Thursday, January 26, 2012
Shawn Strickland is Outstanding Leader for Middletown on the Court
The point guard is the floor general who teammates look to for leadership on the court. They are the primary ball handlers and initiate the offense, and on defense their peskiness and hard effort causes poor execution and turnovers. The point guard exists within the flow of games, and understands when to get teammates going on offense and when to take over games themselves. For better or worse, they are the emotional leader of the team. The average point guard certainly doesn’t possess all of these ideal qualities. If a team has a point guard who possesses even one or two of these qualities then they will be pleased. But a point guard who is all this, and more, is special. He is a difference-maker. Shawn Strickland, the junior point guard and captain for the Middletown High Blue Dragons, is just that.
Shawn Strickland is skilled all-around. He is a deft ball-handler who’s adept at scoring off the dribble and shooting the three. Strickland’s speed, passing ability and basketball smarts allow him to find open teammates for good looks at the basket. The junior’s smarts and physical gifts make him a tenacious defender who can pick up blocks or steals at any time. However, Strickland’s greatest asset is his leadership abilities. He is the player who makes MHS go and who teammates consistently look to for direction.
“I try to get my teammates involved on offense before anything else,” said Strickland when I spoke to him. “I want everyone to be involved and helping us out. I only worry about scoring when we need me to.”
The ideal point guard didn’t used to have this mindset. At one point, Strickland worried about his game before that of the rest of the Blue Dragons, an approach which he realized was a dead end.
“I used to think it was all about scoring,” said Strickland. “Once I got used to being a point guard I realized getting other players involved win games. That’s more important.”
Strickland has helped lead MHS to an 8-4 record and second place in the CCC South. The team has already qualified for the state playoffs and is on their way to its best regular season record in three seasons. Strickland, who was voted All-CCC South in only his sophomore season, has had a strong junior season despite dislocating his knee and missing a few games. Though he’s rarely been 100 percent, Strickland has been an outstanding facilitator for big men Mikie Rhodes and Taji Owens and backcourt mates Jalen Manzie and Jerry Robinson, while still occasionally scoring on his own. Strickland’s strongest games had come at the beginning of the season before his injury, and the star was quiet for a few games after making his return. On Monday night Strickland broke out in a big way, dominating on both ends of the floor in leading the Blue Dragons to their biggest victory of the season.
All of the skills which make Strickland a unique point guard were on display Monday in Middletown’s 61-52 overtime comeback win over Glastonbury, the strongest team that MHS has beaten all season. Strickland scored 18 points in the contest, but much of what made his performance great wasn’t evident in the box score. Strickland’s ability to handle the ball with complete care and initiate the offense never wavered in a pressure-packed game. As the Blue Dragons zone defense began to slow Glastonbury down, Strickland’s speed and court vision was key in his teammates finding open shots and MHS rallying from being down 24-17 at the half.
The captain put up seven in the first half when his teammates were slow to get it going, and made clutch play after clutch play as MHS as rallied in the second half. Strickland earned a trio of blocks in the second half that swung momentum the Blue Dragons way. His steal and layup halfway through the third quarter narrowed the deficit to three, and Strickland later picked up a beautiful assist on the hoop which gave MHS its first lead of the game with 20 seconds remaining in the third, 36-35. His pinpoint jumper gave the squad a three-point lead midway through the final quarter, and Strickland’s fallback jumper reclaimed the lead for MHS at 47-46 just over two minutes later. Finally, Strickland made three of six foul shots in overtime as the Blue Dragons took control, going on to win by nine.
“I wasn’t doing anything different when I scored,” said Strickland. “I was just trying to make plays within the flow of our offense.”
Throughout the contest, Strickland exhibited the ability to take on whatever role his team most needed him to fill. Whether the role was that of an expert ball-handler, dynamic point guard or athletic defender, Strickland performed it with aplomb. Meanwhile, his cool and confident demeanor noticeably rubbed off on his teammates, allowing them to retain momentum throughout Middletown’s comeback. Playing (by my count) 34 of the game’s 36 minutes, Strickland both controlled the action of the game while seemingly receding from it. Like a cobra waiting to strike, he would hang back before threading a pass to an open teammate or blowing past the defense for a layup. To use another analogy, Strickland was the cat, and Glastonbury was the mouse. In doing so Strickland demonstrated not only how much more athletic he can be than his opponents but how much more intelligent he can be than them also.
If Shawn Strickland can remain healthy, Middletown should continue to improve through the rest of their schedule. A smart, dynamic point guard is the first chess piece any basketball team needs to be successful, and the combination of Strickland and the Blue Dragons skilled front line will make MHS consistently dangerous. It’s impossible to know what record Middletown will finish with and how far the team will go in the state playoffs. But with Strickland at the helm, the Blue Dragons can make a deep run.
“It’s great to make states with this win,” stated Strickland. “That’s what we’ve been working for, and it feels good. I think we can get even better and win the rest of our regular season games.”