Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Won't You Take Me To DunkyTown

Marqus Blakely (15) waits his turn on the bench Wednesday night.

My friend and I were fortunate enough to go to DunkyTown, USA last night, population: Marqus Blakely. Having followed the stats that Blakely put up all year, I was finally able to see how he had been shooting 70% from the field: dunking the basketball. All the time.

We rolled up to the Cedar Park Event Center just in time for tip off at 7:30 CT. There were about 200 people in attendance (that might be a bit generous) in a stadium that has over 6,000 seats. Naturally, I demanded to my friend that we sit directly behind the Iowa Energy's bench (he's a push-over, it wasn't hard to talk him into it). The first time the music stopped bumping from the PA I jumped at the opportunity to say what up to Marqus, the man of the night.

"What up, Marqus!" I screamed like an asshole. To my surprise, he actually shot me a glance. Unfortunately, the only piece of clothing I wore that had anything to do with Vermont (and this was very poor planning on my part) was a Vermont Lake Monsters hat. I pointed to the hat and said, "VT, baby!". He smiled. I love that dude.

Anyway, Marqus came off the bench about five minutes into the game. I get the impression that's generally his role, sixth man. He certainly plays a lot of minutes for the Energy, a lot more than some of the guys who were starting. The first time he touched the ball, he caught it in full stride at the foul line, took a step or two inside it and threw down a thunderous two handed dunk that got at least one person out of their seat (me). The gym was introduced to the screaming dude who was randomly cheering for the Iowa Energy. It was awesome. Some family members of Kenny Taylor (another Energy player who also played with Blakely in Bakersfield earlier this season) asked me if I was from Iowa. No, I said, and explained how I was from Vermont. To their credit, they didn't have to ask me where that was. They were very friendly for the rest of the game, despite my various outbursts, so thank you Taylor family. But I digress.

That dunk would begin a theme for the night. Blakely ended the game with 22 points on 9-14 shooting -- five of those nine made field goals were dunks. In addition to the aforementioned dunk on the first touch of the game, two dunks were off nice alley-oops, there was a showtime-one-handed dunk on the break just before the end of the first half, and in the second half he drove baseline, rose through traffic and jammed it. With each dunk, my outbursts got more outrageous, and the crowd began to habituate to the shrieks that would come from the general area behind the Energy's bench when Blakely did his thing.

Marqus played a lot. I think he entered about five minutes into each half, and I don't think he sat for the rest of the half each time. I wasn't taking notes or anything, so I can't fill in all those details. I can tell you, as I hope I illustrated, Marqus was absolutely a human highlight reel on the offense end. I can also tell you the things that might keep him from advancing to the next level: he hit one shot outside of 12 feet (and attempted three or four) and had a few defensive lapses on the other end. Two or three times he got caught gambling, leading to open lay ups for the man he was guarding. There was also miscommunication on a switch, causing Blakely to leave a Toros player alone with a clear path to the hoop. As we know, Marqus is a terrific post defender, particularly for his size. But a post defender he will not be at the next level, and his general discomfort guarding the perimeter was clear last night. It may be that I'm working with a small sample size, but he definitely seemed to be lost defending guards. The good thing is that the defensive issues can be improved through experience. The jump shot woes are not as easy a fix. I'm sure he has shot an enormous amount of jumpers during the offseason for a few years running, so how much better can we expect him to get at shooting the basketball? It's hard to tell.

Regardless, Marqus Blakely is a ton of fun to watch play basketball, and that has to count for something. His numbers continue to be mind boggling -- consider: he went 9-14 from the field last night and it lowered his field goal percentage with the Energy. There is definitely hope that he will one day don an NBA jersey that we can all wear replicas of.

Good luck, Marqus.

From The Parking Lot would like to thank former UMass and West Virginia player Luke Bonner and Austin Toros Assistant Coach Alex Lloyd (a fellow Vermonter!) for the free tickets.

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