Point Guards of the Missouri Valley Conference

by Andrew Force | December 4th, 2007

The Missouri Valley Conference has had an impressive run of success the last few years. The key to consistently stellar basketball has been good coaches, experienced players, and hard-nosed defense.

What’s the point?

Under a microscope, a devoted observer would notice one thing all successful Valley teams had–and still have–in common: a gritty, tough, unflappable point guard. To describe the attributes each floor general possesses, I am going to use comparisons to popular actors. Keep in mind these are not look-a-likes, rather personality replications.

Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois
Forest Whitaker

This guy plays so solid and confidently. Many overlook his talents because he does not have the bravado or brash demeanor of the elite players. Do not be deceived. Like Whitaker, Mullins can take over with a subdued but ridiculously effective performance.

Often the talents of Mullins and Whitaker go unseen. Not until his 25th year of acting did Whitaker receive an Oscar despite piling up brilliant performance after brilliant performance.

Keen observers respect each man, and their quiet talents are apparent to their peers. Not only outsiders know they are special. The players/actors around each recognize the value of sharing the stage with them. Succeeding around Whitaker is easier because he is such a great complimentary actor. The same goes for Mullins.

Co-workers of Whitaker have earned two Best Actor Oscars and three Best Actor nominations. Jamaal Tatum’s job last year was immeasurably easier with Mullins sharing point guard responsibilities. Mullins handling the press allowed Tatum to conserve energy; energy needed to bury countless game-winning shots.

Daniel Ruffin, Bradley
Edward Norton

The Bradley Braves have seen a nice run of success in the past few years. Point guard Daniel Ruffin’s freshman year was the fourth consecutive season Bradley finished with a sub .500 record. Since then BU has amassed 44 wins in two seasons, a Sweet 16 berth, and sent three players to professional basketball careers.

Every Bradley player in the last four years needs to thank Ruffin for his success. He has transformed his game three times for the cause, each time for the betterment of the team.

This versatility is reminiscent of actor Edward Norton. Norton has shown amazing ability to adapt. His “range”, as they call it in the biz, is impressive in its vastness. In the last 11 years Norton has done 17 movies. His performances in seven of these were unforgettable yet they all showed a different skill set.

As a freshman Ruffin ran a reserved, withdrawn point to allow the veterans to find their flow. In his second year, Ruffin witnessed an emergence of Patrick O’Bryant, Marcellus Sommerville, and Zach Andrews. His role changed in that Ruffin was asked to put these big men in a situation to succeed. O’Bryant and Andrews shot 55% and 58% from the floor, respectively. Danny Boy led the MVC with an astonishing 171 assists in ’05-’06.

Seemingly finding his niche, Ruffin was asked to change his style yet again last year. The Braves lost their two primary posts to the pros and the point of attack was going to change. Coach Jim Les sought help from a coaching friend. He wanted to implement a guard-heavy attack more befitting of his roster.

The end result was a three-point barrage, the likes of which had never been seen before inside the Missouri Valley Conference. The final tally of 349 long bombs was a staggering figure, which overshadowed the demands the style change put on Ruffin. Instead of feeding the post, Ruff had to facilitate a brand new offense with an entire team of players unfamiliar with the system.

Within the confines of the offense, Ruffin was asked to shoot more from the outside. His previous high for three-point attempts was 94. Last year Ruffin chucked 173 and you would be hard-pressed to recall a forced shot. The role just changed and Ruffin adapted accordingly.

Flash forward to present day where Ruffin is the senior leader, befallen with the task of scoring, passing, and running the offense. The role evolved again. He is currently leading the team in scoring and leads the nation in career assists (active players).

Norton’s career has seen him portray a screw-up (Rounders), a goofball (Keeping the Faith), a thug (25th Hour), a king (Kingdom of Heaven), and a slick, evil millionaire. He also played a stuttering innocent and a brash, hotheaded murderer…in the same movie! Primal Fear shows off his broad spectrum of acting chops in one excellent film.

