The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Wednesday, March 9,2011 - 7A
The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 7A
Smotrycz adds dimension
for 'M' with better post play
Sparks cracks lineup for playoffs
By LUKE PASCH
Daily Sports Writer
Evan Smotrycz isn't the most
imposing post player in the Big
After the Michigan men's bas-
ketball team completed its sea-
son sweep of Michigan State on
Saturday, even assistant coach
Bacari Alexander had to heckle
the freshman forward via Twit-
ter about the goofy photograph
posted on ESPN.com.
In the headline shot of
Smotrycz celebrating, his jersey
is untucked, his back is slouched
and his undershirt sleeves conceal
any muscle that may be hiding
And then there's the hair.
It's gelled to one side and
curled up at the end, forming a
seemingly Greaser-inspired wave
of flowing locks. Smotrycz looks
more like Fonzie than an up-and-
coming Division-I athlete. And
it certainly doesn't help that the
photographer caught him as he let
out a celebratory yell - because
instead of depicting an exuberant
battle cry, he looks more a patron
at an Italian restaurant dissatis-
fied with his penne alla vodka.
Members of the Fab Five would've
But style points aside, Smotrycz
haunted the Spartans on both
ends of the floor, finishing with
14 points, a block and three steals.
And at times, he utilized an arse-
nal of post moves and pivots in the
paint that many didn't even know
he was capable of.
Indeed, his play underneath is a
very recent development.
"Evan did almost no post
defense, no post moves in Sep-
tember, October," Michigan coach
John Beilein said after the game.
"So starting in January we really
started working with both post
defense and post offense. The last
couple weeks he's sort of attached
himself to that a little bit, know-
ing that people have taken away
his three-game - how else can he
Beilein started playing the
6-foot-9 Smotrycz - a natural for-
ward - intermittently at center
about halfway through season.
By MICHAEL FLOREK
Daily Sports Editor
While the No. 5 Michigan
hockey team was fighting for the
CCHA regular-season champi-
onship two weeks ago against
Northern Michigan, sophomore
forward Lindsay Sparks was
fighting for his season.
Throughout the season,
Sparks struggled to get into the
lineup. After starting four of
the first five games, he found
himself wearing a suit while
his team wore maize and blue
for the next nine contests. By
the time Michigan headed into
the stretch run, the offensively-
skilled forward had played in
just 10 of his team's 34 games,
mainly due to concerns about
Sparks got his chance in the
second game of the Wolverines'
second-to-last series of the sea-
son against Western Michigan.
The good news is that he played
well, providing a spark on the
third line while registering two
shots. The bad news is that with
the postseason approaching -
where lineup changes are rare
- Sparks was still fighting for a
spot on the line-chart.
According to Michigan coach
Red Berenson, Sparks took his
game to another level in prac-
tice in recent weeks. It paid off.
He took the ice in both games of
the final regular-season series.
"You've got to take the oppor-
tunity every time you get it,"
Sparks said. "It happened to be
the last weekend. I played well
both games - last three games
- so I've got to stay in there
(and) keep playing well."
By the end of the Wolver-
ines' initial game with Northern
Michigan, Sparks recorded an
assist. It also marked the exit
for senior forward Louie Capo-
russo, who left the game with a
Two weeks removed from the
injury, Caporusso will still be
out of the lineup when Michi-
gan takes on Bowling Green in
its CCHA quarterfinals series.
Barring any unforeseen chang-
es, Sparks will still be in it. He's
found a spot (at least currently)
on the left side of Michigan's
third line, next to sophomore
A.J. Treais and senior Ben Win-
"It's been a good confidence
boost for me to play three games
in a row," Sparks said. "I feel
like I've been playing well with
Treais and Winnett and Wohl-
berg last weekend, so (I'm) defi-
nitely getting a rhythm going."
The parallels between Capo-
russo and Sparks are plentiful.
Both are slightly undersized
forwards - Caporusso 5-foot-
10, Sparks 5-foot-9 - with
speed and quick hands who are
counted on for offense first. The
two even hail from the Toronto
suburbs. But both Sparks and
Berenson agree that it isn't
Sparks's job to be a Caporusso
"He doesn't necessarily have
to score,"-Berenson said. "If he
gets his chances, you would like
to see him make a difference in
a game or put the puck in the net
or do what he's good at. That's
why you're out there. In the
meantime don't hurt the team
defensively. Be a solid player.
"With Louie out, somebody's
going to pick up the slack, you
never know who it's going to be.
I wouldn't put all the onus on a
player like Lindsay Sparks."
But when it comes to Friday,
Sparks hopes he can do one
thing Caporusso did alot of dur-
ing the course of the season -
help his team win games.
Freshman forward Evan Smotrycz is shooting 36 percent froi
He formed a platoon with fellow
freshman big man Jon Horford
whenever starting center Jordan
Morgan found himself benched
with foul trouble - still a frequent
occurrence, evidenced on Satur-
day when Morgan collected two
quick fouls and played just six
minutes in the first half.
But recently, Smotrycz's min-
utes at forward have been limited.
