There’s an old Reggie Jackson anecdote that serves as a perfect lesson in various situations, even today. Jackson, the prodigious home run hitter who feasted on fastballs, was asked one day about fireballing pitcher Nolan Ryan. Surely Jackson loved facing the straight-shooting Ryan.
“Yes I like fastballs,” Jackson replied. “I like ice cream, too, but not when you feed it to me by the gallon.”
This applies for us in respect to Matt Brady and the M*A*S*H* unit called James Madison Dukes. Everybody has to deal with injuries, and most every season. Coaches and fans know it’s part of the deal. But Brady has dealt with injuries in gallon buckets. So I asked him if he felt snakebit by what seems to be an inordinate number of serious injuries.
“The truth of the matter is that everybody has injuries, but nobody in four years has lost the number of double-digit scorers due to injury (that I have),” Brady said. “To build a winning culture a number of things have to happen. When you’re building a culture you talk about infusing talent and winning games and doing things the right way. You never talk about health but you have to have it.”
And guess what? The numbers back up the assertion.
In four of the last five years, Brady has lost multiple players due to a serious injury. The lone season in which there was no injury James Madison was 21-12. The incredible number: the tally is 12 players lost in four years, with 10 of those players being considered starters and nine of those players legitimate double-figures scorers.
Think about that. Take two double-digit scorers off any team in this league. Imagine Drexel without Chris Fouch and Damion Lee. Delaware without Jarvis Threatt and Jamelle Hagins. Northeastern without Joel Smith and Quincy Ford.
Here’s the tab:
2011-12: Devon Moore (broken hand), Julius Wells (heart condition), Rayshawn Goins (shoulder), Trevon Flores (family matter)
2010-11: None–team was 21-12
2009-10: Andrey Semenov (back, elbow, shoulder), Devon Moore (knee), Daz Thornton (foot, shoulder)
2008-09: Juwann James (heart condition), Abdullai Jalloh (shoulder), Andrey Semenov (back)
2007-08: Kyle Swanston (broken hand), Pierre Curtis (knee)
(Thornton and Flores are the outliers for starter/double figures scorer.)
It’s more complicated than just missing starters. Somebody had to step in and fill those roles, many times prematurely. Call it the Alioune Diouf Rule. Diouf was an 18-year old sophomore slated for a redshirt, but was forced into action. Enoch Hood played last season on the block at 200 pounds. Hood was banging with centers while being outweighed by point guards.
For Brady, it’s a struggle. He sees the progress, when healthy, even if nobody else can. In fact, Brady can offer direct evidence to the reality of what they are trying to build.
“We won at VCU and had the same record as they did (right before) they went on their Final Four run,” he says of the last day of the 2011 regular season. “I had five of the six guys that beat VCU in Richmond coming back and four got hurt. We’ve had glimpses but you have to sustain it. It’s about continuity and recent success.”
You can hear Brady’s teeth gnashing. He clearly thinks about this every day but it isn’t lament. In reality, it’s a concept we discuss frequently on this blog: what can be. That VCU victory was but one data point. Brady can also quote all of last December as a barometer.
“In December, before we lost Julius, we won at Penn, at Hofstra, and at GW and held all of them under 60 points and all under 40% from the field. We had ODU at halftime in our first January game. We played well and should’ve beaten ODU. We win that and we’re 8-4. But then we lost Julius, Trevon wasn’t with us anymore, and Devon broke his hand. One injury can harm a team but we had three and that changed everything. We became (a far weaker team) defensively, that was the first thing. And rebounding. Trevon. The one thing I knew he could do is rebound. Devon averaged five rebounds as a point guard. Julius was a six-rebound guy. This was the most injured team I’ve seen in 25 years of coaching in terms of starting players. You can control effort and chemistry but you can’t control being down a couple guys. The fact is that it was a team that lost its footing. That showed up on the court and that was disappointing for all of us. We weren’t as good in February as we were in December. It’s unfortunate that people will remember my team for what it had become, not what it was.”
There are reasons, and there are excuses, and many times there is a fine line that separates the distant cousins. Excuses generally have unprovable counterarguments.
But Brady has the counterargument: the injury-free year produced 21 wins and a CBI berth.
Like every other team, JMU can be very good when healthy. This year, the Dukes have six seniors. Their point guard has been there since about 1988, they have big man whose lost 25 pounds, and they led the CAA in three-pointers made last year.
Finally, get to know the name Ron Curry. The freshman is a talented combo guard who “could play in any league,” according to Brady.
Why do I point that out? Simple: don’t write off the Dukes. If healthy.