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Glue Guys
Alexander Wolff
March 20, 2000
To survive in the NCAAs, teams need selfless heroes who hold them together so they can stick it to opponents
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March 20, 2000

Glue Guys

To survive in the NCAAs, teams need selfless heroes who hold them together so they can stick it to opponents

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Frog—Johnson's nickname—is a prince of versatility. He has matched up with behemoths like Texas's 7-foot Chris Mihm and Oklahoma State's 6'10" Brian Montonati, allowing Iowa State star Marcus Fizer to guard the opposition's second-best forward and thereby dodge foul trouble and remain fresh on offense. "Everybody wants to score," Johnson says. "Nobody wants to guard his butt off and just reverse the ball on the other end. But we only have one ball, not five."

With his basketball eligibility exhausted after this season, Stevie, whose father Cleo Johnson played in the NFL, plans to return to Ames next fall to play football. Coach Dan McCarney's staff is fighting over who'll get so versatile a recruit. "He could play safety, wide receiver or tight end," says McCarney, "but our defensive coach has won the battle, and Stevie's going to play safety." A safety, surely, who'll use ample quantities of stickum.

Alex Jensen, Utah. When your older brother is the star of your high school team, you figure out your place. When you devote two years to a Mormon mission, you understand sacrifice. When you spend four seasons as a teammate of four NBA first-round picks ( Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac, Andre Miller and—this June, surely—Hanno M�tt�l�), you learn how to play a complementary role. But what happens when M�tt�l�, the Utes' Finnish finisher, goes down with injuries, as he did twice this season? Well, a glue guy's got to add a little go-to to his game. So Jensen did, most notably on Jan. 29 at Air Force, when Utah trailed by four in the final minute. He scored the Utes' final six points of a 64-63 victory, with an NBA-distance three-pointer and a drive that culminated in an old-fashioned basket-and-free-throw three-point play.

Jensen, a 6'7", 225-pound forward, was on the Western Athletic Conference's all-defensive team a year ago, yet he's also capable of turning in a triple double. No wonder he won the Mountain West Conference's player of the year award this season, although coach Rick Majerus sometimes stops practice to deliver lectures to Jensen on the importance of looking to score. "Sometimes he'll get sarcastic," says Jensen. "He'll beg me to take a few bad shots a game."

Says Majerus, "He looks like a rec-ball player, but he can play defense at all five positions and play four of the five on offense, and he can change a game by himself. He's also the best guy in the film room. I never conclude a halftime speech without asking, 'Al, you got anything?' "

Nate James, Duke. Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell were glue guys on the Blue Devils' Final Four team of a year ago. Within days of Duke's loss to UConn in the NCAA final, James went to Battier and Carrawell and suggested they call on their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who was home recovering from hip-replacement surgery just as one of college basketball's most stable programs seemed to be coming, well, unglued. Battier, Carrawell and James—alone, it then seemed—weren't contemplating a transfer or a jump to the pros, so James drove the three of them to Casa K, where they tried to cheer K up. "We told him not to lose any more sleep, that we'd be back," says James, a 6'6" junior forward. "That was part of our coming together. That bonded us."

Bonded them indeed. Battier and Carrawell graduated to go-to guys, and James took over their erstwhile adhesive duties. Together they served as tri-captains of a team that easily defended its ACC regular-season and tournament titles despite having lost four first-round draft picks.

James was a McDonald's All-America as a high schooler from Washington, D.C, but injuries—first to a thumb, then to an ankle—all but wiped out his first two seasons in Durham. When it became clear that he wasn't going to be a Big Mac on Campus, he refused to pout. "You never know the hand fate's going to deal you," he says. "Who's to say that what Shane and Chris are doing this year, I won't be doing next?"

Duke is proof that today's glue can be tomorrow's go-to. For the moment, however, it's best to listen to Tulsa's Shelton as he articulates the glue-guy creed. It's a valuable attitude anytime, but never more than now, in this season of adhesion. "When I came here, I thought I was going to be the go-to guy," Shelton says, "but, hey, we're winning, so it works. And that's all that counts."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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