That he played these characters is only mildly impressive. The fact that Norton and Ruffin excelled in so many different roles reveals the high level of character and talent each possesses.

Gabriel Moore, Indiana State
Dennis Leary

Leary started out as a stand-up comedian and seemed destined to toil in the underground comedy clubs of Boston. His abilities got him noticed and he has proven to be more than an angry, vile-spitting comedian. Rescue Me and The Sandlot showed glimpses of the thespian buried deep within Leary.

Moore has quickness and good judgment, which allows him to be effective. The problem with Leary and Moore is that neither can carry their team. Moore has tried and failed the last two years. Leary has been in such flops as Two If By Sea, Double Whammy, Final, and even Small Soldiers. Have you seen any of these, his lead roles? Hope not.

Indiana State was difficult to watch last year, too. There was rarely structure to the offense, leaving Gabe Moore the unenviable task of creating a challenged shot with the shot clock ticking to zero. When relied upon to be the man, neither Moore nor Leary can convert often enough.

The burgeoning, reformed Indiana State program stands to improve in the next few years. Sadly, their senior leader Moore will not be around to witness it.

Spencer Laurie and Justin Fuehrmeyer, Missouri State
George Clooney and Matt Damon

Spencer Laurie handled point guard duties alone a year ago but welcomes Justin Fuehrmeyer into his backcourt this season. The duo evokes memories of Danny Ocean and Linus Caldwell in Ocean’s Eleven.

Matt Damon plays the apprentice learning on the job. Fuehrmeyer has the same duties. In high school, the St. Louis-based Justin dashed around the floor, never stopping for air. His motor still is tremendous for the Missouri State Bears. There will be times his skill will be unnoticed when placed alongside his constant motion and pursuit.

Laurie has a more controlled attack. Always in charge on the floor, the Missouri-transfer is an innovative passer. Like Ocean, Laurie possesses an uncanny awareness of all things relevant. Nothing escapes the attention of either man.

In the title game of the smallish Price Cutter Classic, Fuehrmeyer turned in an incredible performance. He dished out 12 assists with just one turnover. Laurie had nine assists and just three mishaps. Coach Barry Hinson called it “the best two-guard performance since I’ve been here.”

Adam Emmenecker, Drake
Ben Stiller

Emmenecker is a first-time starter for the Drake Bulldogs in this his senior season. Coaches always dream their players will improve each and every season but rarely is that wish fulfilled in a more obvious fashion.

A technician, Emmenecker distributes the ball wisely and without flair. He uses both hands well for dribbling and passing. His court awareness is outstanding. Watching him fill the empty spaces on the floor is a subtle beauty.

Emmenecker plays crafty. Within ten seconds against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he drew an illegal screen call in the backcourt, stole the ensuing in bounds pass, and drew another foul.

Ben Stiller is a technician in his own right. Studying, learning, living under the tutelage of comedic professionals Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Ben knows of the subtleties of telling a joke.

There are players and actors that compete with flashy, loud antics. This pair is not of that ilk. These two gentlemen can easily be summarized as cerebral players. There style is efficient in every way with few frills.

Boo Richardson, Illinois State
Bobcat Goldthwait.

This may seem a strange comparison and there is a good reason for that. It is a strange comparison. Comparing anyone to Bobcat Goldthwait will take some doing, but here we go.

Boo Richardson was a JUCO transfer who entered the Illinois State program last year during what we now know as Porter Moser’s final year at ISU. He was immediately given the responsibility and freedom associated with being the lead guard.

In this role, Richardson was spirited and high energy. Bobcat, in his prime, was nothing if not high energy. Along with that trait, Goldthwait seemed on the edge. It honestly appeared as if he would lose complete control at any minute.

Richardson managed 153 assists, which is a very nice total for a first year player though the tendency to do too much cost him. Boo turned the ball over 105 times, easily the worst in the Valley.

