Garrett Stutz is out to prove that not all big men are the same.
by Ed Isaacson
It’s often said that if you are 7-feet tall, there is a place for you in the NBA. Unfortunately, as many teams have learned over the years, this is not true. In a League where players continue to get stronger, faster and more skilled, just being tall isn’t enough anymore.
A lot of hard work is required to use your height against the highest level of competition. The development process may be quick, or take more than a few years, but when done correctly and with the right work ethic, a player can seem to transform overnight from just another big guy to a potential NBA contributor. The truth is, it is rarely overnight, and if you are a player like Garrett Stutz, the work you’ve put in will be worth it.
Wichita State had a big season (27-6) in ‘11-12, and the emergence of Stutz had a lot to do with that. Playing major minutes consistently for the first time in his career, Stutz came through with career highs in scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (8.0 per), and just about every other major statistical category.
The waiting game wasn’t easy for Stutz though: “I was playing behind upperclassmen each year, so I had to make the most of my back-up minutes,” Stutz explained. “In the beginning, I had a hard time accepting that role. But, as the coaching staff began to trust what I was able to do, more minutes came along with it.”
Normally, teams would not waste time in trying to get someone with Stutz’ size out on the court. Stutz made the most of his preparation though.
“Strength and conditioning were a major factor in my development through my college career,” Stutz said. “I have probably gained about 45-50 pounds since I first got to college.”
There was more to his development than that, though. He was really still adjusting to being a big man on the basketball court. “I started developing a lot of my basketball skill back in Kansas City when I was in middle school,” Stutz explained. “I was a good player, but then I grew seven or eight inches during my junior year of high school. I had to learn how to play as a post player.”
That learning process continued throughout his Wichita State career. “Things like reading and reacting to defenders in the post, and knowing when to kick the ball out; those are the kind of things that I developed in college,” Stutz said.
Still, watching Stutz play, he is definitely different than most 7-footers coming out of college. Stutz is as comfortable, or even more comfortable, playing on the perimeter than the post. “My biggest strength is my skill level,” answered Stutz, when asked about his strengths as a player. “I can step outside and knock down shots from 19-24 feet. Defenders will need to respect that. Guards and wings will be able to have more room to do their thing if I can help draw defenders out.”
Stutz also took on a role that many four-year guys do; he became a team leader. Wichita State’s 27 wins earned them a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they were to face a team from the previous year’s Final Four, Virginia Commonwealth, in the Round of 64. VCU came away with a three-point victory and Stutz’ Wichita State career was over.
“The season definitely didn’t end how we expected,” Stutz said. “It was my fault. I was catching the ball deep, making my moves, but just couldn’t finish. I take responsibility, and felt I should have done more as a leader.”
While it may have been disappointing, Stutz doesn’t look at it like a blemish on his career. “If NBA scouts want to judge my whole career on that game, there is nothing else I can do but show what I can really do.”
With his college career over, it was time for Stutz to look to his future. His first stop—the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, held for the nation’s best seniors. From almost all reports, Stutz stood out on a team that won the tournament.
“I gained a lot of interest from NBA scouts and front office executives,” Stutz explained. “A lot of people there had never had the chance to see me live. Plus I measured at 7-1, which they seemed to like.”
Stutz’ appearance at Portsmouth was a bit surprising, considering that the normal style of play there is guard-dominated.
“People actually tried to convince me not to go for that reason,” Stutz said. “I love basketball though, and I wanted to go there and use the opportunity to show what I can do.”
Stutz knew he still had work to do though to convince others that he could play in the NBA.
“I’ve known that I need to work on my explosiveness and athleticism,” Stutz said. “I really should have worked on it more in college, but I was focused more on gaining weight and strength.”
Stutz got to work though, training with renowned trainers such as Jay Hernandez of Pro Hoops in Long Island. It hasn’t been easy though. Stutz lost about a month of his training time because of a torn quadriceps. He had just recently resumed training and was leaving the next day on an extended tour of NBA team workouts, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Boston and San Antonio, among others.
“I am at about 80-85 percent right now,” Stutz explained. “There is some fear working out for teams and not being a 100 percent, especially since the one thing that seems to be questioned the most is whether I can play at the pace of a NBA game. Until the injury, I had spent a lot of time working on this area.”
So, why should a team take a chance on Garrett Stutz?
“That is tough to answer,” started Stutz. “I think teams just need to sit down and talk with me, and watch me work. I truly believe that I can help a team on or off the court, in the locker room, or even in the community. With my love of the game, and my work ethic, I can truly help a franchise and continue to get better. Others can only watch for so long before it becomes contagious, and the hard work spreads throughout the whole team.”
While there may in fact not be a place in the NBA just for being 7-feet tall, there may be a place for Garrett Stutz. It is one thing to be a highly skilled 7-foot player, but when you add a competitive drive to go with it, you may have the beginning of a truly special player.