Notre Dame found itself in a tight spot last Saturday in Storrs, Conn. The team's best player and leading scorer, Ben Hansbrough, had thrown a foolish elbow and fouled out with 8:24 remaining. UConn responded with a 13-0 burst that gave the Huskies a five-point lead with just over four minutes left. After the Fighting Irish called timeout, the home crowd stood and cheered in anticipation of what seemed to be an inevitable win.
In the Notre Dame huddle, coach Mike Brey instructed his team to run its offense through Tyrone Nash, a 6-foot-8 senior power forward. On the ensuing possession, Nash took a feed in the post and fired a pass to Carleton Scott, another 6-8 senior forward who was standing at the top of the key. Scott quickly re-entered the ball, and Nash spun and banked in a shot over his defender while getting fouled. He made the free throw to cut UConn's lead to two.
On almost every possession the rest of the way, either Nash or Scott -- and often times both -- played a critical part. Nash had an assist to Scott Martin, made two free throws and forced a jump ball with the possession arrow going Notre Dame's way. Scott set repeated screens to free up Notre Dame's dribblers, and he dove on the floor to force another jump ball with the Irish owning the possession arrow. With just 8.1 remaining, Nash hit a foul shot to stake Notre Dame to a three-point lead. When UConn guard Kemba Walker made an ill-advised pass on the Huskies' final possession, the ball rolled fittingly to Scott, who cradled it in his arms as time expired.
The sequence of events might have been a surprise to the folks in Gampel Pavilion and the thousands more who were watching it on television, but it did not surprise Brey. "It has been a tag team, two-man show with those guys all season," he said. "They anchor us defensively. Nash is such a good position defender and Carl gives you a shot blocker back there. And then offensively they can both really pass the ball and they know how to play off each other."
Best of all, Nash and Scott do all those things understanding that at the end of the day, someone else (usually Hansbrough) is going to get most of the credit. The two of them haven't just accepted that reality. They've embraced it. "On the great teams, some guys have to play their roles, even if they aren't the most heralded," Nash said. "We're a great tandem down there. It's hard to defend us, and it's hard to go up against us."
Scott is Notre Dame's leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, while Nash is the fourth-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder. Both players are excellent passers, averaging more than two assists per game. Nash has improved his foul shooting from 27.3 percent as a freshman to 69.2 percent this season. Scott is an 89.1 percent free throw shooter, and he has also made 41 three-pointers this season, which makes him a gnarly matchup problem for other power forwards in the Big East.
For the most part, however, their contributions don't jump out at you from a stat sheet. They tend to be ignored in game recaps, postgame press conferences and media days. But there is one place where players like Nash and Scott aren't just noticed but are treated like genuine stars. That's the 12th annual SI All-Glue Team.
The All-Glue Team is a storied tradition that dates back to 2000, when my colleague Alex Wolff unveiled the inaugural edition for our college basketball preview issue. From there, I took Alex's sticky tube and ran with it. Each All-Glue Team has included one player who has been named captain, but the contributions of Nash and Scott have been so similar -- and valuable -- that they have been chosen as the All-Glue team's first-ever co-captains. It is a fitting honor for a pair of teammates who stuck together through hard times.
Nash and Scott like to refer to themselves as Batman and Robin, yet in typical Glue Guy fashion they insist that the other is the leading man. They didn't set out to be supporting actors at Notre Dame, but they had no choice because they were stuck on the same team as Luke Harangody, the 6-8 forward who last year left South Bend ranked in the top three in Big East history in career points and rebounds. Riding the pine wasn't easy. At one point during a sophomore season in which he averaged 11 minutes per game, Nash walked into Brey's office and complained that he was the eighth man on a seven-man team. "It's tough sitting around for a couple of years just waiting," Nash said. "The whole time you're wondering, when do I get my chance to show what I can do?"
Nash now confesses that he hoped Harangody would turn pro following his junior season. Alas, Harangody returned for his senior year, but Nash ended up starting every game. That, however, was discouraging for Scott, who still wondered whether he would ever get the chance to show what he can do. "It's tough seeing a guy I came into college with play more than I was," Scott said. "That was a hard time for me."
