College Basketball

Local colleges struggle to recruit talented big players

2014-01-23T17:00:00Z 2014-02-04T00:37:37Z Local colleges struggle to recruit talented big playersMatt Douthett matthew.douthett@nwi.com, (219) 933-4194 nwitimes.com

It takes just one glance around the college basketball scene today to see that it has transformed into a guard's game.

Just ask South Suburban men's basketball coach John Pigatti. All six of the NJCAA Division II All-Americans in his seven-plus seasons as coach have been guards, including last season's National Player of the Year, E.C. Central grad Michael Harris.

It's not too hard to recruit a talented guard. It's top-notch post players that are the most difficult for Pigatti to recruit, and he isn't alone among local college coaches.

"We can get bigs that are (6-foot-5), 6-6, 6-7," Pigatti said. "We can't get the 6-9, 6-10, 7-foot guys, at least at our level."

That's because an already thin crop of talented post players are picked over by NCAA Division I colleges and, occasionally, NJCAA Division I schools for development. Few true, talented post players come to the NJCAA Division II or NAIA levels, partly due to more financial help that's offered at higher-level schools, Pigatti said.

That makes Pigatti recruit more versatile big players capable of playing multiple positions. Current Bulldogs players Giovante Hazelett and Gary Evans Jr. fit in Pigatti's scheme despite being 6-6 and 6-5.

"We've had to play some undersized guys," he said. "If we're going to play some undersized guys, we've got to do our switching a lot and be able to guard the dribble. We've got to recruit those types of kids who can do that, at least in my defensive philosophy."

Calumet College men's coach Ryan Sexson said the evolution of the game has caused a shortage of post players who can score.

"There's just not a lot of them out there, even at the Division I level," he said. "There's just not a lot of guys you can go to and get easy baskets. Teams are trying to spread you out, there's a lot of ball screens and a lot of dribble drive action because they don't have the big center in the middle they can pound the ball into and get baskets."

Sexson said the players he has do certain things well, but are deficient in other aspects of the game. One challenge is simply finding a post player who has the strength to play the position well.

"Strength is going to be a factor, and the physicality of the game around the basket at the college level," Sexson said. "That's usually a big issue for young, big kids.

"Secondly, teaching them to be patient when they've got the ball in there. A lot of young guys want to rush. Big guys take a little longer to develop. It takes some time for their coordination to catch up to their athleticism and size. It's a tough spot to play down in the post."

Finding size has also been an issue on the women's side of the game.

For IU-Northwest women's coach Ryan Shelton, it's been difficult to find a talented post player that sticks with his program for all four years. He lucked out when Merrillville grad Sharon Houston — who now plays professionally in Turkey — transferred from NCAA Division I Old Dominion to be back near home prior to the 2008-09 season. Shelton has had some success developing post players, but it hasn't been easy.

"They're all a little bit different," Shelton said of post players. "We don't run the same offense each year and try to fit people into our offense. We run offensive and defensive schemes that complement their talent well."

Shelton has found a pair of post players who complement each other well in Megan Holland and Danielle Zandstra. Holland's strength is posting up and scoring in the low post, while Zandstra is an effective high-post passer, shot blocker and defender.

"You just try to take what they do best and improve on it," Shelton said.

Purdue Calumet women's coach Tom Megyesi landed a solid post player in Patrice McBee, who at 6-3 is by far the tallest player on the team. McBee has fit in with Megyesi's scheme well the past two seasons and has many aspects he looks for when recruiting the position.

"I just want them to be able to run up and down the court," Megyesi said of his preference in post players. "I want somebody athletic that can do certain things. Rebounding and defense are huge."

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