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November 12, 2009 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2009-11-12

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Biggest foes in the Big Ten
Top six threats to Michigan's conference title hopes
By Gjon Juncaj and Chris Meszaros n Daily Sports Writers

Darius Morris:
The Cali Kid
By Joe Stapleton I Daily Sports Writer
When talking to people who know
Darius Morris' game best, one thing
keeps coming up.
It's not that he can jump out of the gym,
though he can throw down with the best (just
YouTube "Darius Morris dunk").
It's not that he's quicker than everyone else,
though his speed is at times mind-boggiing.
And it's not that he's bigger than every-
one. Though he is 6-foot-4, his frame is best
described as lanky.
What sets the freshman point guard apart
is what his high school coach, Miguel Villegas,
saw the first time he saw Darius play - in an
eighth-grade AAU game. Darius had just gotten
- a rebound and was dribbling up the floor. He
glanced up at his teammates.
"The way he told his players where to go,
looked to pass and then looked to score when
the opportunity was there," Villegas said. "You
could tell he just had the natural instincts of
being not only a great point guard but a great
basketball player."
What Villegas called "natural instincts" has
been described in many different ways, but the
truth is, it's hard to define. Scouts look for cold,
hard statistics like vertical leap, height and
wingspan. Then, they look at the real physical
tools needed to succeed in the sport, such as lat-
eral movement, coordination and speed while
But the toughest aspect of a player's game
to evaluate is also the most important. It's
what makes him wait that fraction of a second
before throwing a backdoor pass, and not look
at his target when he does. It's that voice that
tells him when he grabs an offensive rebound
in the paint, when to pump fake and when to
go straight up. It's what makes it seem like he's
watching every possession in tape delay while
everyone else is experiencing it in real time.
It's not all that common to find a player who
has developed these instincts to the point where
they can compete at the collegiate level.
Maybe Michigan has.
"Darius dropped everything to go play with
his bigger brother," DeWayne Sr., Darius'
father, says. He remembers how from the age of
five, Darius followed his brother DeWayne Jr.,
who is eight years older, and his friends all over

WHAT'S GOOD: The Spartans' backcourt is terrifying. Led by
reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
should repeat as the conference's most prolific offense. Along-
side Lucas is junior shooting guard and middle school friend
Durrell Summers, a 6-foot-5 athletic freak with great hops and
a dangerous three-point shot (38.5 percent last season). Backups
Korie Luscious and Chris Allen round out arguably the confer-
ence's best set of perimeter players.
WHAT'S NOT: The Spartans lose last season's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year,
Travis Walton, and arguably the conference's most complete center, Goran Suton. Wal-
ton provided a steady handle on offense (he led the team in assist-to-turnover ratio)
and was comfortable guarding the one-three positions whenever needed. There's no
one on the roster that can duplicate Walton's impact right now.
Suton led the conference in rebounding (8.4 boards per game) and was an efficient
double-digit scorer, finishing sixth in the Big Ten with a 52.1-percent shooting rate.
Although sophomores Delvon Roe and Draymond Green will be healthy, in shape and
much more athletic than their Bosnian predecessor, their interior passing and back-to-
the-basket moves will require time to develop.
BOTTOM LINE: This is still the Big Ten's best team on paper. A loaded backcourt and
two budding stars in Roe and Green should make up for the loss of Walton and Suton
by March.
WHAT'S GOOD: After being upset by a No. 12 seed in last sea-
son's NCAA Tournament, Illinois is looking for a big rebound
this year. But that shouldn't be too difficult. The Fighting Illini
are led up front by 7-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale and forward Mike
Davis. Though the lanky Tisdale may not look like a basketball
star, he did average more than 10 points and four rebounds for
Illinois last season. While former Michigan commit Alex Legion
struggled last year, averaging just 3.5 points per contest, he is expected to fill a bigger
role this season.
WHAT'S NOT: If there is an unproven team near the top of the Big Ten, it would be
the Illini. Though Illinois finished 24-10 last season, the team is starting a true fresh-
man at guard (D.J. Richardson) and an unproven guard who has thus far failed to live
up to his potential (Legion). Additionally, Tisdale is not strong enough to be physical
down low, which could pose a problem ina tough Big Ten.
BOTTOM LINE: Illinois is one of the teams jockeying for a place in the middle of
the conference. Expect the Illini to make it to the Big Dance but struggle on their way

WHAT'S GOOD: Purdue is a bona fide top-10 team, and
the Boilermakers know it. Last year at Big Ten Media Day,
guard Keaton Grant boldly predicted that Purdue would
win the national title. And while the Boilermakers only
made it to the Sweet Sixteen, No. 7 Purdue hopes to make
that short trip to Indianapolis when the season ends - and
not just for the Big Ten Tournament. The Boilermakers return junior forward Rob-
bie Hummel, a Preseason All-Conference Team selection. Though he struggled with a
lingering back injury last year, Hummel still averaged 12.5 points and seven rebounds
per game. To top it off, all five of Purdue's starters return to a team that won the Big
Ten Tournament last year.
WHAT'S NOT: The biggest concern for Purdue is its thin frontcourt. The Boilermak-
ers have just three true freshmen to back up starters Hummel and JaJuan Johnson.
Additionally, coach Matt Painter used a thin bench last year, with all of his starters
averaging over 27 minutes a game. That means there is a chance that the team could
wear down during a lengthy tournament run.
BOTTOM LINE: Purdue has five solid starters led by Hummel and should challenge
the Spartans for the Big Ten crown. Expect the Boilermakers to go far in the postseason.
WHAT'S GOOD: Evan Turner is the Big Ten's Mr. Every-
thing, leading the league in scoring last season and finish-
ing in the top 10 in shooting percentage, assists, rebounds
and steals. The six-foot-seven junior will be entrusted with
Ohio State's point guard duties this year, and in Monday's
season-opening win became the second Buckeye ever to post
a triple-double. Though Turner had said he prefers initiating
the offense, coach Thad Matta will likely save a package of plays to take advantage of
Turner's slashing ability and keep the conference's best player off the ball.
WHAT'S NOT: Rebounding and offensive efficiency. The Buckeyes finished ninth in
rebounding margin last year, and that was with seven-foot center B.J. Mullens, who is
now in the NBA. And don't expect Turner to grab seven-plus boards a night while run-
ning the point. With no incoming freshmen this season, forwards David Lighty and Dal-
las Lauderdale will have to show significant improvement on the glass to compensate.
Turner's move from swingman to point guard was done in part to improve an offense
that finished seventh in assists and recorded a measly one-to-one assist-to-turnover
ratio. Matta has said ballhandling will be one of his primary focal points during the first
BOTTOM LINE: The Buckeyes have one of the most versatile players in the country, a
rock-solid starting five and a proven coach. This may be the most dangerous team in the
conference, but rebounds and turnovers may be the difference between first and third

