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Guards, Guards & More Guards

Trains OfThought

By John B. Trainer

Basketball today is a guard's game.

It's all about quick cuts, no-look passes, driving the lane and the three-point shot.

The top two players in the NBA are (were) guards: Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

The emphasis on the guard has trickled down even to the lowly world of Ivy League basketball.

A preseason All-Ivy team would have a roster of four guards and just one forward: Buck Jenkins of Columbia, Sean Jackson of Princeton, Ed Petersen of Yale and Chuck Savage of Brown would be the guards, while Crimson Captain Ron Mitchell would be the only non-guard on the roster.

Every Ivy team except Harvard and Dartmouth points to its backcourt as its primary strength.

But while Harvard has the top forward tandem in the league with Mitchell and junior Tyler Rullman, the Big Green doesn't have anybody who can play at all.

Although Dartmouth's top player this year, sophomore Gregg Frame, is a guard.

Guards, guards, guards. The Ivy League is drowning in guards.

But Harvard has bucked the trend. Instead of running a three-guard offense, like Pennsylvania, or a virtual four-guard offense, like Princeton, Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan is lucky to have two people to bring the ball down the floor.

In its season opener against Lehigh this weekend, the Crimson will be starting junior Matt McClain as the off guard and freshman Jared Leake at point guard.

Streak Shooter

McClain has a reputation as a streaky shooter who doesn't play defense as hard as he could. Last year, McClain shot just 43 percent overall, and 32 percent from the three-point stripe. He committed 55 turnovers while registering just 27 assists.

Leake has no reputation at all. Whether this is a good thing or not will rapidly become clear as he matches up against the best talent in the league.

He will be asked to go up against Jenkins, Jackson, Savage and Petersen and win. It is an almost impossible assignment for an untested freshman. But it is a magnificent opportunity to learn the game, if he can avoid being discouraged by the early setbacks he is certain to experience.

Lucky Leake

Leake is fortunate in that he will not be asked to provide much of an offensive threat. Leake's role on offense will be primarily to get the ball in to Mitchell and Rullman, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside for the Crimson.

Leake's job will be tougher on defense, as he will be asked to stop the Ivy's franchise guards. But defense, as Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski likes to say, is 20 percent talent and 80 percent heart.

McClain faces many of the same challenges, in addition to the expectation that he will provide a second outside threat for Harvard.

But any deficiency Harvard has at the guard positions is more than made up for by the Crimson's awesome inside game.

Mitchell and Rullman are formidable by themselves. But the large talent gap between the Harvard duo and any other Ivy League frontcourt (except, natch, for Princeton) means that the forwards should have a spectacular season.

Mitchell should nail down Player of the Year. First in rebounding and field-goal percentage and third in scoring a year ago, there is no reason those stats should not get better.

Rullman, who shoots 45 percent from three-point land, will nicely complement Mitchell's inside domination.

But.

But, as is always true in basketball these days, winning starts with the guards.

If Leake and McClain cannot break the pressure opponents are sure to bring, Mitchell and Rullman will not get the ball and the Crimson will not win.

Harvard needs the guards' passing and ballhandling to have the kind of year the Crimson is projected to have.

It's a magnificent opportunity for these two to prove themselves.

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