While catastrophic to this season, Oldham injury gives Skeete vital experience
An injury is never a good thing. When your floor general, who is also your second-best player, misses a lengthy period of time, it's a very bad thing. And when that situation plays out for a team that is already struggling mightily, it's borderline devastating.
The men's basketball team has found little solace in its rough start. The Bulls are 6-12, and when they narrowly bested fellow Mid-American Conference bottom-feeder Bowling Green (6-11, 1-3) on Saturday, it marked Buffalo's first win against a Division IA opponent since Dec. 8, 2012.
A quick glance at the top of the stat sheet following Saturday night's game reveals nothing extraordinary. Junior forward Javon McCrea led the Bulls in points and rebounds. Yawn. We've all grown accustomed to that sight.
Scan to the next-leading scorer, though, and you'll find a name UB fans will come to admire in the next few years: Jarryn Skeete. The freshman point guard scored 16 points on striking 6-for-8 shooting to go along with six boards. Skeete played 32 minutes, third on the team behind McCrea and the squad's leader, senior guard Tony Watson.
Skeete never would have had this chance to shine as a freshman if the everyday starting PG, sensational, lightning-quick junior Jarod Oldham, had not suffered a broken wrist over Christmas break. In the seven games since Skeete has taken over as starting point guard, he has averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game.
After the game against Bowling Green, head coach Reggie Witherspoon praised Skeete for his progression and ability to step up.
"I said to someone yesterday [Skeete] is getting a lot of minutes for a freshman, for anybody," Witherspoon said. "If he keeps his attitude at an 'A' game, he's just going to keep getting better."
Skeete's numbers aren't groundbreaking, to be sure, but they're impressive when you consider he is a true freshman who has been thrust into a new system on a struggling team. His best attribute, however, has been his control. He never appears the least bit flustered. It has been said that the best point guards are "always quick but never in a hurry." Skeete has embodied this saying as he has averaged 1.4 turnovers per game this year (2.1 since taking over as the starting point).
Oldham was phenomenal when he ran the show last year for the first time. He was also surrounded by weapons like Mitchell Watt and Zach Filzen, much greater than the arsenal at Skeete's disposal. Oldham averaged 2.7 turnovers per game.
My point is this: the Bulls weren't going to be ultra-competitive this year in the first place. It's time to accept it. This team just isn't nearly as polished and talented as the 20-win squads of recent years, and it would probably lose to the 2011-12 Bulls by 20 or more.
So when a team is gearing toward a run next season, it's essential to develop the players who will be integral to that team - not play narrow-mindedly and aim to win every game with this year's team, which isn't going anywhere. It's a rebuilding year.
Skeete couldn't find his way off the bench before Oldham went down. The youngster was averaging 10.9 minutes per game and he was hardly noticeable. Now he's a legitimate threat. Teams actually have to game plan for him.
Skeete surprised Bowling Green head coach Louis Orr.
"The one thing I saw when I watched him on film: he may not have shot the ball great, but he kept shooting, so he must have believed that he could make the shots he was taking," Orr said. "The coach gave him freedom ... the coach believed in him. He was a tough cover tonight."
The situation reminds me of this year's football team at UB. Freshman running back Devin Campbell stepped up when star junior Branden Oliver went down with injuries. Campbell had three 100-yard games and utterly dominated a couple games.
Oliver's turmoil kept him from breaking a few records, certainly, but look at the big picture: The football team was not a legitimate threat to win the MAC this past season, but the Bulls have a prayer this coming year, and that's largely because of the two-headed running back monster that the injury created.
And so it is with the men's basketball team, which appears poised to be a solid squad again next year. What will Witherspoon do when he gets Oldham back? Play Skeete at the 2?
That's the likely scenario, but I really have no idea. I just know it's important that heading into next year - the senior season for McCrea and Oldham - the Bulls have two dynamic, seasoned scoring threats at guard. It's all because of an injury.
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