9 Şubat 2008

Old school big men Hibbert, Padgett last of "dying breed"

Who says traditional centers have gone the way of the underhanded free throws and short shorts?

Certainly not in the Big East, where the legacy of Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning lives on in Louisville's David Padgett and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert.

The duo, along with Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, have ushered in an mini-big man Renaissance in the Big East.

When Padgett and the Cardinals (17-6, 7-3 Big East) host the sixth-ranked Hoyas (19-2, 9-1) and Hibbert, there will be hook shots and head fakes, power dribbles and boxouts. Heck, there might even be a sky hook or little lefty-flip.

While most of their brethren have tried to mold themselves into jump shooters more comfortable on the wing than in the paint, Padgett and Hibbert are throwbacks. Athletic but not exactly dynamic, they have become dominant players in arguably the nation's most physical conference by doing the little things well.

"I think we're the last of a dying breed,'' said Hibbert, who is averaging 13.1 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Hoyas.

"We're probably two of the only true post players there are in college basketball still,'' Padgett added.

Sure, Hibbert has added a soft 16-foot jumper to his repertoire, while Padgett has evolved into one of the best passing centers in the country, setting up at the high post while finding teammates darting to the basket. Yet their true talent lies in the block, where a good head fake and seal can neutralize even the most ill-intentioned of defenders.

Their pet moves are straight out of ESPN Classic. The 7-foot-2 Hibbert's baby skyhook is nearly impossible to block, while the 6-11 Padgett has become a master at getting opponents off their feet with a shot fake leaving them watching helplessly while he slides by for a layup.

Call it old school. Call it fundamentally sound. Just don't call it boring.

Though they rarely make the highlight reel - Hibbert's stunning 3-pointer to beat Connecticut at the horn last month notwithstanding - there is a simple beauty in the way they play that has won them the admiration of rival coaches.

"They both do a great job of rebounding, using their size,'' said St. John's coach Norm Roberts, who got an eyeful of both players in losses to the Cardinals and Hoyas last month. "I think David probably runs the floor a little bit better, but Roy has an assortment of moves and has really varied his game.''

Marquette coach Tom Crean hailed Padgett as the best "offensive facilitator'' in the country after the Cardinals systematically dominated the Golden Eagles on Monday.

Though the numbers are hardly eye-popping - he's averaging 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds - coach Rick Pitino has called Padgett's impact on Louisville's "basketball IQ'' immeasurable.

It's no coincidence the Cardinals struggled while Padgett sat out six weeks with a fractured kneecap. Sorely missing was his presence as the quarterback on their suffocating zone defense and his ability to create easy shots for teammates on offense by making sure everyone is in the right place.

"Without Padgett and (forward Juan) Palacios, I wouldn't say we played bad basketball, but we didn't play smart basketball,'' Pitino said.

Hibbert's responsibilities are slightly different.

A better shot blocker than Padgett, Hibbert likes to challenge opponents, attacking their strengths. His tenacity is one of the reasons the Hoyas lead the nation in field goal percentage defense. Opponents shoot just over 35 percent from the field against Georgetown, undone by the Hoyas' length and relentless discipline.

"You have the scouting report and obviously know what those big guys like to do,'' said Hibbert, who averages 2.1 blocks per game. "I like to try to take that away, try to outsmart them.''

Hibbert's evolution from awkward freshman into dominant force has helped the Hoyas re-estabilish themselves among the nation's elite. It hasn't always been easy, but Hibbert never backed down from the challenge of playing in the shadow of former Georgetown greats Ewing, Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.

Though Hibbert lacks Ewing's offensive firepower or Mourning and Mutombo's defensive nastiness, he's undoubtedly the best passer of the four. Hibbert's 40 assists are third-highest on the team, as he deftly finds an open shooter or a cutting teammate when the double-team comes.

"He's really expanded his game,'' Padgett said of Hibbert. "He's got a good feel for where the ball needs to go.''

Padgett thought he was a good passer until he came to Louisville, only to realize he sometimes panicked when double-teamed.

In an effort to get better Padgett would go entire practices without shooting, focusing on keeping his head up and eyes moving. While he averages just one assist a game, he rarely takes bad shots and is just as adept setting up in the high post with the ball over his head searching for a teammate as he is backing someone down.

When it gets to crunch time on Saturday, though, Padgett and Hibbert will likely be back in a familiar spot, down in the block, banging for supremacy in the kind of battle that used to be commonplace.

It's a challenge both welcome, one that would look just as natural in black-and-white as in pixel-perfect high definition.

"He's the anchor of their team defensively; when they need a bucket they go to him,'' Hibbert said. "I believe it's the same thing for me.''

kaynak : NBA