Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Point Guard woes hamper Thunderbirds

Fresh off a multi-year run as a CIS Nationals title contender during which UBC Head Coach Kevin Hanson enjoyed the luxury of multiple, high-quality upperclassmen making the majority of the offensive decisions from the point - last season for example with Alex Murphy and Josh Whyte, the Birds usually had two, fifth-year All-Star calibre points on the floor at once - , heavy graduation losses have had a dramatic effect this season, especially in the back court.  While 6'2" Nathan Yu, fresh off representing Canada at the World University and Pan-Am games, has shot the ball at an All-Canadian level, with two games of 30+ points in league play, UBC has been challenged beyond that at the guard spots, including trying several different alternatives at the point which have produced mediocre results, punctuated on the final weekend of the first half when UBC combined for 56 turnovers in two losing efforts at Lethbridge and Calgary.  Although there is plenty of young talent in the pipeline at the wings and up front, the lack of a pure point guard in the program has been the main reason for a very un-UBC-like 4-2 record at the break. 

Hanson does have a strong stable of fifth-year veterans from the 2 to 5 spot which should keep UBC contending this season plus that fine array of young talent including what most feel will be the core of future Thunderbird contenders.  But this season's success, much like we talked about earlier with U of T Varsity Blues, will hinge on the play of whoever is entrusted with starting the offense and making the key decisions with the ball.

With Yu, 6'5" forward Kamar Burke, 6'5" Graham Bath, 6'9" Balraj Bains and 6'3" Doug Plumb, Hanson has a formidable, veteran front line and a big time scorer at the two spot in Yu.  All are in their fifth and final seasons of eligibility (Plumb, who transfered over from Fraser Valley a couple of years ago after playing only 3 games for the Cascades before suffering a season-ending injury is likely to request another season).  Burke attacks the offensive glass and is a terrific finisher in transition when he gets the ball there, Plumb is a wonderful athlete with quick springs around the rim who also needs to be able to play off someone and both Bath and Bains are complementary, hard working bigs who thrive when guards and wings are doing the scoring and they are setting screens, rebounding and protecting the paint.  Using Yu as the point can take away from his natural abilities as a scorer who has deep range but can also attack off the dribble probably more than he thinks he can.  Without a table setter, much of the strengths of these fifth-year guys can be compromised.

The rest of the roster is dotted with ex-B.C. provincial team starters with extremely bright futures led by 6'3" Malcolm Williams, who has a chance to be UBC's next big time player as a 2 man.  6'6" Tommy Nixon is another fine athlete who is earning more time at the 3 and 4 spots as a sophomore and continues to learn to play and make decisions with the basketball at this level; but he has big-time potential also.  Hanson has been trying 6'1" Nakai Luykan, fresh out of Yale H.S., at the point to mixed results.  Luykan may be the best pure athlete ever in the program - he won the BC provincial 100 meter dash without so much as a single training run and has already authored numerous highlight reels slams - but he has struggled as a pure point guard at the CIS level so far including a need to improve his perimeter jumper.  With work, Luykan can be the foundation of a top CIS program also.  Up front, UBC has formidable 6'9" freshman David Wagner, who started on Canada's Jr. National team and should be an impact player almost immediately however he suffered a broken hand and missed much of and/or was not fully fit in the first half.  Finally, 6'7" redshirt freshman Mike Lewandowski is another high potential big who can complement Wagner.  However, within this extremely talented young group does not lie a pure point guard who can set the table and run the troops.

Expect Hanson to get the most out of what he has on the roster this season and squeeze out another Canada West Final Four appearance but rest assured in the background, the veteran Thunderbird boss man and his recruiting staff will be pounding the pavement looking for that one piece who can glue together all of that versatile, athletic talent at the 2 to 5 positions in pipeline.

UBC is in California for the 36th Annual Westmont College Tom Byron Classic (Santa Barbara, CA) where the Birds have a first round matchup against UC Merced, an NAIA program in the California Pacific Conference.

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