Dancing With Noah

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Category Archives: Dispatches

From Ottumwa with Love: Jay Scrubb and Tyon Grant-Foster

The following is a piece based on a few hours spent in Ottumwa, Iowa (pop. ~25,000) at Indian Hills Community College (IHCC) watching a JUCO basketball game with the principles being Jay Scrubb (John A. Logan) and Tyon Grant-Foster (IHCC).

The Hellyer Life Center is home to the Indian Hills Community College Warriors men’s basketball team. It’s a small gym with modern plastic maroon-colored pull-out bleachers and an upper balcony of sorts. To reach the court level, you walk down a staircase and your proximity to the court is that of a high school gym. Everything and everyone is accessible. I’d ordered my tickets for the game online, apparently I was the only person to do this because I saw my name handwritten on a sheet of paper at the ticketing desk when I showed up. I was given my choice of any open seat and chose center court: eight dollars.

I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, about 90 minutes northwest of Ottumwa and when I was just a skinny teenager with a full head of hair in the late 90s, knew of IHCC for its prodigiously winning men’s team. But in all my years, I’d never made the trek to see the JUCO juggernaut and was reminded of their dominance upon walking into the Hellyer Center and seeing the banners: 89-straight wins and three straight national championships from 1997 to 1999. They were led by Cincinnati Bearcat and eventual Euro MVP, JUCO par excellence, Pete Mickeal.

The stage was more than up-to-par for a battle between the country’s top two JUCO players: 6-foot-6 wing Jay Scrubb from 4th ranked John A. Logan, committed to Louisville and 6-foot-7 wing Tyon Grant-Foster from IHCC, committed to Kansas.

This was less a head-to-head comparison either in my intent (I didn’t go down there to crown Scrubb or Grant-Foster) or in their on-court matchup (they were rarely matched up with each other), but drawing comparisons and contrasts is only natural and the first ones we make are typical surface level. Scrubb looks the part: he’s more physically developed, lean but with square shoulders and the face of a young man with mustache and goatee. He looks like he was cast for the role and carries himself as such. By contrast, Grant-Foster has the look of a high schooler, his facial features soft, his chin hairless, his long arms dangle but without much definition.

And of course, there are my own biases and preconceptions. Scrubb was the prime attraction. He averaged 20-a-game as a JUCO freshman on 55-46-79 shooting. He was the only freshman to make the JUCO D1 First Team All-America squad and prior to committing to Louisville, he flirted with going pro after his sophomore season at Logan. Scrubb was the main attraction, Grant-Foster an intrigue, a recent Kansas-commit who averaged just 8 points as a freshman; I was more intrigued by KU coach Bill Self’s interest than my own.

JAY SCRUBB:

Off the opening tip, IHCC made their intentions with Scrubb clear by face guarding him with the solidly-built 6-2 Chris Childs (it does not appear he’s related to the former NBA player though of course it’s entirely possible). This portended what would be a long night for the Cardinal commit who would struggle get breathing room for all 38 of his on-court minutes.

Breathing room be damned, it was easy to see how Scrubb’s game comes together. At 6-6 with a 6-9 wingspan and listed at 220 pounds (this seems generous but people hide weight in strange places), he has a pro ready frame though his functional positional strength looks to be an area he can improve upon (more on this below).

He moves extremely well, on and off-ball, guarding ball or defending off-ball. He gets low with a strong knee bend on post-ups, which appear to be part of his repertoire though, again, his strength holding a seal is something I’ll get into, and does the same guarding the ball. His lateral and hip movement are effortless and his focus and intensity, particularly on-ball, are high; he locks in well. Off-ball, he had the occasional bad habit of turning his head and losing sight of ball in order to stick with man, but this is relatively easy to correct.

Scrubb’s been reported as having a 40-inch vertical and his functional elevation was easy to observe; most notably attacking the offensive glass and on his pull-up jumper. He averaged over one-and-a-half blocks as a freshman and given his lift and length, it’s easy to see why. In this game, he attacked the offensive glass, but with limited success. IHCC was great putting a body on Scrubb and his instincts were to elevate for boards instead of seeking out optimal position. That said, he shows good awareness attacking the o-glass in the first clip below. Unfortunately, going backdoor against an overplaying defender wasn’t a route he frequently sought out.

On the night, Scrubb shot just 4-15 from the field which isn’t that big of an issue. The IHCC defense was keyed in and focused on slowing him down. John A. Logan surprisingly did very little in terms of off-ball actions to help create space for him, opting for the occasional ball screen or post-up, but mostly settling for a balanced shot distribution. While I didn’t chart all 15 of Scrubb’s looks, I want to say 13 or 14 were contested and probably 11 or 12 were outside the paint.

