Feb. 23, 2005
I love guys who are fearless, players who want to take the last shot in a close game. They're not afraid to have the pressure on them when the contest is on the line.
Look back over the years in college basketball — consider guys like Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan. Besides their great talent, they had the ability and the desire to stick their necks out. They wanted the ball late, never worrying about making a turnover or a mistake. They never ran from the action at crunch time.
This season, three players stand out in that department.
At Duke, J.J. Redick has become a legitimate All-American.
A 6-foot-4 junior guard known for his sharpshooting, Redick has become more than just a jump-shot artist. He has added to his offensive arsenal — now he can take the ball to the basket and score on the drive.
Redick is tied for fifth in the nation in scoring (23.0 ppg). He's also automatic on the free-throw line, with the highest percentage of any Division I player ever (93.7 percent for his career). That shows how clutch he is at winning time if he's sent to the charity stripe.
Another player who fits the mold is Gerry McNamara of Syracuse. How many guys playing college basketball today have a support system like he has? When Notre Dame visited the Carrier Dome earlier this month, 50 busloads of fans came from the Scranton area, McNamara's hometown in Pennsylvania, to watch him play.
McNamara, a 6-foot-2 junior guard known as G-Money, was a key to that 60-57 comeback win because he wanted the ball in crunch time and finished 11-of-11 from the foul line.
Just look at his career: Think about what McNamara did last year under pressure in the NCAA Tournament. He scored 43 points while hitting nine 3-pointers in an 80-75 first-round victory over BYU.
And talk about guts: As a freshman in the 2003 national championship game, McNamara hit six big trifectas in the win over Kansas to help Syracuse claim the school's first national title.
McNamara (16.2 ppg, 5.1 apg) has an incredible winner's mentality, and the Orange have more than 70 victories in his two-plus seasons at the 'Cuse. Coach Jim Boeheim's team is 8-1 in NCAA Tournament games with McNamara in the lineup.
He's not afraid to fail, and I love that. If he misses a few shots, you can bet he'll keep on trying until he heats up and makes the big one.
Salim Stoudamire of Arizona is another player who is willing to take the risk and wants the ball at the end of the game. A 6-foot-1 senior guard, Stoudamire is confident in his ability to shoot from long range, and he never dodges the action.
Stoudamire (18.6 ppg) leads the nation in 3-point field goal percentage at 56 percent. In fact, he's shooting more accurately on trifectas than he is overall (53.6 percent).
These are three special kids. If I were coaching, I would love to have them on my team. They possess that special toughness teams need to survive and advance come tournament time.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.