Michael Gbinije brought the ball up the court for the first time during a Syracuse practice. It had been four years of high school and another season at Duke since the then-pre-teen, middle school-aged Gbinije had been asked to play point guard.The stakes weren’t high — it was a practice during his redshirt season. It would be almost a full year until he’d have to play the position on the Carrier Dome court. And the expectations were only as great as they could be for a bona fide small forward now asked to run a power-conference offense, if only for a few minutes here or there.As he crossed half court on offense, his immediate thought was to come down and shoot. The offense wasn’t set up. The ball wasn’t protected. The head coach, Jim Boeheim, wasn’t pleased.A lot of yelling. A lot of getting subbed out for mistakes. But it comes with the price of being a basketball player for Syracuse.Michael GbinijeGbinije’s first season on the court thrust him into a backup point guard role behind freshman phenom Tyler Ennis. The lanky, 6-foot 7-inch Gbinije had always possessed ball-handling skills, but almost no point guard experience. Last season, switching from guard to forward on a regular basis, he scored at a 12.7 points per game clip. Four times he scored more than 20, including a career-high 27 points against Duke in February.It’s three years removed from getting yelled at by Boeheim. Three years removed from grueling extra practices with Gerry McNamara to refine his ball-handling. Three years removed from playing a position that may have took him out of the running to contribute where he felt most comfortable.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThree years later, he’s Syracuse’s starting point guard.,“Mike’s grown as much, or more, of any player I’ve ever coached,” Boeheim said. “The first year when he sat out he worked hard, he got better.“I don’t think he really believed, ‘I’m one of the best players in this league.’ He needs to have that attitude, and I think he has it.”At Benedictine (Virginia) College Preparatory, Gbinije handled the ball, but not in point guard duty. Whoever got the rebound would have to bring the ball up, so sometimes that fell on Gbinije. But it wasn’t his job to captain the offense. His size was too much of an advantage at that level to stick him at the point.In middle school, he was one of a few kids on his team to handle the point. But as he got older, the duty fell more on the smaller players.“We didn’t have him bring the ball up and call plays,” Sean McAloon, Gbinije’s high school coach, said. “Mike wasn’t a very vocal kid on the court. To get you in an offensive set or whatever it may be consistently, Mike wasn’t ready at that point for that. He wouldn’t talk or hold people accountable the way most point guards would. That wasn’t him.”At Duke, Gbinije wasn’t a good ball-handler and wasn’t a good shooter. “There’s a reason he didn’t play,” Boeheim said. He had 33 points in 19 games. He had eight turnovers to his three assists. Becoming a point guard at Syracuse was as much about necessity from lack of depth as it was about sensibility atop a zone that demands length.,Gbinije used his speed and athleticism at point guard to elude defenders. At SU, McNamara helped him use his size to control the tempo at his pace. He made Gbinije keep the ball low despite his tall frame and make “second-level reads.”“We always had high expectations for Michael,” McNamara said. “And he’s put himself in position to be the guy with the basketball. That’s a testament to what he’s done … There’s a lot of things he can do. It was just about him putting it together.”His father, Frank Gbinije, said he was disappointed when Gbinije first changed positions. It wasn’t his strength at the time. He had the skills, but not the experience.It wasn’t a sentiment that Frank wanted to pass on to his son, who he hoped to see develop a good rapport with his new coaching staff. The two didn’t really talked about it.He could have done a little bit more that year. He could have contributed a little bit more if he had the opportunity to come in … it set him back a little bit.Frank GbinijeIt set him back, briefly, only to eventually set him up. Getting him better was as simple as playing more. Every scrimmage, all summer, it was his ball to bring up. Every practice, every day, even when he was redshirting, he ran the point the whole time.Boeheim said his offense is geared to a Gbinije-type point guard. Tall on defense, and scoring-minded on offense. His 15-20 minutes at that position a season ago will dramatically increase.He’s still not the most vocal player. His experience is still far more limited. He may not have been the conventional choice. The reasons not to put him at the position still exist.The difference now, though, is that Gbinije has proven that they don’t matter.“I feel comfortable at this position,” Gbinije said. “… I do kind of feel like it’s my team this year.” Comments Published on November 12, 2015 at 8:15 am Contact Sam: [email protected] | @SamBlum3,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.
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