X Marks The Spot
College hoops’ hidden treasure might be the Xavier Musketeers.
As I walked into the Cintas Center for the Saturday night Musketeer Madness (Think Midnight Madness, only at 6 p.m. instead) festivities for the preseason No. 12 Xavier Musketeers, one thing was evident and clear for expectations this season: Xavier’s ready for the big stage.
No, not just because there was a big stage setup behind one of the backboards as the entire team walked into the arena, like wrestling pay-per-view. More because there was a sense of professionalism from everyone in the arena. The fans were excited but observant, the staff and workers inside the arena were crisp in their actions, and as the players took to the court it was clear that they had “work-to-do” in their eyes.
Decked out in their special-edition Nike Elite jerseys for the evening (paying homage to the legendary Cincinnati Royals) and Tu Holloway shocking the world with his usual display of exclusive kicks (Nike Zoom Kobe VI’s “Camo edition”) the players took the court to participate in a shooting competition, dunk contest, and scrimmage. Here are a few key takeaways on Saturday night and Xavier’s upcoming season:
Brad Redford and Griffin McKenzie Can Shoot The Rock: Last year’s Musketeer squad was decimated by roster issues (injuries and ineligibility) and became a scrappy bunch who fought to the end. Problem was, outside of Holloway and Mark “Cheeks” Lyons they couldn’t shoot the ball. With Redford (6-1/182/Junior/Frakenmuth, MI) and McKenzie (6-9/240/Sophomore/Cincinnati, OH) are certified zone-busters who will give Xavier coach Chris Mack flexibility in his lineup.
Dezmine Wells Is Real: With all due respect to the stars on X, the kid everyone wanted to see was the freshman Dezmine Wells. Wells (6-5/215/Freshman/Raleigh, NC) past exploits in high school and prep school (Hargrave) are worth your time on Youtube, and the swingman didn’t disappoint on Saturday. His performance in the dunk contest (which he won) and in the scrimmage proved that his ability to slash to the rim, play tough defense and run the floor will be tough to keep on the bench. Wells, along with newcomers Justin Martin, Travis Taylor, and Dee Davis will all be called on during the season to contribute, and the quicker they pick up the game at the next level will provide a wealth of riches on the X bench.
Tu and Cheeks Will Be One Of The Best Backcourts In America: Not only will they be one of the best backcourts in America, but they’re already arguably the best pair of names in a backcourt in America. What both may lack in height, they make up for with a ton of strengths. We at SLAM featured Tu (6-0/190/Senior/Hempstead, NY) back in issue #146 last year while the NYC point guard was beginning to flourish on the national radar. Holloway finished his 2010-11 campaign as the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, 3rd-team All-America, and the only player in the country with two triple-doubles in the season. As a senior, the team he leads onto the floor is a talented but young bunch and his expertise as a floor generalship will be called on more than ever. For Mark “Cheeks” Lyons (6-1/188/Junior/Schenectady, NY) its obvious that the man is an athlete (peep the video of him dunking over 6-8 big man Isaiah Philmore) has a natural ability to score the rock. “He’s as athletic and as tough a player I’ve ever coached,” Mack said. “If he can continue to play with poise, and be the player he is in practice and take it into the games. We’ll be a better team.” His ability to distribute and defend bigger guards will be key to X’s success moving forward.
Xavier’s non-conference includes a slate of games against three preseason Top 25 teams in the USA Today Coaches Poll. X’s resolve will be tested by #7 Vanderbilt, #23 Gonzaga and Crosstown Shootout rival #22 Cincinnati. Can Xavier make a real run this year? We’ve seen teams like Butler and VCU get to the final four in years past, but X might be bold enough to want even more than that.
Enjoy the dunk contest.