their Los Angeles neighborhood looking
for pick-up games.
At first, Darius would only play with
his brother when they didn't have enough
bodies for a game. Eventually, he earned
his way on the court.
It was there, on the blacktops of L.A.,
that Darius was forced to develop his
instincts quickly, to find creative ways to
shoot over taller kids and dribble around
wider ones.
"The best part of his game is his handle
and his creativity," DeWayne Jr. says now.
"His court vision is something you can't
teach. The stuff he could do on a basket-
ball court when he was ten years old was
amazing. A nine, ten-year-old kid should
not be able to see the floor that way."
DeWayne Sr. also noticed the skills his
son had at a young age. As an eight-year-
old, Darius would go to the YMCA in
Inglewood, a hoops mecca if there ever
was one, and play against kids at least a

couple years older.
"Darius used to do some very" - he
pauses - "unnatural things, I would call
it, as a youth in basketball," DeWayne Sr.
But it wasn't until a national AAU tour-
nament in Florida that DeWayne Sr. real-
ized exactly the opportunity his son had.
At age 11, Darius splitdouble teams with
ease, found eye-popping passing angles
and just flat-out scored the basketball. His
father watched all of this from the sideline
and had a bit of a revelation.
"I told him, 'If you really want to pur-
sue this, you have a chance at being really
good at this,' " DeWayne Sr. said.
Darius listened. By the time he was in
eighth grade, he was in a position to play
at one of the many big-time high schools in
the L.A. area, like Westchester, Redondo
Union or Mater Dei. He was even thinking
about following his AAU teammate and
current Milwaukee Bucks rookie Brandon

Jennings to the famed basketball factory
Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
But DeWayne Jr. realized Darius, at
5-foot-9 and painfully thin, would be
physically overmatched at these basket-
ball powerhouses.
DeWayne Jr. had heard about a private
school called Windward, located in the
Mar Vista neighborhood in L.A. It had a
very good academic reputation but was
looking to build up its hoops program. It
was then that DeWayne Sr. contacted the
school's coach, Villegas, and together they
went to see one of Darius' AAU games.
Villegas was impressed.
Growing up in the L.A. area, it's natural
to run into celebrities every day. Darius
played high school ball with two of them:
Malcolm Washington, son of Denzel,
and Percy Miller, formerly known as Lil'
Even on a star-studded squad, Darius
See 4-SIGHT, Page 7C

WHAT'S GOOD: Penn State should have plenty of reasons
+ for optimism after narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament
and winning the National Invitational Tournament last season.
Junior point guard Talor Battle is arguably the Big Ten's most
dangerous crunch-time player. He earned preseason first-team
All-Big Ten honors after averaging 16.7 points, 5.0 assists and 5.3
rebounds last year. Penn State also returns redshirt junior for-
ward Andrew Jones, who could become one of the conference's elite rebounders after
finishing fifth last season in offensive boards per game.
WHAT'S NOT: Replacing Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle might be impossible. Johnson - with potenti
The two now-graduated players averaged a combined 27.2 points last season, and were The Gophers return all
critical in freeing up Battle on offense. After Battle, Jones was the nexthighest-return- points per game.
ingscorer from last year (6.2 points per game). Penn State's offense will likely be a one- WHAT'S NOT: Minne
manshow this fall until a reliable second option emerges. Should that take too long, the be what sets it back in t
Nittany Lions will likely be back in the NIT. make the Gophers one o
BOTTOM LINE: For better or worse, Battle will shoulder more than any other player an 11-deep bench, not all
in the conference during the early part of the season. A first-half schedule that includes sota has the potential tol
road games at Virginia, Temple and Minnesota will show just how much help Battle BOTTOM LINE: Smith
will need to take the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament since 2001. in the NCAA Tourname

WHAT'S GOOD: If there was an award for the coach
who best turned around their program, only Minnesota's
Tubby Smith might beat out Michigan coach John Beilein.
The Gophers went from a nine-win squad two years ago to a
22-win team that made the NCAA Tournament last season.
Minnesota is also one of the deepest programs inthe Big Ten,
mixing senior talent - Lawrence Westbrook and Damien
al stars in sophomores Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III.
nine of their top scorers, led by Westbrook, who averaged 12.6
sota has a lot of good players but no proven stars, and that might
the talent-rich Big Ten. Attrition within the conference could
f many potential bubble teams. And while Minnesota may have
1 of those players can see game action at the same time. Minne-
be a great team, butthat will likely be a few years down the road.
and the Gophers should make their second straight appearance
nt and are a dark horse contender for the Big Ten title.

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