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Big 4 men's basketball: Versatility defines key players

[ 0 ] November 7, 2012 |

Ben Simons has played all five positions during his college basketball career at Drake, which makes him a wizard when it comes to knowing the playbook.

“I can understand where everyone is coming from, and the different decisions they have to make throughout the play,” the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-8 senior said.

Devyn Marble was Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer at 11.5 points a game. Also led the team in steals (53) and was second in assists (126) and field goals made (139) and fourth in rebounding (3.8). (Press-Citizen photo)

Versatility is in vogue on the hardwood these days, turning the page on old school basketball where everyone had one position and tried to perfect it. Players like Will Clyburn at Iowa State, Devyn Marble at Iowa, Jake Koch at Northern Iowa and Simons carry that versatile tag in opponents’ scouting reports.

“That’s definitely a badge of honor,” Marble said. “It shows that you’re able to do more than one thing, multiple things in different positions. Everyone likes that about a player.”

Coaches relish versatile players.

“I’m always looking to exploit the mismatch on the floor,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It just gives you so many options.”

Conversely, a versatile player creates a myriad of defensive issues.

“That can be a real challenge,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “You think about a guy like Royce White (at Iowa State) last year. We played against him just one time. But he had so much versatility to his game you really had to game plan for that. Those guys are unique and hard to play against.”

The definition of versatile: someone capable of doing many things competently. These guys fit the bill.

Will Clyburn, Iowa State

William Clyburn wasn’t known as a shooter at Siena Heights.

“He couldn’t shoot at all,” said his son, Will. “He was known as a rebounder and defender.”

But William understood the value of shooting, and steered his son in that direction.

“I’d say I was 4 or 5,” said Will, a Cyclone senior and transfer from Utah. “He had a ball in my hand, and was always working on my form.”

The target started as a nerf basketball, then a crate on a tree followed by a regulation hoop.

It wasn ‘t until he got to Marshalltown Community College that the 6-7 Clyburn learned the value of putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the basket. That, coupled with his shooting and the fact the he added more than 3 inches to his frame after high school, have made him a versatile threat.

“I feel like the more things you can do, the harder it is to stop you and the better the chance of your team winning,” Clyburn said.

Hoiberg sees Clyburn’s versatility as a plus on both ends of the floor. He averaged 17.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in his one season at Utah. During his redshirt season in 2011-12, his length gave White fits in practice.

“He just gives us so many options,” Hoiberg said. “You can post him up. You can isolate him at the top of the key against a slower guy. He can bring the ball down in transition. He gives us a lot of different things.”

Jake Koch Northern Iowa

Adam Koch’s versatility made him the most valuable player in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2009-10. Now his “little’ brother, Jake, is the most versatile player on the Panthers’ roster.

Truth be known, the senior would rather player on the perimeter than use his 6-9 size inside.

“I think if you asked the coaches, they’d say they’d like to see me inside more,” Koch said. “But I like being up top and having the ball, and having people cut so I can find them.”

Koch led the Panthers in assists and blocked shots last season. He was also second in rebounding and fourth in scoring. Jacobson would like to see that 8.5-point average take a jump.

“He’s a very unselfish player,” Jacobson said. “I’ve even prodded him to be more selfish and look for his own offense a little bit more. But I don’t want him to change the way he plays because his feel for the game has been really good for us.”

Being selfish doesn’t come naturally to Koch.

“You have to have a different mindset going in, thinking shot first instead of wondering where the defenders are going to be and trying to find the open man, which is what I usually think of first,” Koch said.

Jake said that his pass-first mentality was groomed as a youngster, playing with Adam and his friends who were two grades ahead of him.

“I didn’t ever really want to shoot,” Koch said. “So I’d be passing it to them.”

Devyn Marble, Iowa

When he inherited the Iowa program in March of 2010, McCaffery heard that Marble was a versatile player. But he had to see it for his own eyes.

In the seventh game of the 2010-11 season, at Wake Forest, McCaffery had to have Marble play some point guard out of necessity.

“I knew right then, this kid had what you need,” McCaffery said. “He had the moxie, he had the mind, he had the size and his handle was strong.”

Marble played most of last season at point guard, again out of necessity. He ended up being Iowa’s second-leading scorer and assist man. He’ll move to shooting guard this season, using more screens to get open for jumpers instead of scoring as much off the bounce.

“It definitely helps to be versatile, when players really don’t know what to do with you,” Marble said.

McCaffery said that having a player like Marble, and his multi-dimensional skill set, “is phenomenally valuable. It doesn’t mani

fest itself as much when you’re running transition to motion. But when you’re running set plays or going against a team that is changing defenses, that’s where you need the versatility.”

With a player who can play multiple positons, Marble provides McCaffery a valuable option if there’s an injury, or foul trouble.

“I adjust to stuff pretty quickly,” Marble said. “You just have to pay attention.”

