The outlook for UAB went from doomsday following the Cayman tournament to blue skies and rainbows after three straight wins, including a pair over old rivals.
Aside from the head scratching 50 point game against Richmond, UAB has had little trouble scoring through their first nine games. Please excuse the hyperbole, but UAB’s struggles early in this season are sort of similar to the Golden State Warriors’ when they brought in Kevin Durant last fall. Granted the Warriors didn’t lose many games the first two months, they still had to learn to play together with the influx of a ball dominate player into a team that already had championship pieces.
UAB has been going through a similar adjustment period that has left many wondering “who is the man” and who is going to lead this team when we need them. It appears after some shuffling of rotations, and just simply playing minutes together as a complete unit, they may have finally got the engine properly tuned.
So what has caused UAB’s early issues? Well, to a certain degree the Blazers had too many chiefs in the tee-pee to steal an old adage. I don’t care how experienced and unified a team is, when you bring in a new player who immediately becomes one of the go-to scoring options and leads the entire team in minutes, it’s inevitable that the balance and synchronicity are going to be effected. Even the really great teams take time to add in a great player to a successful roster.
Obviously, the player I’m referring to is UAB’s star freshman Zack Bryant. Whether you’re ready to accept it or not, Scootie is UAB’s most dynamic and reliable offensive option outside of Chris Cokley. Even if UAB had Nick Norton last year, I believe we would have lacked the piece of the puzzle that would get the team a bucket when everything falls a part. The best teams have one of those guys — one who can make a mess in to Michelangelo and has the confidence to carry his team when things aren’t going well. Bryant is becoming that guy, and UAB is going to reap rewards because of it.
Enough gushing about Bryant, lets shift to William Lee. The naysayers have been all over Haha early this season, and some of the negative talk has been just. He’s shown some disinterest in-game, but keep in mind no one has “suffered” more from the emergence of Scootie than Lee. The fact of the matter is there is only so many possessions in the game, and we are learning that Cokley is going to get his, Scootie as well, and we also have a myriad of other options that can get hot like we saw at Troy.
We don’t need William Lee to average 15 points a game to be a great team. Lee is a two-way player who can make his impact on the boards and in ways defensively that won’t always show up on the stat sheet. And in Lee’s defense, he has been the recipient of some very questionable officiating when he’s contested shots around the rim this season.
With all that being said, we should embrace the fact that UAB has a third scoring option who is a conference player of the year caliber player. It’s a luxury others would kill for.
Now that UAB has begun to settle into Cokley, Scootie, and Haha being the three core offensive pieces, we can touch on the contributors that have helped the Blazers get back to playing at a very high level the past two games.
It was never reported, but I’m almost certain Nate Darling had a back injury during the Cayman Tournament. The injury seems to be in the rear view mirror now, and I bet we’ll see his 3-point average climb over 40 percent soon as his shot appears to be where he wants it. Also, Darling has become quite the slasher and finisher around the rim. His game continues to broaden.
Darling, along with Sullivan and Perry, give UAB a plethora of skill sets that are going to give coaches fits to scheme for as this team continues to gel.
Offensively, Norton is somewhat of an after thought and that’s perfectly fine. He’ll find his shot when needed as he is continues to get back to 100 percent post-injury.
Saturday’s game against Auburn will be a true litmus test of just how far UAB has come over the past few weeks. UAB has the talent to compete and win against a team like Auburn, and they’ll be put to the test to see how much they want to prove they belong among the best teams in this state.