During the pre-game senior night ceremony before Seattle University's 93-80 win over Portland State University Tuesday night, senior forward Mike Boxley asked that the Key Arena spotlight be moved from him at center court to his teammates standing on the sidelines.
Among them was 6'10" forward Charles Garcia, who is poised to take the Seattle college basketball spotlight next season after early season speculation that he might make the leap to the NBA after one season in a Redhawks uniform. Although his draft stock has fallen dramatically over the last few months, SeattleU fans -- and the city at large -- has a lot to look forward to in the 2010-11 season if last night's performance is any indication.
Perhaps these are the kind of teams that you really want to see Garcia make a difference against -- Portland State, a 2009 NCAA tournament team, looked a step quicker and a bit more athletic on the surface. It's the type of game where you want to see Garcia the NBA prospect shine. Instead, we saw Garcia the teammate play a steady, consistent game, carefully picking and choosing his spots.
In the first six minutes of the game, Garcia looked more reserved in his efforts to score, choosing to defer to teammates instead of forcing the action himself. When he got the ball in the post, he would take 1 or 2 dribbles to survey the situation and if the scoring opportunity wasn't there, he quickly found the open teammate out of the double team. His first shot didn't come until the 14:04 mark when he got a two-handed dunk on a post-up, seal, pivot, and wide open two-handed dunk. As Seattle fans see him off into the off-season, perhaps that's a better sign of his development than anything else.
"He's just growing up," said SeattleU coach Cameron Dollar. "A lot of times with some with some of my other guys -- Alex Jones, for example -- we don't critique or spotlight [their] shortcomings. We just celebrate when he has success. When a guy like Charles has some shortcomings, you end up spotlighting that more and critiquing it more. But invariably, they end up going through the same process of growth but one is just highlighted more. Nothing out of the ordinary -- he is, as he has always been, extremely coachable."
The fact that Garcia spent the previous four games coming off the bench because of insufficient effort in practice could be read in two ways regarding how coachable he is: the fact that he was benched in the first place could be read as a bad sign; the fact that he responded without public complaint and returned to the starting lineup doing exactly what the team demanded of him certainly reinforces Dollar's assertion about how coachable he is.
After initially getting on the board with two huge dunks to get the crowd involved in the game, he returned to playing a very patient game within the team concept. With 12:52 left in the first half he got the ball just beyond the right block, passed out of a double team to sophomore guard Cervante Burrell which forced the defense to rotate and left space for Burrell to find Boxley in position to make a layup in the paint. He was quiet for the next five minutes moving the ball until getting the ball in the post with 7:20 left in the first half. He got the ball in the post against a smaller defender, surveyed the situation and recognized the single coverage, pivoted and muscled the ball into the basket.
The second half saw more of the same -- patiently picking his spots to shine and go with the flow, getting himself to the line, getting offensive rebounds, and casually flushing an alley oop dunk from Burrell with just under 8 minutes left. However, the play that might best embody his performance in the game didn't even show up in the final box score. With 3:25 left and the game pretty much decided despite a PSU run, Garcia got an offensive rebound deep in the paint and instead of aggressively forcing a shot up like he might have done a month ago, he felt the defense around him, turned and found a wide open Aaron Broussard open on the left baseline for a jumper. Broussard missed the jumper, but it demonstrates the way that his physical gifts, combined with a team-oriented mentality and the attention he demands from the defense make him a huge asset for SeattleU.
"He's been doing a good job," said Dollar. "Even if the numbers don't say it because of the attention they have to pay him, we can decoy him and do stuff. So he helps you just by being out there. A lot of times too when you have a really good player he helps you just by giving your team confidence -- they look across the line and say, 'Hey, we got one of those.' So it gives them a little more confidence."
And of course, what was impressive about last night is that he played a smart, efficient game and the numbers came to him rather than him having to force the action.
"He has matured and become a better team player," said Dollar. "He's matured and become better defensively and rebounding, obviously passing. But it's not like he was terrible in those areas; it's just he's improving. And that's what you'd like all of your guys to do."
In their last home game of the 2009-10 season, collective improvement is what fans saw. They looked like a legit Division I team against an opponent that has played in the Big Dance. Although Garcia is the one the scouts come to watch, they have looked their best all season when Garcia manages to blend in rather than constantly standing out.
"There's nothing more beautiful than coming together," said Dollar. "And at this point right now, nobody cares who gets the credit -- it's just the team. And there's power in that. So if you pick us apart -- coaches, players -- then maybe we're not as good, maybe we're not supposed to win. But if we're together like we are that power is undeniable."
That's a lesson that will serve Garcia well not only in leading SeattleU next season, but also as NBA GMs consider what he brings teams at the next level.
- Although this has not been officially confirmed, SeattleU is only the second team to finish above .500 in its first year as a full-fledged Division I team. No matter what the actual number is, the fact of the matter is that they've accomplished something rare this season. They are a special team.
- Seattle fans might not have seen the last of SeattleU -- there is a still a chance that they could make a post-season tournament, likely the CBI or CIT. Their sports information representative said it would be a long Selection Sunday night for them as the tournament bids are named one after the other, starting with the NCAA tournament on down.