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Sometimes a persistent defender can even affect the way his man thinks. Overton, for instance, is a master of chatter, trying to rattle the player he's guarding with verbal tactics as well as physical ones. "It's my job to irritate him however I can within the rules," Overton says. "At the end of the game, if the man you were guarding likes you, then you probably haven't done a very good job." It's hard to imagine that any opponent feels too fond of Overton after facing him. He's been involved in altercations with a host of Pac-10 rivals, including dustups last year with Arizona State's James Harden and Washington State's Taylor Rochestie, each of whom, not accidentally, was his team's leading scorer. "I've had to step in and save his life a few times on the court," says Overton's teammate Quincy Pondexter. "He's a little guy who bugs a lot of people, and a guy like that needs a bodyguard sometimes."
But Overton seems more than tough enough to take care of himself. During a break in preseason workouts, Romar was tossing a football around with Pondexter when Overton jumped out on the court to cover Pondexter like a defensive back. On one underthrown pass from the coach, Overton dived to try for an interception, his outstretched body landing with a thump on the hardwood. "He's fearless," says Romar. "He'll take on anyone or anything."
Shake off the pests, and the next line of defense is made up of the shutdown defenders on the wings. They're the ones who not only are tough on-ball defenders but also make it nearly impossible for their man to get the ball in the spot he prefers, if at all. North Carolina welcomes back Ginyard—a 6'5" senior who missed almost all of last season following surgery in October 2008 to repair a stress fracture in his left foot—into that role; and though he's only a freshman, Bradley is widely expected to be among the nation's best perimeter defenders as well. He drew more raves for his defense during his recruitment than any perimeter player in recent memory.
Bradley was given uniform number 0 at his request. He chose it to represent starting from scratch at the college level, but it could also stand for his desire to shut out his opponent. "Defense is something that comes from deep inside of me," he says. "It's a way of feeling like I'm always doing something good on the court." His teammates notice his relentlessness just as much as his opponents. "You know how most guys play defense when there's two minutes left in the game and they're down by one?" says Illinois freshman guard D.J. Richardson, Bradley's backcourt partner last year at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. "That's how Avery plays defense all the time."
Quick feet and long arms (his nickname is Spiderman) are Bradley's main assets, while Kramer, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, relies more on strength. "There are a lot of players who don't like the physicality of the game," Kramer says. "If you bump them off their cuts a few times or just let them know that you're willing to put a body on them, they get flustered, and then you've won that battle."
A former standout quarterback at Huntington (Ind.) North High, Kramer hasn't lost the football mentality. When an elbow to the face from Michigan's Manny Harris knocked him unconscious and left him with a nose that was bloodied and broken in two places last season, he was back in the game a few minutes later, after being fitted with a protective mask. "If I can walk, I can play," he says. And if he can play, he can defend. Two years ago Kramer was primarily responsible for limiting Indiana star Eric Gordon to 4-for-12 shooting in a 77--68 Indiana win, but he's proudest of helping harass Davidson's Curry into a 5-for-26 performance in a 76--58 Purdue victory last season.
"I prepared for him differently than any other player I've faced," Kramer says. "I had about 300 video clips of him that I studied for hours and hours. One thing I noticed is that other teams tended to let him rest at times on offense. I tried to make sure he never had a chance to rest, even when he was just bringing the ball up the court. I don't know if I wore him down, but I took a lot of pride in the job we did."
Even coaches who emphasize perimeter defense acknowledge that the last line of defense, the intimidating big man, is the ultimate insurance. "I'd want the big," LSU coach Trent Johnson said, given the choice between a shot blocker and a smaller ball hawk. "The game's at the rim. The percentages are at the rim." That's where Aldrich and the other protectors of the paint come in.
"Other than height, timing is one of the biggest keys [to blocking shots]," says Aldrich. "Some of that is just instinctive, but you can help yourself by studying the shooters, knowing how different guys are likely to come at you. Some guys go hard and want to dunk on you, and some are just looking to get a little floater over you. Others aren't really even worried about getting the bucket, they're just looking for the foul. If you understand the way guys are likely to approach you, it can help your timing."
The timing is particularly unfortunate for anyone planning to run up huge point totals. This does not seem like a good season to aim for your career high. Consider yourselves warned, shooters. Get a good look at the basket when you walk into the arena this year, because it just might be your last unobstructed view.