There's nothing exciting about Scott Machado's game, unless pinpoint passing (an NCAA-best 10.0 assists per game through Sunday) and steady floor leadership (3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio) get your blood flowing. That was apparently enough for Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, who bubbled over with praise after watching the 6'1" Iona senior pick apart the Jaspers' defense on Feb. 4. "He makes [the four] guys around him better at all times," Masiello said. "That's the best point guard in the country, bar none."
That's a title no one would have given Machado last season, when he was a pretty good playmaker (13.2 points, 7.6 assists) on a pretty good team (25--12). Toward the end of the year Gaels coach Tim Cluess gave Machado something to chew on: "I asked him, 'When they are talking about point guards who score, would you be in anyone's conversation? Probably not. But when they talk about point guards who can pass, you are in everyone's conversation.'"
Machado decided he wanted to go from pretty good to great. Over the summer he studied tapes of Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, absorbing the way they draw defenses to create openings for teammates. He focused on facilitating in pickup games and dropped nine pounds to better run Cluess's up-tempo offense. In August, Machado took his new tools to the World University Games. He played for Brazil (where both his parents were born) in a pro-style system, averaging 15.4 points and 3.9 assists. When he returned to the New Rochelle, N.Y., campus, his coach immediately noticed a change. "Last season he had a scorer's mentality," says Cluess. "Passing was the last thing he wanted to do. He fought it all year. Now, he's excited about passing. He wants to be a true point guard."
The NBA has taken notice as well. More than a dozen teams have sent scouts to see the 180-pound Machado, who had a triple double last Sunday and could play his way into being a late-first-round pick. "Most young point guards can be a little reckless," says a Western Conference G.M. "Machado is the kind of kid you could plug in immediately and not worry about him making a bunch of mistakes."
His success this season is even more surprising since it was discovered in January that he is nearsighted. Machado, who will soon be fitted for contacts, envisions a trip to the NCAA tournament for 19--6 Iona that includes a bracket-busting upset. That would be exciting.
Here are three more players who have NBA front offices buzzing
DAMIAN LILLARD, PG
An athletic playmaker with underrated passing ability, the 6'3", 195-pound Lillard has a huge upside. The nation's leading scorer (25.2 ppg at week's end) also has the top offensive rating. The dearth of point guards in the draft could make the senior a mid-first-round pick.
128.9 OFFENSIVE RATING
RICARDO RATLIFFE, C
In just 25.7 minutes per game, the senior averages 14.0 points, largely because of his exceptional field goal percentage, which leads the nation. He also grabs 6.8 boards. The key question: How will the 6'8", 240-pound Ratliffe fare against quicker power forwards in the NBA?
73.7 FG PERCENTAGE
DARIUS JOHNSON-ODOM, SG
The 6'2" senior is a dynamic scorer who can fill it up from anywhere on the floor. Some scouts have voiced concerns about his size, but, says an NBA personnel executive, "his speed and ballhandling are going to be bigger assets for him in the pros than in college."
18.4 POINTS PER GAME
ANDREW B. FIELDING/US PRESSWIRE (MACHADO)
SEEING IS BELIEVING Pros love Machado's playmaking, especially now that contacts will correct his nearsightedness.
KELLEY L. COX/US PRESSWIRE (LILLARD)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (RATLIFFE)
PORTER BINKS (JOHNSON-ODOM)