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Missouri's J.T. Tiller captains the 10th-annual All-Glue team

The Atlanta Celtics are one of the most glamorous programs on the amateur basketball circuit, which is why Mike Anderson, then UAB coach, watched them play many times during the summer of 2005. But instead of locking in on mega scorers, Anderson instead found his gaze drifting toward J.T. Tiller, a 6-foot-3 guard from Marietta, Ga., who was drawing scant interest from other high-major schools. "He was one of those kamikaze guys who did all the little things that add up to winning," Anderson recalls. "He played so hard and gave everything he had, and he had a huge impact on the game just from a defensive standpoint. Most guys don't get after it defensively during the summer, but this kid had no ego. He was all about winning."

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 Sharaud Curry, now a high-scoring guard at Providence, and 6-9 center J.J. Hickson, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I thought of myself as a defensive player coming out of high school. I thought that would be my way out," Tiller said. "Everybody else wanted to be the offensive threat, but I felt like for me to be seen I had to be the defensive guy stopping those offensive-minded people. I thought coaches would like that hard-nosed style."

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 John Wooden's timeless admonition to "be quick but don't hurry." Says Anderson, "Early on he only had one speed. He's learned to slow down a little and stay under control."

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:

Taylor Griffin, 6-7 senior forward, OklahomaIt's hard enough for proud athletes to accept secondary roles while younger players get all the glory. It's even harder when the headliner is your little brother. Yet Griffin has been perfectly willing to complement his younger brother, Blake, a 6-9 sophomore who is the consensus front-runner for national Player of the Year.

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 confessed to my colleague Kelli Anderson that he worried how Taylor would handle the possibility of his baby bro grabbing all the headlines. "But I shouldn't have," Blake said. "That's not the kind of person Taylor is."

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 Jeff Capel says. "He may be underappreciated by other people for what he does, but not by me."

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 Frank Mastrisciano. The countless hours they've spent together on the court has also given them a telekinetic connection. With Blake drawing so much attention from opposing defenses, it is critical that he know exactly where his teammates are going to be. Taylor is his favorite target.

"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."

Jermaine Dixon, 6-3 junior guard, PittsburghPanthers coach Jamie Dixon doesn't recruit a lot of junior college players, and the last thing his team needed this season was another scorer. Yet, there was something he saw in Jermaine Dixon, even as Jermaine was averaging 18.1 points per game for Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College en route to being one of only two players in the history of that school to score more than 1,000 career points. "It was just the right fit," Jamie said. "We didn't have anybody in that class -- he's our only junior now -- and we felt he was the right guy that had the mental and physical toughness both to be a good fit. We definitely found the right guy."

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) Michael Bramos (two points), Washington State's Klay Thompson (seven), Georgetown's Chris Wright (five) and Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney (10). He is also highly versatile, as he demonstrated at West Virginia on Jan. 25, when Dixon started off guarding Mountaineers guard Alex Ruoff, then had to switch to 6-7 forward Da'Sean Butler when his teammate Sam Young got into foul trouble.

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, Juan, a former Maryland All-America who now plays for the Washington Wizards, gave him in a practice gym at the Verizon Center after the Panthers won at Georgetown on Jan. 3. To that point, Jermaine had made just seven of his 43 three-point attempts, but since then he has made a remarkable 46 percent from behind the arc. When Pittsburgh defeated UConn on Feb. 16, Dixon hit a critical three with 4:37 remaining to give the Panthers a one-point lead and some late momentum.

"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 Tom Herrion said. "He's totally embraced the role this team has needed him to play. He knows he's playing with some very good players, and he's smart enough to recognize what he needs to do to be a very important piece of this wheel."

Garrett Temple, 6-6 senior guard, LSUTemple comes from royal bloodlines. His father, Collis, was the first African-American to play basketball at LSU (1971-74). His older brother, Collis III, played for LSU from 1999-2003.

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 J.J. Redick, who scored 11 points on 3-for-18 shooting while being guarded by Temple in the third round of the 2005 NCAA tournament, when Temple was a redshirt freshman starter on the Tigers' Final Four team. Temple has also shut down such big-time scorers as Texas A&M's Acie Law (four points) and Tennessee's Chris Lofton (two). Last week, as the Tigers scored their two most important wins of the season, he forced Florida's Nick Calathes and Kentucky's Jodie Meeks to shoot a combined 2-for-14 from three-point range as the Tigers won both games. No wonder he was named a defensive All-America last season by Collegeinsider.com.