The fact that Illinois State sported the third worst assist/turnover ratio in the conference falls largely on the shoulders of the Redbird point guard.

Police Academy 2 through Police Academy 4 were so zany and off the wall because of Bobcat’s presence. As he learned to corral his temperament his skills showed themselves more glaringly. Boo has innate speed and instinctive passing ability. There needs to be some maturity and restraint shown on his behalf for Illinois State to reach the top half of the Valley.

Matt Braeuer, Wichita State
Orlando Bloom

The accident-prone Braeuer plays harder than any guard in the Valley. His game is all about hustle. It is clear Braeuer made it this far by way of outworking his opponents.

The flying around the court and diving into the crowd does come with its share of injuries. In just the last two seasons, Braeuer missed time for a thigh bruise, a concussion, lower leg injury, mononucleosis, another concussion, and bruised ribs.

He is that rare player that a coach has to tell to go a little easier.

Bloom, despite his preppy appearance, is quite the daredevil. The action star actually nearly killed himself. Trying to climb up to a friend’s second floor terrace, Bloom fell and was almost paralyzed. He has broken his nose, legs, a rib, a wrist, an arm, a finger, and a toe. It is a wonder he has any functioning body parts at this point.

While Bloom would do better to become more cautious, Braeuer cannot ease off the throttle. His game is predicated on complete hustle and fearless aggression.

Jared Josten, Northern Iowa
Tom Berenger

These two men work hard and embody the recently-popularized baseball term, grinder.

Neither Josten nor Berenger are amongst the most talented in their chosen field. Regardless, no one works harder to maximize his potential. Both are playing near the ceiling of their abilities.

Josten has poor lateral movement and cannot stay in front of ultra-quick dribblers. Berenger has limited range in his acting, as he is unable to laugh or cry plausibly.

Because they work so hard the end product reflects favorably upon them. Josten knocked off a spirited Wisconsin-Milwaukee comeback attempt earlier this year and helped his Panthers win the BTI Tip-Off Classic in Ames.

Berenger carried Sniper, The Substitute, and Major League with grit and determined performances.

Finally, do not expect to see a smile of satisfaction on either of these guys’ faces. They work hard and expect results. Reaching their goals is the expectation, not a surprise worthy of some giddy celebration.

Jason Holsinger, Evansville
Joey Lauren Adams

Both Joey and Jason have been good players on bad teams. Joey brought real acting chops to such goofball movies as Coneheads, Dazed and Confused, Mallrats, Bio-Dome, and Dr. Dolittle 2.

While she has been in funny movies, her ability belongs in films not movies. There is a difference. Much the same Holsinger stepped into a bad program at Evansville. So bad in fact that Holsinger managed to score 12.6 as a freshman.

There is no reason a freshman point guard should be that successful immediately. A stronger program would have forced JH to fight for his spot and learn the system before dropping 20% of the team’s scoring. As a sophomore he made more 3-point shots than anyone in the entire league. To win, Evansville needs to develop a balanced attack that incorporates Holsinger, not a single-pronged attack largely reliant on one man’s efforts.

There are people you look at in their current situations and frown. They could be so much more in a better environment more conducive to achievement. Actress Joey Lauren Adams and Evansville point guard Jason Holsinger are these kinds of people.

Josh Doztler, Creighton
Robert Downey Jr.

This was a difficult comparison to find. Josh Doztler has been an enigma at Creighton as he has battled injuries for his first two seasons in Omaha. Actors do not usually have careers altered by injuries. More often than not, the pampered performers have careers ruined or tainted by substance abuse.

Enter Robert Downey Jr. Oh, the potential Downey has shown in his sober days. Doztler’s hindrance has not been self-inflicted, rather the result of on-court injuries. Both men have not yet reached their potential. After losing Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver, two MVC stars, Creighton needs Doztler to establish his reign as lead man early.

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