At the midpoint of the Pac-10 season, I wanted to do some kind of midseason review. I wasn't really sure how to do such a thing. First, I went back and looked at my season preview. We all know this team has exceeded expectations. I predicted them at 23-9, 3rd or 4th in the conference. I thought that was a somewhat optimistic prediction, but I obviously sold this team way short. After the last two seasons, I had no idea that this team would have so much heart, guts, and guile. This is what makes them so easy to root for and so much fun to watch. You have to throw a lot of things out with this team. They're small, they don't seem to match up with anyone particularly well, yet they win anyway. Its really a cool phenomenon. Halfway through the season, and we are halfway to a conference championship.
I wanted to acknowledge each player's contribution to this amazing ride that we are all on. So I decided to take the player-by-player approach to this:
Aaron Brooks: So many maturity issues with him coming into this season, and he has silenced all the critics. I know I'm biased, but he is my national POY this year simply for what he means to his team, and what he does in the clutch. In three years, I never associated Aaron Brooks with the words 'leader', 'heart', 'poised', etc. But he has been everything this season. Scoring, assists, ball control, defense, leadership, he has done everything we could have ever asked of him and more. Much like Freddie Jones, he took a very mediocre career and made himself a Duck Legend in one season. In Aaron we trust. He is simply the man. Grade: A+
Maarty Leunen: I expected him to be a good power forward this year, not an outstanding center. What he has done this year on the likes of Hibbert, Anderson, etc., has been nothing short of amazing. He'll never be a big back to the basket scorer, but he shouldn't have to be. That's supposedly what we recruited guys like Schafer and Platt for. But he has been good offensively, great defensively, and the best rebounder in the conference. If there was anything more that we could ask from him, I don't know what it is. Grade: A
Bryce Taylor: Last year, Bryce was just bad. There is no other way to say it. He would have not been high on my list at the beginning of the season to get the Mr. Consistency award (I though that Champ would be the most consistent, my bad). But Bryce guards the other teams best scorer every night, and can always be counted on to chip in double figures himself. And you never realize the full impact of his game until you see how he filled up the box score without you even realizing it. Just one of the best role players in the conference, after being a total disaster last year. Grade: A
Tajuan Porter: I didn't expect much out of TP this year, and I have been pleasantly surprised. I cringe when he jacks up a three on a 2-1 break, but Porter causes matchup problems with his quickness and shooting ability. His defense and shot selection need to improve, but if you'd have told me at the beginning of the season that Tajuan Porter was going to be a regular starter, I'd have thought we'd have major problems. His game can only improve, and its pretty damn good now. Grade: A
Malik Hairston: First, the bad. He just doesn't seem to be the kind of guy you can expect to take over a game (what was all that a few years back about 'Carmeloizing' the program? But he has become a very good second fiddle. He plays with much more confidence when he can play off Aaron. And he always takes good shots, just look at his FG%. When you have your best two players guarding Aaron and Maarty, Malik is just a nightmare. Grade: B
Adam Zahn: He's played well at times, especially on defense and rebouding. He can't make a free throw or layup to save his life, but we don't really need him too. He just gives us 15 minutes of solid defense and rebounding, which is the role that we need of him. Grade: B
Joevan Catron: Another surprising contributor as a freshman. He hasn't always been the most consistent, but you can see the talent oozing out of him. He's helping us this year, but next year is when we'll really reap the benefits. He has been a beast at time. Grade: B
Champ Oguchi: Got injured early, and has never really recovered. You just hope that he can find what he had last year, because he could be a real help to this team if he did. But, thus far, he is a real disappointment. Grade: D
Churchill Odia: Helped us stay afloat against cupcakes like Mercer when we had all the injuries. But in conference play, nothing good has become of him playing in a game. Grade: D
Ray Schafer and Mitch Platt: Two goofy, uncoordinated, unskilled, tall useless white guys who have done nothing to help the team. Can't rebound. Can't defend. Can't score. But they keep the bench nice and warm. Grade: F
Adrian Stelly and Josh Akwenuke: We often forget about these guys. I thought that Stelly might see a bit more play this year, but it just hasn't happened. I really hope that we get a couple of blowouts, maybe OSU and ASU, so that these guys, and especially Stelly being a senior, can get a few more minutes this year. Last on the bench, but #1 in our hearts!
Bottom line, many of these guys have given us more than we ever could have expected. Only three real disappointments, everyone else has been solid.