Twenty seconds remained to be played, St. John's led Rutgers by
three, and the Red Storm's season lay in the balance. The
problem was where the ball lay--in the hands of the Scarlet
Knights' Joel Salvi, who was about to convert a layup. That's
when Lavor Postell materialized to snuff Salvi's shot. "He came
out of nowhere," teammate Erick Barkley marveled after the 61-57
victory on Jan. 25, the Storm's lone win in a stretch of five
games. "But that's Lavor."
Postell has a knack for making such plays--the well-timed block,
the apt pass, the felicitous basket. The Johnnies would come
lately, finishing in a rush of 11 wins in 12 games, but had
Postell failed to make that potentially game-saving rejection
against Rutgers, the Storm might have come a cropper. He has
made countless plays like it. That's why the senior Spanish
major is un hombre de pegamento--a glue guy.
To determine exactly what we mean by a glue guy, you might want
to pull out your copy of The Guide to the Guys. A glue guy isn't
a blue-collar guy, though he may be the hardest worker on a
team. Nor is he a go-to guy, though he may have the skills to
become one. Rather he's a player who can sense what his team
needs most and supply it without muss or fuss. He's rarely a
point guard, for glue guys must perform such stand-tall duties
as assaulting the offensive glass, shutting down the
opposition's top scorer or, as Postell so fortuitously did,
blocking shots. Nor can you identify a glue guy by watching his
team play once; his polyvalence reveals itself only after four,
five or six viewings--the number of victories, as it happens,
that will take an NCAA tournament team to the Final Four and
perhaps a championship.
Few NCAA titlists haven't had at least one player who could
extract his team from a sticky wicket. The charter member of the
Glue Guy Hall of Fame is Bobby Wilkerson, the 6'7" guard who
jumped center for Indiana's 1976 championship team, was the
Hoosiers' best on-the-ball defender and still contributed 7.8
points a game. Thomas Hill, the guard on Duke's '91 and '92
title teams, provided similar skills, as did Arkansas guard
Clint McDaniel, who helped lead the Razorbacks to their 1994
championship. A year ago Connecticut won its title largely
because guard Ricky Moore sublimated his ego for the good of the
team, contributing whatever the Huskies needed, whether a solid
screen, a timely steal or the defense that choked off Duke's
Trajan Langdon in the final.
We could festoon this year's brackets with Post-Its, each
representing a noteworthy glue guy. Forwards George Reese of
Ohio State and David Shelton of Tulsa are both nonstarters who
get first-team minutes off the bench. (Shelton, a beefy junior
college transfer, leads the Golden Hurricane in scoring.) You're
as likely to find Cincinnati forward Ryan Fletcher banging
bodies as knocking down jumpers, while guard Charlie Bell
provides whatever Michigan State needs, whether playing the
point for the injured Mateen Cleaves or springing for 20 or more
points on seven occasions. Out west, Arizona's Luke Walton is
that rare species--a sweet-passing, press-breaking power
forward. But as good as the aforementioned are, they're not the
tackiest to the touch. Herewith our All-Glue-Guy Team, a quintet
you'll be hearing about over the next two weeks if their schools
are to make it to Indianapolis:
Lavor Postell, St. John's. Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien remained
silent on Jan. 22 while an assistant coach delivered the
scouting report to the Buckeyes before their game against the
Red Storm. Only once was he moved to speak: when video of
Postell flitted across the TV screen. "This guy is one of the
most underrated players in the game," said O'Brien. "He can
shoot it, rebound it and handle it. He's the guy who can beat us."
Though Postell didn't beat the Buckeyes that day, he did deliver
a philippic at a team meeting a few days later that the St.
John's players credit with turning around their tumultuous,
suspension-marred season. Who better to calm the Storm than
Postell, a 6'6" forward who has quietly rounded out his game
under three head coaches--Brian Mahoney, Fran Fraschilla and
Mike Jarvis? The most famous St. John's coach, Lou Carnesecca,
said he wanted a team of Supreme Court justices, players who
never gave anything away with their expressions, and that's
Postell. He seems to lie back and then strike suddenly, like the
panther tattooed on his upper right arm.
Brian Beshara, LSU. After Beshara dropped 23 points on Arkansas
this season, Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson called him "one
of those blue-collar guys who plays hard. But he has good skills
for a blue-collar guy." Which elevates him from the proletariat
Those skills didn't get showcased a year ago, when coach John
Brady needed the 6'8" Beshara to play out of position, at power
forward, where he was in constant foul trouble from trying to
guard bigger opponents. Still, he hinted at what he could do by
shooting 43.1% from beyond the arc--better than the Tigers shot
from the field as a team. He has blossomed with his move to
small forward this season. Though he's Louisiana State's No. 3
scorer, rebounder, stealer and shot blocker, those figures only
begin to describe the portfolio of contributions he makes. "LSU
has better players, but Beshara does whatever needs to be done
every night," says Georgia coach Jim Harrick. "If they don't
need him to score, he shuts somebody down. If they need a big
basket, he isn't afraid to take the shot. He's the ultimate glue
guy." Here's a glue-guy stat: In the Tigers' 86-60 thrashing of
Arizona on Jan. 29, he forced two held balls in the first three
Stevie Johnson, Iowa State. Like Beshara, Johnson benefited from
a switch in positions, only in the opposite direction. A
bricklaying bust at small forward last season, he's now at the
four spot despite being only 6'3 1/2", and he made 67.4% of his
shots for the surprising Big 12 champs. "Basically we reeled him
in--shortened his game," says Cyclones coach Larry Eustachy of
Johnson, who scored 3,435 points in high school in Beaumont,
Miss. "He can't create facing up off the dribble, but he can hit
the short jumper, put back, lay up and dunk."
