A Proper Send-Off For Our Seniors

The last month of the season notwithstanding (for all three of them), you gotta appreciate the jobs these guys did for this team.  Hell, EVERYBODY loves seniors!  You get to witness a person’s incremental improvement over four years; so by the time they’re fully ripe, you know you’re going to be winning plenty of ballgames.

Let’s start with Venoy Overton.  Our 6th Man of the Year, for at least the last couple seasons.  You had to love his quicks, first of all.  Whenever he had the ball on a break, it looked like he was going to out-run his dribble every time!  And he’d attack the paint like a ram getting ready to jam the lamb, no matter how many guys-taller-than-him were in there.

Of course, what we’ll all remember is Game Overton.  That’s because, in spite of not starting the bulk of these last two seasons, he was almost always in there at the end of games.  When we needed stops, when we needed to create turnovers, there he was.  There was nothing as exciting as when he got up in the ball-handler’s face … and the refs weren’t calling any fouls.  I mean, shit, he would practically hump the guy closest to him every trip back on defense! 

Well, last year anyway.  I think Overton was reigned in quite a bit this season.  Because, let’s face it, when the refs decided to call every ticky-tack call, Overton would be no use to us because he’d pick up 2 fouls in his first 10 seconds.  That was kind of annoying, more because of the refs.  I hate refs.  All that power with seemingly nothing at stake for themselves … doesn’t seem right.

Overton, your defensive tenacity will be missed.

In sticking with the defensive theme, next we’ll say goodbye to Justin Holiday.  Boy, when you think about it, we are REALLY losing our defensive identity with this outgoing class.  Who do we have left who really gets after it?  Isaiah and Gant and … that’s about it.  Hopefully some of Holiday’s fearlessness rubbed off on some of our younger swingmen left remaining.

He was truly fearless, make no mistake about that.  Holiday would take on anybody, from point guard to center, and he’d lock them down with the best of ’em.  From the old Bobby Jones School of Defense, you really NEED guys like these!  Long, athletic, glue to your rubber, willing to muck it up down low and crash the boards with guys half a foot taller, and can hit the occasional open jumper when required.

Holiday made great strides from around Tournament time of last year to this year in his shooting.  Unfortunately, towards the end here, his shot eluded him, but for a while there he was lethal.  Teams could no longer opt to leave Holiday wide open anymore, opening up our offense for the bulk of this season.  You could say, right around the time Holiday lost his stroke, things got worse for MBA.

Nevertheless, Holiday, you will also be missed.

I don’t know if I’ve seen ANYONE improve from his Freshman year to his Senior year as much as Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  After his first year, when he was averaging 14 minutes, 4 points on 40% shooting, and a mere 3 rebounds – with no post game whatsoever to speak of, crappy footwork, and hands like bricks – I didn’t think MBA would EVER be worth a damn.

But, to his credit, he worked at it, got stronger, and learned from Jon Brockman the art of leading a team by example.  You can look at the stat sheet and see MBA’s progression; it’s truly remarkable.  In his first two seasons (behind Brockman), he averaged 4 and 6 points in minimal minutes.  Then, once the Power Forward position opened up thanks to Brockman’s graduation, he jumped up to 9 points and 6 rebounds, as well as averaged a block more per game than his Freshman year.  He was still a bit of a black hole down low (no one is going to confuse MBA with Arvydas Sabonis when it comes to passing the ball out of the post), but you could tell he was a little offseason work away from being a force.

And that’s exactly what he became this year.  One of the best big men in the conference.  He jumped up to 15 points and 8 boards while playing nearly 30 minutes a game.  He had 10 double-doubles this year.  He played with some of the big boys and still managed to put up quality numbers.

In fact, it required teams resorting to a 2-3 zone where they packed it in the paint to finally slow MBA down!  He saw nothing but double-teams the last 8 games of the season.  Remarkably, we went on a run starting with the Pac-10 Tourney, in spite of MBA’s diminished production.  Mostly, that had to do with our shooters hitting shots, as you could certainly see the importance of teams focusing in exclusively on our big man.  It made us one-dimensional.  For a while there, it worked for us.  But, in the end, missing MBA’s production ultimately cost us a chance at the Sweet 16.

MBA, surprisingly, you will be missed most of all.  I shudder to think about where we’re going to get our points in the paint next season …

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