Feb. 4, 2005
Everyone gets excited about basketball players who can shoot the trifecta or who can go to the goal with great explosiveness. Fans love dipsy doo dunkeroos and get thrilled with slam-bam-jams. Guys who put big points on the board are always praised.
What about the guys who do the dirty work? How about some praise for those who make it happen on defense, making coaches smile.
Let me lay on you my All-Velcro Team, defensive players who sacrifice for the good of the team.
I'll start in Lawrence, Kansas, where Aaron Miles is the architect of the Jayhawk defense. He puts so much pressure on the basketball, challenge opposing point guards. Forget about numbers, Miles is all about winning. He has been a winner since the day he arrived on the Kansas campus.
Travis Diener, when healthy, brings a toughness to the Marquette team. He embodies the personality and spirit of his coach, Tom Crean. The Golden Eagles aren't the same without him as he scraps and claws. Diener comes through on both sides of the court.
At Kentucky, Chuck Hayes will take a charge and fight hard for anything to help his team. He played with a broken nose against Arkansas. Hayes will grab a tough rebound or play physical in the lane (he is also a member of my All-Rambo team).
Luther Head is sometimes overshadowed by Deron Williams and Dee Brown, but ask his Illinois coaches and teammates about how special he is. Not only can he hit the 3-pointer and score going to the basket, but he can flat-out play defense. Just ask Pierre Pierce of Iowa; Head drew the assignment in the second half after Pierce successfully posted on the inside. And Head put the blanket on one of the Big Ten's premier scorers.
Duke big man Shelden Williams is nicknamed "The Landlord" because he says, "Thou Shall Not Enter the Lane!" He has dominated, as shown by his nine blocked shots vs. Virginia. Williams' presence in the post is a key reason Duke is an upper-echelon team in the ACC.
At North Carolina, the Tar Heels have great firepower with Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants. But Jackie Manuel is a defensive standout who plays well against opposing big guards or small forwards, making them work hard for everything they get. He understands his role and provides a defensive stopper.
These guys are special because they understand that great defense is needed to get to the winner's circle.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.