Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
Ok, it's been 2 days. I think I'm ready to get back at it... Reading Nestor's post today inspired this, but blame me if you disagree.
Leadership is a tough thing to quantify. You can't measure it the way we can count Drago's percentage from behind the arc, or DC's assist/turnover ratio, or Timmeh's technicals/game (all of which are very impressive). So it's hard to say who is a team leader, or which player is what kind of leader, or what kind of leader helps a team most. Not being in the locker room or at practice or in the players' heads makes it all the more subjective. So here's my completely subjective impression about the leadership on this team.
I think we have the "wrong kind" of leaders for this team.
That may sound like a criticism, but it is absolutely not. To a certain degree, you cannot teach leadership. It is more a product of your personality. General Patton was just born that way. Some great players are great leaders - MJ, Kobe, Elway. Some guys with great skills are just not great team leaders, like Carmelo, Vinsanity, my boss. Some guys who are not the most talented players are still guys you would follow anywhere, such as a guy like Pat Tillman.
I love all the players on this team, and am proud of how they are doing this year. Certainly, we've all been disappointed with certain results and an apparent lack of intensity at times. We all can see that the talent and potential is there, but the thing that has been inconsistent is the drive and focus and inspiration that are needed to bring out the best of that potential. There have been times where the effort and intensity have not been maximized. And that's where I think we have the "wrong kind" of leadership.
I'll pick on the seniors first...Guys like DC and PAA and JS are inspirational for what they have accomplished, what they have overcome, and what they have sacrificed to wind up being seniors on this team. I don't think any of us would question their dedication to UCLA basketball. These 3 are clear leaders - by example. They put their heads down and they go to work. You see tons of sweat, but you don't see tons of emotion, save a few moments here and there from Josh. They are businesslike on the floor. They don't get in the refs' faces (even when they could), they don't ham it up and play to the crowd, they don't taunt the opponents' fans, they never get in opponents' faces (even that T on PAA earlier wasn't much), and - here's the key - I really don't see them getting in their teammates' faces.
Much of this is the maturity and "just play basketball" attitude that is instilled by CBH. Our players are class on the floor. No whining, no rah-rah, no look-at-me moments. No whooping up the crowd. No screaming at the SFPTR's. For those of us who've been around for a while, the overall effort and inner drive is obvious, and is inspiring. None of those 3 needs anyone in his grill, pumping them up and pushing them to step up their game and their intensity. To me, the example they have set is their type of leadership.
However, I'm not sure that those qualities are as obvious or as inspiring to some of the younger and less experienced players on the team, especially on a game-to-game basis.
Here's where I pick on the freshmen...These guys have been stars their whole lives. They have been the focus on their teams and their teammates have looked up to them. Now, they have stepped up to a level where their talents, at this point, don't clearly overshadow the other players to the degree they have before, which makes their focus and intensity that much more crucial to getting everything from themselves. I believe the effort and dedication that the seniors have invested is the switch that clicks on their own intensity. That may be something they will recognize in time, as situations force them to do the things the seniors have done to develop their career. I do think Drew Gordon gets it - his comments about the team's lack of desire suggest that he sees the intangibles. But I think that the rest of the young guys would respond better with some more vocal, demonstrative, in-your-face leadership on the floor from someone.
I'm certainly a guy who thinks he puts in a lot of effort, but is clearly better motivated by a loud coach on the bike, or a loud teammate on the volleyball court, or a loud wife with laundry that needs folding. What I think is my own best effort is never really as good as when someone else is pushing me and telling me that I have more to give - so maybe that's where I'm biased in this whole thesis.
Like I said, I'm not in the locker room or the huddles at games, so maybe this happens more than I can see. And maybe I'm wrong about this entire dynamic of the team, that the quiet lead-by-example seniors are not inspiring the best in each other or in the younger players who need a more tangible push to elevate their effort. But when I watch, it seems to me that that is why we don't always seem to have everyone out there giving 1000%. It's also seems that this decreased effort is going to manifest itself much more on the defensive side of the ball, which is where the Kenpom.com stats would suggest that our game has slipped compared to previous years, and which has been the difference between wins and losses this season.
It is not a criticism of this, or any team, when that special dynamic does not exist. It's a very rare thing to find in a team. I agree, as Nestor wrote, that there is no Ed O'Bannon or Aaron Afflalo or Russell Westbrook on this team - guys whose actions and words would get us jumping out of our seats and beating our chests and make us run through a wall, and get their teammates to do the same thing. We were very lucky to have guys like Ed O (thanks Tark for blowing that one!) and AA, who had that natural personality to lift their game and also to lift the games of everyone around them. And it is absolutely no criticism of DC or PAA or JS that they don't have that same personality. I love those 3 and will take them every day of every week and be satisfied with however the W-L record ends up. I would also disagree a bit with Nestor's view that these guys aren't dominating enough to justify being vocal leaders. I think all of us would respond to any one of those 3 guys talking up the team, but that is just not their nature, and that's ok. But that lack of a vocal inspiring floor guy is the missing link between this team and the ones which have really excelled in our recent past.