On Feb. 9, against a visiting North-
western, junior co-captain Stu
Douglass supplanted Smotrycz
in the starting five for the first
time all season, as Beilein looked
to install a more guard-heavy
offense. And the move worked -
the Wolverines racked up its high-
est point total in over a month in
the victory over the Wildcats (75).
In turn, Smotrycz has come off
the bench ever since, his playing
time seemingly dwindling with
the team's recent successes.
But on Saturday, Morgan's foul
trouble and Horford's bruised
knee provided Smotrycz with
the opportunity to show what he
could pull off against Michigan
State in the paint.
And he didn't disappoint.
Early in the first half, freshman
wing Tim Hardaway Jr. fed the
ball to Smotrycz on the low block.
He faked the shot, maintained the
pivot, took one dribble around
his man into the paint and laid it
in - all while drawing a foul from
junior forward Delvon Roe and
sneaking the ball over the out-
stretched arms of junior forward
Michigan State's two most
heralded post players were
left scratching their heads as
Smotrycz completed the 3-point
play from the free-throw line.
"I'm not trying to move all
the way to the post, but it's defi-
nitely good to have dimensions
to my game because they can't
just switch on screens," Smotrycz
said. "I can switch and take a little
guy to the post. But yeah, defi-
nitely this was the first time I was
sparring a little bit in the post."
Smotrycz's dimensions cer-
tainly make him a rising star in
the Big Ten. As he continues to
develop his game in the paint,
some defenders will forget that
they can't just crowd the lane to
stop him. After all, Smotrycz was
recruited primarily as a shooting
forward, and after going 1-for-2
from deep and 5-for-S from the
line on Saturday, he showed why
he fits so well into the shoot-hap-
py Beilein offense.
And don't forget one of
Smotrycz's best qualities on the
court - how his goofy fagade can
lull opponents to sleep.
Sophomore forward Lindsay Sparks has one goal and one assist in 13 games this season for the Wolverines.
From Page 8A
all brought the ball up the floor.
The Wolverines' only true point
guard was on the bench next to
Borseth, unsure of her role.
Courtney was forced into the
responsibility of having no stabil-
ity whatsoever in terms of play-
ing time, not knowing how many
minutes she was going to get on
any given night. Against Kansas
on Dec. 9, she played 19 minutes.
Four days later, against a much
weaker New Mexico State team,
she played just nine minutes. She
kept working, hoping from her
familiar seat on the bench that
sooner or later she would get her
"She was one of those kids that
worked while she waited. I'm not
sure every one of them do that,"
Borseth said. "Matter of fact,
probably a greater majority of the
kids don't do that."
She got that opportunity in the
first Big Ten game of the season
against Ohio State, in the form of
Jordan's knee injury. Since then,
Courtney has been a catalyst for
Michigan's success, both through
her play and through her leader-
The following game - the first
game of 2011 - Borseth gave his
diminutive point guard the start,
only the second of her Michigan
career. Courtney walked onto
the floor with a bit of a swagger,
unafraid of the challenge. She
played like she had been starting
all season, leading the Wolverines
with 18 points in a career-high 37
minutes of play.
Courtney made Iowa defend-
ers look foolish at times - finish-
ing at the rim amidst a swarm of
towering defenders, most notably
the 6-foot-5 Morgan Johnson. She
sparked the Wolverines when they
needed it most, and led them to an
impressive third-straight win over
a ranked opponent.
After the game, Borseth called
her the "difference in the game,"
using the word "outstanding" to
describe her night.
The high school star did what
she was supposed to, leading
her college team to victories,
unabashed by the big stage. This
is what a former Miss Basketball is
supposed to do, because there are
expectations that come with such
a title. After directing the win over
the Hawkeyes, Courtney never
slowed down, and her impact has
been extraordinary for the Wol-
Coming off the bench, Court-
ney averaged 14 minutes, nearly
four points and a little over one
assist per game. Since beingthrust
into the starting role, she has aver-
aged 30 minutes, 10 points, and
almost two assists per game in the
She is rarely a liability on the
defensive end, despite her height,
because her feet never stop mov-
ing. She has energy for all 40 min-
utes - and then some.
Courtney has not just been a
spark plug, but she has also taken
on a leadership role that she has
sought since arriving at Michi-
gan. Whenever there is a break
in the action, it is Courtney in the
middle of the huddle, makingsure
everybody knows what is going
on. Every other player has to look
down at her to make eye contact,
because physically she is small,
but emotionally she commands
the attention of the entire huddle.
"Sometimes I look at pictures
or I look at film and I'm like, 'Hey
that's not me, I don't look that
small out there do I?' I know that
sounds crazy, but I really don't feel
that small," Courtney said. "There
definitely are certain things I have
to do differently, but to me, on the
inside, I don't feel that small."
Simply put, she is not small
because she doesn't feel small.
Courtney is listed at 5-foot-7, but
she walks out on the court as if she
possesses the height of her room-
mates, sophomores Rachel Sheffer
and Kate Thompson, both 6-foot-
Her height doesn't seem to be a
big deal to her, because she doesn't
think of herself as small.
