On November 30, 2013, UNLV defeated Tennessee-Martin, 85-55, at the Thomas and Mack Center.
Why am I talking about a totally innocuous game from two seasons ago? Because it was the last game Jamal Aytes played in.
It has been a crazy long wait for the former Rebel. Assuming he gets playing time for the Cougars in the regular season opener against Utah Valley on November 13, it will have been a whopping 713 days since he last set foot on the court in a competitive game.
For reference, here are things that took or would take less than 713 days:
- Construction of the Empire State Building
- 2 human gestation periods with a 5 month reprieve from pregnancy between children
- 118 trips to the Moon and back
- Run 256,680 Sir Roger Bannister miles — which is roughly 10.3 trips around the earth's equator.
- Watch this Vine 10,267,200 times.
The length of Aytes' layoff is usually only reserved for BYU Athletes who elect to serve a mission. So, what is it that has kept Aytes off the court for so long? First, the NCAA punishing Jamal for transferring to BYU from UNLV. Then, Aytes suffering a lingering ankle sprain. The ankle sprain eventually led to surgery last fall. This led to Aytes missing the entire 2014-15 campaign.
Needless to say, when Aytes gets his first playing time the excitement for BYU fans and Aytes himself should be high. There has been a tremendous amount of anticipation for his debut.
Skills, Talents and Style
Aytes is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound power forward from San Diego. His body is filled out, and he looks like a professional wrestler compared to the bevy of string beans found on his own team. But not only is Aytes blessed with strength, he also uses it to his advantage on the court.
Aytes is a "below the rim" player. His offensive game is based primarily on the block, where he uses good footwork to create space from the (usually) taller defender, power to attack the basket strong, and touch to put the ball through the hoop. He doesn't mind playing with his back to the basket, similar to traditional big men with more size. Because of these unique strengths, Aytes could provide the Cougars with a post scoring option in halfcourt offense situations.
From the game footage I've been able to watch, I haven't seen Aytes in a lot of transition situations. It's not a question of whether he has the athletic ability to run the floor. He does. But Cougar fans will soon learn together whether he is able to maintain that soft touch around the hoop while running at full speed in Dave Rose's up-tempo offense. During the Boom Shakalaka event, Aytes even took a few dribbles to kickstart the transition move up the floor. The question is whether or not that was done because it is part of his normal playing arsenal or if he took a few bounces for fun in the laid back entertainment exhibition setting.
Defensively, Aytes will frequently be at a disadvantage as he will give up a few inches in height to his counterpart on most nights. That means Jamal will need to go to work early in a possession and use his strength to keep his matchups out of their comfort zones on the floor. If his man likes posting 8 feet out on the right block, then Aytes will need to claim that space so that the post catch happens 12 feet from the hoop. The key for him in man defense is the work he puts in before he defends on ball.
In zone defense, Aytes will have to cover the left or right corners. Covering ground to close out threes without leaving an easy opening to the lane is an important skill. Again, let's wait and see if Aytes can execute that role. Highlight packages generally don't show players closing out on corner threes in 2-3 zone.
Why You'll Love Him
Check out that picture. Whoa!
The assumption I made upon first glancing at that photo is that this is what Aytes looks like after dunking on some poor soul. Not the case. If you read the photo caption on this article, you'll find this: "Jamal Aytes yells after a Khem Birch dunk against UC Santa Barbara." This is what Aytes looks like after a teammate embarrasses you. I can't wait to see what happens when Jamal makes the play himself! Wouldn't you love to play with a guy that gets that passionate about your good play? Jamal will add energy to his teammates' play when he shares the floor with them.
Hopeful BYU Hoops Doppelganger
Keena Young is one of the best and most forgotten players of the Dave Rose Era. For my money, Keena would be the starting PF on the all-Dave Rose Team. (The rest of the starters are Jimmer Fredette, Jackson Emery, Tyler Haws and Trent Plaisted.)
BYU has only had 11 players named the Conference Player of the Year, and Keena Young is one of them. He earned the honor of the 2006-07 MWC Player of the Year, while scoring 17.6 points per game on 54 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line and 6.6 rebounds per game. He also co-captained a MWC championship team.
Young was a 6-foot-6, 215-pound power forward from Beaumont, Texas who played "below that basket." He was most comfortable in the post (sound familiar yet?), but Keena also improved his game each year — developing a mid-range jumper and an ability to get to the line. Young was a good rebounder, who was effective defensively by competing very hard for floor position.
Keena wasn't a high flyer, but his skills in the post opened up space for Lee Cummard, Austin Ainge, Mike Rose and Sam Burgess (all shot higher than 43.5 percent from deep) around the arc. While working in tandem with Trent Plaisted, Keena's team play helped lead one of the greatest offensive squads in BYU's history.
What To Expect
The Cougars are going to get out and run. It is what Dave Rose loves to do, and offensively, it is their only choice. I worry about Aytes' fit within a transition-heavy offense. Defensively, my impression is that Aytes is more adept in man defense, but in recent seasons BYU predominately played zone. Situationally, Aytes will provide Rose some lineup options that allow flexibility in the Cougars' style of play.
Having only logged 37.2 minutes of college basketball so far, it would be fair to say that Aytes will need time to grow into a confident, comfortable cog for BYU in game action, rather than just a dynamic threat on the practice squad.
There are elements of his game that we just don't know yet. Can he shoot free throws? Is he a good passer? How does he react to a double team? Does he understand help defense?
What we do know is that the skill set Jamal possesses is unique on this squad, and it will be fascinating to see which front court partnership will suit Aytes the most. Aytes may end up seeing a lot of minutes if he can find compatibility with particular key teammates, value to both ends of the floor, as well as provide matchup problems for opponents.