Monday, October 17, 2005

Hilltopper Hysteria Causes...Well, Hysteria

Hysteria: a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions (Webster's, 2005)

That accurately describes what Hilltopper Haven and much of Topper Nation experienced after Friday night's activities. The veterans looked primed and fit. The coaches were psyched and active. The newcomers met and even exceeded expectations. There are no injuries or academic casualties to report at this juncture. It is official: the expectations are officially off the charts for the 2005-2006 edition of Western Kentucky basketball.

The festivities began with a dunk contest. Everyone's favorite pterosaur, Elgrace Wilborn, took home the honors, but newcomer Benson Callier (6'6" junior Florida State transfer) gave The Great Red Pterdactyl a challenge. Callier also added a 360 degree dunk in the Red-White scrimmage. Sophomores Mike Walker and Boris Siakam wowed the crowd as well, but Wilborn and Callier were clearly a cut above. The contest aptly displayed the fantastic athleticism on this club. This teams lacks bulk and raw size, but they have a bevy of jumping jacks that will create havoc on the glass and on the full-court press.

Toppers and Lady Toppers were paired up to vie in the three-point shooting contest. Incoming FR Orlando Mendez-Valdez and Lady Topper Ashley Butler outgunned SR Anthony Winchester and LT Tifany Zaragoza. Mendez-Valdez possesses a sweet shooting stroke that had visions sugar plums dancing in the heads of the Topper faithful. It was difficult to not drink deep and long of the Topper Kool-Aid. However, this scrimmage lasted a mere 15 minutes and revealed little meaningful information in the grand scheme of the season. However, there are a few items that should not be ignored:

1. Orlando Mendez-Valdez owns some serious skills. After winning the 3-pt contest, 'Dez wowed the crowd with some slick passing and excellent dribble penetration. He is one of those guys that looks a bit slow, but he gets around people. His shot is quite fluid and he made a beautiful fading Three in the scrimmage that looked so comfortable and effortless. He may not start from Day 1 (JR transfer Joemal [pronounced jah-MEL] Campbell), but he is going to play serious minutes and may assume the starting role at some point this season.

2. The other newcomers are legit. Mike Walker, Benson Callier, Daniel Emerson, and Matt Maresca did dirty work inside and Campbell is a jet--all as advertised. Walker and Callier probably will contribute the most immediately due to their size and athleticism, but all five of these guys are going to play. Late signee Butch Jointer did not show much and may get pushed toward the end of the bench by the more polished newcomers. I do not see a Courtney Lee-type of impact from any of the newcomers, but Callier, Walker, Emerson, Maresca, and Campbell can all fill important holes from last season.

3. The returnees look fit and ready. Wilborn, Lee, Winchester, Rogers all look stronger and more confident. F Boris Siakam, a native of Cameroon, needs more seasoning and could possibly benefit from a redshirt year. He has a nice mid-range jumper, excellent hops and a strong, wiry frame, but needs more time to learn the game. He has only played organized basketball for three years. However, with all of the youth up front, a redshirt year for Siakam is unlikely.

4. This is the type of team Horn wants. He came into a program centered on half-court defense and a glacial big man (Nigel Dixon). The team went 15-14. Last year, he went super-small and scrappy, and played a faster pace. The team went 22-9 and won an NIT game. This year, he has added players with size and athleticism (Wilborn, Walker, Callier, Emerson, Maresca, the returning Siakam) to mix in with some extremely talented shooters (Winchester, Lee, Rogers, Mendez). Few teams on the Tops schedule will be able to match up favorably with them. This is the type of Hilltopper team for which Coach Horn played in the mid-1990s.

I have not put huge expectations on any Topper team since I have been a fan. The 2002 team was a bit of a surprise, and while I expected the 2003 team to be good, that team had some holes. This team cannot escape the expectations. They should make the NCAA tourney this year. There is simply too much talent to say otherwise. Beyond that, it is all about the matchups.