Seniors That Will Not Be ForgottenPosted by Deepak Jayanti on March 4th, 2012
Senior Week is a big deal in the Big Ten. “One and Done” is a rare term used around the 12 programs because the players typically stick around longer than 1-2 seasons. They embrace the conference and the fans bring them into their lives during the cold winters. As all the teams play their home games over the weekend, the seniors will be honored. Some of the seniors already have well documented and recognized careers – Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor, Ohio State’s William Buford, and Northwestern’s John Shurna are just a few examples.
But Senior Night is not just about star players. It is also about the players who stuck with the program’s ups and downs over the years. It is about the guys that stuck through coaching changes and losing seasons. These kids played their last conference game with the same intensity as the first one despite their record or place in the standings. The seniors who are used to the spotlight will get their well-deserved dues this weekend but let’s take some time to recognize a few players who finish their careers after making an impact. The following are a few seniors that will be remembered as one of the toughest players over their careers.
Verdell Jones III
Eight. That’s how many wins Jones had in conference action during his first three years. If you are reaching out for your calculator to check the winning percentage, that ends up being approximately 15%! Jones knew that his career in Bloomington would not be a walk in the park after the mess created by Kelvin Sampson, but he didn’t expect it to be that bad, especially considering Tom Crean’s ability to recruit quality talent. Jones averaged 11 points per game as a freshman and 14.9 during his sophomore season. The Hoosiers expected him to lead early in his career and he did not shy away from the responsibility. Jones had to do everything during games because of the lack of talent around him. Tom Crean remained positive and tried to keep the team’s spirits up but he couldn’t have done it without mature leaders such as Jones. Jones easily could have transferred after an excellent sophomore campaign, but he stayed with the team through the rough times. He could have been demoralized after Maurice Creek got hurt last season, but he continued to play hard. Creek was supposed to be a running mate for Jones but that never materialized.
All the patience paid off for Jones this season. Indiana beat three top 5 teams at home and they could not have done it without his leadership. He has taken a lesser role with the emergence of Christian Watford and the star freshman, Cody Zeller. But the numbers are the only aspect of his game that went down in his fourth year because he continues to be the strong pillar on the young squad. Indiana basketball is back and Jones has been an extremely key piece of the rebuilding project along with his head coach. Crean and the Hoosiers fans are thankful for his contributions.
Stu Douglass & Zack Novak
Douglass and Novak exemplify maturity, patience, and adaptability in the Big Ten. Neither of them walked into Ann Arbor expecting to be the best player on the team or looking for spotlight. But they deserve every bit of it. Wolverine basketball was not in the top half of the conference when Tommy Amaker left Michigan. Despite having good talent, the Maize and Blue could not convert it into tournament appearances. John Beilein came on board and both of these guards could not have found a better offensive system that suits their skill sets.
Novak has consistently played about 30 minutes per game over the four years and contributed in several ways. He hit boards really well despite being only 6’4″ – averaging at least four rebounds per game since his sophomore season. His long-range shots didn’t always fall at a high rate but he improved his shot to shoot 38% and 41% during the last two seasons from beyond the arc. Novak’s toughness was supplemented with Douglass’ “do-anything-needed” attitude. Though Douglass did not have a great start to his freshman campaign like Novak, he played a consistent 30 minutes per game since his sophomore year. John Beilein could rely on Douglass to handle the ball as a backup and would consistently hit the key shot or take the key charge on defense to pick up the team’s intensity. After he was inserted into the starting lineup a few weeks ago, he provided the maturity on the court in addition to Trey Burke’s raw talent.
Novak and Douglass could fit into any changes that Beilein made to the Michigan teams since 2009. They fit into a system with stars that had different style of play every single season – first it was Manny Harris, then Darius Morris, and everybody is aware of Trey Burke’s rise to the top in their senior year. Beilein had to make changes consistently to adapt to his star players, but he could always count on Novak and Douglass to buy into the changes and continue to play intense basketball.
Iowa is used to producing consistent three-point gunners that play tough defense and compete for Big Ten titles. Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner are two names that most Big Ten fans remember during the middle of the 2000s. Iowa’s Senior Guard, Matt Gatens hoped to carry on that legacy in Iowa but he had to go through some rough seasons. Iowa’s Big Ten record during his first three years was 5-13, 4-14, and 4-14 respectively. Despite the rough patch, Gatens relentlessly tried to improve his game before his final go around. His numbers this season have been stunning – 15.7 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and shot 43% from the three-point range. Fran McCaffery relied on Gatens to spread his message about perseverance and intensity on the court and the 6’5″ guard delivered after buying into the new system. Even though Gatens might leave Iowa without a taste of the NCAA Tournament, he might have just put them back in the right direction after four years. Iowa is 8-9 in the Big Ten, a significant improvement in McCaffery’s second season as a coach. Gatens led the Hawkeyes to key wins – twice against Wisconsin and once against Michigan. Iowa fans will remember the senior guard as the kid who kept his chin up during the tough times and put them back in the right direction to compete for conference titles.
The contributions of Jones, Novak, Douglass, and Gatens may not always show up on the stat sheet, but the fans will remember these players over the years as the ones who weathered the storms. Michigan, Iowa, and Indiana are significantly better than they were four years ago because of them.