Wednesday, November 3, 2004

For Xavier, it's Justin time

Miller expects Doellman, Cage to lead Musketeers with their work ethic

By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer

Xavier coach Sean Miller describes arguably the two best Musketeers players as if they are seniors, ready at last to inherit the veteran duties bestowed upon team leaders in their final season.

Xavier's Justin Doellman passes off to Justin Cage during practice at the Cintas Center.
(Enquirer photo/STEVEN M. HERPPICH)
What's odd is that Justin Doellman and Justin Cagearen't seniors. They're just sophomores playing grown-up roles. With one season of experience behind them, "The Justins" aren't just the future of Xavier basketball, they're also the present.

"For us they are (seniors)," Miller said. "I've tried to make it clear to them that I feel strongly they're two terrific players, two of our best players. When you take the dynamics, a lot has changed in a year. But in our particular case, they are among our most experienced players."

Miller's words say what Xavier has to overcome in the early going in terms of lost leadership, but they also demonstrate the trust the coach has in the two pivotal sophomores to accept that responsibility.

Both players started the entire second half of last season, Doellman showing a knack for making timely outside shots and Cage proving to be a defensive stopper.

They made key plays, but they weren't the playmakers.

Now, Miller needs more from them, especially because junior Dedrick Finn is out until at least mid-November with a sprained knee. Miller needs Cage to add a little offense to his rugged defensive game, and the coach needs Doellman, who might be the team's best offensive player, not to be a defensive liability.

"Basically guarding the ball and just being smart on defense," said Doellman, a 6-foot-9 swingman. "It's one of my weaknesses, and it's what I have to improve on.

"And also rebounding ... I take it as a personal challenge to step my game up defensively."

Miller wants them to showcase their work ethic for younger players still getting used to college.

Basically, Miller needs his sophomores to be seniors.

"I think when you're not only the best players on the team, but also the most experienced players, having been in some big games and part of success and also some failure too, for those guys it's important that they reach out," Miller said. "The thing about Justin Cage and Justin Doellman is you never have to worry about them.

"They're always going to work hard. They're always about the right thing. They're very unselfish. They're winners. The thing they can do different from a year ago is to help some other guys see that same thing."

But will Doellman and Cage, as sophomores, speak their minds when they have to? For many players, the transition from role player to leader can be an unnatural transformation that takes longer than just a single offseason.

Recently, senior co-captain Keith Jackson noticed a moment in practice when Cage needed to speak up and get younger players in order.

"I kept telling him to talk to his team. Get on them," Jackson said. "I'm telling him to step up and take control of his team, which you know, is not an easy thing to do."

Said Cage: "I think I'm going to learn a lot this year, and hopefully next year I'll be a captain or something.I'm just learning, and I learned last year about what to do, what to say, and how to motivate people and stuff like that.

"We've got two great leaders now. I'm not going to step on their toes or anything like that. But when my time comes, I'm going to be ready."

NOTE: Freshman Josh Duncan returned to practice Monday but aggravated the Achilles heel injury that originally kept him out of practice for more than a week.

He will return to practice today, and he is expected to play Saturday in Xavier's first exhibition game.



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