Year of the guard: YAIAA displays top talent
The game has changed, particularly in our local backcourts
Basketball has changed.
The days of lobbing the ball down to a post player in the paint and running an offense through him or her are long gone. Guards are the marquee attraction now — the ball is in their hands, it’s their game and they’re better than ever.
Simply put, it’s a guard-dominated sport, and if that hasn’t been made clear enough already, the 2015-16 YAIAA basketball season should serve as an eye-opening experience.
The league might not have many if any dominant post players, but there won’t be a shortage of highlight-reel-worthy players coming out of the backcourt.
On the boys’ side, Eli Brooks, Josh Bailey, Montrel Morgan and Jared Wagner headline a talented pool of guards that can take over games. Kate Bauhof, Jacey Shipley, Emma Saxton and Courtney Dimoff can do the same on the girls’ side.
Nearly every team in the league can say their best player takes the floor at the guard position. Rarely — or maybe never — has the YAIAA seen such strong guard play, and that could be a microcosm of the sport on all levels around the country. The current generation of young basketball players grow up wanting to emulate Steph Curry, Chris Paul and Maya Moore now as opposed to the Shaquille O’Neals and Charles Barkleys of days past.
“I would say it’s (basketball) being more guard-dominated, but that’s because of the lack of back-to-the-basket scorers in the game today,” Wagner said. “And obviously watching Steph Curry makes everyone want to be more like a guard.”
And with more quality guards, the game has evolved, Hanover guard Kyle Krout added.
“The sport of basketball has become very fast,” he said. “Most coaches now want most of their points coming from transition play. If big men can’t keep up, they won’t see the floor, and that’s making the game more guard-oriented.”
Said Red Lion's Courtney Dimoff, "The game has evolved to where even the bigger players want to be guards. Not many people like to play with their backs to the basket anymore so everyone is more perimeter oriented."
“Everything starts with the guards, usually,” Morgan agreed. “Therefore, they have the most control of the ball and that’s just the reality of it. More and more bigs are even developing ‘guard’ skills in order to compete with the guards.”An ability to score in transition is essential in the game today, forcing coaches to play more ‘small-ball’ and spread the floor with a four-guard offense, Brooks said.
“I don’t think that every single point guard in the league is a true point guard in comparison to old-school point guards,” Brooks said. “It did change over time. Guards have to score now. There aren’t many bigs to give the ball inside to anymore. There are more shooters and ball handlers. That changed drastically with how many athletes play the game now.”
So, if even the big guys are trying to be more like guards, it’s clear the position has changed and become more desirable. There’s not as much running the ball up the court and just passing it off. Guards today are relied on to run an offense, score efficiently and control the game.
“In the big games, teams put the ball in a guard’s hands to bring the ball up or beat the pressure,” Bauhof said. “They don’t really run an offense. We give it to the best player on the court to score, we don’t set it up and have the guard make the first pass.”The current crop of guards can score in bunches, but their decision-making skills — especially in crunch time — separate the good guards from the great ones.
Said South Western's Shipley, "A good guard is someone who has the ability to drive the ball and finish, and have a good shot on offense. They also need to be quick with their ball handling."
A good guard wants the ball in his or her hands, Bailey agreed.
"Take control of the court and make a good play," Bailey said of his mindset in late-game situations. "I like the ball in my hands."
Brooks was triple-teamed with the clock winding down in a tie game against Red Lion last season. He ducked out of the triple team and dished it to Grant Wierman for the game-winning shot.
“If the situation calls for me to take the shot, I’m more than willing to take it,” Brooks said. “But if it calls for me to pass it, I can do that. Scoring isn’t that big of a deal if you don’t get the win. You could score 45 but if you don’t win, it doesn’t matter.”
These guards know how to win. They can score. They can dish it. They can flat-out play. When the ball is in their hands, it’s a joy to watch. And they’re out to prove this season in the YAIAA will be the ‘Year of the Guard.’