I.T. is Key, But This is Venoy's Team Next Year

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I was thinking a lot this past week about how it seems that fans and media alike have already anointed Isaiah Thomas as next year’s team leader without considering the potential alternative.

If all goes as expected, we’ll have three seniors on next year’s squad: Justin Holiday, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, and Venoy Overton.

Holiday will bring poise and defensive toughness and likely starts as a senior. Matthew Bryan-Amaning has the tools to improve, but can’t be counted on to be a leader until he can carve out a productive niche for himself consistently in games.

But, Venoy Overton, as a senior, may have more upside potential as the heart-and-soul leader of next year’s squad than he’s getting credit for. Before you call me crazy, consider these three points:

He leads by example: I wrote about this a little the other day, but as far as I’ve seen, Venoy is a fairly soft-spoken kid. Whether it’s because he doesn’t get the attention of Quincy or Isaiah, or he’s simply not as comfortable being a mouthpiece for the team (unless, of course, you happen to be the opposing point guard), Venoy does exhibit some great leadership qualities.

His hustle and energy on the court rubs off on everyone. When he can keep himself from running kamikaze missions up and down the court, and stay away from those shoulder and hip fouls he picks up too often, Venoy has frequently been the catalyst for the team’s good play this year.

He, not Isaiah, is the team’s best penetrator: I.T. may lead the team in “ooh!” finishes around the basket, but in how many games have we seen the team stall when Isaiah can’t figure his way into a zone defense? And, at his size, Thomas will always be a risk for getting stuffed by players a foot taller.

Venoy, on the other hand, has shown recently a great ability to force himself into the lane and pick up fouls against bigger defenders. More impressive, though, is Venoy’s sense of when to drive and when not to. Consider this: he’s the only Husky (Quincy included) who regularly picks up what could be called “easy” baskets, because he knows when the defense is asleep, and can identify when he’s got a step on his defender.

The would-be game-winning bucket against UCLA was no fluke. If I’m coaching, and we have one possession and need one basket, I’m going to Quincy on the baseline or Venoy driving the lane.

Venoy may be taking a Quincy-like “mini-leap” at the end of his junior season: If I asked you, before the season started, which Husky averaging more than 20 mins/game would lead the team in assist-to-turnover ratio, you wouldn’t have said Venoy, right? Me neither.

But there we go: Venoy’s 1.7/1 assit-to-turnover number for the season isn’t a thing of beauty, but his 4.3/1 number over the last six games certainly is. And, his 2.46/1 figure in conference play (raising his game as the competition has gotten better!) leads the Pac-10 and ranks on the list of the nation’s leaders. Low on the list, but still.

No, Venoy’s 8.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, and 1.1 spg in conference play won’t qualify him for the All-Pac-10 team this year. But, bump those up to, say, 13 points (as the team’s second scoring option) and five assists next year, while continuing his progress with taking care of the basketball, and then tell me who’s a better point guard in the Pac-10?

Isaiah’s fire is critical to the team, and will be as long as he’s here. But, the same way Quincy emerged late last year, I’m getting that sense with Venoy right now.

And I expect more of the same. Because if the Huskies are going to find a way to finally win on the road, my guess is that Venoy Overton and some hardcore pressure defense are going to have a lot to do with it.

What do you think? Let me hear you!

Thanks for coming!