Practice visitors at the University of Toledo are familiar with an edict often emitted by the head coach.
"Be boss with the ball!" Tod Kowalczyk implores his team during offensive drills.
Translation: Be strong. Be confident. Be ready to attack the defense in multiple ways.
A little more than a month ago Kowalczyk and his coaches arranged a meeting with one of the team’s leaders seeking clarity for why his boss acumen was lacking.
"They were right," point guard Julius Brown said. "I was getting a lot of turnovers. Now I’m doing a decent job lowering my turnovers."
Brown averaged 4.4 turnovers in the nine games before Christmas and gave the ball away seven times a piece in losses to Minnesota, Florida Gulf Coast, and Cleveland State. It would not be unfair to suggest the Mid-American Conference freshman of the year from last season was embroiled in a sophomore slump, his deceleration reflected in the team’s 3-6 mark at the time.
So Kowalczyk pulled Brown aside during a three-week break between games and laid before him acceptable turnover numbers, ones produced by top point guards in the country such as Michigan’s Trey Burke, Missouri’s Phil Pressey, and Ohio’s D.J. Cooper. The conversation resonated with Brown, and he now plays like a boss.
Through four MAC contests heading into today’s home tilt against Akron (13-4, 4-0), Brown is posting a league-best 5:2 assist-to-turnover ratio. His 31 assists are broken into the 10 he distributed in a stunning win at Kent State, nine each against Central Michigan and Ohio, and three versus Western Michigan in a game in which a respectable night by Brown was the exception to a crummy showing by the Rockets.
Oh, and about those turnovers. Brown has just six of them in MAC play and never more than two in a game.
"He listened, he accepted what I said, and he changed for the betterment of the team," Kowalczyk said.
The next area of his game that Brown needs to hone is his shooting, "and that will change," Kowalczyk insists. Brown is making just 18 percent of his 3-point attempts — down 14 percent from a year ago — and has produced the following efforts from the field in the past month: 1 of 11, 2 of 13, and 3 of 16 on Saturday at Ohio.
"Pretty hard for me to put my finger on it," Brown said. "I just have to keep shooting with confidence."
It is no surprise Kowalczyk asserts the key to securing victory today is taking care of the ball against an Akron team "that thrives on turning you over." The Zips, who appear to be on a collision course with Co-East leader Ohio for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, register about 14 takeaways a game.
Brown, in particular, needs to be boss with the ball.
"I love coaching him because he’s a prideful guy," Kowalczyk said. "He has a lot of pride in how he plays and how he performs."
LEMONS RETURNS: Freshman guard Josh Lemons practiced Tuesday and is expected to play after missing the Ohio game with a head injury. Brown played all 40 minutes Saturday.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.