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NEW YORK -- So much is made about the importance of a dominating player in the middle, but the value of guard play at the collegiate level is clear as the college-hoop season begins. The Coaches vs. Cancer Classic tournament, which tipped off the season Thursday and Friday, proved this once more: The MVPs of all four contests were guards.
Jameer Nelson put on quite a show in the marquee matchup as Saint Joseph's knocked off Gonzaga. Nelson showed his enthusiasm and love for the game as he pleased a crowd that included over 4,000 Hawk fans who bused up from the Philadelphia area. Nelson fell just short of a triple-double with a spectacular 20-point, eight-rebound and 10-assist game.
Heading into the season, Nelson is on my list of the top 10 players in America -- he's on my All-Rolls Royce Second Team -- and he's clearly performing like one of the premier all-around backcourt players. He can control a game with his ball-handling skills, shoot the 3 and drive opponents crazy with his quick hands and ability to create steals. I love watching him in person ... he's a flat-out PTPer.
|Nelson was two rebounds short of a triple-double against Gonzaga.|
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's Coaches vs. Cancer win over Alabama was a hard-fought victory that gave new head coach Jamie Dixon a win in his debut. Point guard Carl Krauser came through in the second half after struggling in the first with two points on 1-for-8 shooting.
The Bronx native was playing before his family and friends in his return to the Big Apple. When you add that to his new role as team leader, it was a veritable pressure cooker for Krauser -- and he handled it like a pro, baby! He scored 19 points in the second half as he took charge, penetrating to the basket while also connecting from long distance with his jumper.
Krauser's wasn't the only leadership on display this weekend. Marquette's Travis Diener and Wake Forest's Taron Downey showed leadership and gutsy play in guiding their teams to victory.
Heading into the St. John's game, Diener's knee was hurt so badly that he had to be cleared to play by New York Knicks team doctor Norman Scott. It was obvious by his grimaces and limping that he was in lots of pain. But he was a gamer as he responded to the challenge during a game filled with turnovers. The contest was so sloppy that during the first half there were more turnovers than field goals.
But when the game was on the line, Diener made the big play. He created opportunities for his teammates, and got to the foul line and converted his chances. He is a genuine leader -- the heart and soul of the Marquette squad.
Then there was the miraculous performance of Wake Forest's Downey, who was on the court just eight days after an appendectomy. How many guys could come out and perform this well a week after surgery? Due to Justin Gray's foul trouble, coach Skip Prosser had to give Downey more minutes than he originally planned. In 29 minutes of quality time, Downey scored a career-high 20 points and knocked down 4-of-7 trifecta attempts. What an inspiration he was to his teammates!
The guard play of Nelson, Krauser, Diener and Downey made the difference -- they played with a winning mentality and got the job done when their teams needed it most!
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