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March 23, 2012
Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper helped make his team the first No. 13 seed to reach the Sweet 16 since 2006, but the 5-foot-11 junior's emergence on the national scene actually has accomplished much more than that.
Cooper also is providing hope for all the undersized point-guard recruits who someday hope to perform on a similar stage.
"It's sort of an inspiration," said Charles Tucker, a 5-11 junior three-star prospect from Lansing (Mich.) Eastern.
Three teams advanced to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament with starting guards who are under 6 feet: Cooper, Baylor's Pierre Jackson (5-10) and Florida's Erving Walker (5-8). None of the three were top-100 prospects, though Walker was ranked 102nd in his class.
Xavier's Tu Holloway, Indiana's Jordan Hulls, Louisville's Peyton Siva and Cincinnati's Cashmere Wright are 6 feet even. Louisville's Russ Smith is a 6-footer who generally comes off the bench, but he headed into the regional semifinals as the Cardinals' second-leading scorer.
The presence of so many relatively small guards in the second week of the tournament lends credence to the notion that height is an overrated attribute for a Division I point guard.
"I really don't think height has anything to do with it," said Jackson, who will face off with Holloway in a South Regional semifinal Friday at the Georgia Dome. "I think if you know how to play basketball and are good at it, it shouldn't matter. You can't measure heart, and I think we've all got that. We're proving it to everybody now."
And plenty of undersized recruits are taking notice.
"Now everything is happening well for the little guard because of guys like D.J. Cooper and Tu Holloway," said J.J. Frazier, a 5-10 junior guard at Ludowici (Ga.) Faith Baptist Christian Academy. "Those guys are helping.''
Frazier, a three-star prospect, ended his recruitment last month by committing to Georgia. But there are plenty of other juniors also under 6 feet who are still trying to raise their stock and catch the attention of a mid-major or high-major program.
Tucker's on that list.
He watched Ohio's NCAA tournament upset of Michigan last week with keen interest. Tucker plays on the same All-Ohio Red AAU organization that produced Michigan guard Trey Burke. He also has offers from three of Ohio's Mid-American Conference rivals: Kent State, Toledo and Western Michigan.
He couldn't help but get caught up in Cooper's performance. Now he's hoping Cooper's starmaking performance can help show college recruiters that you don't have to be at least 6 feet tall to succeed at the highest level.
"With him playing well in the tournament, I think that helps us a lot," said Tucker, who also has an offer from Jacksonville.
A look at the class of 2012 Rivals150 shows there already is plenty of room for shorter guards.
Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, a 5-11 guard from Indianapolis (Ind.) Park Tudor who has signed with Indiana, is the nation's No. 17 overall recruit and one of five seniors under 6 feet in the 2012 Rivals150. Baltimore (Md.) Patterson's Aquille Carr, a 5-9 junior who has committed to Seton Hall, headlines a list of four guys shorter than 6 feet in the 2013 Rivals150.
Of course, as ranked prospects, most of these guys already have caught the attention of college programs across the country. But the big tournament performances by Cooper, Holloway and Co. could provide hope to some of the shorter guards who are outside the Rivals150.
"I always want to be like a role model or be an inspiration to a high school guy," said Holloway, who indicates he benefits from a 6-foot-6 wingspan. "If they can see us doing it in a high level in the NCAA, I know they feel like they can make it happen."
Tucker is one of those smaller junior guards ranked outside the Rivals150. The most notable example might be Stevie Clark, a 5-10 guard from Oklahoma City (Okla.) Douglass who already has earned some high-major offers and has boosted his stock tremendously on the strength of a spectacular junior season. This tournament also could benefit a more under-the-radar prospect such as Richmond (Calif.) Salesian's Mario Dunn, a 5-10 junior whose only current offer is from UC Irvine.
"Even though he's under 6 feet, he plays bigger than 6 feet," Salesian coach Bill Mellis said. "He can definitely play above the rim in addition to attacking the basket out of our offense."
Of course, these types of guards can only succeed if they have enough other strengths to compensate for their lack of height. Quickness obviously is a must. So are a couple of other traits, according to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer.
"The key for a smaller point guard is he really needs to be able to score the ball," Meyer said. "I think that's what we're seeing with these guys. If you can put up points and also know how to direct a team and have great leadership abilities, it doesn't matter if you're three inches shorter."
Indeed, Cooper, Jackson and Holloway all lead their teams in scoring, while Walker is the SEC's second-leading active scorer. It's also worth noting that all four active Division I players with at least 1,700 career points and 500 assists are 6 feet or shorter: Holloway, Walker, 5-11 Reggie Hamilton of Oakland and 5-10 Casper Ware of Long Beach State.
"Certain players can make clutch shots, even under pressure," Meyer said. "That's probably the No. 1 determining factor. Height gets thrown out when you determine that. ... Really, what it comes down to is, how clutch are you? Can you perform under pressure? If you can, you can overcome deficiencies like the measurables."
That's one trait the shorter guards in this tournament have in abundance.
Cooper proved it Sunday when he made an off-balance jumper as the shot clock was expiring to give his team a seven-point lead over USF with 1:34 remaining in the Bobcats' 62-56 victory. Holloway delivered one of the best clutch shots of this tournament Friday when he banked in a go-ahead shot over 6-9 forward Jack Cooley with 21.3 seconds left in Xavier's 67-63 triumph over Notre Dame.
"When you're smaller, I just feel like you have to have the biggest heart," Holloway said.
Holloway's big play furthers the notion that a Division I point guard doesn't necessarily need great height to help his team reach great heights.
"All other things being equal, the taller, bigger, stronger and faster player's the better player," Meyer said. "But very rarely is it all equal. Sometimes in scouting and recruiting, we make the mistake in thinking that it's all equal, so we go with the guy who has all the measurables.
"A lot of times when you scout and recruit, it's tough to measure how clutch a player is. That's why there will always be players who slip through the cracks."
If one of these undersized guards can lead his team to a national title, perhaps not so many of these shorter guards will slip through the cracks in the future.
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