By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
When freshman point guard Jaylen Adams took to his Twitter account last Friday to confirm that he had undergone surgery on his fractured right ring finger the day before, he used a hashtag that encapsulated the team’s new theme going forward: #NextManUp.
When injury strikes, that becomes a rallying cry. In the Atlantic 10, there’s no time to dwell in self-pity; the conference is too competitive for complaining, especially since everyone else is banged up too. Instead, healthy players have to step into new roles and perform well with little preparation time.
Coach Mark Schmidt delivered the news after the VCU game, when the team learned that Adams would need surgery. The freshman said the injury happened right before the Duquesne game, but the medical staff did not think it was serious and he continued to play.
“We always knew something was a little messed up, but we didn’t know it was that severe,” Adams said.
He played through the pain for six games, a stretch where he averaged 8.8 points and 7.1 assists a game, before x-rays after the VCU contest showed the fracture. If rehab goes well he could play in the Atlantic 10 Tournament in about three and a half weeks, but he’s definitely out for the rest of the regular season.
The man thrown into the fire for Bonaventure was junior Iakeem Alston. It was Baltimore native taking over for Baltimore native (Alston and Adams went to high school about 15 minutes apart), and Alston had to make the jump from playing eight minutes a game to playing 30 in Dayton on Saturday afternoon.
“I was just thinking that I had to step up and not miss a beat,” he said.
The Bonnies lost 75-61 to the first-place Flyers, but Alston performed well in his first start of the season. After three first-half turnovers (two in the first minute of play), he didn’t turn the ball over at all in the second half. In total, he scored 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field, with three assists, three rebounds and a steal.
“I think I played okay,” he said. “I played hard, but I could’ve cut my turnovers down.
“Usually when I come off the bench I’m stiff, but (going from) warming up to starting a game, I was pretty loose. I was nervous, but I was just ready.”
As a slasher, Alston can get to the cup any time he wants. He’s a legitimate offensive threat who utilizes a nasty euro-step and cat-like quickness, giving him the potential to be a double-digit scorer every night.
“That’s what I do; I’m a slashing point guard,” he said. “I can get to the rack and create for myself and my teammates. I’m athletic so that opens up a lot for me.”
One of the biggest concerns from the Bona faithful has been the junior college transfer’s free throw shooting. He came into the Dayton game at 47 percent from the stripe and made three of six against the Flyers.
A point guard needs to knock down his freebies, and Alston understood that.
“It’s all about reps,” he said. “I wasn’t playing a lot so I wasn’t really getting in-game situations shooting free throws. I just have to keep getting my reps up and when I get to the line I need to concentrate more and knock them down.”
The Bonnies’ next opponent is the Richmond Spiders. The Spiders have a dynamic point guard in Kendall Anthony, who has plenty of speed and has a strong chance at being named to the All-Conference First Team despite his five-foot-eight stature. Alston revealed that Andell Cumberbatch will be matched up against Anthony to begin the game, but recognized that stopping the star guard will be a team effort.
“He’s a good player,” Alston said. “As a team we have to just find him in transition, slow him down and not let him get into a rhythm early on.”
While the Bonnies hope Anthony doesn’t get into a rhythm Wednesday night, Alston knows he needs to find his groove if SBU is going to grab a crucial win.
“I just have to continue to get that rhythm and feel for starting the game, and having a good start,” he said. “Last game I had two turnovers early on so I just have to keep getting a feel for it in practice and continue to learn how to play with the guys.
“Right now we’re facing a little bit of adversity (after) losing two straight, but it’s about how you respond after the two losses. (Monday) we had a great practice and today (Tuesday) we’re going to have a good practice. It starts in practice so if we have a good practice today the chances of winning (Wednesday) are going to be higher.”
He may have only averaged eight minutes a game going into Dayton, but Alston’s work ethic was consistent all season up to this point.
“It’s a long season so I only worry about what I can control,” he said. “I can’t control how the coaches feel. I’m focused on getting my reps, staying in the gym and keeping my confidence up.
“Ultimately my time was probably going to come. If it didn’t come now, it was probably going to come at some point. I had to make sure I stayed on top of my game and never lost that confidence, whether I played two seconds or 40 minutes.”
The new starting point guard knew stepping in for the A-10’s assist leader was going to be an arduous task, but he showed no diffidence when it came to his own ability.
“I feel like I can do a lot,” he said. “I’m no Jaylen Adams, but I feel as though I can definitely help and try to be the vocal leader out there and bring energy. I’m going to do what I can.”
Adams holds his fellow Marylander in high regard.
“’Keem is great,” he said. “He handled it well, and that’s what he’s going to do; it’s next man up. He’s a great guard so he should be able to do just fine.”
You could form a 20-win squad out of the A-10’s injured or recently-injured players. VCU guard Briante Weber, who is out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, would start at the point. Davidson guard Jack Gibbs, who suffered a slight meniscus tear on Jan. 17, could start at the two-guard position. VCU forward Treveon Graham, who just returned from a sprained ankle, would be the small forward. Richmond forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, who suffered a concussion and fractured bone around his right eye on Feb. 8. Davidson center Jake Belford, who is out for the season after December foot surgery, would round out the starting lineup. Adams would be the sixth man, making this hypothetical team a very formidable one.
Injuries are a part of the game, and when they happen it truly is “next man up.” That man is Iakeem Alston, and the Bonnies’ response will determine the course of the remainder of their season.