Tolbert's Burden, Tobert's Opportunity

The 5-5 Red Raiders have been struggling this season, but the one bright spot has been Jordan Tolbert, and Joe Yeager shows how the success of Tech goes with the success of Tolbert.

Putting an entire basketball team on your shoulders and carrying it to victory is a formidable task. But it can be done. Ask one Reggie Williams.

 

The 1986-87 Georgetown Hoyas returned only two starters. And outside of Williams, the team welcomed back only one significant upper classman in rugged six-foot-four small forward Perry McDonald. This edition of the Georgetown Hoyas was practically all freshmen and sophomores, and little was expected of it.

 

But the pundits had underestimated Williams' talent, and more important, failed to reckon on his will to win.

 

The slender, six-foot-seven forward hitched the youthful Hoyas to his shoulders and pulled them through the brutal Big East to a regular-season championship as well as a Big East tournament championship.

 

But "Reggie and the Miracles," as coach John Thompson dubbed them, were not done. They plowed through the NCAA Southeast region, making it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to Billy Donovan and the Providence Friars. The Hoyas finished the season with a sparkling 29-5 mark.

 

The ‘86-‘87 Hoyas were not a mature team. Outside of Williams, and a lesser extent, McDonald, there was little veteran presence.

 

Georgetown's talent was very good but not spectacular. Williams went on to a solid NBA career, as did point guard Charles Smith, while lead guard Jaren Jackson also got a cup of coffee at the next level. But that was it. This was Reggie Williams' team—his team alone—and it accomplished great things. A team with one great player and an assortment of unselfish role players can succeed in college basketball.

 

Now I'm the last person to suggest that Jordan Tolbert will lead the 2011-12 Red Raiders to the Elite Eight. The notion is utterly preposterous. What I am suggesting is that Reggie and the Miracles is the proper paradigm for the current Red Raiders. That team ran everything through Williams, and John Thompson's job was to find the players who played best with Williams.

 

The Red Raiders have arrived at that point.

 

On the threshold of Big 12 play, it is patently obvious that Tolbert is not only the team's best player, but that he is a special talent. The time has come for coach Billy Gillispie to build his team around Tolbert.

 

The question is, how does he go about doing that?

 

The answer, it seems to me, is to isolate the team's best passers and shooters and put them on the court with Tolbert.

 

Despite playing in only eight games, freshman Toddrick Gotcher is second on the team in assists with 22, while committing a reasonably modest 13 turnovers. Javarez Willis leads with squad with five assists, but has played two more games than Gotcher. He's also turned the ball over 23 times.

 

Freshman Kevin Wagner has also been a reasonably good playmaker, while holding turnovers to a minimum. The Lubbock product has dished 12 assists, with only three turnovers while averaging 16 minutes of playing time in seven games. It may be time to see if Gotcher and Wagner can become Tolbert's primary conduits while heightening offensive efficiency in the process.

 

Given that Tolbert's offensive game is almost exclusively in the paint, Gillispie must find some shooters to prevent teams from doubling him and dropping down to prevent entry passes. And—happy coincidence—Gotcher looks like the best option in this department as well. He has connected on six of 11 three pointers for a 55 percent shooting average beyond the arc. Combine this fact with his ball-handling skills and it's clear that Gotcher is the key to Tolbert becoming all he can be.

 

Kevin Wagner, incidentally, has hit both of his three point attempts this season. Luke Adams is an option for spot play as a shooter, and Ty Nurse is a streaky shooter as well. Still, Gotcher and Wagner look to be the team's best pure guard options.

 

The high post position is a problem. Robert Lewandowski has some ability as a passer, but fumbles the ball away all too often. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1-2. Jaye Crockett is not an ideal option, but he takes care of the ball better than Lewandowski, having dished out 15 assists while committing 16 turnovers.

 

The best four on the floor for the Red Raiders could well be Tolbert, Gotcher, Wagner and Crockett. The fifth player would conceivably be determined by whether Tech needs to go big (Lewandowski) or small (another guard).

 

Ultimately, however, the number of games this team wins will be determined by how many Jordan Tolbert keeps them in. He's good enough carry the team. The rest of the guys must help him do it.


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