Tiller captains the All-Glue team (cont.)
Here are the other members of the 2009 SI All-Glue team, followed by a list of the nine previous squads:
Taylor Griffin, 6-7 senior forward, Oklahoma
In fact, Taylor was the one who convinced Blake to attend Oklahoma in the first place, and it was Taylor's presence on the roster that convinced Blake to return to Norman for his sophomore year even though he could have been an NBA lottery pick. Blake confessed to my colleague Kelli Anderson that he worried how Taylor would handle the possibility of his baby bro grabbing all the headlines. "But I shouldn't have," Blake said. "That's not the kind of person Taylor is."
Taylor might be a good person, but he has also proven to be a good player in his own right. He is a powerful rebounder (he is the team's second-leading rebounder at 5.9 per game, including 2.2 offensive boards) and he gives the Sooners another big, athletic defender to protect the rim (his 1.07 blocks average is seventh in the Big 12). Taylor is obviously not the scoring force his brother is, but he showed that he could be when he lit up Texas Tech for a season-high 22 points last Saturday. Taylor is also a considerably better foul shooter than his baby bro (70.5 percent compared to Blake's 59.3 percent), which means he is that much more valuable to have on the floor at the end of close games.
"He rebounds for us, defends for us, gets tip dunks, dives on the floor, offensive rebounds. He just makes a lot of athletic plays," OU coach Jeff Capel says. "He may be underappreciated by other people for what he does, but not by me."
Taylor also has a lot to do with helping Blake become, in the favored parlance of the day, a high-motor player. Like brothers tend to do, they fought and competed like mad while growing up, and the two of them spent much of their summer working out in San Francisco with NBA uber trainer Frank Mastrisciano. The countless hours they've spent together on the court has also given them a telekinetic connection. With Blake drawing so much attention from opposing defenses, it is critical that he know exactly where his teammates are going to be. Taylor is his favorite target.
"Some of the passes they make to each other, you can tell they've been playing together for a really long time," Capel said. "There's no question these guys have a special bond on the floor. It's like they always know where the other one is going to be. That's something you just can't teach."
Jermaine Dixon, 6-3 junior guard, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh had an opening in its backcourt starting lineup this season, and Dixon seized the opportunity by giving the team exactly what it needed: a lockdown defender, an athletic finisher on the break, and a timely shooter who wouldn't commit a lot of turnovers. He has especially excelled on the defensive end, shutting down such high-scoring opponents as Miami's (Ohio) Michael Bramos (two points), Washington State's Klay Thompson (seven), Georgetown's Chris Wright (five) and Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney (10). He is also highly versatile, as he demonstrated at West Virginia on Jan. 25, when Dixon started off guarding Mountaineers guard Alex Ruoff, then had to switch to 6-7 forward Da'Sean Butler when his teammate Sam Young got into foul trouble.
As for taking care of the ball, Dixon has been especially remarkable in Big East play, committing just 10 turnovers (to 37 assists) in 16 games. He struggled with his outside shot at the start of the season, but that has also turned around lately thanks to a quick tutoring session that Dixon's older brother, Juan, a former Maryland All-America who now plays for the Washington Wizards, gave him in a practice gym at the Verizon Center after the Panthers won at Georgetown on Jan. 3. To that point, Jermaine had made just seven of his 43 three-point attempts, but since then he has made a remarkable 46 percent from behind the arc. When Pittsburgh defeated UConn on Feb. 16, Dixon hit a critical three with 4:37 remaining to give the Panthers a one-point lead and some late momentum.
"He's really worked hard on his shot, but the most important thing is he had the courage and the confidence to take that shot," Pittsburgh associate coach Tom Herrion said. "He's totally embraced the role this team has needed him to play. He knows he's playing with some very good players, and he's smart enough to recognize what he needs to do to be a very important piece of this wheel."
Garrett Temple, 6-6 senior guard, LSU
To opposing guards, however, Temple is simply a royal pain. With his size, his long, spindly arms, his lateral quickness and his intellect, he has fashioned himself into one of the most lethal perimeter defenders in America. Just ask Duke's J.J. Redick, who scored 11 points on 3-for-18 shooting while being guarded by Temple in the third round of the 2005 NCAA tournament, when Temple was a redshirt freshman starter on the Tigers' Final Four team. Temple has also shut down such big-time scorers as Texas A&M's Acie Law (four points) and Tennessee's Chris Lofton (two). Last week, as the Tigers scored their two most important wins of the season, he forced Florida's Nick Calathes and Kentucky's Jodie Meeks to shoot a combined 2-for-14 from three-point range as the Tigers won both games. No wonder he was named a defensive All-America last season by Collegeinsider.com.
