Posted: Tuesday October 3, 2006 4:23PM; Updated: Tuesday October 3, 2006 4:23PM
Aaron Cook (center) brings and impressive resume to the frost heaves.
We've signed our final two players -- and just in time, with training camp set to start Monday. One is 6-foot-2 combo guard Aaron Cook, whom followers of UVM hoops will remember as a captain and all-conference selection the past two seasons at America East rival Hartford. He's the Hawks' all-time leader in three-pointers made, and last season sprang for 40 in a game against Maine. Aaron made his case to us in person, schlepping up from his home near Baltimore for a week-long mini-camp, where he impressed everyone.
The other new Frost Heave is Johann Collins, a late-blooming 6-10 center who just graduated from Division II Presbyterian College in North Carolina. (His mom is Dutch; perhaps you caught the recent news reports that the Dutch are the world's tallest people.) Johann has a soft touch to go with his size, having shot 54 percent from the field and 77 percent from the line as a senior, in addition to leading the Blue Hose in the categories you'd expect for a big man, like scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Given his youth, size and ability to run the floor, we imagine Johann making great progress during his time with us, and perhaps attracting the curious NBA scout or two -- visitors, it's safe to say, that all our players will be pleased to see courtside.
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And now a brief word about someone we didn't sign.
From the moment we launched the team, we'd hoped to find a way to bring on board Taylor Coppenrath, the pride of West Barnet, Vt., and the player who led the University of Vermont to three straight NCAA appearances and its epic upset of Syracuse.
Over the summer our coach, Will Voigt, developed a relationship with Taylor, working him out during the weeks prior to Taylor's mid-summer appointment with the Indiana Pacers' Orlando Summer League entry. Coach V shared his knowledge of the NBA, where he worked for the San Antonio Spurs, and drilled Taylor in the skills he'd need to have an impact in the Show, not merely the Euroleague, where he had played last season for AEK Athens. They worked on handling the ball out on the wing; facing up; curling off screens; and dropping the mid-range jumper. They even worked to smooth out Taylor's free-throw form, which had always had a hitch in it.
As the summer wore on, Taylor got to know our fledgling organization, even making a cameo at the final day of our open tryout camp to get in a good run before he had to head to Orlando, where we and the entire state of Vermont pulled for him.
The Pacers didn't use him much at first. But toward the end of the week he logged some eye-catching numbers, including one game in which he went 11-for-11 from the line.
Coach V called to congratulate him after seeing the box score.
"You shoot 'em your way or my way?" he asked.
"Your way," Taylor said.
In the end, though, the Pacers didn't get an answer to the question that, around the NBA, lingers about Taylor -- whether he can make the move from the low blocks, where he dominated the America East, to the NBA flats, where the game is one of shooting and speed.
When the Pacers chose not to invite Taylor to their veterans' camp, we had a 72-hour window in which to act. Coach V made the case to Pacers scout Joe Ash, and I did the same to Donnie Walsh, Indiana's G.M. -- and the two of us tag-teamed Kevin Bradbury, Taylor's agent, with the same argument: With us, he'd get plenty of touches in a motion offense; he'd be playing for a coach who knows the NBA and what it takes to get there; by staying stateside, he'd be on the radar screens of the scouts in a way that no one playing in Europe is.
In the end, Taylor signed with Angelico Biella of Italy's second division for a reported $200,000 plus bonuses. Our entire team payroll is capped at $120,000, and the intangibles we could offer -- the chance to play in the state where he's already royalty, plus some creative marketing and merchandising sweeteners --couldn't close that gap.
Maybe next season. For this season, we'll be pulling for Taylor and Angelico Biella. And we hope he follows us on SI.com and vermontfrostheaves.com.
For more information about the Vermont Frost Heaves and to purchase Frost Heaves gear, go to vermontfrostheaves.com.