Ben Simons, Drake

Coach Mark Phelps hopes to keep Simons in one place this season. Well, maybe.

“I think we’ll stick with him at the three (small forward) and leave him there,” Phelps said. “He might play a little four (power forward). We’ll see.”

Simons doesn’t mind the versatility tag.

“I think versatility is one of the most impressive things in basketball,” Simons said. “I mean, you watch LeBron James, who at times is playing point guard on offense and guarding a center. He gets that rebound and he’s pushing it down court. I think it’s really fun to watch guys who are versatile. And that’s something I like to have in my game. To be versatile, you have to be able to play a bunch of different spots, and be able to help the team in a bunch of different ways.”

Having Simons in uniform gives Phelps numerous options.

“What you want to do is have as many of your best players on the floor as you can,” Phelps said. “So if you have a guy who is versatile you have a lot of flexibility to put him out there as one of your best players because he can fit anywhere.”

Simons said he doesn’t have a favorite position.

“Whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do,” Simons said. “I’m all about winning.”

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VERSATILITY BY THE NUMBERS

Will Clyburn, 6-7 senior, Iowa State – Led Utah in both scoring (17.1) and rebounding (7.8) as a junior in 2010-11 (redshirted last season after transfer). Also led the team in 3-pointers made (62), 3-point percentage (.403) and steals (34).

Devyn Marble, 6-6 junior, Iowa – Was Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer at 11.5 points a game. Also led the team in steals (53) and was second in assists (126) and field goals made (139) and fourth in rebounding (3.8).

Jake Koch, 6-9 senior, Northern Iowa – Led Panthers in assists (90) and blocks (35), was second in rebounding (5.4) and steals (32) and fourth in scoring (8.5). Only player in the MVC last season to record 30-plus 3-pointers, offensive rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

Ben Simons, 6-8 senior, Drake – Led the Bulldogs and was second in the MVC in free-throw percentage (.849), and was second in rebounding (3.4), scoring (16.4), three-point percentage (.425) and minutes played (1,041).

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GLANCES AT THE BIG 4

DRAKE BULLDOGS

2011-12 SEASON: 18-16, 9-9 MVC (tie, 3rd)

THIS SEASON: Picked sixth.

STRENGTHS: Junior college transfers Richard Carter and Gary Ricks, Jr., and Utah transfer Chris Hines add quality experience at guard, and senior Ben Simons is a first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference preseason selection.

THE BIG QUESTION: How will center Seth VanDeest bounce back after sitting out last season while recovering from shoulder surgery?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Carter played in the traditionally strong Jayhawk West Conference last season at Cloud County Community College, scoring 18.9 points and adding 5.3 assists.

DID YOU KNOW? Senior guard Chris Hines was a teammate of Iowa State’s Will Clyburn at Utah. Hines started 26 of 29 games in his final season with the Utes.

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IOWA HAWKEYES

2011-12 SEASON: 18-17, 8-10 Big Ten (tie, 7th)

THIS SEASON: Picked seventh

STRENGTHS: Four starters return, and Coach Fran McCaffery has quality depth for the first time in three seasons.

THE BIG QUESTION: Can the Big Ten’s worst defense show improvement, especially against the dribble drive? Post play is another prove-it position.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Melsahn Basabe. A strong freshman season was followed by a sophomore slump. It’s his time to step up and be a consistent contributor.

DID YOU KNOW? McCaffery was one of four Big Ten coaches to lead his team to at least four victories over Top 25 teams last season.

Iowa's schedule | Iowa's roster | 2011-12 stats

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IOWA STATE CYCLONES

2011-12 SEASON: 23-11, 12-6 Big 12 (tie, 3rd)

THIS SEASON: Picked eighth.

STRENGTHS: Point guard Korie Lucious, who logged Final Four experience at Michigan State, and Utah transfer Will Clyburn are a talent upgrade. Melvin Ejim is underappreciated.

THE BIG QUESTION: Perimeter shooting. Tyrus McGee can light it up, but someone else needs to step up and stroke it on a consistent basis.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Georges Niang. The freshman forward doesn’t blow you away with athleticism, but gets things done with strong fundamentals and great feel for the game.

DID YOU KNOW? Iowa State has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2000 and 2001.

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NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS

2011-12 SEASON: 20-14, 9-9 MVC (tie, 3rd)

THIS SEASON: Picked third.

STRENGTHS: Coach Ben Jacobson has quality depth at every position, and leadership in seniors Marc Sonnen, Jake Koch, Anthony James and Austin Pehl.

THE BIG QUESTION: Who will step up and replace the departed Johnny Moran as the heart and soul of this Panther team?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Matt Bohannon. Redshirted last season, the freshman guard can shoot it, plays with savvy and has earned a starting spot.

DID YOU KNOW? UNI has won at least 20 games four straight seasons, the longest active streak in the conference.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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