Rockets lean to left

Toledo roster unique in its balance with 6 southpaws

1/29/2013
BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
UT senior Brianna Jones plays on a unique team: None of the MAC’s other 23 teams — men’s and women’s — has more than two left-handers. The Rockets have six.
UT senior Brianna Jones plays on a unique team: None of the MAC’s other 23 teams — men’s and women’s — has more than two left-handers. The Rockets have six.

Brianna Jones, ecstatic to learn there is a such thing as National Left-Handers Day, wants to make plans for the Aug. 13 occasion.

"I think everybody should get a cake who’s left-handed," Jones, a center on the University of Toledo women’s basketball team, said.Rockets coach Tricia Cullop might offer up some resistance. One or two cakes? Fine. But six of them spread throughout the locker room? Nothing good could come of that.

Roughly 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed, a figure consistent with most basketball teams in the Mid-American Conference.

Not Toledo’s women. On a roster that consists of 15 players, 40 percent are southpaws. None of the MAC’s other 23 teams — men’s and women’s — has more than two, according to statistics culled from sports information directors in the league.

"We just so happened one day to think about it," Rockets guard Andola Dortch said. "We really do have a balanced amount of left-handed and right-handed people."

Is it an advantage? Depends who you ask.

Baseball managers covet left-handed pitchers, mainly because batters — most of them hitting from the right side of the plate — are afforded less time against a lefty to detect the movement of the ball.

There is a theory that left-handed quarterbacks are able to mitigate pressure applied by a defensive line because the top pass rusher generally is positioned at right end, in clear view of a left-handed quarterback.

As for basketball, some say left-handers — at least in the act of shooting — have the upper-hand.

"A lot of players are used to closing out to a right-handed shooter, so we try to use it to our advantage," said Cullop, whose construction of a left-handed centric roster was not by design but "just kind of happened."

Southpaw Yolanda Richardson is part of a team where 44 per­cent of UT’s 1,235 points this sea­son have been pro­duced by a lefty.
Southpaw Yolanda Richardson is part of a team where 44 per­cent of UT’s 1,235 points this sea­son have been pro­duced by a lefty.

Cullop added: "It’s been fun. I’ve had to rethink some things of which side we run certain offenses to make sure we’re going to a dominant hand."

Two of Cullop’s 3-point specialists, Riley McCormick and Ana Capotosto, are lefties. So are two of the team’s best all-around players.

Dortch, the reigning MAC defensive player of the year, said she grew adept at dribbling with her right hand after mimicking her right-handed teammates in drills at youth practices. Yolanda Richardson, who leads the league in field goal percentage, has relied often on her left hand to block 200 shots, second most in MAC history.

In total, 44 percent of Toledo’s 1,235 points this season have been produced by a lefty — Dortch (11.4 points per game), Richardson (9.4), Jones (4.3), McCormick (3.2), Capotosto (1.1), and forward Taylor Carver (0.4).

The Rockets (17-2, 5-1) will host Ohio, which has zero lefties, on Thursday.

The three recruits in Toledo’s 2013 class are righties, thus there will be no lefty reinforcements arriving next season to replace seniors Richardson and McCormick.

"I’ve always felt there’s a huge advantage of being left-handed," Rockets men’s coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "It just kind of throws the game out of whack defensively. I think it’s a big advantage not just on the perimeter but in the post as well. I think left-handed guys are just more dangerous."

Kowalczyk’s concern for left-handers was evident a week ago when, at film study, he asked his assistant coaches whether Bowling Green’s Luke Kraus is a lefty. Kraus, who knocked down three 3-pointers Saturday in Toledo’s 75-62 win, is right-handed.

Kowalczyk, in his final season at Green Bay in 2009-10, often played three left-handers on the floor at the same time. Two of them, Rahmon Fletcher, who finished his career with more than 1600 points, and Bryquis Perine, who scored 978, are now teammates in Holland's Dutch League.

Toledo’s An­dola Dortch is one of six left-handed players on the roster. She’s tops among lefties at 11.4 points per game.
Toledo’s An­dola Dortch is one of six left-handed players on the roster. She’s tops among lefties at 11.4 points per game.

The third lefty, Rian Pearson, followed Kowalczyk to Toledo and is a contender in his junior season for MAC player of the year. The frontrunner for the honor is another southpaw, Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper. Central Michigan’s Crystal Bradford, a left-hander who this month shredded Toledo for 27 points in a Chippewas win at Savage Arena, is the favorite to garner the women’s top honor.

Respected men’s recruiting analyst John Stovall sees little added value in left-handed prospects, and includes a player’s dominant hand on his reports merely for identification purposes.

"I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it," said Stovall, who is based out of Ohio and is employed by ESPN. "In my mind, what hand you are doesn’t play a large part. Size, athletic ability, and skills, which have nothing to do with you being right-handed or left-handed, are what’s important. If you have those boxes checked, you’re going to be a good player."

It is coincidental, Stovall said, that his top-ranked Ohioans in the junior and sophomore classes — Pickerington Central’s Jae’Sean Tate and Franklin’s Luke Kennard — are left-handers. Still, that might be an accomplishment worthy of celebrating come Aug. 13.

"So, what, everyone gives high-fives with their left hand?" right-handed guard Janelle Reed-Lewis asked her teammate, Jones, about National Left-Handers Day.

Not a bad idea. Certainly a healthier choice than cake.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.