Like most battles that occur prior to selection Sunday, the Atlantic Sun’s championship game provides a viable source of entertainment with the conference automatic bid up for grabs. Belmont, who returned the vast majority of their production from a year ago, looked to punch their ticket to the Big Dance by potentially defeating an emerging East Tennessee St. team in the post-Tim Smith era. The results of this contest were clearly one-sided. East Tennessee St. is still in the process of rebuilding and Belmont reaped the benefits by flaunting their considerable experience and winning in a decisive fashion. While the outcome failed to provide the usual competitive edge found in most conference championships, the structured basketball and noteworthy individual performances added a degree of entertainment to an otherwise lopsided victory.
Justin Hare- Hare is the focal point of the Belmont offense. He is the consummate point guard who is an offensive option from the perimeter, but also a serviceable playmaker. Hare is a very intelligent player that is able to read defenses and implement given plays with considerable accuracy. While he would serve a complimentary role on an NBA squad, he is not a liability on the offensive end. Moreover, he is deceptively quick and athletic- often able to beat his man off of the dribble or to simply shoot over a perimeter defender. In this contest, he was very accurate from beyond the arc. Hare shot 3-5 from behind the three point line and was able to prevent any East Tennessee St. run. He possesses average height for a professional point guard at 6 feet 2 inches; thereby, his abilities may translate to a higher level of basketball. On the defensive end, Hare must improve his lateral quickness in order to compete in the NBA. Multiple squads employ more individual-oriented defensive schemes and this could become problematic for Hare at his current rate of development. With that said, Justin is a Portsmouth Camp candidate who should receive several looks from NBA scouts after another year with his Belmont squad.
Boomer Herndon- Boomer- Hare’s counterpart in the paint- is arguably one of the more tantalizing prospects. At 6’10, 255 pounds, Herndon is hard to contain at the midmajor level. He is a capable scorer and rebounder that uses his physique to bulldoze over smaller opponents. While this in and of itself does not necessarily indicate that he is a prospect, Boomer is also fundamentally sound- he occasionally employs a hook shot and uses his footwork at times to gain positioning. With that said, he must develop a go-to move in order to be successful. While he possesses a variety of post moves, he does not consistently utilize one. However, his considerable size and length should allow him to adopt the hook shot as his signature move. Defensively, he is not quick in the open floor. But, he is able to deter shots because of his physicality in the paint. His disadvantages primarily lie in his conditioning. Boomer is unable to play consistent minutes because he does not possess the wherewithal to withstand a thirty minute span of playing time unless it is intermittently broken up by several trips to the bench. This lack of speed and inability to play the entire game will force him to pursue a career overseas- where the season is far shorter and less physically exhausting. With that said, Boomer has a wealth of potential and could find a niche on a European squad in need of size and strength up front.
Courtney Pigram- Following in the footsteps of Tim Smith, Pigram is an undersized point guard that exploits his quickness as a means of scoring and dishing to his teammates. This East Tennessee St. product is a capable slasher who has decent court vision and a knack for finishing close to the basket. Pigram is clearly this team’s leader and this is demonstrated when he shoots at critical junctures in the game. On this occasion, he was unable to achieve any sort of rhythm offensively and thus he struggled mightily from behind the arc. But, he was confident enough as the team’s leader to continuously try to look for his own shot- yet he was able to recognize that his teammates were worthy alternatives and he did not let his ego cloud his decision making. Normally, Pigram is a threat to score from the midrange or from beyond the arc. His quick release makes him hard to defend at times. Defensively, he has quick hands and decent positioning. But, he is undersized and probably will not thrive against bigger guards at the next level. Pigram is one of the most potent offensive weapons in the Atlantic Sun and should receive some Portsmouth Camp consideration next year.
Mike Smith- This freshman guard/forward was the one bright spot for East Tennessee St. in this contest. This 6’6 player was able to penetrate in the lane and score on multiple instances. When Belmont began to pull even further away towards the middle of the game, Smith was the sole member of ETSU that kept fighting. This freshman was fearless on the glass and attacked the rim with reckless abandon. What makes him so intriguing is that he is able to go inside- yet he still possesses a potential perimeter game. His midrange shot was fairly accurate in this game, but his three point percentage was dismal. If he can extend his range, he can be effective at the professional level of basketball. Smith utilizes his upper body strength to score and draw fouls. And, he possesses considerable poise- for a freshman- at the free throw line where he shoots 80 percent. Defensively, he employs his athleticism to force the offense player to over-dribble and no significant holes stood out at this end of the floor. Currently, Smith stands out as a potential Atlantic Sun star who has the tools to play at the professional level.