CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -All the best college point guards know what a coach needs, not just what he wants.
It's a leadership quality - once defined by former Georgetown coach John Thompson - that has to be developed in all inexperienced floor generals. There are no exceptions, whether it's a Larry Drew II at defending national champion North Carolina or a sensational Kentucky freshman named John Wall.
And how quickly point guards can get in sync with coaches during the season could determine just how far some perennial powers can go in March.
``You have to enjoy (the pressure) because it comes with the territory,'' said Drew, a sophomore in his first year as a starter. ``You're going to be put on the spot a lot. You've just got to be that quarterback out there, and your team and coach have to trust you to make the right decisions.''
Earning that trust isn't always easy, though it comes faster for some.
The early returns for Wall have been impressive.
come in and work hard and prepare myself for the college game because it was a lot different than high school.
``If he thinks you can play, you go out there and make plays. If you can't make plays, he doesn't want you on this offense or on this team.''
Calipari has proven he's not hesitant to give the ball - and his trust - to a youngster, riding freshmen Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis to the national championship game and the NCAA tournament's round of 16 in the past two seasons. He's doing the same thing with Wall, who many believe could be the No. 1 pick in next year's NBA draft.
``If you're good enough to start for me, you'll start,'' Calipari said. ``Now I never promise any freshman they'll start. I just don't do it. I've started freshman point guards, if they're the best at that position.''
Wall has been rewarding Calipari's trust. He leads the third-ranked and unbeaten Wildcats in scoring and assists. He hit a buzzer-beating basket to win his first collegiate game and recently set the storied program's single-game record with 16 assists.
Point guards who intuitively know what their coaches want can turn talented teams into champions, whether it's Duke's Bobby Hurley in 1991 and 1992, UCLA's Tyus Edney in 1995, Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves in 2000 or North Carolina's Raymond Felton (2005) and Ty Lawson (2009).
ing their coach wants for the team even as they adjust to major college minutes for the first time. That might mean spending extra time watching film with the coach to go through every play together, or picking the coach's brain during any stoppage - no matter how brief - in practice or a game.
But there is no substitute for playing experience.
Current powers like No. 1 Kansas (Sherron Collins), No. 5 Duke (Jon Scheyer) and No. 10 Michigan State (Kalin Lucas) have veteran point guards who give their teams an advantage in late-game possessions.
That much was on display Wednesday night, when Collins scored a career-high 33 points and made several key plays late to help the Jayhawks hold off Cornell's upset bid.
Over in Chicago, Scheyer - a senior who grew into the point guard role last season - scored 31 points to help the Blue Devils beat Iowa State and has his team looking like the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Seniors Nic Wise of Arizona and Ishmael Smith of Wake Forest appear to finally be on the same with their coaches after two unusual journeys.
ason.
``It's different schemes offensively and defensively,'' Wise said. ``It's been tough. I've just kept working hard. Everything happens for a reason.''
While Arizona is struggling in a down year for the Pac-10, Wise is the biggest reason the Wildcats are .500. He hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Lipscomb in overtime just before Christmas, then a last-second layup to beat North Carolina State two days later.
``There's no way I would tell the young guys, 'It's on you,''' Wise said. ``This is what I came to school for ... to be the leader, the guy everybody looks to.''
Smith, playing in the shadows of Drew and Scheyer along Tobacco Road, has Wake Forest on a seven-game winning streak and hoping to return to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.
He was a starter as a freshman for a program still reeling from Chris Paul's early defection to the NBA 18 months earlier. He then took a sixth-man role last season to sophomore Jeff Teague - who helped the Demon Deacons to a No. 1 ranking before departing to become an NBA first round draft pick - before returning to the starting lineup this year.
``I think over time, the coach and a point guard get a feel for the way we want the game played,'' Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. ``We spent a lot of time watching film with (Smith). There's a lot of ways to learn in this game: in practice and individual instruction and in the film room.''
The Tar Heels' Drew has a simple plan that serves as good advice for all his colleagues: don't try to be someone else - and listen to everything your coach says - which in his case is Hall of Famer Roy Williams.
``You just have to go in and know you can get the job done,'' he said. ``If you go in doubting yourself, other teams recognize that and then they'll eat you up out there.''
---
AP Basketball Writer Andrew Bagnato in Tuscon, Ariz., and AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Lexington, Ky., and Joedy McCreary in Winston-Salem, N.C., contributed to this report.
Advertisement
Advertisement

NCAAB Headlines

Advertisement

NCAAB Top Stories

Thumbnail Xavier vs. Colorado Prediction The Colorado Buffaloes have been a tough home team but can they hang with No. 13 Xavier tonight at 8:00PM ET in Boulder?
Thumbnail Creighton vs. Nebraska Prediction Will Nebraska give No. 10 Creighton a game tonight when the two non-conference teams clash at 8:00PM ET?
Thumbnail Valparaiso vs. Kentucky Pick Will No. 6 Kentucky be able to cover at home as a 20-point favorite against Valparaiso tonight?
Thumbnail East Carolina vs. Virginia Prediction Is Virginia a good bounce-back candidate to win and roll against East Carolina at 7:00PM ET tonight?
Thumbnail Gators chomping through competition Florida has dropped five straight clashes with non-SEC opponents ranked in the top five. But can Mike White’s team rise to the occasion...

NCAAB Team Pages