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 Trent Johnson switched him to small forward so 6-1 sophomore Bo Spencer could play the point, but Temple remains an invaluable floor general. He leads the team (and is ranked fifth in the SEC) in assists with 4.1 per game and he is first in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2-to-1). He is also fourth in the league in steals (1.86), he averages 4.5 rebounds and he's making 84.1 percent from the foul line. That should tell you Temple is capable of scoring more than his current average of 7.2 points a game, but since he plays with two of the highest-scoring players in the SEC in Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell, Temple knows his job is to get those guys open shots, not take a bunch of his own.

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, Trent Johnson, who was hired away from Stanford partly to rebuild the program's academic standing. "I'm not the kind of person who pays lip service to academics," Johnson said. The new coach likes smart players, and he is smart enough to recognize a high-quality glue guy when he sees one.

"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."

Travis Walton, 6-2 senior guard, Michigan StateIn October 2007, I visited a practice at Michigan State and tried to pay close attention to what the expected top scorers Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan were doing, and I was curious to see how good the freshmen looked. Yet, Walton was the one who demanded my attention. No player worked harder or shouted louder, even when he wasn't participating in a drill. At one point, Walton stopped practice to instruct then-freshman guard Kalin Lucas how to improve his technique while guarding the dribbler. ("You slide, baby, you slide!") When 6-11 center Idong Ibock trotted onto the court a little too slowly, Walton yelled, "I-D, don't f------ walk out here. Run!"

No wonder Spartans coach Tom Izzo made Walton, whom Izzo calls "half-coach, half-player" his team captain for the third-straight year, an honor he has bestowed only twice before to Antonio Smith and Mateen Cleaves. "It was not long after he got here that he jumped out at me as an incredible leader," Izzo said. "When Magic Johnson comes back, or Eric Snow or Mateen [Cleaves], they all relate to him."

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 A.J. Abrams scored a season-low eight points and didn't make a three-pointer. On Feb. 10, Michigan guard Manny Harris came into his game against the Spartans as the Big Ten's second-leading scorer at 17.5 points per game. Walton held him to seven points on 2-for-10 shooting. Said Izzo afterward, "If Travis Walton isn't one of the best defenders in this league, I don't know who is."

Walton was at his vintage best during Michigan State's most impressive win of the season Sunday at Illinois. He dogged Illini guard Drew McCamey all day and had five assists, three steals and no turnovers while burying a critical long jumper with 1:11 remaining to put the Spartans up by five points.

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.

2008:Stanley Burrell, Xavier (captain); Tory Jackson, Notre Dame; DavePendergraft, Gonzaga; Derrick Jasper, Kentucky; Justin Mason, Wisconsin; Wisconsin (glue team).

2007: Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee (captain); Kyle Shiloh, Nevada; DominiqueKirk, Texas A&M; Othello Hunter, Ohio State; Marcus Landry, Wisconsin. 2006:Sean Dockery, Duke (captain); Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee; Mike Hall, George Washington; Sean Marshall, Boston College; Luc Richard Mbaha Moute, UCLA; Kenton Paulino, Texas. 2005:Jamaal Levy, Wake Forest (captain); Louis Hinnant, Boston College; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Christian Moody, Kansas; Ellis Myles, Louisville; Roger Powell, Illinois. 2004:Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh (captain); Tyrone Barley, Saint Joseph's; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Roger Powell, Illinois; Nick Robinson, Stanford; Robert Tomaszek, Texas Tech.2003:Rick Anderson, Arizona (captain); Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh; JustinHamilton, Florida; Chuck Hayes, Kentucky; Robert Johnson, Oregon; EllisMyles, Louisville; Tony Robertson, Connecticut. 2002:Gerald Fitch, Kentucky (captain); Dahntay Jones, Duke; Billy Knight, UCLA; Byron Mouton, Maryland; Jarrod Odle, Indiana; Antoine Pettway, Alabama. 2001:Sergio McClain, Illinois (captain); Nate James, Duke; Luke Walton, Arizona; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Marcus Toney-El, Seton Hall; Jason Capel, North Carolina.2000:Lavor Postell, St. John's (captain); Alex Jensen, Utah; Nate James, Duke; Brian Beshara, LSU; Stanford (glue team)

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