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ON THE BALL: Below the rim

Justin Marville

ON THE BALL: Below the rim

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In this edition of On The Ball, NATION basketball writer Justin Marville reviews Barbados’ performance at the just concluded Caribbean Basketball Confederation’s men’s championship in Tortola.
The saying goes you are what your record says you are. So to even suggest that Nigel Lloyd’s sixth-place performance is somehow better than Barry Rock’s and Adrian Craigwell’s would be perceived as a slight against the latter two coaches.
But unless you’re Dana Scully there’s really no denying that the truth is out there.
No Snowball, all sixth-placed efforts are not created equal, and that much was evident from the time Lloyd had his men competing closely in every single game save for that inexplicable let-down against a Guyana team Barbados had already beaten in this tournament.
And here I was reserved when Lloyd openly stated he expects the team to reach the medal rounds, writing off his comments as the politically-correct statements a coach makes going into any championship.
Yet that’s exactly where Barbados should’ve been playing, instead of that pesky and now seemingly unavoidable consolation draw, as the squad had absolutely no right spotting that shaky BVI team 20 points – especially one that can’t score in the half court.
That the ultramarine and gold even rallied from down 56-36 to take two separate fourth-quarter leads just further illustrates the command Lloyd has on this outfit – and the game – from the sidelines.
Yes, just a couple minutes separated Barbados from fourth (at worst) and sixth, and that’s something we surely couldn’t say in 2007 or 2009.
 • With that said, one thing has become crystal clear: Lloyd must remain at the helm until he’s physically no longer able to.
No, seriously.
Without trying to sound smitten, the English-based coach was more than a step ahead of every signal-caller in Road Town, and that was against a list that included Minnesota Timberwolves scout Milton Barnes.
From the get-go Lloyd realised this couldn’t be a traditional post-oriented attack, and this was illustrated best by the fact Barbados took more than a third of its total shots from beyond the arc (107 of 306).
I’d even go as far as to say that more than half our made field goals came from outside the paint, considering our leading scorers (Akeem Marsh, Keefe Birkett) are primarily jump shooters.
And it worked to our benefit, too, taking into regard the superior size and length of the opposing teams who easily outmuscled us at both ends underneath, but struggled to account for both the movement of our shooters and Marsh’s skills at the high post.
That’s not to make mention of the fantastic scouting job that he and assistant coach Derek Browne did, as Barbados always seemed well-prepared, having never been caught off-guard by what teams were running.
It makes me wonder what exactly the Gay Griffith administration was thinking in letting him go in the first place back in 2006.
But considering Griffith never sought re-election shortly afterward, he too may have wondered the same thing.
 • On the topic of Lloyd’s coaching, I know a lot of questions have been asked as to why he wasn’t starting Jeremy Gill and Andre Lockhart together, and I too had my doubts over that line-up call.
Then his subsequent response of saying the team is too slow in transition with both of them didn’t initially sit well with me, especially considering Barbados probably had the least amount of fast-break points in the entire tournament anyway.
However, as the championships went on, the decision started to make sense in relation to what Lloyd was looking for offensively.
As stated before, Barbados relied heavily on the three-ball, and while “Bull” and “Locky” are above average three-point shooters, they certainly aren’t the deep threats that Keefe Birkett and Ramon Simmons are.
With Mark Bridgeman a certainty to start at the “3” due to his length, athleticism and ability to create out of nothing, putting both Gill and Lockhart in the starting five means Barbados’ best shooters would be coming off the bench.
And while the boys in blue may not have been getting open court lay-ups regardless, both Birkett and Simmons are accustomed running out quickly for early treys in transition – something neither Lockhart nor Bull are quite used to as primary ball-handlers that wait behind to bring the ball.
I will admit it still looked to me as if we may have lost an added dimension on offence by not having Gill play off the ball more while not utilising Lockhart’s court vision, but it’s not as if that combo didn’t see the court together for multiple stretches either.
And last I checked, Lloyd’s way very nearly got us a semi-final berth.
• So I think that should all but end the “Akeem Marsh is soft” criticisms. Unless of course his detractors didn’t get to watch a single minute of those championships.
Don’t mistake this for me pointing out any one individual over another, because the effort was indeed a true team performance, but I think it’s high time critics stop confusing perimeter-oriented forwards for big men that don’t want to go in the paint.
Just in case no one realised, those same jump-shooting skills helped Marsh lead the side in scoring (15.8 ppg) at a very efficient 57 per cent (32 of 56) shooting from the field.
It’s not like he was just living outside the paint either, as I’m also guessing he had the most points in the paint for team Barbados as well with some dunks off pick-and-rolls to go with put-backs and a couple alley-oop finishes.
On top of that, the supposed finesse forward led Bim and finished in the tournament’s top ten in rebounds (6.0 rpg) and blocks (0.8 bpg) despite his “soft” disposition.
• Well as I am already going to get criticised for what people will think is singling out Marsh, then let me quickly say Mark Bridgeman is the most naturally gifted player in Barbados. Bar none!
When he inevitably understands the game and can avoid certain mental lapses then he’ll truly become a special player.
• As enthused as I am about the performance, things still need to change in our domestic leagues for us to truly compete at this next level.
And it starts with coaching and officiating.
Before the referee-bashers start singing my praises though, let me quickly interject by saying that the whistles have got to get even tougher: in other words there must be fewer fouls called in the paint and in general.
Half of the “fouls” blown in the Premier League aren’t even blinked at during regional tournaments, resulting in our big men especially struggling to adjust to the physicality of the next level.
Then, our players are brought up playing way too slowly – a point best illustrated by the fact that we not only fail to get transition baskets but give them up at alarming rates.
That change has got to start with the coaching at the schoolboy level because as the old basketball adage goes, you can’t be short and slow too.