That was a huge compliment, but it is not the sort that a freshman usually likes to hear. After all, Lighty was a big-time scorer at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High. He once put up 50 points in a game, he averaged nearly 28 points a game as a senior and as a result was ranked by Scout.com as the No. 30 player in his class. But Lighty was also smart enough to realize that when you come to college with a class that includes Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and Greg Oden, your best chance at earning playing time is not going to be as a scorer. So he had to find other ways to make himself valuable.
In other words, he had to turn himself into a Glue Guy.
Lighty embraced Matta's challenge to be a great defender while applying a variety of skills to blend in at the offensive end. As a freshman, he played 32 minutes a game by doing a little bit of everything, averaging 9.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. But it was on the defensive end that he made his mark, especially during the Buckeyes' run to the national championship game, when he showed he could blanket both bigger and smaller players. His signature performance came in the Final Four against Georgetown, when he held the Hoyas' 6-9 forward Jeff Green to nine points on five shots. "I still show clips of that game to teach our guys how to defend," Matta says.
Lighty missed all but seven games last season with a broken foot, but he has come back this season to lead Ohio State to a 24-7 regular-season record, a share of the Big Ten title and a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. He is still not the featured player in Ohio State's offense -- we all know that is Evan Turner -- but he is excelling in all areas of the game, both tangible and intangible. For all of his varied and often unnoticed contributions, Lighty has been bestowed the ultimate honor for college basketball's unsung heroes: the captaincy of SI.com's 11th annual All-Glue team.
A Glue Guy is hard to define but easy to spot. You certainly won't pick him out by reading the stat sheet. He's the guy who sets screens, dives for loose balls and makes the extra pass. He embraces the chance to defend the opponent's best player and doesn't complain that he's not getting enough shots. He is a leader and a good teammate. He has an unusual combination of skills, like a big guy who can shoot or a guard who gets rebounds. And lest you think that tabbing someone a Glue Guy is damning him with faint praise, he also demonstrates at times that he could be a featured performer if called upon. Why does he suppress those abilities? Because that's what his team needs, and it's a Glue Guy's job to hold everything together.
Lighty was called upon to produce more in January, after Turner went out with a back injury and Lighty had to assume many of Turner's point guard responsibilities. After his first outing, in which he had 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists in a loss at Butler, Matta said Lighty "literally played nine positions out there." During the six games when Turner was out, Lighty averaged 16.8 points (he scored 30 in a win over Cleveland State), 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Having proven the ability to score, many players would continue to seek those numbers even after Turner returned. But Lighty was happy to return to Gluedom, and the Buckeyes haven't lost a step.
"You can't be selfish and win games," Lighty says. "I guess a lot of players come out of high school and want to say it's all on me, it's my ball, but I tried to come in with the mindset to help my team win."
Lighty brings this winning attitude every day. He is the prototypical high-energy guy. Turner recalls a time when the Buckeyes were leaving their dorm for a pre-dawn workout, and while Turner was lying down in a hallway waiting to wake up, Lighty came bounding out of his room and lifted him off the floor. "He's always happy," Turner says. Buckeyes guard Jon Diebler calls Lighty a "loud guy" who "likes to scream and yell and have a good time," while Matta pays him the ultimate compliment by saying Lighty is "the best practice player I've ever had." Adds Matta, "You can't put a price on what this kid does for our team and our program."
Prior to this season, the one hole in Lighty's game was his three-point shooting. He averaged 32.7 percent from behind the arc as a freshman, and in his truncated sophomore season he made just 26.3 percent. Over the summer, Matta issued what sounded like a preposterous challenge: If Lighty could make better than 40 percent from three, the Buckeyes would have a chance to be a great team. Lighty spent countless hours hoisting shots in the offseason, and lo and behold he is shooting 41.5 percent in Big Ten games, which ranks sixth in the league. He is also again one of the top defenders in the conference -- he is ranked sixth in the conference in steals with 1.4 per game -- while averaging 12.4 points (on 49.1 percent shooting), 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. When you're a Glue Guy, a little of everything can add up to a lot.
But will it add up to a lot of money in the future? Matta may not be able to put a price tag on Lighty's contributions to Ohio State, but Lighty can be forgiven for wanting an NBA team to put a hefty price tag on what he can do for them. So while most college players at his level dream of becoming the next Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, Lighty has visions of following the footsteps of guys like Ron Artest, Bruce Bowen and Anderson Varejao. "People say the NBA is made up of 10 percent superstars and 90 percent role players, so if you want to make it in the NBA, you have a better chance of being a role player," Lighty says. "It's all about winning, not individual accolades."
