Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Matta to test rebounders

Muskies looking for a dependable big man

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

David West was not perfect. There were always questions, fair or not, about West's shooting range, ball handling and temperament. But there was never a doubt that West, a first-team all-American, was likely the most tenacious rebounder on the court.

That is exactly what Xavier University coaches are looking for as they evaluate four true power forwards and three swingmen for the starting nod to replace West.

Sophomore power forwards Will Caudle and Angelo Smith and freshmen Brandon Cole and Boubacar Coly don't need to show coaches 3-point accuracy or behind-the-back dribbles. All head coach Thad Matta and his staff want to see is rebounding and the ability to make mid-to-close-range shots. There's enough outside scoring on Xavier's team from four returning starters, including three guards.

Swingmen Keith Jackson, Justin Cage and Justin Doellman will also get a look at the fifth starting spot if Matta decides to go with a smaller, quicker lineup.

Jackson, a junior, and Cage, a freshman, are each 6-feet-6 and athletic. Jackson was last season's sixth-man, averaging 5.0 points and 2.6 rebounds.

Cage played inside and outside in high school and has impressed coaches so far with his rebounding ability.

Doellman, a freshman, is a comfortable on the perimeter and probably more effective there, but at 6-feet-9 can compete down low as well.

"One thing we need to work on is rebounding and establishing a post presence," Matta said, "some guys that can finish around the basket. But rebounding is a huge key out of that position. The main thing we have to do is get these guys to understand is what we have to fill from David (West) is a collective team effort."

At first glance, Caudle brings the most experience from the big men. He averaged 11.2 minutes per game last season, 3.7 points and 1.7 rebounds and demonstrated an ability to score inside. But he was foul prone, playing too aggressive on defense at times, which limited his minutes.

Smith played sparingly last season as a freshman, seeing action in 17 games with an average of 1.2 rebounds and 1.3 points. At 6-8, 220 pounds, he was often out-muscled down low and unreliable offensively beyond five feet. Smith added close to 10 pounds in the weight room over the summer and came back to practice with a better jump shot from 12 feet.

"Personally, I think I can go in there and make a huge contribution," said Smith. "Rebounding-wise, I've always been able to rebound. But also just getting in there and knowing my offensive game has improved a lot gives me confidence."

The two biggest question marks center on Cole and Coly, both full of potential but without any game experience. Coaches have a good idea of what Cole can do after he redshirted last season, which allowed him to practice with the team.

Because of that, Cole has a good understanding of the role and the importance of rebounding. As a true freshman, Coly's abilities are much less clear. He is talented, but young big men are harder to gauge after just a few days of practice.

"What we're doing right now is we're evaluating everybody," Matta said. "We're trying to see who does what and who does it the best."

Email ddow@enquirer.com

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