Low makes big impact but only after 0-2 start
Jay Wright isn't going to make excuses. Instead, he will look at the facts.
Team USA was 3-0 with Washington State guard Derrick Low as a starter, 0-2 with him playing a total of one minute in the first two games of the Pan Am Games.
The result of keeping Low on the bench for the first two games of the Pan Am Games -- losses to Uruguay and Panama -- meant the United States couldn't medal. But with Low in the starting lineup, the U.S. team won three straight games over Argentina, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Panama again. In the second matchup, the U.S. team got its revenge against Panama with a 77-74 win Sunday to finish fifth.
Low started and led the Americans with 16 points in the finale for Team USA in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Though Low's Pan Am Games ended on a high note, it started slowly with him mostly watching the action from the bench. In the Pan Am opener against Uruguay, Low was the only player among the 12 who didn't even play. In the first meeting against Panama, Low played one minute. Meanwhile, Wright's Villanova lead guard Scottie Reynolds started those first two games. He had a nine-turnover debut against Uruguay and 0 for 7 from the field against the Panamanians.
If he had to do it all over again, Wright would have gone with Low from the start. But he didn't.
"In the first two games, I was looking at him as the third point guard. I thought [Michigan State's Drew] Neitzel and Scottie would play off the ball and [VCU's Eric] Maynor and Derrick Low would be behind them."
That plan backfired as the U.S. team lost to Uruguay 81-72, followed by the 75-67 loss to Panama. The Americans committed 36 turnovers in the two games and shot a mere 11-for-44 from 3-point range.
"We couldn't make a shot early," Wright said. "I wish I would have recognized earlier [to use Low]. But he's got a funky game."
Low shot 50 percent from the field and 6 of 16 on 3s in the five games overall. He averaged 14.3 points in his three starts. In his first game as a starter, a surprising upset of Argentina in the final game of the preliminary round, he was 5-for-7 from the field and finished with 13 points.
"Derrick Low gave us stability," Wright said. "Scottie struggled to make shots [21.6 percent overall, 21.1 percent on 3s]. Against Argentina, Derrick started the game off with two or three 3s, bang, bang to get us going. He's tough and physical."
Wright had 12 practice days with the team prior to the start of the Games last Wednesday. But he cited the poor scrimmage scheduling as part of the reason for his not figuring out Low's worth to this team before the third game. He said the plan was for the U.S. team to get to Brazil last week and scrimmage the Brazilians. But he said the officials didn't show, so it turned out to be a haphazard affair. And then the second scrimmage against Canada was canceled when the Canadians found out they were playing an early game on the first day of the tournament last Wednesday.
"It's not an excuse, but we could have done a better job of figuring this out earlier," Wright said. "If we would have played a [scrimmage] first, then maybe we would have figured out what to do. The way we picked the team [with the 30-person trials down to 12 in Philadelphia] was fine. I just think that back in Philadelphia and D.C. [where they were for two days before Brazil], we could have figured out to play Derrick Low more."
Apparently, Low doesn't pass the visual test. He seems slow. He doesn't seem like he can be physical. And he for sure doesn't have the flash to his game. But he grows on coaches, and he certainly did for Wright. That's why Washington State should be pretty pleased with his return for next season, along with three other starters, to give the Cougars a legitimate chance to compete for a Pac-10 title.
The U.S. team got hot toward the end of the tournament, but Wright still isn't sure it could have beaten Brazil, which won the gold. He's not sure his team could have beaten Uruguay, either, which took home the bronze.
The reason for Wright's doubts are that the U.S. college players were competing against men. He said he had the coaches read off the opposing players' ages with each scouting report. Team USA couldn't handle pros Nicolas Mazzarino or Esteban Batista on Uruguay or former George Washington forward Danilo Pinnock on Panama. But there is where a player like Low helped. He's going to enter his senior year at Washington State and is savvy enough to know how handle a taller, stronger and possibly quicker opponent. Reynolds is just coming off his freshman season at Villanova.
"It's a completely different game, it really should be called a different game," Wright said. "Look, I love it, but it's a different style. It's real physical. The physicalness at this level would never happen in college basketball."
"Weaver played real well early and did so many little things," Wright said of Weaver who started the first two games but finished averaging 2.7 points. He had more turnovers (five) than assists (four).
"He lost his confidence early offensively," Wright said. "But Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low together in college basketball is a great pair."
Team USA missed on using Low early, but the coaches didn't fail to see D.J. White's talent. The Indiana forward was the most consistent player for Team USA. He led the Americans with averages of16.8 points and 8.6 boards. White shot 59.3 percent from the floor. White also led the team in steals (seven) and had five blocks.
"He was our go-to guy," Wright said. "I'll say this right now: No one here could guard D.J. White. He was a man among men here."
Here are some other thoughts from Wright on the rest of the squad:
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown (9.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, eight blocks): "The physicality of the game got to him. It was more of my decision in the last game [playing him only 11 minutes] because they were playing so much out on the perimeter. I was impressed with his ability, though, to get up and down the floor. He'll have a monster year."
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt (9.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 10 of 30 on 3s): "He was great and gave us size on the perimeter. He always defended the bigger guys."
Maarty Leunen, Oregon (7.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 51.9 percent overall, 33.3 percent on 3s): "He gave us the most production across the board. He played the 5 sometimes and used him at the 2, too. He did everything for us. He was the all-around versatile guy."
Joey Dorsey, Memphis (3 ppg, 3.4 rpg): Wright said he missed on Dorsey early, too. Dorsey played five minutes in the first game, one in the second and then played 58 minutes in the final three games. "He struggled in the first game, but he ended up giving us a good presence on the boards and sparking us late. And if I had to do it all over again, I would play him. There was one time where [Panama] threw Roy to the floor and the ball went out of bounds and they got the ball. We put Dorsey in to have him mix it up a bit since it was a wrestling match out there. You couldn't believe what they allow these guys to do in the post."
James Gist, Maryland (5.4 ppg, 2 rpg, 48 percent overall): "He really ran the floor well. When we put D.J. and Roy out there together, we had good size but we weren't great in the open floor. But with Gist we were. He really could also guard perimeter people."
Wayne Ellington, North Carolina (one game, 0-for-2, 10 minutes against Uruguay): Wright said losing Ellington to a shoulder injury in the first game harmed this squad because they were counting on Ellington to be the sharp shooter ever since they saw him in Philadelphia. "He was really playing well for us in the trials. In the first game [Uruguay], he gets a physical screen, jolts his shoulder and neck and then he has a slightly separated shoulder. We adjusted without him, but he was a big part of this team."
Eric Maynor, VCU and Drew Neitzel, Michigan State: Maynor played in the two losses and missed all six shots he took. He collided with a player from Panama in the second game and suffered a hip pointer. "This was a case of a young body hitting a 30-year old." So, losing Maynor so early in the tournament also put Low on the court more. Neitzel started four of the five games and finished with 8.2 points, but like Reynolds, couldn't find his mark, making just 7 of 28 3s. Wright said not having Neitzel and Reynolds shoot well was a factor.
But if Low not been pressed into action essentially because of Reynolds' turnovers (a team-high 15 in five games) and Maynor's injury, then Team USA might have finished even lower than fifth.
"We had a team that could have won it, and I'll take responsibility for how we were early," Wright said. "But Uruguay was really good, and it was a tough first game. Ellington getting hurt changed us. We won three tough games against Argentina, the best team the U.S. Virgin Islands has ever had, and Panama."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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