Who's Gonna Make Someone Cry? Leadership, Clutch Shooting, and Gonzaga

Who's going to do this for Gonzaga???

So much has been made about the balance of Gonzaga this season.  Commentators, students, fans, and even coaches have enamored at the talented depth of this Gonzaga Bulldogs team.  Why is it such a big deal?  Gonzaga has always had talent; but not in this fashion.  The 2007 signing class made every fan of the program lick their chops for the 2008-09 season.  Austin Daye, Steven Gray, Ira Brown and Robert Sacre would all have a year under their belts just in time for Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, and Josh Heytvelt's final season. 

The year started out perfectly with an Old Spice Classic victory.  The depth appeared to be all that it had been built up to be and more.  However, after two missteps against Arizona and Connecticut and an embarassing loss at the hands of Portland State, we're beginning to wonder why this depth appears to be stalling right in front of our eyes.

more on Gonzaga's leadership issues after the jump...

Depth is something that has not come easily to Mark Few during his tenure at Gonzaga.  Yes, he's had some great role players over the years but this year's depth was supposed to be different.  Gonzaga was a top 10 team based on that depth at the start of the year.  In every write-up, breakdown, and team preview, people noted that at least six Zags could completely take over a game; Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Micah Downs, Josh Heytvelt, Steven Gray, and Austin Daye.  This was a foreign idea to the people of Spokane, Washington who had become familiar with relying on one player to take over the game all the time.

Morrisonpissed_medium

At the beginning of the year, the fact that Gonzaga could now rely on so many different people was music to my ears.  I'll be the first to admit it.  I was never a huge fan of Adam Morrison as an individual.  Yes, I said it.  Before I alienate readers, let me just pay my respects and say that I have never seen a player at the college level do some of the things he did.  You could not find me five other guys that I would take ahead of Morrison if I wanted a shooter on my team.  However, I just never got comfortable with his antics on the court.  I just could never fell in love with him as a ball player. 

In our current situation, I find myself wanting a guy like Morrison and it is throwing my emotions into a tizzy.  Let me tell you why.

I am still in a committed relationship with depth and balance but a 'stone-cold' takeover player like Morrison is starting to look pretty attractive.  In 2005-2006, Adam Morrison accounted for 35% of Gonzaga's scoring output....35 PERCENT.  A year later, Derek Raivio filled up the scoring sheet for the Zags with about 23% of points scored.  As we sit here today, Josh Heytvelt has the most scoring output with 19% followed by Daye, Downs, Gray, Bouldin, and Pargo all around the 16-12% mark.  It's beautiful isn't it.  Everyone is embracing their role and sharing the basketball.  Jeremy Pargo has seen his scoring output reduced for the good of the team and has become an assist machine.  If you would have showed me those percentages at the start of the year, I would have booked my ticket to Detroit right then because I would have no doubt that we were heading to the Final Four in 2009.  

But now, with all this gorgeous depth and balance, why are we choking away 11 point second-half leads in the state of Washington.  Why are we losing to a beaten up Pac-10 team that could field a championship U19 team with the amount of young stars that have left the program?  Why are we losing to Portland (beeping) State?

DKZagBlazer absolutely nailed it whenever I watch this team as of late.  You can see the rest of the discussion here.

Here’s a tough tough question though for you…You are coaching this team and it’s tied with 10 seconds to play (weird this happened a week ago)…who do you give the ball too?

This comment almost ruined my Christmas Day, not because I was offended or thought it was stupid but because I had no clue how to answer it.  Who is our Mario Chalmers when the entire game has gone against us and we need a prayer?  Who is our leader?  Now, let me extend this question, and I don't think DKZagBlazer will mind.  It's not just about who will hit that shot with :10 seconds left but it is about leadership.  Who will hit that shot against Portland State and make a big defensive stop?  Who will throw the coaches out of the locker room and get this team fired up?  Who's leading this team?  I can help you answer this question by giving you a lifeline and basically knocking off half the roster.  On this current Gonzaga team there are six players in contention.  It's got to come from Josh, Jeremy, Micah, Matt, Steven, or Austin.

My relationship with balance and depth is starting to sour.  If you ask a hundred people that know what Gonzaga basketball is, 99 of them would tell you that Jeremy Pargo is the unquestioned leader of this team.  And let's be straight, no player has impressed me more with his journey through college than Jeremy Pargo.  You can have the Calvary's, Santangelo's, and Dickau's...I'll take Pargo.  He comes all the way from Chicago to Spokane, WA (culture shock, much?), is labeled as a out of control point guard with an ego but four years later, he transforms himself into one of the most feared point guards in Division 1 basketball.  But now, Jeremy's role has changed.  He's a court general and, let's be honest, he's never been that demonstrative of a player.  He's not going to get all hoop-la and run into huddles firing guys up and screaming.  That's just not him.  He's like a Rajon Rondo, in a lot of ways actually.  Quiet, vastly athletic and skilled, but is a guy that can wow you and drive you crazy within minutes of one another.

But for every Rajon Rondo, you need a Kevin Garnett.  For the life of me, if I see this happen on the Gonzaga sidelines, I'm going to get online and book my ticket to Detroit.

In my heart of hearts, I know this can be Micah Downs.  I also know it can be Austin Daye.  These two guys haAustincrazy_mediumve mean streaks.  If you follow Gonzaga basketball, you know this.  The beautiful, and sometimes frightening, thing about this is that they are the two most talented basketball players on this team.   Both were high school phenoms and are blessed with the physical tools to dominate on the court.  What I don't know, however, is how other factors and the quick hook of Mark Few will affect these two emotional players.  Austin can get saddled with fouls quickly and Micah has often become the victim of some erratic substitution patterns (15 minutes against Arizona, 20 against Portland State).  Coach Few has bought into this balance and depth thing, which I'm beginning to loathe, and (unless your name is Bouldin or Pargo) you don't play a whole lot if you start off bad.  For emotional guys like Downs and Daye, this can be crippling.  Austin will be okay I believe.  In the month of December (aside from some of the BS calls in the UConn game) he's only had three fouls in one game.  He's starting to get it and play smarter defense.

Whenever I write about emotion and leadership, Micah always pops into my head.  Once again, you can have the Calvary's, Pendo's, and Knight's, I'll take Downs.  He's right up there with Pargo in great Gonzaga stories.  I feel for Micah because there are times when I don't think he gets a fair shake.  He's butted heads with Coach Few at times and has seen his PT suffer because of it.  This year, he has had excellent games and then there are games where he can disappear completely.  I know in a couple of our live game threads, there have been a few "Where's Micah?" comments.  I've still got tons of confidence in Micah and believe he can rise up and nail the big shot for this team.  I just hope he gets the chance. 

You can bet that he saw his former team, the Kansas Jayhawks, win a national championship and would love nothing more than to win a title of his own.

Like DKZagBlazer said, who do you think is taking the big shot with :10 seconds left in the game?  And more importantly, who is leading this team and is it good enough?

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