If an NBA team wants to win, it would be smart to draft the 2010 All-Glue Guy captain, David Lighty. He might not light up your stat sheet, but when times get tough, you can be sure he'll help your team stick together.
Here are the rest of my selections for this year's SI.com All-Glue team, followed by a complete history of SI.com's past teams:
Last week, after Kramer hounded Indiana's 6-9 forward Christian Watford into a 3-for-11 night without a free throw, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean committed an act of blasphemy by saying he wanted Kramer, who after all plays for the Hoosiers' biggest rival, to be the template for Crean's rebuilding project in Bloomington. "We need to put a picture of him in our coach's office, because that's the kind of guy we need to have in our program," Crean said. "He just out-toughs you and his will is so strong."
Toughness and will are two essential elements of Glue Guydom, and Kramer possesses them in spades. If you didn't know better, you might think he was a standout football player -- which he was, excelling at quarterback and defensive back. If Kramer does not have a good offer to play professional basketball next season, he is considering returning to Purdue to play defensive back for the football team, but he already brings a football mentality to the Boilermakers' blue-collar basketball program.
It is on the defensive end where Kramer's will, toughness and smarts really comes through. Boilermakers coach Matt Painter describes him as "an Ozzie Smith-type guy" who disrupts games with his glove more than his bat. Kramer has been named the Big Ten's defensive player of the year twice, making the league's all-defense team four straight years. Though he is usually assigned to guard the opponent's best perimeter player, Kramer has also collared bigger foes this season like Watford and Wake Forest's 6-9 forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who committed six turnovers in a loss to the Boilermakers. Last week, Kramer broke Purdue's alltime steals record, which had been held by Brian Cardinal.
But those are just numbers. Kramer's most memorable moment in a Purdue uniform came last year, when he had his nose broken by Michigan guard Manny Harris early in the second half. What's a glue guy to do? He went to the locker room, put on a mask and returned to help Purdue to a 67-49 win. It is no coincidence that Kramer, along with fellow senior Keaton Grant, is leaving West Lafayette as part of the winningest class in school history.
"Chris has always deferred to others and just wanted to win," Painter told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel in December. "Some guys will say it, but they're just saying it. Chris really is that way."
Like a lot of players at elite programs, Redding was a big-time scorer coming out of high school. He graduated from Philadelphia's St. Joseph's prep as the school's alltime leading scorer. Though his high school coach, Speedy Morris, used to complain about Redding's effort on defense, since arriving at Villanova Redding, who has the size, quickness and guile to guard all five positions, has taken on more and more defensive responsibilities. "He can score. It's just that we have other guys who do that," Villanova coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Daily News last March. "He's good at [defense] because of his toughness and his intelligence. He not only knows how to defend, he understands other people's offense."
Redding's defensive prowess has been on display all season, most notably when he held South Florida guard Dominique Jones, who is ranked second in the Big East in scoring (21.3 ppg), to just 12 points on 2 for 10 shooting. Wright has often called Redding "the smartest guy on our team," and his versatility and basketball IQ have earned him playing time. Last year, he was Villanova's sixth-leading scorer, but he was third on the team in minutes. This year he is fifth on the team in scoring and second in minutes. When Wright needs someone else to run the team's offense to get open shots for leading scorer Scotty Reynolds, he will often put the ball in Redding's hands. On the game's final possession against West Virginia last Saturday, it was Redding who brought the ball up against the Mountaineers' fullcourt pressure and found a wide open Reynolds in the corner for a potential game-winning three, which Reynolds missed.
As a senior, Redding is contributing in all the important categories (7.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals), and his 41.9 percent clip from three-point range is by far the best of his career. But his best contributions come off the court through his leadership. For example, when the Wildcats endured a recent slump, Redding and fellow senior Reynolds organized a players-only meeting to watch tape of the team's win over Pittsburgh in last year's Elite Eight.
Of course, for a guy whose coach calls him the smartest player on the team, Redding did a pretty dumb thing last summer, when he was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Wright suspended him for the first semester, but when Redding returned in December, he faced the media like a man and has provided the team with poised leadership. "The biggest thing you could lose with coach Wright is his trust, and I might have lost some of that," he said upon his return. "I'm doing everything in my power right now to get it back."
