Friday, March 15, 2002

Success starts with Chalmers


Xavier places faith in guard

By Neil Schmidt, nschmidt@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[img]
Coach Thad Matta with Lionel Chalmers.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        DALLAS — For months last fall when Thad Matta woke up in the middle of the night, Lionel Chalmers was the man on his mind. Xavier's new coach figured that in placing the ball in Chalmers' hands, he also was entrusting a season's destiny.

        That XU is 25-5 suggests Matta should sleep easier.

        “The key to this season wasn't (David) West and (Romain) Sato,” XU radio analyst Steve Wolf said. “It was Chalmers understanding his role. And lately, he is playing the best of any point guard (at XU) since Ralph Lee.”

        That's to say he has been better than Jamal Walker, Michael Hawkins, Gary Lumpkin and Maurice McAfee. And that he has studied his playbook.

        “He's been maybe our most improved guy,” Matta said. “He has been invaluable to this team, simply because he's the decision-maker.”

        As much as he has helped to this point, Chalmers' role can only elevate.

        Point guard play is among the greatest intangibles in March basketball. Rick Pitino has explained it thusly: By this stage, each team's tendencies have been broken down countless times on tape. What can't be accounted for are point guards who can beat defenders off the dribble and keep defenders on their toes.

        “Offensively, he's unique in that he does more than just run the team; he can stick the dagger in you with the 3-(pointer),” XU associate head coach Sean Miller said.

        Chalmers is shooting 44.1 percent, including 37 percent from 3-point range. His shooting percentage would rank third in the Atlantic 10 — behind only West and Sato — if he had the minimum number of made baskets to qualify.

        What makes it amazing is that the junior guard shot just 36.5 percent last winter, including 30.2 percent on 3s.

        “I think the difference is shot selection,” Chalmers said. “I think I might have been a little anxious coming off the bench last season.”

        Chalmers' assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.27-to-1 is improved upon his 0.92-to-1 ratio last season. Continued improvement comes because of his intensive work with Miller, whose 744 career assists for Pittsburgh a decade ago still rank as the second-most in Big East history.

        Miller knew the challenges Chalmers faced: He was a shooting guard in high school. He redshirted his first year at XU. He played both guard spots last year as a reserve. And he's in a new system.

        Chalmers' play today is critical because of Hawaii's proficient ballhandling. UH's Mark Campbell has a 2.65-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

        “Defense has been our thing all year,” Chalmers said. “I'll look to stop them at the point of attack.”

        Of note: XU is 23-1 when someone other than Chalmers is the leading scorer. Not that the Musketeers don't need his scoring, but perhaps they need his passing more.

        “It's been a learning process,” Chalmers said. “I'm happy with how things have gone, but I'm not satisfied.”

       



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