Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Division Two Basketball at a Glance: St. Augustine's vs. Virginia Union

Several players of note distinguished themselves and therein have an opportunity to flourish overseas. While most Division 2 contests are off the radar of many scouts, this fairly obscure stage produces considerable talent that flies under the radar. Look no further than NBA greats Ben Wallace and Charles Oakley- two big men who hail from Virginia Union- to find talent that initially competed at the Division 2 level. In this edition, perennial powerhouse Virginia Union and their competitor in the CAA tournament- St. Augustine- are examined.

Virginia Union

Brad Byerson- This burly big man is a former West Virginia transfer who has really come into his own throughout his time at Virginia Union. After the losses of Crockett and Hargrove a year ago, this team’s dynamic dramatically changed. Reminiscent of its former glory, Virginia Union relies predominantly on Byerson’s inside post presence. In this contest, he failed to disappoint. Despite being slightly undersized, Byerson was able to collapse the St. Augustine defense in the paint and open up the game for his teammates. His sheer upper body strength alone should make him a prominent player overseas. Brad has excellent body control- he is able to draw charges and attack the basket while creating space. Regardless, he is still undersized for the power forward position and should develop some semblance of a perimeter game. It is not too much to expect this from a player who has drastically improved his free throw shooting. Modifying this in-game element to incorporate the soft touch he possesses on his free throws should not be an extremely difficult task. On the defensive end, Byerson has quick hands and is able to capitalize off of similar sized opponents by collecting steals and blocking shots. He has a tendency to reach and this makes him foul prone. Down the stretch in this contest, Byerson failed to seal the game. He missed two critical free throws late in the game- culminating in a surge by St. Augustine. The rowdy crowds overseas can often fluster a player. And if Byerson is unable to maintain his composure in a Division 2 contest, I wonder if he will falter down the stretch at times.

LaKeith Blanks- This guy was the glue that held Virginia Union together down the stretch. Periodically, Virginia Union fell into a slump and needed someone to take on the brunt of the scoring load. Blanks reveled at this opportunity and showcased his ability on a high stage in the conference tournament. With Barry Jones of St. Augustine firing on all cylinders, Blanks was able to put away his opponents for good by hitting a show with 19.8 seconds on the block. Throughout the course of the game, Blanks displayed his acrobatic athleticism by throwing several thundering dunks down. He was an excellent one on one player and was able to penetrate to the hoop virtually at will; his body control enabled him to get passed the defender. Furthermore, he is a very intelligent player; therein, he was able to attack Nicholas King and take him out of the game. Blanks still has time to gain recognition because his eligibility has not expired.

Chris Greene- Greene is a thin player who possesses all the fundamentals to succeed on the European plateau. This 6’5, 175 pound wing is an accurate three point shooter who is also able to get to the line. Like his VU counterparts, Greene employs excellent body control to straddle the defender and then pull up for a shot. Moreover, he is an adept ball handler and utilizes a change of pace dribble to get by his defenders. Greene is a very intelligent player who is aware of his opponents. For example, he broke away from his defensive assignment to hustle down court for the wide open full court pass and lay-in. With that said, Greene must strengthen his body in order to compete in a more physical brand of basketball overseas. Greene is a consummate basketball player who could easily become a productive at some professional level.

Tim Young- While he is not exactly a prospect at this point, Young will be around next year and will most definitely play a more central role towards Virginia Union’s success. Tim’s energy off the bench was contagious and the effort he put forth was certainly noteworthy. He was able to attack the basket and draw defenders- placing Byerson in a position to score off of a pass or rebound. His instincts will continue to benefit this Virginia Union squad and possibly earn him a spot overseas- assuming he plays a pivotal part in the offense next season.

St Augustine

Antonio Fitzgerald- By and large, Fitzgerald was the most complete player in this contest. Despite a sub par performance on his part, his team came within striking distance and nearly pulled ahead of a very talented Virginia Union squad. This happens to be the second instance that I watched Fitzgerald play. And, his performances were strikingly dissimilar. In the first contest, Fitzgerald proved to be an Iverson-like scorer at the Division Two level. He had a beautiful perimeter stroke and was able to penetrate at will. However, in this contest, Antonio had a poor game from the field- unable to find any sort of rhythm. This game was clearly an aberration because he demonstrated consistent production throughout the course of the season and proper mechanics on his shooting touch, which seemed to be failing him. Fitzgerald is a very strong guard who has an excellent first step. His quickness and passing ability were strong assets in this contest. He involved his teammates considerably and demonstrated a great deal of poise as the lead guard. Fitzgerald is a multidimensional player because he consciously reads defenses and is able to move the ball inside and out. He also handles passes of varying speeds. His talents are very much reminiscent of Dominic James with a more consistent shooting touch. Fitzgerald must improve his defensive intensity and become more of a factor on this end of the floor. Furthermore, he became flustered against the Virginia Union zone- something that is typically seen in basketball overseas. If Antonio can tailor his game to become a prototypical European point guard and learn to confound zone defenses by playing more instinctively, he will have a successful professional career.

Nicholas King- King disappointed in this contest and was never able to get into sink offensively. Nicholas- the other half of the Augustine backcourt duo- missed multiple shot attempts. Although he possesses a nice three point shooting ability, King failed to display considerable production from behind the arc. Still, he contributed by collecting several rebounds and attacking the basket. King is an intelligent player and simply had a poor performance at a critical juncture in the season. Overall, he did not display any ability that was out of the ordinary- although he does possess excellent form on his three point shot. If he was able to obtain more looks, I’m sure that he would have asserted himself and retained his role as the second best player on the team. Overall, I think that King has the ability to play at a higher level of basketball, but will have to become more consistent in order to stand out.

Jeff Sullivan- Sullivan was one of the more promising prospects of the night because he more-than held his own against the physical presence of Brad Byerson. Despite being a mere 6’8, he was able to alter shots and disrupt passing lanes. Sullivan was excellent defensively and employed considerable length to collect rebounds. Despite his thin frame, his quickness is an excellent asset for a post player. On one occasion, he was able to dribble in transition and lead a fast break. This makes me hopeful that he can alter his position and possibly play a small forward role for some squad at a higher level. He simply has to develop a more consistent outside game. In this contest- however- he shot the ball very well (7-10 from the floor) and collected a double-double against one of the more imposing big men in Division Two basketball. Sullivan contributes energy and intensity whenever he is on the floor and will attain a lead role next season after King and Fitzgerald graduate.

Barry Jones- Jones was one of the more surprising players in this contest. Initially, he seemed like another experienced role player for St. Augustine’s who was content with his status and relied primarily upon Fitzgerald and King to provide most of the scoring punch. As the game progressed, Jones took on a more prominent role. His shots began to fall and soon enough- the St. Augustine’s offense was running through him. At the height of his shooting spree, Jones made three 3 point shots within a two minute span (late in the second half)- giving St. Augustine’s the lead and making a name for himself. While he never fully obtained star status, Jones was a consistent role player who provided instant scoring off the bench. Barry should be able to find a job in a low level European league at some point in the near future.

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