Two members of the University of Akron basketball team seemed to be a bit in limbo at the end of the season, but they have assumed prominent roles during this stellar postseason.
Forwards Nick Harney and Chauncey Gilliam got to their current situations from different circumstances, but the net result is obvious: They played a significant role in helping the Zips win the Mid-American Conference Tournament this past weekend.
Gilliam’s issue: frustration from a knee injury and lack of playing time.
“After the surgery, and everything I had to deal with, I was more so in a funk,” Gilliam said.
After having meniscus surgery, he never really seemed to be the player who flashed his game earlier in the season at Kent State and at Toledo.
By the time he recovered from the injury, his playing time diminished, and it could be argued that he found a spot in coach Keith Dambrot’s doghouse. On more than one occasion, he could be seen pouting to himself and lobbying Dambrot about whether he should have been yanked out of a game.
Gilliam said it’s part of the dynamic he and Dambrot have.
“That’s our relationship. Off the court we’re best friends,” he said. “When it comes to basketball, we’re just two fired-up individuals. That’s how it comes out now.”
Despite the season’s ups and downs, Gilliam has been there to deliver when UA needed him. He was a major spark at Kent State. And he showed up in both tournament games.
“I don’t really have doghouses. [The players] decide who plays,” Dambrot said. “He got off to a rough start and never really recovered, but I always felt like he can put the ball in the basket, and he can. That’s why you never quit on anybody.”
Harney said that’s one of the reasons his teammates kept faith in Gilliam.
“He played real good last game. We knew he was coming. He was just due,” Harney said. “We know Chauncey’s going to shoot the ball in for the rest of the season. Senior year, you want to leave with no regrets. We’ve got all the confidence in the world in Chauncey.”
For Harney, a promising start to the season devolved into one with inconsistent play. He has dealt with multiple positions. He started in the four spot; moved to three, a place where he still looks out of sorts, to make room for a blossoming Demetrius Treadwell; and now is playing the point.
Playing with confidence
“I didn’t really feel like I was in the doghouse, it was just finding myself again. Learning all these new positions and the offense, it’s tough. Not really the physical part but the mental aspect of it,” Harney said. “I really wasn’t prepared for that at the beginning. It’s done now; I think I’ve tackled it. Now I can play the 4, 3 or the 1 and be totally fine. It’s good that it’s going good now.”
Dambrot agreed that much of Harney’s problem came from within: “He’s a brash, arrogant guy, and when he doesn’t think he’s good, that’s a problem.”
Neither player should have a problem with confidence after the way they showed up under difficult circumstances for the MAC Tournament.
Point guard Alex Abreu’s loss forced Dambrot to reconfigure, and his tinkering bolstered the Zips.
Gilliam returned to the starting lineup at the three, a place he hadn’t been since early in the season. Harney came off the bench to backup freshman point guard Carmelo Betancourt.
Both delivered in key spots for the Zips.
Gilliam averaged 9.5 points in UA’s two tournament games. Harney delivered 11 points, 2.5 rebounds, three assists and 4.5 turnovers per game.
At 6-foot-8 and playing the point, Harney possesses a size advantage over most point guards. Right now he’s in that confidence zone Dambrot mentioned, and it shows in that he only partially joked about playing like Magic Johnson during the Zips selection show watch party Sunday.
“I absolutely believe that. I’ve got the most confidence in myself. That’s what coach Dambrot says sometimes, that’s what’s good and bad about me, confidence,” he said. “Magic Johnson might sound farfetched, but you’ve got to aim for something.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.