Thursday, February 22, 2007

ACC's freakiest athletes moving teams forward

The crowd at the Smith Center exhaled in horror as Brandon Costner’s shot swished through the basket for N.C. State after traveling an impossibly high trajectory from far beyond the 3-point arc.

Brandan Wright struck back for North Carolina, knifing through the lane to grab offensive rebounds and dropping the ball in the basket with his incredibly long arms. Perhaps the leading candidates for ACC rookie of the year, Wright (24 points) and Costner (18) both led their teams in scoring in the Tar Heels’ 83-64 victory Wednesday night.

They also exhibited just part of the ACC’s substantial depth among “big forwards” – players 6-foot-7 to 6-9 who score a lot in the post but aren’t centers. It’s customary at this time of year for college basketball commentators to rave about the importance of good guards. But in the ACC, the number of excellent forwards is what stands out. The ACC’s top scorers, Jared Dudley of Boston College and Al Thornton of Florida State, both play that position.

So do Costner and Wright. Freakishly athletic defender James Mays might be Clemson’s best player, and Maryland’s James Gist has expanded his shooting range out to the 3-point arc.
The players just named account for six of the ACC’s top 23 scorers, and they all play the same position. And that list doesn’t even include Virginia Tech’s Deron Washington, who is so athletic and versatile that North Carolina coach Roy Williams had fits trying to find a player to guard him despite having the deepest roster in the nation.

Point guards and centers get the most attention because they’re often the smallest and biggest players on the floor, respectively. But in the ACC this season, the forwards set the pace, and it will be fascinating to watch them match up in the conference tournament next month in Tampa.

– Ken Tysiac