|Javon McCrea has NBA talent but can he be the dominant, reliable player his team needs him to be? (Buffalo Athletics)|
If one of the best mid-major players in the country is going to get his team to its third straight 20-win season during his tenure, he's going to have to learn to become selfish.
Javon McCrea has been one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball the past two years. The 6-foot-6 power 3 has been ultra-productive in so many ways for the Buffalo Bulls and coach Reggie Witherspoon. Hardcores and number nuts like myself have been on McCrea's wagon for some time now, but it stands to reason his real breakout season could come in a few months.
It definitely seems like he's headed toward something of a watershed year, regardless. Without a minimum or duplicated production from McCrea, there's little chance Buffalo can contend in the MAC. Playing into a possible future career in the NBA, the past two seasons have seen McCrea work with a safety net around him. He's deferred to older teammates a lot. But now, Buffalo enters the 2012-13 season without four of its five leading scorers from last season.
The team took a trip to Canada, traveling to Quebec City, Ottawa and Montreal, in August. McCrea had to begin his role as leader and dogmatic presence on the court. He's not all the way there yet, Witherspoon said.
"Our guys need to get mature, and we need to make them more aggressive," Witherspoon said. McCrea above all others.
On the trip, Witherspoon said that two of the teams they played -- Carleton (in Ottawa) and Laval (Montreal) -- were MAC-level in quality. Carleton has won what equates to eight of the past 10 Canadian college basketball championships. Buffalo went 3-1 and got the best out of a trip, considering the school's budget. Some teams just can't afford to get on a plane and tour Europe.
What Witherspoon learned: I've already hammered home the lede here, but in his words: "Javon needs to be more dominant. It's different. Any time you lose one player it's different, and it's certainly different when you lose the number of players we lost. That means some of the people he may have deferred to in the past are not there to defer to anymore. He has to be more assertive and in doing so. He's had dominant moments, but not dominant stretches, which is interesting for a sophomore who made the First Team in the MAC."
Who stood out: Auraum Nuiriankh. He didn't see a lot of minutes last season, but what a jump Witherspoon expects this year.
"He's an able scorer, a reliable shooter, but brings toughness, determination and prides himself on defense," the coach said. At 6-foot-6 and with that much improvement, it's a huge boon for the Bulls.
Biggest concern going forward: "Our concentration has to be better for longer periods of time," Witherspoon said. "There were times when we pulled back Jarod (Oldham, a junior) and Javon and Tony (Watson, a senior) wasn't available, so we know that our concentration has to improve, be sustainable for a longer stretch."
-- Watson didn't play due to injury. He hurt his left foot over the summer, but he's out of the cast, in a boot, and should be back within a month. The other injury of note was to freshman Stan Weir, who had surgery in March. He had both knees repaired. Witherspoon said he doesn't really know when to expect him back.
-- This is a younger team, but it only brings in three new players. Jarryn Skeete is the new point guard. Weir and Andre McPhail -- a 6-foot-7 wing -- are the other two.
-- This year, the team only has two seniors, one of them a walk-on, Richie Sebuharara, who earned a scholarship, hasn't played more than 10 minutes of basketball with the Bulls. Here's the interesting part of the story: He came to Buffalo to compete in track and field.
-- The Bulls were 18th nationally in blocks last season. Buffalo loses 6-10 Mitchell Watt, so expect that number to go down in 2012-13.
-- The team took a bus on the trip, naturally. Being in Buffalo, they drove through New York state and crossed into Canada. Once they got to Montreal and Quebec City, Witherspoon said they knew/felt they were in another country. He said they got the best of both worlds, though. Nothing to adjust to with time or weird food. But there was a lot of French being spoken. The team was comfortable, a good thing, according to Witherspoon.