The Birth of Stumpy and the Complaints That Come with Goodness

I now know for sure that this is a good team. I’ll tell you how I know this in a minute, but first, I have to discuss the single most important aspect of last night’s game against SMU.

Spinal Tap.

I’m normally not one who likes to explain a reference, but as I’m sure there’s 1% of the world who thought this last night, and it’s still making me smile, I have to make with the explanation.

In a movie filled with amazing scenes, lines, and jokes, possibly the funniest thing in This Is Spinal Tap is something that is never said. About midway through the movie Nigel, David, and Derek are all standing together having a conversation, and each of them has a huge, disgusting cold sore on his lip. It is never mentioned. No one ever brings it. But the implication, obviously, is that they were each with the same groupie the night before. If they acknowledge the cold sores, it’s not funny at all, but because everyone completely ignores them, and you’re left to get the implications on your own, it is hilarious.

When Stan Robinson came out on the court last night with that gigantic bandaid on his upper lip this scene is all I could think of. And it made me laugh. For this reason, I have made Stan the next drummer for Spinal Tap. His name is now, of course, Stan “Stumpy” Robinson.

Let’s all keep a good thought that he doesn’t spontaneously combust while one stage at a Jazz-Blues festival on the Isle of Lucy.

So, back to how I know for sure that we’re good.

After the game last night, I found myself picking our game apart and looking at the things we did wrong. I didn’t set out to do that, but that’s how I look at us when we’re good. I look for the ways we can improve. When we’re bad, I largely try to keep people from jumping off a building, or I mock them for overreacting to the bad stuff. I’m a contrarian, it seems.

And last night, I wasn’t thinking about how good our ball movement was (even though it was), or how we managed to only turn the ball over seven times (which is amazing), or how we shot about 126 free throws compared to SMU’s 7 (which is huge). I wasn’t even thinking about Hanner’s charge (though I’ll come back to Hanner in a bit). I wasn’t thinking about Nick Zeisloft’s shooting, or how Yogi and James spotting up in the corner makes more of a difference to how we are capable of playing compared to last year than can possibly be stated.

I was thinking about how rushed we looked at times. I was wondering why we get off to such slow starts every game. I was thinking about our rebounding difficulties to start the game. I was thinking how, as a team, we play defense with our hands at our sides too much. And by too much, I mean pretty much all the time. And I was thinking about Hanner. A lot.

I spent a lot of the game wondering why he was still out on the court, as he was providing very little of value on either end of the court. His footwork had regressed. He jumped at every shot fake and kept his feet on every shot. He didn’t box out. He was pushed around inside a lot. He gave up the baseline over and over again. He didn’t score and he didn’t rebound. He played a pretty bad game in almost all aspects.

But then he stepped up and took that charge and I got it.

Hanner played so many minutes last night, in part, because he needed to get punched in the mouth and get back up. He needed to learn what it was really like to play against post players. He’s done it in practice, first against Cody and then against Noah, but this year he’s playing against the Pril Brothers (A-Pril, and T-Pril. Trademarked) and the guys from the two exhibitions and the first two games, and it seems he forgot what it’s like to have to guard a real life post player. So, this was an important learning opportunity for Hanner. This is what it’s like to play against the big boys. Get tough. Don’t jump at everything. Box out. Get your arms up. And keep fighting. He did that over the course of the game. And that charge was massive.

He put himself in a position to either draw the charge or draw some balls to his chin. It was a great play. It was a momentum changer. It was a basketball play.

And Hanner’s progression toward becoming a real basketball player continued through adversity. That was very good.

Ok. Enough about Hanner and enough about the things I didn’t like.

Let’s talk for just a minute about Stumpy and Troy. First, let me say that the team really began to play better when the two of them got into the game. Our movement improved, our dribble-drive improved, and as a result, our shooting improved.

I loved what I saw from Stumpy. His energy was great. He was under control. He played well. He brought a spark off the bench. I don’t have anything specific to cite here, but I just really liked the vibe of the whole thing.

This sentence acknowledges all of the things I’m not saying about Stumpy’s off-the-court behavior. And this sentence does the same for Troy.

Now, let’s talk about Troy, who is the single most important X-Factor on this team. We are three games in now, and I know exactly what I’m going to get from James, Yogi, Robert, Nick, Colin, and to some extent Hanner. What I don’t know yet is where Troy is at in his development into a smart basketball player.

His energy is always a given, and the team really needed that when he came in last night. But what’s not so reliable is his decision making. I think it’s gotten better, but one game is too small a sample size. He rushed a few shots to start the game, understandable under the circumstances, but also maybe more of the same stuff that drove me nuts last year. Hard to say.

I’m encouraged. I saw him get into traffic and look to kick it out. It wasn’t always successful, but in those same circumstances last year he was going to try to score. I only saw him try one one-handed putback dunk last night. It had no chance of working, but at least there was only one of them. This team will go exactly as far as Troy matures into a good decision maker.

I love watching Yogi, James, and Robert score. I am thrilled when Zeisloft catches and shoots a three. I love our passing. I marvel when Hanner makes an honest-to-God post move. But I will not cheer for anything this year louder than I will cheer when Troy makes a two-footed jump-stop.

For that, my cheers go to 11.

Jeff Taylor