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November 9, 2011

College Reading Material

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:29 pm

With the start of the season upon us, writers around the NCAA are showcasing their own talent to highlight the action on the floor, meaning there are tons of great articles to read. Here are four that have especially caught my attention the last two days.

We start with a tearjeaker: Tom Friend‘s account for of how Thomas Robinson got through the deaths of two grandparents and his mother last season with the help of his surrogate mom, Angel Morris–the mother of teammates Marcus and Markieff Morris.

Now a 6’9″, 237-pound junior, Thomas is no longer a sixth man. In a preseason poll, he was voted first-team All-America by Some NBA scouts are even predicting he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the next draft. In the meantime, he lives part-time with Angel, who is fulfilling her promise to Lisa and keeping an apartment in Lawrence, even though her twins were both NBA lottery picks in June. Angel also flies regularly to DC to check on Jayla, who, because of her scholarship fund, is attending private school and learning piano. And on both Thomas’ and Jayla’s bedroom wall is the same photograph — the picture Angel took at Madison Square Garden of Lisa and the two kids, hugging.

The other great player feature spotlights USC center Dewayne Dedmon, a JC transfer who will start for the Trojans this season after spending the spring semester on campus redshirting. Dedmon is a 7-footer with NBA potential, so why had no one ever heard of him just a few years ago? In this week’s Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard fills in the blanks.

When Horton finished talking with one of his players, the boy walked over. He wore an enormous pair of beat-up hightops, ratty shorts and a white T-shirt so large it looked like a muumuu. He hunched over, as if trying to shrink to standard proportions. “Coach,” he said, “my name is Dewayne Dedmon. I want to play basketball.”

Instantly Horton recognized the name. For years stories had floated around the valley about a tall kid who wasn’t allowed to play basketball, but the coach had never believed them. He heard lots of stories. Most came from the kids themselves. Every year dozens of cocky teenagers approached Horton and assured him they’d score 20 a game if only he’d give them a uniform and the rock. To weed out the dreamers and boasters, he told them, “Come back next week.” Only one in 10 ever did.

Also in Sports Illustrated, Luke Winn uses his unique combination of access, interest in numbers and willingness to spend a numbing amount of time watching tape to evaluate four NCAA contenders at the defensive end of the court based on the system laid out by Dean Oliver in Basketball on Paper. The results are intriguing, enlightening and not always expected.

(John) Henson proposes that he and (Tyler) Zeller—the team’s second-ranked defender in SI’s study—should be called Fire and Ice for their divergent defensive skill sets. “Fire, because I’m a shot blocker,” says Henson, the only Tar Heel coaches allow to jump at shooters on the interior, “and Ice, because Z’s a charge-taker.” Zeller creates turnovers at a rate (19.7%) more than double Henson’s, mostly in ways that don’t appear in the box score: by stepping in front of drivers to draw offensive fouls and by deflecting or tipping post entries into the hands of teammates.

I’d also recommend Winn’s appearance on the Inside Sports Illustrated podcast with Richard Deitsch, where he lays out his methodology in more detail.

Lastly, David Woods of the Indianapolis Star also takes a look at tempo-free stats in college basketball, and specifically how they are being used by Butler coach and past College Basketball Prospectus foreword author Brad Stevens.

If money were no object, there is one element Brad Stevens would add to Butler’s basketball program. Not an opulent practice facility. Nor a university jet to transport the Bulldogs to road games.

“I’d probably create a statistics division,” the coach said.

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