Jan. 10, 2009
SEATTLE (AP) - Jon Brockman was essentially born for the rugged skill of rebounding.
"I was always too big for the McDonald's Playland," Washington's sculpted, 6-foot-7, 255-pound hulk said with a laugh Friday. "It was sad."
Man, is he all grown up now. And the only thing sad these days around the nation's leading returning rebounder is the task opponents of the Huskies (11-3, 2-0 Pac-10) have in keeping Brockman and his teammates from getting any missed shot they want.
Thanks largely to Brockman's dominant strength and tenacity, plus a risky strategy of sending four players to the glass on every long shot, Washington enters Saturday's test against surprising California (14-2, 3-0) leading the nation in rebounding margin per game (12.1). That average increased Thursday night, when the Huskies out-rebounded Stanford 44-28.
"I guess it's our identity now," Washington's Matthew Bryan-Amaning said.
The 6-9 sophomore and Quincy Pondexter, a 6-6 junior slasher, give the Huskies three players who average at least 5.8 rebounds per game. Coach Lorenzo Romar said before Brockman arrived and before assistant coach Jim Shaw began preaching an aggressive rebounding mentality even to guards, Washington's leading rebounder for a season would be lucky to average 5.5 a game.
Brockman tied his career high with 18 rebounds in the taut, 84-83 victory over the Cardinal. His final one showed his rebound-first, score-later mentality. It's one that Romar said he's never seen in any other player he's coached in 16 years as an assistant and a head man.
With the rest of the arena and nine other players on the floor transfixed on the Huskies' winning shot attempt with 5 seconds left, Brockman was busy noting where Bryan-Amaning was shooting from. He then calculated the likelihood of where a rebound would carom.
Brockman saw Bryan-Amaning begin a tough leaning jump shot from the right side of the basket, so he peeled around Stanford's Josh Owens and headed for the left side of the rim. As the rest of the Cardinal defense converged to contest the shot, Brockman moved to an almost lonely place for the easiest rebound and put-back basket he will ever have.
Brockman has studied Dennis Rodman, the former bad-boy rebounder extraordinaire with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. Like Rodman, Brockman knew that 77 percent of the time a shot from the side will either hit short directly back toward the shooter -- or to the opposite side.
Ask Romar if he's ever seen another with Brockman's passion for rebounding, and he mentions only Larry Smith, his teammate in the 1980s on the Golden State Warriors.
"I saw him get 30 rebounds in a game," Romar marveled. "But I've never coached a player like (Brockman)."
For those who wonder how Brockman's skill may serve him in the NBA: Smith was on the league's all-rookie team in 1981 and played 13 seasons for three teams. His career average was 9.2 rebounds per game, while at 6-8 and a far-less-imposing 215 pounds.
Showing he is more than just a brute, Brockman swished a baseline jumper in the first half Thursday night to become the first Washington player to score 1,500 points and have 1,000 rebounds in a career. He has 1,026 rebounds -- 25 behind Doug Smart's 50-year-old school record.
The way Brockman is grabbing everything that misses, he'll pass Smart next weekend when Washington plays at Oregon State and Oregon.
Despite missing one game and being limiting in another by a sprained ankle, the senior strongman is averaging 10.3 rebounds per game for the season, to go with 16.2 points.
It's not sexy, but it works. Washington, which has missed the NCAA tournament the last two seasons and last spring finished its first losing season since Romar's first one at the UW in 2002-03, has won nine consecutive games. It's the Huskies' longest winning streak since the last NCAA tournament team led by current Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy began the 2006-07 with 11 straight victories.
"You know, I love it," Brockman said, when asked how thankless and unappreciated rebounding is. "Everyone wants to look at the points column. Scoring's great, but rebounding is where you win or lose games. You look at the stat sheet and whichever team wins the rebounding battle controls the game."
Cal is the Pac-10's best 3-point shooting team, averaging an astounding 49.5 percent from deep. The Bears will force Brockman to have to venture farther from the basket for longer caroms on Saturday.
Something says Cal had better make almost all of those shots.