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UConn Husky Champion Troika to Lead Pistons

Three former national champion UConn Huskies are now playing together on the Detroit Pistons this season. All three are expected to lead the Pistons through a quick rebuilding phase. They will also change the personality of the team. More and easier scoring while continuing to play solid defense is expected.

Long time Piston, 6′ 7″ guard/forward Rip Hamilton was on UConn’s first ever NCAA national champion team in 1999.

6′ 2″ shooting guard Ben Gordon was on UConn’s 2004 NCAA Championship team.

6′ 11″ power forward Charlie Villanueva was also on the 2004 UConn championship team.

As the newest Pistons, Charlie and Ben are being given great opportunities to play bigger roles, elevate their games, and disprove the naysayers who view their games as ‘limited’, especially at the defensive end.

Rip Hamilton

Three time All Star, 31 year old Rip Hamilton has already added an NBA championship to his resume with the Pistons in 2004. Rip has developed into one of the league’s best mid range shooters, a solid three point shooter, and established himself as a gritty defender and money player. His constant motion and non-stop energy have reminded people of Celtic great Hondo Havicek.

Ben Gordon

Ben Gordon has been bred to be a clutch 4th quarter scorer. His performance in last season’s playoffs against Boston was eye opening for me. He has big confidence and is an alpha shooter. The degree of difficulty on some of his made shots in that series was jaw dropping. I just didn’t know he had the ability to get shots like that off, let alone make them. Inspiring, to say the least.

Though Ben played with an injury in that series for the ages, he has been incredibly durable, playing in 82, 80, 82, 72, and 82 games over his career. The knock on him is that he is one dimensional – a shooter. A 41% career three point shooter, he can drive at times and makes some wild looking lay-ups. Amazingly, he didn’t have any close or inside shots blocked last season. Even more amazing when you realize that his 6′ 2″ height listing is generous, to say the least.

They didn’t pay him all that money to come off the bench. He will start at the two spot while Rip moves to the three, most of the time, I’m guessing. Can Ben handle being the alpha scoring dog here? He certainly has the temperament for it. While his PER was better than his counterpart’s was last season, indicating good individual defense, the team was better defensively overall when Ben was off the court.

A lethal assassin, Joe Dumars and new coach Jon Kuesters must figure out how to minimize Ben’s defensive short comings.

Charlie Villanueva

After not getting Carlos Boozer, who opted to stay in Utah this season, Joe Dumars surprised many by signing Charlie Villanueva to a long term contract. Charlie was coming off a career year (16 pts. per game) at Milwaukee. Dumars’ thoughts from an interview with Keith Langlois of…

If you don’t have the strong, low-post, traditional four man that can score, if you don’t have one of those top guys, you certainly better have one of those guys we call a stretch four – that can stretch the defense, that’s versatile, that’s inside-out. You have to get one or the other. If you’re not going to get a traditional four guy, then today’s game requires you to have more versatile four men. Charlie is the prototypical guy that can play inside, play outside, average 7½ rebounds, can shoot the 3, can put it on the floor. That’s why a guy like him becomes really appealing to you.

Charlie Villanueva has always had a solid offensive game. He is a natural scorer. The knock has been his intensity and defense, even from his days with Coach Calhoun at UConn. Yet, he left college a champion. Will that change now that he is being given the biggest role of his NBA career?

Dumars thinks so. In the same interview, he compares the situation to the growth of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu….

…the examples I will use are a couple of guys who grew even after their first three or four years in the league. You saw Rashard Lewis get better and you saw Turkoglu get better. They became older, became more mature on the court, became better players. This notion that if a guy hasn’t shown great improvement in the first two or three years, then he’s not going to be … that’s not the case. Charlie can definitely get better and we’re going to ask him to do more. We’re going to ask him to be more than just a scorer. We love the fact he snagged 7½ rebounds a game. We’re going to ask him to continue to rebound like that. Obviously, we’re going to ask him to do a better job defensively.

Joe also wants Charlie to expand his offense to utilize a few things he noticed that he does well….

one of the things he can do, and it probably goes a little unnoticed – and we’ve studied a lot of him on film – is he puts the ball on the floor pretty good, too. He pump fakes and does a great job of driving that ball to the basket for a 6-10, 6-11 guy. So we’re going to ask him to do all of those things. Just as you saw Lewis and Turkoglu get better, as 6-10 guys, they got better as they got older – became more mature, more settled, stronger. Those guys settled in and became real versatile and that’s what we see Charlie as. A guy 25 years old, you can get better.

Okay fine. It is very possible that Charlie can grow.  But are these guys going to play defense?

Lest people forget, Chauncey and Rip didn’t come here as these great defenders. They came here as offensive players. Chauncey was talented offensively, Rip was a scorer. They won a championship because they made a commitment to try to defend people. Just because you address the need to score more, doesn’t change your mind-set to have to stop people. It won’t change our mind-set. Kuester and I have talked about that. We are committed to that and we’re going to be committed to that with these players, that you’ve got to stop somebody. I don’t care how talented you are offensively, you’ve still got to give a big-time effort defensively if you’re going to win in this league.

There you have it. For those things to occur, Charlie and Ben must commit to the defensive end. Ben has all the capabilities to carry a big offensive load. His defense will always require a lot of energy. A better passer than some think, he does have to get his turnovers down.

I have always said that it is up to Charlie as to how good he becomes in the NBA. The time is now. The place is Detroit. With the help of his UConn team mate and friend, Ben Gordon, and fellow UConn Husky Rip Hamilton, these guys can open some eyes if Detroit makes the playoffs and goes .500 or better.

The ESPN consensus prediction for Detroit is 38-44 and a lottery pick. Both Big Shot Ben and Chill Charlie have been signed for the long haul. They will be given every opportunity to grow as players and help Detroit rebuild.

Thomas Halzack

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