He’s clearly more jump shooter than slasher and emphasizes his elevation to create space on pull-ups. The errant try below felt like a shot more out of frustration than anything else. While it’s a bad miss (and many of his misses were bad bricks), the lift and form are evident. His mechanics don’t break down from three and while I felt his release could use a bit of work, his balance and body control are strong:

As mentioned above, Scrubb sought out post-ups throughout the game and while he was able to establish position, he struggled to maintain it. Credit to IHCC’s coterie of defenders who, even when losing position, contested all entry passes, but some of this was an inability from Scrubb to hold the defender on his hip for extended periods. I don’t anticipate him doing a lot of posting up in the ACC, but it’s interesting to see how and where strength does or doesn’t translate. While not being the strongest player, he didn’t shy away from physical contact on either side of the ball or lose his cool over IHCC’s physical play.

In a lot of ways, seeing how a player reacts to adversity is ideal and between his shot being off and IHCC’s parade of physical defenders, Scrubb played within himself with the exception of a short stretch in the 2nd half when he sought out contested jumpers. His effort remained high and his offensive gravity allowed teammates more operating space. He projects out as an off-ball player, ideally operating off-the-catch with catch-and-shoots and attacking closeouts. In this 38-minute sample, he threw a couple of good passes and lost his dribble in traffic a couple times, but ultimately the sample was too small to draw any significant conclusions on his creation and playmaking though it seems secondary to seeking out his shot.

GRANT-FOSTER:

Part Jordan Crawford, part Jamal Crawford? Maybe it’s the similar skin tone or looping languid limbs, or maybe it’s the sharp handle, comfort freelancing, or heat check pull-ups, but Tyon Grant-Foster brought to mind those two Crawfords.

On a night when NBA scouts and Bill Self were in attendance, Grant-Foster navigated some early foul trouble to put together a signature second half. After a mostly forgettable first half marred by foul trouble, I didn’t write off Grant-Foster, but rather shrugged my shoulders and envisioned him as a future end-of-the-bench Jayhawk.

That he came out with a 22-point second half is less interesting than how he did it. While playing wing, Grant-Foster is one of IHCC’s primary initiators though he’s presently much better suited to create his own shot instead of creating for others. This is evidenced by a negative assist-to-turnover rate over his 34 career games at IHCC (1.5 turnovers for every one assist). That’s not to say he doesn’t vision or awareness as he exhibited good feel passing off the dribble, rather it’s an area he’s working to improve.

But getting his own shot? In both half court and transition, he showed ability to break down defenders, rise for the pull-up, and finish in traffic. For Grant-Foster, like Jamal Crawford, it all starts with the handle. An assortment of hang dribbles, hesitations, and crossovers kept defenders off-balance all night. Once he achieved advantage, he opted primarily for pull-up threes or slashing attacks. From deep, he shot 4 of 7, including some huge clutch makes while IHCC clawed back from a double-digit deficit, but there were some questionable attempts and his release could probably use refinement. Grant-Foster doesn’t hold his follow-through at all which isn’t a death knell to the jumper, but over longer samples, I’d expect struggles with accuracy. In the clip below, his wiggle and confidence are on display, but that quick release, almost fling, is worrisome:

When not banging in heat check threes, Grant-Foster attacked the basket. He got to the line seven times and showed natural instincts for getting to the rim. His wiggle combined with the threat of the outside shot allowed him to beat primary defenders. His change of pace and direction allowed him to beat help defenders while his length, craft, and touch helped him to finish inside. And while not the explosive leaper Scrubb is, Grant-Foster showed good lift finishing one dunk and just missing a second one in traffic.

Where he can expand his attack is in creating for others off-the-dribble. He’s good enough to beat defenders and while he was able to connect on a couple of drive-and-dumps, a combination of spacing and more consistent awareness will help bump him to the next level. The other area that was of some concern was his dependency on somewhat of an isolation-heavy, freelance approach. IHCC desperately needed him to takeover this game, but he’s prone to pounding the ball east-to-west (and back, and back, and you get the point) trying to shake a defender and there’s likely fine tuning to occur there. That said, I’m somewhat loathe to mess with a player’s natural expression, particularly if it’s effective and would be interested to see if and how frequently Grant-Foster goes on these forays. He’s not a selfish player, but he is a self-interested, confident one.

Defensively, I didn’t get near as good a sense of his game as I did Scrubb’s. He was engaged on the defensive end and looked to pounce on passing lanes at times, but by focusing on Scrubb’s offensive game, I missed out on finer details of his defense. Purely looking at his stats, he definitely makes an impact defensively. Through a short two games, he’s averaging 1.5 steals and a single block, but last season he put up a gaudy 7.5 blocks/40 minutes. That number’s ridiculous enough that I wonder if he was just leaping at everything trying to swat balls into the bleachers.

Driving home in the dark with a quarter moon hanging low on the horizon, smoke curling into the sky from factories and plants sitting miles off the highway, it still struck me as random that out here, in southern Iowa lives and breathes a JUCO basketball hotbed that’s produced 22 current NCAA players, over 30 current pros, and five NBA draft picks. My dad had driven up to Ottumwa from where he lives in Kansas City and was kind enough to bake some chocolate chip cookies for me and I drove, eating cookies while the moon finally dropped below the horizon, pondering that basketball history and the spaces being carved out in the present by young men half my age like Jay Scrubb and Tyon Grant-Foster. Future pros in some league somewhere; perhaps as obscure as Ottumwa.

