Days of the dominant big men in basketball are fading into the abyss. Gone are the days of Moses Malone, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.
Nowadays you can’t roll a ball across a basketball court without hitting a small forward, combo guard or point guard.
Basketball is morphing into a smaller game with more quickness and a refined long-range shooting prowess.
And don’t think Northeastern State coach Larry Gipson hasn’t taken notice.
“College basketball has moved in the direction of small ball, if you will,” Gipson said. “The NBA is moving in that direction.”
With that in mind, Gipson has transformed his roster into a skillful collection of guards with very few big men sprinkled into the mix.
Headlining Gipson’s gaggle of guards is point guard Bryton Hobbs, an All-American honorable mention and a Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association First Team member after his junior campaign last season. The St. Louis native and Pratt Community College transfer averaged 18.3 points, 4.9 assists and four rebounds per game.
Working alongside Hobbs in the backcourt will be a host of players, including Keon Littleton (6-1 junior), Dalen Qualls (6-1 junior from Stratford) and Michael Harmon (5-11 junior).
“We recruited a very good guard group,” Gipson said. “...When we got Dalen Qualls, a lot of junior college coaches called to congratulate and confirm that we got a really good player.
“Michael Harmon is a good shooter...and I think he’s capable of getting hot and having some very good games. I really like our guard core, and I think those guys can really play.”
The questions marks for the RiverHawks — who went 19-9 with an appearance in the NCAA tournament last year — focus primarily on post play and rebounding. NSU’s tallest players are Jeremy McDonald and Curtis Evans at six feet, seven inches with Dylan Simpson at 6-5. Landon DeMasters and Marcus Sheppard — both of whom return from last year’s team — will play an integral part in the RiverHawks’ every-day operations, but both only stand six feet, four inches off the ground.
“Those two guys (McDonald and Evans) are mobile, active, hard-working big guys,” said Gipson, who will now be without the services of Jermaine Bransford due to graduation.
“At best, they’re — by the current definition — stretch-fours and not true low-post players. Those type of low-post players are hard to find nowadays.”
As a sophomore last year, DeMasters averaged 7.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game for the RiverHawks. Sheppard was in the same ballpark at 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds a game.
“I think Landon DeMasters is obviously going to have to up his game a little bit as a front-line player,” Gipson said. “...Along with Dylan Simpson, I think those guys are going to have to carry the burden for us, in terms of interior defense and rebounding.
“Then we have to get increased play our of Marcus Sheppard.”
If Gipson can get consistent contributions from his undersized forwards, the RiverHawks will let the guards take care of the rest.