Saturday, December 20, 2014.
The thousands of students on BYU's campus are well acquainted with that date. It is the first day of winter break — the day that signals the end of fall semester. With Christmas looming, its likely an important travel day for many.
BYU forward Jamal Aytes (pronounced "eights") has probably thought about that day more and longer than any of his fellow students.
You see, it is on December 20 that Jamal Aytes' one-year NCAA suspension ends. On this day, Aytes will be able to step back on the court and go to work. His first opponent will be... Wait a second... One-year suspension?! He must have sold a ton of autographs! What exactly was Aytes punished for? What did he do?
Aytes, as a 19-year-old, changed his mind. After initially choosing to play at UNLV, Aytes took the temperature at that program and university, felt it wasn't a good fit, and subsequently transferred to BYU. Because he changed his mind, Aytes was ruled ineligible to compete for an entire academic year — a period that ends with the conclusion of fall semester.
I love college sports, and I realize the NCAA has a role to play in all that, but reforms are needed. Badly.
Regardless, here is a countdown clock to his debut. Jamal will be eligible to return to the court against the Stanford Cardinal in the Marriott Center.
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 — something which is desperately needed.
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.
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 this picture. Whoa! That's the kind of fire and competitiveness that we haven't seen from anyone in the BYU football program in weeks!
Potential things Jamal could be screaming here:
- "Challenge me and die just like Wild Bill Hickok, while holding aces and AYTES!"
- "I've dunked on San Diego icon Xiao Liwu, and you dare to stop me?! That's offensive!"
- "No way a jerk using 3 squirts of Sun-In can stop me!"
Now, 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, 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 due to their personnel, BYU will predominately play zone. But 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. But the skill set Jamal possesses is unique on this squad, and with the absence of another scoring threat in the frontcourt, Aytes may end up seeing a lot of early minutes — just as soon as the NCAA stops punishing him for having a change of heart.