The Atlanta Celtics are one of the most glamorous programs on the amateur basketball circuit, which is why
Anderson was so enamored with Tiller that after Anderson left UAB to become head coach at Missouri the following spring, he asked Tiller, who was released from his letter of intent to UAB, to be his first recruit in Columbia. "That means a lot when you sign a guy twice," Anderson said. Now, three years later, Missouri is enjoying a remarkable resurgence, posting a 24-5 record (11-3 Big 12) and a No. 15 ranking.
Though Tiller is not technically Missouri's point guard, he is ranked in the top 10 of the Big 12 in both assists (3.6 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.33-to-1). Tiller is also arguably the league's best perimeter defender. He is ranked second in the conference in steals (1.89) and has shut down many of the Big 12's biggest scorers.
Every coach asks his players to do the subtle, unglamorous things that don't show up in a box score, but Tiller is one of those rare players who specializes in doing just that.
He is, in other words, the consummate Glue Guy.
"There are just so many intangibles he brings to the table," Anderson said. "He's the catalyst for a lot of things that take place, whether it's blocking a shot, deflecting a pass, getting loose balls, taking a charge, making a pass that leads to an assist. Then you throw in his character, he's a good student, he's become a good leader. He's just all about winning."
Glue Guys tend to be underappreciated, if they're noticed at all, but there is one place where they receive the utmost respect: On SI's All-Glue team. For the many ways in which he has held Missouri together during this special season, Tiller has been bestowed the ultimate honor in gluedom -- the captaincy of this, the 10th-annual All-Glue team.
Tiller has always fashioned himself in this role. That comes from not only playing on the Atlanta Celtics but also at Wheeler High, where his teammates included
Tiller has always played with extraordinary energy, which he confesses stems largely from his desire to quell the pregame butterflies he suffers before every tip-off. His high-intensity mindset led Tiller to commit silly fouls and costly turnovers early in his career. Anderson had to constantly remind him of
Tiller brings that same energy and discipline to his studies, a mindset he attributes largely to being raised by a father who spent 20 years in the Navy. J.T.'s parents were strict about chores (keeping his room clean and his bed made was a must) and even stricter about grades, so much so that when J.T. was in the sixth grade, they kept him out of a basketball game because he got a B in band. Though J.T. confesses he does not always keep his room military tidy, he has remained steadfast about his academic work, which has especially endeared him to Anderson.
As for the Tigers' postseason prospects, Tiller is trying not to look too far ahead, but he knows full well they will only go far if they stick together. That, he knows, is his responsibility. "I believe we can go far as long as we come with the right mindset," he said. "My role on this team is to be a leader on the court, be a high-energy guy and do whatever I have to do to propel this team to the next level. I'll take that role any day as long as we're winning."
As his father might say, Aye-aye, captain.
Here are the other members of the 2009 SI All-Glue team, followed by a list of the nine previous squads:
In fact, Taylor was the one who convinced Blake to attend Oklahoma in the first place, and it was Taylor's presence on the roster that convinced Blake to return to Norman for his sophomore year even though he could have been an NBA lottery pick. Blake
Taylor might be a good person, but he has also proven to be a good player in his own right. He is a powerful rebounder (he is the team's second-leading rebounder at 5.9 per game, including 2.2 offensive boards) and he gives the Sooners another big, athletic defender to protect the rim (his 1.07 blocks average is seventh in the Big 12). Taylor is obviously not the scoring force his brother is, but he showed that he could be when he lit up Texas Tech for a season-high 22 points last Saturday. Taylor is also a considerably better foul shooter than his baby bro (70.5 percent compared to Blake's 59.3 percent), which means he is that much more valuable to have on the floor at the end of close games.
"He rebounds for us, defends for us, gets tip dunks, dives on the floor, offensive rebounds. He just makes a lot of athletic plays," OU coach
Taylor also has a lot to do with helping Blake become, in the favored parlance of the day, a high-motor player. Like brothers tend to do, they fought and competed like mad while growing up, and the two of them spent much of their summer working out in San Francisco with NBA uber trainer
"Some of the passes they make to each other, you can tell they've been playing together for a really long time," Capel said. "There's no question these guys have a special bond on the floor. It's like they always know where the other one is going to be. That's something you just can't teach."
Pittsburgh had an opening in its backcourt starting lineup this season, and Dixon seized the opportunity by giving the team exactly what it needed: a lockdown defender, an athletic finisher on the break, and a timely shooter who wouldn't commit a lot of turnovers. He has especially excelled on the defensive end, shutting down such high-scoring opponents as Miami's (Ohio)
As for taking care of the ball, Dixon has been especially remarkable in Big East play, committing just 10 turnovers (to 37 assists) in 16 games. He struggled with his outside shot at the start of the season, but that has also turned around lately thanks to a quick tutoring session that Dixon's older brother,
"He's really worked hard on his shot, but the most important thing is he had the courage and the confidence to take that shot," Pittsburgh associate coach
To opposing guards, however, Temple is simply a royal pain. With his size, his long, spindly arms, his lateral quickness and his intellect, he has fashioned himself into one of the most lethal perimeter defenders in America. Just ask Duke's
Temple has been a four-year starter at LSU, but for the last three years he has played point guard. This year, new Tigers coach
Temple is just as impressive off the court. In 2006, he was named a member of the SEC's academic honor roll, and last May he graduated from LSU with a degree in business administration. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in business. That has endeared him to LSU's first-year coach,
"He has good leadership, and it's real. It's not phony," Johnson said. "He's at peace with who he is. He's a very secure person. When Garrett speaks or asks a question, he knows what he's talking about. That's good leadership."
No wonder Spartans coach
That is indeed high praise, but Walton has proven he belongs in such select company. Walton, who has never averaged more than 6.4 points during his four years in East Lansing, worked hard on his outside shooting last summer so he could deliver points when the moment requires. (When the Spartans were short-handed early in the year he stepped up to score a career-high 16 points in consecutive games at the Old Spice Classic in November.) But it is on defense where Walton, a two-time member of the Big Ten's all-defensive team, really gets down to sticky business. When the Spartans played at Texas on Dec. 20 Longhorns guard
Walton was at his vintage best during Michigan State's most impressive win of the season Sunday at Illinois. He dogged Illini guard
Walton, a film-room junkie, has also been remarkably efficient on offense. Last year, he ranked second in the Big Ten in both assists (4.33 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.21). This year he is ranked in the top 10 in the league in assists (3.3), steals (1.32) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.18-to-1).
But as is always the case with Glue Guys, those numbers only tell part of the story. On the eve of Michigan State's second-round matchup against Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament last year, Walton, who at the time was the Spartans' ninth-leading scorer, called a players only meeting in the team's hotel to impart the importance of playing hard. During the game the next day, Walton actually overruled Izzo's instruction for him to replace freshman guard Kalin Lucas after Lucas committed a turnover -- the first time Izzo had ever had that happen to him as a coach. "It was a big learning moment for [Lucas]," Walton said after the game, which the Spartans won to advance to the Sweet 16. "You can't take him out when he makes a mistake sometimes. You've got to let him play on."
Vocal leader. Great defender. Unselfish teammate. Half-coach and half-player. You can't win a championship without those things. Travis Walton is a rare glue guy who dispenses them all.