Who will step up in those big moments this year? The obvious indicator points to Keith Benson. He is a game-changer, simply put. One of the greatest moments of that Summit League championship game was when Benson blocked an approaching IUPUI opponent which led to a late fastbreak basket for Nelson (along with the and-1). While the game was nearly sealed at that point, Benson still played with that defensive toughness to the very end. Likewise, in the 2009 Summit League championship game, it was Benson who came up with a monster dunk that tied the game just before Ben Woodside hit the fateful shot that spawned Bison Fever. Benson can change the game on both ends of the court, and he's proven he can do it in the clutch. This year, Oakland will need that late-game intensity from him even more.
Larry Wright seems like a candidate to step-up as well in his senior season. Wright struggled with his perimeter shooting at various points of last season, but if he can find the touch this year, he could come up big for Oakland when the team is in need of a flurry of superhoops to shift the momentum when down to an opponent. Both Wright and Benson, however, are the kind of guys who let their game do the talking. Oakland will also need a few guys to step up who will have no trouble injecting a little fire or spirit into the team. That's where Will Hudson and Reggie Hamilton will come in.
Hudson, a senior, and Hamilton, a redshirt junior, were named co-captains for the 2010-11 season. It's easy to see why. Hudson has the chance to be the ultimate glue guy for Oakland this season. He's more vocal than any of his fellow seniors (at least in this observer's mind) and has been a solid player for the Grizzlies in all of the years he has been here. He'll need to continue to prove he's willing to do the little things that might not show up in the stat sheet or get him the accolades but that will ultimately help his team win ballgames. That's the bottom line, and we think if Oakland gets another ring in March, it'll be in part because of the leadership of a guy like Will.
Hamilton strikes us as a player with tons of personality who can keep things light and entertaining among the team (for proof, just watch him leading the OU Roll Call from this summer). However, he also seems like a fierce competitor eager to prove he has what it takes to pick up where Jonathon Jones left off. This is a veritable mix of traits for a guy who figures to be a prominent piece in the Golden Grizzlies' quest for a second-straight Summit League title. With Reggie around to lift up his teammates and give the team a bit of an edge, we think that task will prove much easier.
While we still have yet to see Reggie play as a Golden Grizzly, all indications are that he is ready to step in and lead right away. Hudson is a known commodity with all the intangibles that one looks for in pinpointing a consummate glue guy and productive post player. If Wright can step up his confidence this year, he'll surely come through in the clutch. And Benson is a monster who will no doubt be ready to help lead the Grizzlies to another title. Despite the losses of prominent players like Nelson and Jones, we suspect that everything is alright in the leadership department.