Temple has been a four-year starter at LSU, but for the last three years he has played point guard. This year, new Tigers coach Trent Johnson switched him to small forward so 6-1 sophomore Bo Spencer could play the point, but Temple remains an invaluable floor general. He leads the team (and is ranked fifth in the SEC) in assists with 4.1 per game and he is first in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2-to-1). He is also fourth in the league in steals (1.86), he averages 4.5 rebounds and he's making 84.1 percent from the foul line. That should tell you Temple is capable of scoring more than his current average of 7.2 points a game, but since he plays with two of the highest-scoring players in the SEC in Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell, Temple knows his job is to get those guys open shots, not take a bunch of his own.
Temple is just as impressive off the court. In 2006, he was named a member of the SEC's academic honor roll, and last May he graduated from LSU with a degree in business administration. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in business. That has endeared him to LSU's first-year coach, Trent Johnson, who was hired away from Stanford partly to rebuild the program's academic standing. "I'm not the kind of person who pays lip service to academics," Johnson said. The new coach likes smart players, and he is smart enough to recognize a high-quality glue guy when he sees one.
"He has good leadership, and it's real. It's not phony," Johnson said. "He's at peace with who he is. He's a very secure person. When Garrett speaks or asks a question, he knows what he's talking about. That's good leadership."
Travis Walton, 6-2 senior guard, Michigan State
No wonder Spartans coach Tom Izzo made Walton, whom Izzo calls "half-coach, half-player" his team captain for the third-straight year, an honor he has bestowed only twice before to Antonio Smith and Mateen Cleaves. "It was not long after he got here that he jumped out at me as an incredible leader," Izzo said. "When Magic Johnson comes back, or Eric Snow or Mateen [Cleaves], they all relate to him."
That is indeed high praise, but Walton has proven he belongs in such select company. Walton, who has never averaged more than 6.4 points during his four years in East Lansing, worked hard on his outside shooting last summer so he could deliver points when the moment requires. (When the Spartans were short-handed early in the year he stepped up to score a career-high 16 points in consecutive games at the Old Spice Classic in November.) But it is on defense where Walton, a two-time member of the Big Ten's all-defensive team, really gets down to sticky business. When the Spartans played at Texas on Dec. 20 Longhorns guard A.J. Abrams scored a season-low eight points and didn't make a three-pointer. On Feb. 10, Michigan guard Manny Harris came into his game against the Spartans as the Big Ten's second-leading scorer at 17.5 points per game. Walton held him to seven points on 2-for-10 shooting. Said Izzo afterward, "If Travis Walton isn't one of the best defenders in this league, I don't know who is."
Walton was at his vintage best during Michigan State's most impressive win of the season Sunday at Illinois. He dogged Illini guard Drew McCamey all day and had five assists, three steals and no turnovers while burying a critical long jumper with 1:11 remaining to put the Spartans up by five points.
Walton, a film-room junkie, has also been remarkably efficient on offense. Last year, he ranked second in the Big Ten in both assists (4.33 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.21). This year he is ranked in the top 10 in the league in assists (3.3), steals (1.32) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.18-to-1).
But as is always the case with Glue Guys, those numbers only tell part of the story. On the eve of Michigan State's second-round matchup against Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament last year, Walton, who at the time was the Spartans' ninth-leading scorer, called a players only meeting in the team's hotel to impart the importance of playing hard. During the game the next day, Walton actually overruled Izzo's instruction for him to replace freshman guard Kalin Lucas after Lucas committed a turnover -- the first time Izzo had ever had that happen to him as a coach. "It was a big learning moment for [Lucas]," Walton said after the game, which the Spartans won to advance to the Sweet 16. "You can't take him out when he makes a mistake sometimes. You've got to let him play on."
Vocal leader. Great defender. Unselfish teammate. Half-coach and half-player. You can't win a championship without those things. Travis Walton is a rare glue guy who dispenses them all.
Past SI All-Glue Teams
2008: Stanley Burrell, Xavier (captain); Tory Jackson, Notre Dame; Dave Pendergraft, Gonzaga; Derrick Jasper, Kentucky; Justin Mason, Wisconsin; Wisconsin (glue team).
2007: Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee (captain); Kyle Shiloh, Nevada; Dominique Kirk, Texas A&M; Othello Hunter, Ohio State; Marcus Landry, Wisconsin.
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