The men’s basketball team has some obstacles to climb during the preseason, but much to look forward to. As guards Stephen Thomas and Jordan Shanklin will be out three to four weeks with an ankle sprain and injured wrist respectively, team captain Alex Young has the team’s back.
As the Preseason Player of the Year and the Lou Henson Preseason All-American Team stud led the Jags to an 87-77 win over IU East in the team’s first preseason game, he showed his leadership is to be a key factor this season. Young is a senior and currently the top active scorer in all of Division I basketball with 1,633 points, placing him fourth in school history. Last season, Young produced a team high 19.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and totaling 45 steals at the same time. He scored in double-digits in all but one game.
“Young, along with Greg Rice and Ian Chiles can play multiple positions,” said Assistant Coach Matt Crenshaw. “It helps us to be able to have multiple lineups.”
The flexibility allows the team to not become too predictable, but with two key injuries the lineup options will still be minimized. Young played point guard and both wing positions his sophomore year and will be needed to the same again until his teammates return.
It was Young who stepped up for the Jags in their last preseason game hosting Marian. Young finished with 19 points and six boards. The two-time First Team All-Summit League and IUPUI's scoring leader in the Division I period knows his skills have put him in a leadership role and takes full responsibility.
Young keeping his name out of the NBA draft after last season is a perfect example of his commitment and responsibility to the team. Young may believe there are more things he can accomplish with and for the team this season and Crenshaw says guys aren’t going to have any problem with the guidance Young leads them with.
Young may be the primary leader with his skills, but point guard Greg Rice is right beside him. Rice finished the game against Marian with 13 points, two steals and only one turnover. The Jags finished the first half with a 38-17 lead and no turnovers.
“I am so pleased and happy for him (Rice),” said Coach Todd Howard. “He has worked, worked and worked and it’s hard to come back from an injury.”
Last season, Rice’s foot injury held him to only five games, so the junior has stepped up to take his position as a leader on the team. Rice also had the most three point attempts against Marian and speaks of his shooting feeling better since he can elevate off a healed foot.
Rice worked his way into a preseason starting position and says he’s ready if and when it becomes permanent.
“I’ve gone through a lot of rehab to get back on the court and now I am just assuming my role as a point guard,” said Rice. “If it becomes permanent, I’m most definitely up to it. No pressure at all, I just have to do whatever I have to do.”
The relentless attitude from the point guard helps when it comes to the team’s transition to a full court man-to-man defense and Howard thinks the team has adjusted well.
Against Marian, the Jags eased into a full court defense once they felt defensively established and was able to build their game. The defense seems like it turned up the second half against Marian and led them to 11 turnovers in the last half and 20 total.
The best part about the full court man-to-man is that it helped lead the offense.
“I think our mentality against Marian and all week has been defense, defense, communicate defensively and hopefully it will lead to some points,” said Howard.
It did just that as Rice pushed the ball on turnovers and led to monstrous slams by Young and Donovan Gibbs. As long as the full court defense leads to turnovers, it can become a true advantage to the Jags with the athleticism of Young, Gibbs and Christian Siakam.
Speaking of Siakam, the forward is going to have to step up more than what he has in the preseason. The senior was out early against Marian with three fouls and not very much support from fellow big man Mitchell Patton. Siakam finished the game with an impressive 10 points and four rebounds in only 16 minutes. Patton finished with 10 points as well but the points only show potential, partially because the Jags were simply better. Not all competition will be easy and the big men will have to compete and stay out of foul trouble.
A fourth place prediction for Summit League conference finish offended the team. A 2-0 preseason is just practice and doesn’t prove anything. First up for the Jags is Friday’s season opener against Anderson and Coach Howard says the team is ready to compete.