Kyle Singler/South Medford Responds
Bill Long 3/9/07
A Convincing Quarterfinal Victory
It appears that the stars are becoming aligned for a repeat Lake Oswego/South Medford final at the Oregon 6A Boys Basketball finals. Each of them has to face determined and talented foes in the semi-finals today (LO faces Sheldon, which it beat early in the year; SM takes on a pesky, disciplined and tenacious Jesuit--a perennial semifinalist), but both should win. The purpose of this essay, however, is to assess SM's, and Kyle Singler's, performance last night in their 80-56 quarterfinal win over Portland's Grant HS.
Assessing the South Medford Panthers
SM does have a concern entering the semifinals (and possibly the finals). Stellar point guard Michael Harthun cut his hand severely Wednesday night and is playing hurt. His right hand is heavily bandaged, and he favors it quite a bit; he lost the ball off of it on more than a few occasions last night. Despite that limitation, he scored 19 points (hardly a concern, you might say), and helped shut down Grant's offense. But, because of the uncertainty created by Harthun's injury, SM looked tentative at times in the first half, and didn't really pull away until midway in the third quarter.
SM, however, has an impressive array of supporting players which, player for player, makes them a better team than LO and, it goes without saying, Grant. EJ Singler (6'5" sophomore), one of three Singlers on the team, has improved each game and now provides some excellent offense and good presence under the boards. Van Dellenback-Ouellette and Jon Grimes are steady performers, the latter coming up with a three in the mid-third quarter last night to spark a 17-4 SM rally which put the game out of reach. The reality of SM is that it has three rangy starters that are 6'5'' or taller, and two others that are quick, long-limbed (6'3'' and 6'2'') and well-coached, so that man for man they are about 4 inches taller and probably more athletic than their LO counterparts. If Kyle Singler can neutralize Kevin Love on Saturday night (that is, keeping him under 30 points), SM will probably win. But Love and LO are pretty deetermined to be the first repeat winner in the largest Oregon classifcation since the 1970s, and Love has the skills and ego to want to put his name indelibly on everything having to do with Oregon schoolboy basketball. So, if both LO and SM survive their semi-final matches, we will probably see one of the best prep basketball games in the nation this year for the finals.
Assessing Kyle Singler's Skills
Singler plays post because of his height (6'9'') but one can tell that he really won't be a post player in college. He just is so versatile and talented that you could imagine him excelling at point guard as well as forward. He doesn't have the inside presence of Love (who does?), but he has superior jumping ability, an excellent sense of where he should be at all times, and a solid post-up game. Grant's 6'7'' defenders weren't powerless against his inside moves, but they were clearly outmatched. But Kyle Singler adds so much more to the team: he cleared out an approach lane for Harthun on more than one occasion; he had the most magnificent blocks of the tournament so far; he climbs players like some climb stairs in his drives to the basket. In fact, he picked up 3 offensive fouls on drives to the hoop. One of them so angered a Grant player that he trash-talked and bumped Singler for the next several minutes, until SM pulled away so significantly that the Grant player probably realized that his efforts were better spent on playing basketball than on talking. Singler scored "only" 12 points in the first half, but by the time the game settled down in SM's favor in the third period he was scoring almost at will--with putbacks, post-up moves, and one thunder dunk set up by Michael Harthun. He finished with 32 points, a handful of rebounds and probably five blocks.
I think there is an insight, however, into the difference between Love's and Singler's game that I could glean from watching their performance. And that difference has to do, possibly surprisingly, with how each blocks shots. Both get their share of blocks, but Singler's are by far the more impressive. Why? Because he has the singular (Singler?) ability to gauge the other guy's moves. That is, one could see him on more than one occasion sizing up the other players, like a large animal sizes up a smaller one, and then pounce on them when they think they have a clear avenue to the hoop. His perfectly timed jumps and ability seemingly to come out of nowhere to bat a ball away arises, I think, because he is basically an "outward-directed" player. What I mean by this is that he is not only conscious of his role as team leader and as enabler of the others' skills but that he really sees the other team as it tries to develop its offense. In that regard, he is probably a better defensive player than Love. Love, of course, blocks several shots per game and intimidates small and great alike, but seems to be more willing to give up the two points to an offensive player, confident that on the next series he will not only match it but probably be fouled in the process.
When the night was over, then, KS had gotten 32 points and some impressive blocks while KL had 41 points, 21 boards and a block or two. Saul had slain his thousands but David his ten thousands. The question for Oregon basketball, however, is who the real "David" will be when all is said and done. I am predicting tough LO and SM victories today, and then SM in the finals by 3.