Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lawrence Westbrook A Ball Hog? Hardly

Lost amid conversation of the disappointing play of three Minnesota seniors, uplifting play of two Minnesota freshman and the return of a packed Williams Arena is the performance of Lawrence Westbrook.

Westbrook came to Minnesota in a roundabout way. A high school standout from Chandler, Ariz., Westbrook seemed to be sort-of forced out of his high school team, where he was a nothing short of studly. During his junior year, Westbrook averaged more than 40 points per game and nearly 10 rebounds. He was quickly making a name for himself.

But then a newspaper blog story came out which quoted his high school coach as saying Westbrook was a "ball hog." If that wasn't enough, his coach suggested that if the New Mexico Lobos were interested, they could have Westbrook immediately. Now, that's some harshness. Here's a summary of those exchanges from the Albuquerque Tribune's Lobo's blog.

Obviously feeling unwanted, Westbrook bolted. He spent a year at Winchendon Prep and watched the scholarship offers role in. According to Rivals, Westbrook's time at prep school helped the supposed "ball hog" solidify his defensive fundamentals. When it came time to make a college choice, Westbrook had offers from Memphis, Colorado, New Mexico, Syracuse and others. The Arizona product eventually signed on with Iowa State, but then asked out of his commitment because coach Greg McDermott was recruiting other players at his position (according to the Rivals story linked above).

For someone with the reputation of a ball hog, such a decision would seem to cement said reputation. But Minnesota looked past any possible issues and welcomed Westbrook--who is a cousin of Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook--with open arms.

Now in his second season with the Gophers, Westbrook has been anything but the troubling ball hog his high school coach led many to believe he was. If anything, Westbrook has been exactly the opposite of what we might have expected. He's more of a defensive presence than an offensive one on most nights. He doesn't look to create his own shot often and is somewhat shy to shoot from the perimeter. He's strong enough that he should be able to back smaller guards down. I've never seen him do that. And he has a quick enough first step to be the type of slicing and dicing guard Tubby Smith desperately needs.

While Westbrook's defensive intensity has been admirable during Tubby Smith's first season, it's been very surprising that he hasn't matured into a scorer at the college level. Perhaps Westbrook was beating up on questionable talent as a prep in Arizona, or perhaps he hasn't quite adjusted his offensive game to this higher level, or maybe he is still bothered by the quotes given by his high school coach.

Whatever the case might be, the Gophers are likely quite pleased with his defense but might also be left wondering what exactly happened to the player that broke a 40-year record for scoring in the state of Arizona. If the sophomore is still trigger shy because of his aforementioned reputation, Westbrook needs to put that in his rear view mirror. Because what the Gophers need from him now is his ability to create and score.


WWWWWW said...

He's shown he can shoot, and when he goes to the basket he can create. I'm expecting him to really pick up his scoring next year.

PJS said...

You're right. I'd like to see more if it, especially the taking the ball to the basket.

Anonymous said...

Hey...have you guys seen any episodes of "Minnesota: The Journey" on The Big Ten Network? Takes you all access with Gophers basketball. Highlights online at

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