Frog--Johnson's nickname--is a prince of versatility. He has
matched up with behemoths like Texas's 7-foot Chris Mihm and
Oklahoma State's 6'10" Brian Montonati, allowing Iowa State star
Marcus Fizer to guard the opposition's second-best forward and
thereby dodge foul trouble and remain fresh on offense.
"Everybody wants to score," Johnson says. "Nobody wants to guard
his butt off and just reverse the ball on the other end. But we
only have one ball, not five."
With his basketball eligibility exhausted after this season,
Stevie, whose father Cleo Johnson played in the NFL, plans to
return to Ames next fall to play football. Coach Dan McCarney's
staff is fighting over who'll get so versatile a recruit. "He
could play safety, wide receiver or tight end," says McCarney,
"but our defensive coach has won the battle, and Stevie's going
to play safety." A safety, surely, who'll use ample quantities
Alex Jensen, Utah. When your older brother is the star of your
high school team, you figure out your place. When you devote two
years to a Mormon mission, you understand sacrifice. When you
spend four seasons as a teammate of four NBA first-round picks
(Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac, Andre Miller and--this June,
surely--Hanno Mottola), you learn how to play a complementary
role. But what happens when Mottola, the Utes' Finnish finisher,
goes down with injuries, as he did twice this season? Well, a
glue guy's got to add a little go-to to his game. So Jensen did,
most notably on Jan. 29 at Air Force, when Utah trailed by four
in the final minute. He scored the Utes' final six points of a
64-63 victory, with an NBA-distance three-pointer and a drive
that culminated in an old-fashioned basket-and-free-throw
Jensen, a 6'7", 225-pound forward, was on the Western Athletic
Conference's all-defensive team a year ago, yet he's also
capable of turning in a triple double. No wonder he won the
Mountain West Conference's player of the year award this season,
although coach Rick Majerus sometimes stops practice to deliver
lectures to Jensen on the importance of looking to score.
"Sometimes he'll get sarcastic," says Jensen. "He'll beg me to
take a few bad shots a game."
Says Majerus, "He looks like a rec-ball player, but he can play
defense at all five positions and play four of the five on
offense, and he can change a game by himself. He's also the best
guy in the film room. I never conclude a halftime speech without
asking, 'Al, you got anything?'"
Nate James, Duke. Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell were glue
guys on the Blue Devils' Final Four team of a year ago. Within
days of Duke's loss to UConn in the NCAA final, James went to
Battier and Carrawell and suggested they call on their coach,
Mike Krzyzewski, who was home recovering from hip-replacement
surgery just as one of college basketball's most stable programs
seemed to be coming, well, unglued. Battier, Carrawell and
James--alone, it then seemed--weren't contemplating a transfer
or a jump to the pros, so James drove the three of them to Casa
K, where they tried to cheer K up. "We told him not to lose any
more sleep, that we'd be back," says James, a 6'6" junior
forward. "That was part of our coming together. That bonded us."
Bonded them indeed. Battier and Carrawell graduated to go-to
guys, and James took over their erstwhile adhesive duties.
Together they served as tri-captains of a team that easily
defended its ACC regular-season and tournament titles despite
having lost four first-round draft picks.
James was a McDonald's All-America as a high schooler from
Washington, D.C, but injuries--first to a thumb, then to an
ankle--all but wiped out his first two seasons in Durham. When
it became clear that he wasn't going to be a Big Mac on Campus,
he refused to pout. "You never know the hand fate's going to
deal you," he says. "Who's to say that what Shane and Chris are
doing this year, I won't be doing next?"
Duke is proof that today's glue can be tomorrow's go-to. For the
moment, however, it's best to listen to Tulsa's Shelton as he
articulates the glue-guy creed. It's a valuable attitude
anytime, but never more than now, in this season of adhesion.
"When I came here, I thought I was going to be the go-to guy,"
Shelton says, "but, hey, we're winning, so it works. And that's
all that counts."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB ROSATO Postell is the calm in the eye of the Red Storm, leading St. John's in rebounding and blocked shots and chipping in 14.5 points a game.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN After two injury-plagued seasons at Duke, James has seen his star dim but his all-around contributions increase.
COLOR PHOTO: TOM SMART Jensen (50) averages a solid 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, but he's so unselfish that his coach urges him to take a bad shot or two.
The All-Glue-Guy Team
These versatile players may not be household names yet, but that
could soon change, because the NCAA tournament has a way of
magnifying the contributions of guys like them.
PLAYER SCHOOL SKINNY
Brian Beshara LSU His treys open middle for Stromile
Swift and Jabari Smith
Nate James DUKE Has remade muscular body into lean,
mean perimeter machine
Alex Jensen UTAH 6'7" forward leads Utes in assists
and is second in scoring
Stevie Johnson IOWA STATE At 6'3 1/2", can score, pass,
rebound and Cyc out 7-footers
Lavor Postell ST. JOHN'S Big East scholar-athlete gets into
the lane to dissect defenses
A glue guy isn't a blue-collar guy nor is he a go-to guy. He's a
player who figures out what his team needs and supplies it.