Coaches love to talk about playing hard. It’s generally not quantifiable and it sometimes doesn’t really mean much. They also evidently like to talk about their wives’ abilities, but leadership in and of itself is a fascinating topic we can cover another time. I broached the subject this week with regards to the Utah Utes and their coach, Larry Krystkowiak’s comments from earlier this season. He believed that playing hard is a talent and I wonder what playing hard really looks like? Is it something we just say to support a moral victory? Let inferior teams feel better about themselves? I didn’t like Larry’s comments but I do appreciate the sentiment. Alas, what’s sending me down the path we’re about to walk down was a comment on a different post I wrote (I swear this isn’t a bunch of plugs for Pac Hoops or Adam Butler). The premise of the comment was that Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona’s seven-foot center, was soft. Otherwise known as the type of player who perhaps doesn’t play hard. And so full circle we come, what does it mean to play hard?
To examine this I want to use this perception that Tarczewski is soft. After all, this was not the first time I’d heard this thought. I’m also going to toss Colorado’s big Josh Scott into this glimpse of softness because I’ve heard similar about him. His nickname is Jelly. What’s more, it would seem that big men often get labeled as soft more than others. They’re the ones expected to bang in the paint and to be labeled such is to say they’re not doing their job. Are Josh Scott and Kaleb Tarczewski indeed soft? Let’s do this.
Here are two large gentlemen tasked with manning the paint for their respective teams. In Scott’s case, he’s left somewhat alone down there in the absence of Andre Roberson, whereas Tarczewski has some other solid post help; but he’s the only one among the Arizona lot that’s spending the bulk of his time down low (the others have jumpers or are Aaron Gordon). That should do for introductions of these perceived softies. Now first of all, I’d like to note that both players, as compared to their freshman campaigns, are committing fewer fouls per 40 minutes this season. I think this is an interesting statistic in that fouls can be considered an element of “hard,” but they’re also detrimental to one’s playing time. It’s a double-edged sword for bigs in that they’re soft if they don’t foul, otherwise if they don’t. Interestingly enough, both players this season have managed to improve their block percentages while lowering their number of committed fouls.