I believe it was sometime early in September when I was drafting the Conference USA team previews that it hit me.
UAB has been one of the healthiest basketball programs over the last decade.
Then November 11 happened.
It was that moment that brought Bartow Arena to it’s knees. You could hear a pin drop.
The prior nine minutes were filled with oohs and aahs as junior point guard Nick Norton delivered one half court alley-oop pass after another. The most anticipated season in years was off to a picture perfect start.
It was one of those moments that everyone knew the outcome before any official announcement to come. You just knew.
Nick’s injury was so rare for UAB’s program that it got me thinking, when was the last time something has happened like this?
Aaron Johnson suffered a broken leg in the Blazer’s First Four game against Clemson in March of 2011. AJ was a senior and it by result was the last game of the season.
The last time a UAB player suffered an in-game season ending injury before Christmas was in 2007 when Paul Delaney tore his ACL on November 20 in a early season tournament in Daytona Beach.
Nearly 10 years separated the two events. That’s an incredible run that I’m sure many other programs would love to have experienced.
Nevertheless, UAB must play the hand their dealt in hopes that the deck will offer a favorable alternative result.
The Deion Lavender Era Begins
From my vantage point, behind the east facing basket of the Sprint Center, I had the perfect view of the Illinois’ natives highlight worthy drive and score to the basket.
Near the top of the key, short into the shot clock, Deion saw his opening down the right side of the paint and took it.
I don’t recall the poor defenders name, but the shifty juke move Lavender unleashed on him at the top of the key to free his gallop and finish to the basket was severe enough to warrant a “holy sh!t” from the George Washington media member next to me.
This kid is good.
Following the win over the Colonials, Lavender displayed more flashes of brilliance in Vegas against Saint Mary’s who most don’t realize is one of the top statistical defensive teams in the nation.
What impresses me the most is not only is Lavender progressing as a point guard for the first time in his career much faster than I’d anticipated, but he’s also establishing himself as a lock down defender.
You rarely get both from the point guard position. At the college level typically they’re either great passers and/or scorers, or they are the game manager type who are more defensive minded.
Deion is developing into the total package. He’s big, quick, and is absorbing running the offense as the point at a brisk pace.
In The Ringer’s piece today on Washington star point guard Markelle Fultz the author Jonathan Tjarks details the evolution of the point guard position in the NBA and how it’s spilling over in the college game.
The graph from the article gives the specs on some of the top point guards in all of college basketball. Deion is 6-foot-4, 192 pounds.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
In recent years, we’ve been seeing more physically imposing players like James Harden migrating to point guard. With responsibilities among positions more fluid than ever, the biggest and most capable ball handler on teams across the league is taking the ball up the floor and initiating the offense, regardless of whether they would have been considered a shooting guard or a small forward a generation before. Having elite size has almost become a prerequisite for point guards to be taken in the lottery, as Cameron Payne is the only one shorter than 6-foot-4 taken in that range the past three drafts, and he just snuck in at the no. 14 pick in 2015
Am I trying to compare Deion Lavender to the six above who are all likely NBA lottery picks? Of course not.
I am however pointing out the unique situation Coach Rob Ehsan and UAB are in.
Though the offensive has had it’s struggles since Nick went down, there have also been clear signs that the Blazers may have just stumbled upon a unique opportunity.
The point of this article isn’t to paint an unrealistic scenario of Deion Lavender stealing away the future point guard duties from Nick Norton. Nick is an incredible talent with one of the highest basketball IQ’s this program has ever had.
My point today is to highlight the importance of building a team with players that have unique, adaptable skill sets.
I see something special brewing. Grab a cup and drink it in with me. It’s going to be fun.