Dispatches from Des Moines’ first NBA game in 17 Years

Two nights ago, NBA preseason made a stop in Des Moines Iowa for the first time in 17 years. Denver vs. GSW was the matchup hyped as Harrison Barnes‘ homecoming of sorts. Despite two mostly ho-hum seasons as a pro, central Iowa loves itself some Harry B. Iowans turned out in huge numbers and overwhelmed the Wells Fargo arena staff (more on that in a bit) … If I recall, the last game here was between the KG/Marbury T-Wolves, and Ray Allen‘s Bucks. Fendo (Ed’s note: Fendo has little recollection of this) and I attended that game together. The only vivid memory I have is KG making some ridiculous facial expression for a child behind the bench taking photos. I remember nothing else about it. Three years earlier, Denver and GSW played here and I was entered into a contest (without my knowledge) to be a ball boy. I won and had an experience that was … unforgettable. Anyway, here are a few things I noticed the other night.

Security was wanding people on their way into the arena, which is annoying enough on its own but to make matters worse, they only had one dude with a wand for every set of DOUBLE doors. There were seriously hundreds (thousands?) of people at each of the three entrances waiting to get in. We waited 15 minutes and only missed three minutes of game. Some folks had to have missed nearly the entire 1st quarter or more. A man scanning tickets – who appeared to be in charge – had a look on his face like he wanted to vomit. He just knew a shit storm was coming his way … Never seen wands at WF Arena, or an NBA game. It appeared they were looking for guns and while I can’t be certain, I’m guessing the number of firearms they found was zero.

Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, where an NBA game was played recently

Every time I go to a game, I’m amazed at how thin these guys are. This was the closest I’ve sat, and man, they all look damn skinny. Even the dudes that look beefy on TV are lean.

Kenneth Faried‘s lucky if he’s 6’6″. I noticed him standing next to Arron Afflalo, and he couldn’t have been more than two inches taller. Faried closed out on a Klay Thompson shot (all net despite a good contest) and they jogged back together chatting it up. He’s shorter than Klay, but he’s everywhere on both ends which appears to make up a bit for his size. Plays like a guy that just loves to hoop. He’d be fun to have on your squad as a coach or teammate.

Barnes hasn’t improved. He showed no indication he’s added anything to his game.

Denver’s got an interesting mix of bigs. Mozgov’s got a nice looking stroke. He hit his FTs and buried a three from just off the top of the key. Jusuf Nurkic is huge. Each of his legs probably weighs at least 100 pounds. He needs to adapt to the speed of the NBA (got caught slow on some rotations and picked up dumb fouls) but he’s so big that once he gets it down, he could be one of the better interior defenders in the league. Pretty decent spring off the floor too. He worked hard to post up, but didn’t get as many touches as he should have. Denver Coach Brian Shaw really coached him up before he checked in and when he came off. I’d bet Shaw would love to get rid of Javale and wouldn’t feel too bad if he got hurt. There’s no way he likes that guy. He and Hickson didn’t play a single minute, but appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Nate Rob didn’t play either, but was into the game – except for during the Q1 break when he and Hickson spent a team huddle staring at, and discussing, the Iowa Energy (D-League team) dancers. They must have seen something they liked because they were laughing as they nodded in agreement and gave each other dap.

Golden State Coach Steve Kerr looks like he wants to run Andre Iguodala at PG with the 2nd unit. Had him out there handling the ball a lot with guys that won’t even make the team. Shaun Livingston did NOT look happy during timeouts. I don’t know if he was being held out for some reason, but his displeasure very well may have had to do with Iggy playing that role.

Kerr’s suit looked like it cost $10k. What’s a $10k suit look like? I can’t really describe it, but you just kind of know an expensive one when you see it.

Gary Harris is a small guy. He may not be taller than Steph Curry and has a young guy’s body (Curry’s got some definition to him nowadays). My first thought when I saw Harris was, “This guy might be too small to play SG.” And then he got the ball in transition and SMASHED on some poor GSW big man, plus the foul. It was the most impressive play of the night. He got open and hit some jumpers too. He’s fast and athletic and could be a nice player (both in real life and fantasy) this season if Denver loses a guard or two.

James Michael McAdoo had 20. He’s fighting an uphill battle to make GSW and has to kick himself daily for not coming out after his first year at UNC … Jason Kapono played for GSW late in the game and buried a three (or two). I didn’t know he was there until he got into the game. It was like that scene in Major League where Willie Mays Hayes wakes up in the parking lot and smokes those dudes in that race. “Get him a uniform.”

Aside from the metal detector debacle, it was great. Better ball than I expected from a preseason game, and very well attended. Des Moines and WF Arena should be pleased. They’ve got an application in for March Madness for ’16-’18 and drawing 10,000 for preseason NBA certainly doesn’t hurt that cause.

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