Redding has clearly earned his coach's trust since returning to the team in December. As the Wildcats try to make another push to the Final Four, his various Glue Guy contributions will be apparent to those who are willing to look beyond the stat sheet.
Veasley is often described as quiet, but he has been steadily making more and more noise since coming to Butler four years ago. He started his college career by setting a school record for games played as a freshman, and he is ending it as the winningest player in Butler history. Though he has always been a tough defender and great rebounder for his size (4.3 per game this season), Veasley has turned himself into a top-flight marksman on offense. He did not make a single three-pointer during his first two seasons, but so far this season he has made 105 treys and is converting 37.1 percent. So whenever opposing defenses overplay the Bulldogs' leading scorer, 6-9 sophomore forward Gordon Hayward, they get punished when Butler swings the ball to a wide-open Veasley.
"He's probably one of those no-nonsense guys," Illinois-Chicago coach Jimmy Collins said of Veasley last year. "When he comes to work, he brings his brown bag and hard hat. He doesn't come into practice playing around. He comes to work."
Veasley may have distinguished himself most in October 2008, when practice began at the start of his junior season. Hayward had come to Butler with a lot of hype, but after Butler coach Brad Stevens told Veasley that he would have to share minutes with the newcomer on the wing, Stevens noticed that Veasley repeatedly deferred to Hayward in practice. "The number one quality of a leader, in my opinion, is somebody's willingness to serve other, and he is clearly one of the best servant leaders we've had here," Stevens told the Indianapolis Star.
Veasley is accustomed to making room for others. He is the second-youngest child and the only boy in a family of seven kids. A native of Freeport, Ill., he broke his high school's alltime scoring record. He originally wanted to play for Marquette, but then-coach Tom Crean did not offer him a scholarship until another recruit had backed out of his commitment. By then, Veasley had already committed to Butler, and he refused to go back on his word.
This season, Veasley is posting career highs in minutes (30.4), points (10.4) and steals. In other words, he's still getting better, but what else would you expect from a Glue Guy?
It was one of the biggest games of the year, so if casual fans tuned in to Syracuse's 18-point pasting of Villanova on Feb. 27 and wondered ... who is that guy? ... they can be forgiven. It was Jackson -- not Scotty Reynolds or Wesley Johnson -- who was the best player on the floor that night, finishing with a game-high 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in just 28 minutes. As is the case most nights, Jackson did not force the action. He simply, and smartly, made himself available while the Wildcats focused on stopping his better-known teammates. That's how Glue Guys roll.
"I think people are concerned about Wesley and Andy [Rautins] and he's got to take advantage of those opportunities," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Jackson after the game. "He's got people looking for him ... and he has done a great job finishing around the basket."
Jackson's proclivity for cleaning up around the rim caused him to give himself the nickname "Trash Man" last season. It fits. Jackson's teammate from Philadelphia's Neumann-Goretti High, Scoop Jardine, was the more heralded recruit for Syracuse, but Jackson, a late bloomer who grew four inches in high school, has found his way into the starting lineup by improving his strength and basketball I.Q. a little bit each day. After averaging 12.9 minutes while coming off the bench as a freshman, Jackson was promoted to the starting lineup in December of his sophomore season for a game at then-No. 23 Memphis. Playing power forward instead of his usual center position, Jackson had 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in a 72-65 victory, and he has kept his position ever since.
More than anything, the promotion convinced Jackson that Boeheim believed in him. That helped Jackson believe in himself. "Once you get confident," he said, "you can do things that you didn't think you could do. That's pretty much what happened."
Jackson is currently averaging just three more minutes than he did last season, but he is posting the best numbers of his career across the board: 10.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals. His willingness to muscle his way in the paint allows his teammates to escape much of that pounding, and his ability to score when called upon has turned a very good team into a great one. "Go hard or go home. That's the way I like to play," Jackson said. Thanks to his Glue Guy contributions, Syracuse won't be going home anytime soon.
2009:J.T. Tiller, Missouri (captain); Taylor Griffin, Oklahoma; Jermaine Dixon, Pitt; Garrett Temple, LSU; Travis Walton, Michigan State
2008: Stanley Burrell, Xavier (captain); Tory Jackson, Notre Dame; Dave Pendergraft, Gonzaga; Derrick Jasper, Kentucky; Justin Mason, Texas; Wisconsin (glue team).
2007: Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee (captain); Kyle Shiloh, Nevada; Dominique Kirk, 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 Mbah a 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; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Chuck Hayes, Kentucky; Robert Johnson, Oregon; Ellis Myles, 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).