Scott hit rock bottom last January when he contacted Notre Dame's compliance director and inquired about a transfer. When Brey heard about that, he called Scott into his office and gave him what the coach calls "the first ever leave of absence in college basketball history." Scott did not attend the team's home game that weekend against West Virginia, which Notre Dame won.
It was during this time that Scott and Nash had one of their many heart-to-heart talks at the Red Lobster located just a few miles from where they live (across the street from each other). Nash reminded Scott that if he left the school he would be forfeiting the opportunity to earn a degree from Notre Dame. "That was the most important thing, because a degree from Notre Dame will open up so many doors in the future," Nash said. "I told him, 'Man, just stay one year and we'll be up there together doing our thing.'"
The wait was shorter than they thought. In mid-February, Harangody suffered a badly bruised knee. The Irish lost their next two games without him and appeared headed for the NIT. From there, however, they won three straight games with Scott in the starting lineup. As Harangody prepared to return for a road game at Marquette on March 6, Brey called a team meeting to announce that he was not going to change his lineup. "I knew Ty and Carleton were looking over their shoulder like 'Hey, who's he coming in for?' " Brey said. "I pointed at them in front of the team and I said, 'You're starting the rest of the season, and it ain't changing.'" The next day, Scott hit a three-pointer against Marquette to send the game into overtime, where the Irish won by three.
Last fall, Scott was named a starter and co-captain, but he missed four games in January with a pulled hamstring. Not coincidentally, the team lost two of those games. Brey calls Scott "an underrated passer and screener," and nobody appreciates his value more than Hansbrough. "Every day Ben was hounding him. 'Are you coming back? Can you go today? When are you going to be back?'" Brey said. "Hansbrough is more confident with Carleton on the floor because he's another loud voice. All I know is we've only lost one game since he came back."
Nash, by contrast, is more of the quiet, cerebral type. Brey used to tease Nash that he needed to stop listening to jazz and listen to more rap, though Nash pointed out that "he hasn't said that as much this year." Comparing himself to Scott, Nash called himself the "the yin to his yang," but the two are alike in all the important ways. "We both want to win," Nash said. "That's what we have in common. We'll do whatever we have to do in order to win."
Here are the other winners who made the 2011 SI All-Glue Team, followed by a list of past honorees:
Like Carleton Scott and Ty Nash, Bell went through a period where he wondered whether Virginia Tech was the right place for him. His crossroads moment came in the annual season-ending meeting with Seth Greenberg at the end of Bell's sophomore season. "He wasn't playing as much as he would have liked and he was questioning his role," Greenberg said. "I was very honest with him. The hardest thing for guys like him is to get them to understand what a significant contribution they're making to the team."
Bell eventually dedicated himself into becoming an invaluable Glue Guy. He is a long, rangy athlete who is smart enough to guard any player from a point guard to a power forward. Though he has greatly improved his offensive skills -- he is posting career highs in both field-goal percentage (48.7) and three-point percentage (41.3) this year -- Bell only scores a lot when the situation calls for it. He had 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in a win at home over Penn State; he had 16 and eight in a win over Maryland; and he scored five consecutive points, including a huge three-pointer, late in the second half of the big win over Duke. Bell finished with 12 points in that game, but his best contribution was the blanket defense he played on Blue Devils forward Kyle Singler, who went just 6-for-19 from the field.
"Terrell plays without ego. You don't have to run anything for him offensively and he'll find a way to contribute," Greenberg said. "He champions his role as well as anyone I've ever had. It's to the point where I have a kid who is sitting out, and he already told me he wants to be the Terrell Bell of the frontcourt next year."
The most important thing a Glue Guy does is swallow his pride. After starting for most of his sophomore season, Morningstar has spent the last two years coming off the bench for Kansas. He is averaging 26 minutes a game as a reserve, yet he is second on the team in assists with 3.1 per game. However, he might be leading the country in hockey assists -- that is, passes that lead to the pass that lead to a score. Kansas leads the nation in field goal percentage, and Morningstar's passing and shooting percentage is a huge reason why. "He's a great ball mover," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "He really knows how to get the ball to people where they can do something with it."
