|Around the Rim: At Exam Time, Grading the Bigs|
Johnny Williams, the most veteran member of George Mason's four-headed post monster, is also a tough grader. Asked after a recent practice to grade the play of the four post players thus far, the redshirt junior wavered between C-minus and D-plus before issuing his decision - C-minus.
That's a harsh assessment for a group that also includes sophomore Erik Copes, freshman Marko Gujanicic and junior Jon Arledge. All four are 6-foot-8. Combined they are averaging 24.7 points and 18.6 rebounds while shooting 41.6%.
Williams, better known as J2, isn't talking about stats. His list of what needs improvement: "Playing with each other, looking for guys on high-low passes, duck-ins. We've just got to get used to playing with each other ... We've got to work with getting each other open, looking for each other. As a team."
Says Arledge: "We're not dominating how we should be. We're not working together the way we should be."
Coach Paul Hewitt wants improvement also but thinks Williams' grade is too harsh: "I think they're better than that. What we are lacking right now is consistency.
"I think our bigs are good. We've been in every game. You can't ask more than that. I think we've played a great schedule. I love the schedule we've played. It's challenged us.
"Are we disappointed that we're 6-4? Yeah. I thought it would be little bit better but at the same time I could say we haven't been on the court with anyone who has outclassed us all year. We're not far off."
The posts form a versatile group. Copes is a classic back-to-the-basket center who is also a defensive force with 12 blocks this season. Williams has dropped nearly 30 pounds and become more mobile. Arledge is a lanky lefty who can score from the block or perimeter with his turnaround jumper.
Gujanicic, a member of the Serbian national junior squad, may be the Patriots' most versatile player. He can score from the block or arc, is a creative passer and can handle the ball.
Hewitt would like to see an improvement in rebounding and taking care of the ball. The foursome has committed 44 turnovers, about five per game. "It's part of consistency," Hewitt says. "I think our (post) guys could do a better job of getting rid of the ball and the others can do a much better job of being facilitators, getting the ball to the post." That would help not only the inside players, but the perimeter shooters get open looks once the ball is worked from the inside out.
The Patriots are about to hit what Hewitt considers a crucial time of the season - semester break. The coach takes pride in how his teams improve individually and collectively during a stretch when there is more time for practice.
"I could make excuses," Hewitt says about the post players. "Erik, not being able to work out last summer after (hip) surgery, is kind of kicking the rust off. Slowly but surely, he's going to be there. Erik needs time to make up for not being able to work out last summer."
"I could also say J2 sat out a year (in 2011-12 after shoulder surgery). Marko I think is a combination of things. He's got to get adjusted (to college and American life). And we've got to be careful (about fatigue) with him because he played last summer for the Serbian team in the European Championships."
Heading into the holidays after finals, the Patriots play Dec. 22 against Richmond and Dec. 29 at South Florida before conference play starts Jan. 3 against Northeastern. Gujanicic may be new to American basketball, but he understands the importance of conference play.
"We can have a good season," he says. "We just need a little more understanding between the guys. We just need some time to adapt. When we 'get' each other, there won't be anything that can be in front of us."