Posted: Monday August 21, 2006 4:12PM; Updated: Monday August 21, 2006 4:25PM
Markus Austin (top) knows how to throw down some defense.
From the moment we launched the Vermont Frost Heaves back in December, I've imagined a roster suited to two facts of Frost Heaves life. One is the small scale of our venues, the Barre Municipal Auditorium and Burlington's Memorial Auditorium, both of which have 86-foot floors. The other is the American Basketball Association's 3-D Rule, which grants an extra point for any basket scored off a turnover in the backcourt.
In light of that, our first move was to bring in a coach who believes in pressure defense, and in the hiring of Will Voigt -- by our wise fans in an online vote -- we did just that. Now, thanks to Coach V's own player-procurement efforts, we have in place octopuses who'll make a reality of the proverbial mother-in-law defense ("constant pressure and harassment").
Check out these four guys, all of them Frost Heaves signees ... and all of them defense extenders with long arms:
Tyrone Levett. When Alabama State landed its first NCAA bid five years ago, Ty was the lunch-bucket guy who got the Hornets there: a 6-foot-5, 220-pound wing player whose portfolio includes the ability to both post up and knock down the three. "He pulls up his elbow pads and goes to work," says a coach who had to face him overseas. "If Joe Frazier were a swingman, this would be him."
Kevin Harrington. Though not even 6-4, Kevin has a 7-foot wingspan and shows up in virtually every category in the record book at Division II South Carolina-Spartanburg. (In our own Schwab's Drug Store moment, assistant coach Wayne Lafley spotted those long arms as Kevin directed cars in an Atlanta parking lot, and the rest is history.) His knack for steals and blocks will make him an asset at the front of our defense.
Markus Austin. This 6-6 two-year captain at Eastern Michigan also goes 84 inches fingertip to fingertip. He'll offer leadership and, like all these defensive stoppers, versatility, as he gives opposing ballhandlers the yips (or, in light of his coming to us via Ypsilanti, the Yps).
Travarus Bennett. His coaches back in Ireland and Germany sing the same song from the same hymnal about this 6-7 perimeter player: "Best on-the-ball defender I've ever seen." In the words of one of his coaches at Minnesota, where he led the Big Ten in steals as that league's co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2001-02 and averaged seven deflections a game, "He's not vertical. He's horizontal."
Rus Bradburd, the other finalist for our coaching job, has graciously steered players our way since he lost the fan balloting to Coach V, and he reserves some of his most rhapsodic praise for Travarus: "To say he has great hands doesn't do him justice. He has seven hands." (Guess I exaggerated with that reference to octopuses, but just barely.) That he nailed nearly 47 percent of his threes as a Golden Gophers senior ain't too shabby either.
(An interlude here about Bradburd. Besides serving Don Haskins and Lou Henson as a stalwart aide-de-camp, he's fabulous on the fiddle, and has been such a mensch of a runner-up that we're weighing a special promotion: Second-Fiddle Night, at which we'd try honoring him sufficiently to induce him to provide some halftime entertainment. He says he's readying a poem for the occasion, The Coach Not Taken. Those of you inclined to read things longer than a dot-com dispatch are enthusiastically referred to Rus' first book, Paddy on the Hardwood, which has just been published. In it, he recounts his two seasons in Ireland, where he took a team from last to first, and learned, Karate Kid-like, the ways of the Irish fiddle. Bennett was the star of Rus' Irish SuperLeague champions, the Tralee Tigers.)
We also have three more terrific pieces in place:
Antonio Burks, a 6-5 forward who starred for Stephen F. Austin of the Southland Conference, was the first player to sign with us. He played for Coach V in Norway two years ago and was bottoming out 55 percent of his three-point attempts before opposing teams started saying, "Ja helge, we oughta better check da power forward with da shooting-guard stroke."
Kevin Mickens, a 6-8 forward, played for juco power Allegany in Maryland before stops at George Mason and in Portugal and Uruguay. He'll give us liveliness and length around the basket and, at age 23, has plenty of upside to go with his ups.
Local hero B.J. Robertson, a former Vermont "Mr. Basketball" at Burlington High, just finished a fine career at Division II St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt. The 6-2 Robertson won over Coach V at our camps with his knack for getting open in transition. Hey, when you get those 3-D opportunities, you might as well convert them.
Now, is there a point guard out there who'd like to orchestrate all this? For more information about the Vermont Frost Heaves and to purchase tickets and team gear, go to vermontfrostheaves.com.