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Published: Sunday, 3/17/2013

Brown, Pearson at head of Rockets’ class

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
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The season is over, and the grades are in.

The Blade evaluates the performance this season of the individuals on the University of Toledo basketball team, taking into consideration productivity, consistency, and value to the team.

The Rockets, banned from the postseason for poor academic scores in past years, earned a pseudo share of the Mid-American Conference West division title eight days ago in a win at Eastern Michigan.

Julius Brown, guard, sophomore

Brown, the MAC freshman of the year last season, produced mediocre work in the first semester. His professor — coach Tod Kowalczyk — arranged for a meeting in December, and all soon was right again. Brown’s assist totals increased and his turnovers decreased, enabling the point guard to impact the game on nights his shot would not fall. As a result, Brown’s teammates played better. Grade: A

Rian Pearson, forward, junior

Fresh off the grind of a five-month season, Pearson was in the practice gymnasium alone last week putting up jumpers. Why not relax for a few days, a visitor asked. “I was bored,” Pearson responded. The most diligent worker on the team, Pearson took a step forward from his thunderous introduction last year, increasing his makes at the free-throw line and reducing his number of run-ins with referees. His mental toughness still needs work. As does his outside shot. Correct those two things and he might be the 2013-14 MAC player of the year. Grade: A-minus

Nathan Boothe, center, freshman

His sweet stroke was evident upon his arrival in the summer, but soon Boothe’s scoring acumen was no longer his greatest contribution. He set screens to free teammates, blocked shots, and grasped defensive principles faster than anyone anticipated. Like any freshman would, Boothe struggled from time to time, but he is nowhere near the level of player he will be in two or three years. Grade: B

Matt Smith, forward, junior

Smith possesses all-league talent, but his lack of consistency and assertiveness has kept him from realizing that potential. Example: He is the team’s best outside shooter, but far from its best rebounder or low-post scorer. The arrival next year of transfer J.D. Weatherspoon could squeeze Smith to the bench, but that should not be viewed as a major demotion. Smith, perhaps primed for a breakout season, will remain a key part. Grade: B

Dominique Buckley, guard, senior

He never exhibited the skills to justify his billing as a top-150 recruit coming out of high school, but Buckley had a fine career. He resisted the temptation last offseason to transfer after Toledo was ruled ineligible for the postseason, and he and the program were rewarded. Buckley drained memorable 3-point shots in two benchmark wins — snapping a four-year losing streak to Bowling Green, then beating EMU to end the program’s six year-drought between division titles. Grade: B-minus

Reese Holliday, forward, junior

Too short to be a major post presence, too clunky to be a dynamic perimeter threat. That describes Holliday, a junkyard dog the program listed generously — by two inches or so — at 6 feet, 4 inches. Holliday on Friday announced his desire to transfer, citing family issues back home in Kansas City, Kan. Facing competition next year from five forwards set to join the roster, Holliday’s playing time probably would have dipped from the 22.9 minutes he averaged this season. It’s a blessing for Toledo he waited one year to transfer, otherwise the Rockets would have had zero scoring options off the bench. Grade: C

Josh Lemons, guard, freshman

The coaches were spot-on in their trumpeting Lemons in the preseason as the team’s best defender. They likewise were accurate in saying the Cincinnati LaSalle product had some work to do on offense. This offseason will be key to Lemons’ future with the program. Develop a mid-range jumper and he will prove to be quality find in last year’s late signing period. Grade: C

Richard Wonnell, center, junior

Hard-and-fast rule in grading: Walk-ons are evaluated on a curve. The program has invested little in the Genoa graduate but has gotten strong returns — decent rebounding, high energy, and a grittiness the fans appreciate. Wonnell, who averaged one point this year in 12.4 minutes, understands what he is and what he is not, evidenced by this sarcastic tweet he published last week: “Didn’t make All-MAC again #Snubbed.” Wonnell will get Holliday’s scholarship unless the staff brings in a transfer. Grade: C

AJ Mathew, guard, sophomore

Mathew left the program in December after he was unable to earn more than token playing time on a team desperate for bench help. He purportedly will transfer to Division II Chaminade University of Honolulu. Grade: D

Delino Dear, center, junior

He’s tall, and that’s about all. Dear, fourth on the center food chain to start the season, never progressed after his decent freshman campaign. He left in December. Grade: F

Brendon Schwiebert, guard, senior;

James Ewing, forward, junior

Quality guys whom the team enjoyed having around. Neither had a great enough role to warrant a grade.

Coaching

The even-handed stewardship of Kowalczyk and his staff kept the team from imploding after several hurdles — postseason ban, reduction of practice time, stretches without a home game — threatened to sabotage the season. Development of players has been sufficient, and winning helped with recruiting. Points must be deduced for a home loss to Western Michigan with a division lead on the line, and for attrition in the 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes. Of seven high school prospects brought in, only Brown is still there. Grade: A-minus

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



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