Published Mon, Dec 12, 2011 3:17 pm Dateline
Ohio head basketball coach John Groce said at practice the day before the first exhibition game against Mercyhurst that his team has fourteen role guys. And he wants those players to perform their roles at “a high freakin’ level.” With a ragtag group of men on this season’s team, Ohio will have to play exactly to Groce’s demand.
A versatile squad, these Ohio Bobcats will be looking to run-and-gun. Without a true center and no extremely powerful forwards (save Kenny Belton), the Bobcats will have a difficult time setting up in the half court. What Ohio does have working for them is their length and athleticism. With 6-foot-7 Jon Smith playing more like 7-foot-6 and TyQuane Goard likely to be a cause for roof repair in the Convo, the ‘Cats could cause opposing teams fits.
So what are the roles John Groce speaks of? Here we examine each player’s role, what he does well, what he can improve on, and what to expect this season. This piece is broken down position-by-position.
D.J. Cooper, 5’11”, Junior D.J. Cooper is the heart and soul of this team. Projected to be a first-team All-MAC guard, Cooper is being held to an even higher standard this season than those previous. The key for the Chicagoan is consistency. Most Ohio fans will tell you, when D.J. Cooper is on top of his game, there is nary a sight more beautiful on a basketball court. With a silky smooth jumper, handles like pots and pans, and passes that send defenders looking for the nearest chiropractor, Cooper can put the team on his back as he did many times last season – he led the team in points scored with 15.8 points per game in 2010-11. However, at times, the silk in that jumper turns into a 30-cent yard of felt and he turns into the newly hired chef fumbling pots and pans and slowing down your risotto – he also led the team in turnovers with 123 (nearly double that of first runner-ups DeVaughn Washington and Ivo Baltic). If Cooper can be consistent, he will definitely live up to the high expectations this season. That will come through smart decisions, shots, and passes.
Biggest Strength: Ability to carry the team. Cooper had seven double-doubles last year and scored a career-high 43 points while still gathering 13 assists against St. Bonaventure. He has the great ability to pour in points while also dishing the ball out to teammates.
Biggest Weakness: Inconsistency. Despite his high scoring and assist averages, Cooper shot a dismal 38 percent (eighth worst on the team) and averaged 3.5 turnovers per game (most on the team).
Role: Leader. Cooper has to be able to come up big for Ohio this year when other players aren’t performing well. He has the ability and the expectations are there, all he needs to do is live up to it.
Stevie Taylor, 5’9”, Freshman If it weren’t for the Ohio basketball garb that Ohio students often see the team draped in, you wouldn’t guess Stevie Taylor was more than just your average student. If you saw him walking across the Athens campus you’d see an unassuming, average height guy. Unbeknownst to you, inside that small 5-foot-9 frame was a dynamite varsity basketball player. Taylor is one that knows how to use his height to his advantage. The freshman point guard gathered nine points in the exhibition against Mercyhurst, displaying his unique ability to contort his body in midair to get off shots. Taylor also possesses good vision and unmatched quicks. His ability to get up and down the floor fits in perfectly with John Groce’s run-and-gun vision. He has a decent jump-shot, but, unlike D.J. Cooper, doesn’t look for it unless he’s wide open. He’s more of a true point guard than Cooper, looking to make a pass before putting up a shot. However, he does have the ability to score the basketball and can be a big factor in this offense.
Biggest Strength: Quickness. If Taylor were a quidditch ball, he would be the golden snitch. He has a tremendous amount of speed and quickness, which allows him to run circles around a defense. For him to be most effective, he must continue to use that agility to get the ‘Cats moving in transition and lighting up the scoreboard.
Biggest Weakness: Inexperience. Watching him play, it’s easy to tell that this season will be great learning experience for Taylor. He is a raw talent and has the great advantage of learning behind someone like D.J. Cooper for at least one more year, and two if Coop decides to stay in Athens for a senior season.
Role: Change of pace. With the All-MAC talent ahead of him in D.J. Cooper, it seems unlikely that Taylor will serve a role bigger than that of a fill-in when Cooper needs a breather. Although, at one point during the Mercyhurst game, fans got a look at Cooper and Taylor on the court at the same time. Groce may look to mix things up as such when he wants to really get out and score. Both players can run the floor, spy open teammates, and put the ball in the basket. How did that saying go? “Two heads are better than one.”