Morningstar has an unusual combination of offensive skills. In league games he ranks first in the Big 12 in both three-point percentage (53.1) and assist-to-turnover ratio (4.43-to-1). He is also Kansas's best perimeter defender and ranks eighth in steals (1.38). "That's not a bad combination," Self said.
Kansas fans love Morningstar for more than just his on-court contributions. He is a native son who grew up in Lawrence, where he was raised by a father who played for KU in the 1970s. Having come to Kansas as a 20-year-old freshman, Morningstar is now a 25-year-old fifth-year senior who is savoring every last moment. "My dad ... taught me when I was a little kid that you always have to work hard for the things you want," Morningstar told the
In the days leading up to the Spartans' home game against Penn State on Feb. 10, Tom Izzo pulled Green aside and showed him some video to pump him up. Green had been in a slump, but instead of producing a highlight reel full of jump shots and dunks, Izzo showed images of the player doing more subtle things -- passing, diving for loose balls, rebounding, making smart passes. In other words, he reminded Green of what he was -- the ultimate Glue Guy. Said Green, "He showed me all the little things I used to do."
Green did a lot of little things against the Nittany Lions. He also did a lot of big things. The result was a 15-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist performance, making Green just the third player in school history to register a triple double. The others were Magic Johnson and Charlie Bell. "Those are two guys who won a national championship, so maybe that's a sign of things to come," Green said afterward.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas paid Green the ultimate compliment early this season when he called Green "the best teammate in America." He might also be the most versatile player. Green scores a modest 12.2 points per game, but he is ranked in the top 10 of the Big Ten in rebounds (8.4), steals (1.81) and assists (4.0). Prior to this season he had made two three-pointers his entire career, but this year he has made 31 on 38.3 percent shooting.
Best of all, "Day-Day", as Izzo calls him, makes winning plays in big moments. During Michigan State's run to the Final Four last year, Green was the one who grabbed a rebound, dribbled up the court and fed Korie Lucious for the game-winning three over Maryland in the second round. He also made the deft entry pass to Raymar Morgan on the team's final possession in the Elite Eight against Tennessee, allowing Morgan to sink the game-winning free throw. Those are plays that are usually made by a point guard, not a power forward.
Things looked pretty dire for the Wolverines about the third week of January. The team was in the midst of a six-game losing streak that would drop them to 1-6 in the Big Ten. Towards the end of that streak, coach John Beilein fell back on an old coaching maxim: "When in doubt, go small." So he moved Novak from shooting guard to power forward, where he would have to defend some of the biggest, strongest and most talented players in the Big Ten.
Look at 'em now. The Wolverines finished the regular season by winning eight of their last 11 games and are in excellent position to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The improvement of their backcourt tandem of Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a major factor, but the team would not be where it is without the Glue Guy contributions from their undersized, over-hearted power forward. "He's better guarding a power forward at 6-4 than our 6-8 guys do because those guys are freshman," Beilein said. "Zack gets so many rebounds below the rim. His defense is exceptional for a guy who is not overly quick."
Even with his added defensive responsibilities, Novak remains one of the best shooters in the conference. He is shooting 36.4 percent from three-point range and 83.8 percent from the foul line. He is also averaging 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists to go along with his 8.6 points per game. He has hit some big shots this season, like his late three-pointer which pushed Michigan to an important win at home over Penn State, or the late steal and three-pointer (over 6-10 junior forward Colton Iverson) in the team's win at Minnesota. However, Novak's best moment may have been when he screamed at his teammates in the huddle during the late stages of Michigan's huge win at Michigan State back on January 27. The pep talk was caught by television cameras, cementing Novak's status as a Glue Guy supreme.
"The two things he walked in the door with here are toughness and leadership," Beilein said. "The only time I get mad at Zack is if he passes up a shot. That tells you all you need to know about what kind of kid he is."