opportunity along with grade school chums Murray, Kemp, Bianchin and Steen to make the Nationals appeared to weigh heavily on the group in the waning weeks of the OUA season. Now that they've qualified, expect any pressure to be off and with their prior experience playing in a larger venue with different shooting sight lines both at prior Nationals and Badgers games at Division 1 arenas, Brock's shooting could get back to the level they believe it should be. And with a reinvigorated inside game, stronger-than-ever team "d" and the energy that comes from playing with desperation, the Badgers will be a difficult out for anyone.

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