Juniorguard Courtney Boyland has averaged 10 points per game as a starter.
"Courtney is tough," Molly said.
"Her height has never really been
On Feb. 19, 2011, Michigan was
on the road against Wisconsin.
The team was in fourth place in
the Big Ten, one game behind the
Badgers for third, so this was a
crucial game for Big Ten Tourna-
ment seeding, as well as an NCAA
The Wolverines had been lead-
ing for most of the game behind a
commanding performance from
Sheffer, but they trailed by four
points with two minutes left in
the game. That's when Courtney
took over. She scored six-straight
points over the last minute and
a half of the game, including the
game-winning layup with seven
seconds left. All six points came
off drives to the basket, and all of
them were made over defenders
much taller than Boylan.
"She's a kid that has the abil-
ity to get down in the paint and
score iton anybody," Borseth said
after the game. "Doesn't look like
she can do it, but she is very good
around that basket, and she put
them in tonight."
Someone who thinks she is
5-foot-7 would defer to a team-
mate in that situation. Someone
who thinks she is 5-foot-7 would
not have enough confidence to pull
off such a series of events.
Someone who thinks she is
5-foot-7 does not take it to the bas-
ket three times in a row, making
all three shots, to give her team
the lead in the last seven seconds
of one of the most important
games of the season. For Court-
ney, though, ignorance isbliss. She
thinks she is tall. She plays like she
is tall. She is tall.
After finishing third in the Big
Ten, Michigan has exceeded all
expectations set out before the
season. The Wolverines were not
predicted to finish in the top three
by anybody, including the Big Ten
coaches or the Associated Press.
Yet, here they are.
Courtney has teammates who
score more, who rebound more
and who play better defense. She
has taller teammates, more athlet-
ic teammates and teammates who
could beat her in one-on-one. She
has teammates who have earned
more collegiate awards than her,
teammates who get more cover-
age from the press and teammates
with more prestigious accolades.
Yet, the Michigan women's bas-
ketball team would not be where
they are without the girl they call
'C-Boy.' If Courtney didn't step
up like she did after Jordan went
down, Michigan would not have
had the Big Ten season they did.
Chances are, it wouldn't have
earned its spot on the NCAA
The Wolverines are being led
into March Madness by their
diminutive leader, a leader who
doesn't know she is small. A leader
who did not start until midway
through the season, but a leader
who has been the catalyst to the
success of the Wolverines this sea-
son. A leader who has been wait-
ing for a break since the moment
she arrived in Ann Arbor, and is
taking advantage of the one she
has been given.
"Since I got here, I have been
preparing for this," Courtney
said. "I can't tell you," her voice
trails, as she thinks of all those
hours in the gym, "A lot of people
on our team put in hard work,
but I think that there are certain
people on our team who have put
in more, and I think I am one of
those people. I have just want-
ed to get to this point so badly.
I loved my role coming off the
bench, but Lhave always wanted
to be on the court."
During a game against Indiana
at home, Courtney gets the ball in
the post, feeling the defender on
her back, waiting to make a move.
"Don't post up, you're too
short," an elderly fan next to press
Right on cue, Courtney spins
to her left, goes up strong on the
right side of the rim and flips the
ball under the net and over the left
side of the rim. The fan throws her
hands up in wonder, smiling and
clapping. Just one more doubter
proved wrong - not the first and
certainly not the last.
After the game and the post-
game meetings, Courtney pulls
on a warm-up shirt and runs back
onto the court. Even though she
just scored 14 points, she doesn't
want to stop playing.
She has made it, but she isn't
satisfied. She worked then, she
works now, and she will continue
to work in the future. After all, in
every city at every school, there
will be one person who thinks
she is too short. One person who
doesn't think she can succeed,
one person who thinks Courtney
is headed right back to the bench
when the Wolverines get healthy.
She shoots around, just her and
the basket, amid the stragglers
who haven't left the arena yet.
There may be some people milling
around, but in Courtney's mind,
she is alone.
She is back in the basement,
void of all thoughts and emotions.
It's just her and the basket again,
just like old times. She can see no
one, hear no one, and can see noth-
ingbut the basket and the concrete
behind it. The sound of the bounc-
ing ball reverberates throughout
the gym, and it gets louder and
louder as the stragglers begin to
trickle out. She really is alone.
She dribbles to the free throw
line, pauses, takes a deep breath
and launches a shot at the rim.
This is a rim that doesn't dis-
criminate against a ball shot from
the hands of an undersized point
A rim that does not have an
opinion on whether Courtney
Boylan has the physical tools to be
a Big Ten point guard. A rim that
doesn't care what doubters say,
because this rim will accept a shot
that has enough will behind it, no
matter if the shooter is 5-foot-7 or
A rim surrounded by a vast,
empty space, poorly light, seem-
ingly never finished.
Courtney is back at home in
the basement, unaware she has
becomethe starting pointguard at
the University of Michigan.
Even when she has invisible
defenders, every shot matters.