The Byrd Cage

Remembering the A-Sun, Moving to OVC

In Features, Game Posts on August 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm

For the next two months, the Byrd Cage will be previewing Belmont’s new OVC opponents.  We’ll introduce you to the mascots, the history, the players- pretty much anything you need to know to get ready for the upcoming season.

With Belmont facing reigning All-American Isaiah Canaan of Murray State this year, it prompted thought on who were the best individual players Belmont faced in the Atlantic Sun era.

This list may surprise some, especially considering that talented, accomplished players like Jonathan Rodriguez (Campbell), Courtney Pigram (ETSU), and Torrey Craig (USC Upstate) did not crack the Top 10. The list was defined as ‘The Top 10 Toughest Opposing Players’ during the Belmont A-Sun era (2002-2012).

The Byrd Cage welcomes Greg Sage for a special collaboration.  Sage has been with Belmont University for the past eight years as the Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.  He also teams with the Voice of the Bruins, Kevin Ingram, as color analyst for the Bruin Sports  Network.

Top 10 Toughest Opposing Players during Belmont’s Atlantic Sun Era (2002-2012)

10. Haminn Quaintance (Jacksonville) – Sage comments: “I did not see Quaintance play at Jacksonville, but he was an integral part of Kent State making the NCAA Tournament in 2008. I saw him play a few times, and “Q” as he was called, had a complete game. Force on both ends. In fact, the Kent State website states that “Q” is the only player in NCAA history with over 1,300 points – 850 rebounds – 250 – assists – 250 blocks – 200 steals.

9. Parker Smith (UNF) –  “Again, some may be surprised by this, considering Smith’s numbers tell of a player who is either very hot or very cold. He might be 145 pounds soaking wet, but watching him, both at TSU and UNF, and talking to the Belmont players who have to guard him, he is one toughest perimeter players to defend I’ve seen at this level. The guy takes in rhythm 40 footers in warmups. Limitless range, and has the green light to shoot from anywhere. Underrated off the dribble as well. The miraculous comeback game at UNF during the 2010-11 season Smith had 30, and that was mainly against two of Belmont’s best defenders in program history – Jordan Campbell and Ian Clark. Just ask Mercer – an outstanding defensive team – about Smith.”

8. Lehmon Colbert (Jacksonville) – “Colbert was simply a difficult guard for Belmont – too big for guards or small forwards and too quick and skilled for big guys. He had a polished, complete game – inside and outside. Colbert always seemed to have big games and make big shots against the Bruins, especially finding range from 3. He was a fine player, and to be honest, someone I expected to be a conference player of the year-type guy. He possessed all the tools.”

7. Mike Smith (ETSU) – “Smith was a classic case of a player you admired and wished was on your team. He overcame injury, and set an example by doing the dirty work and hustle plays. A number of times as a senior, Smith had to defend Belmont’s post players Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, and he did a respectable job. Maybe he didn’t have the NFL combine measureables, but all he did was score, rebound, and make his teammates better.”

6. Eddie Ard (Lipscomb) –  “For full disclosure, naturally it pains me to a degree to list a Lipscomb player. But Ard is certainly deserving. I always admired his heart, toughness, and quiet confidence. He he had a Grant Hill-type quality – similar size, countenance, and unconventional delivery on his jumpshot. I remember seeing his jumper the first time and thinking, “That goes in on a regular basis?” And, yes, it did. To this day, Ard has one of the most effective baseline, pullup jumpers I’ve seen. He rarely missed. Ard was also a complete player; he could defend multiple positions and rebound.”

5. Dexter Lyons (UCF) – “Again, Lyons preceded my time at Belmont, but he was a phenomenal talent and high-energy guy. He had the afro going, and could really impact the game in a number of ways. Many people don’t realize that Belmont’s NCAA Tournament run could have started in 2004, were it not for Lyons. He almost single-handedly beat the Bruins in the 2004 A-Sun Semifinal played at the Curb Event Center – a 2004 Belmont team that beat Missouri and Air Force, nearly beat Memphis, and eventually went to the NIT.”

4. Adnan Hodzic and Josh Slater (Lipscomb) – “What can you say…on a number of occasions, Hodzic and Slater played at a high level against Belmont. Their careers paralleled, so I thought it was appropriate to list them together. Especially in their junior and senior years, Hodzic and Slater shouldered tremendous responsibility to play heavy minutes and produce night in-night out. While I thought it caught up  with them against other conference opponents, invariably they had some big plays saved for the Bruins. Both certainly contributed a chapter to the Belmont-Lipscomb tale. One underrated factor with Slater was his ability to rebound, especially defensively, and then start a break on his own.”

3. Daniel Emerson and James Florence (Mercer) –  “Another duo who produced at a high level, and Belmont was not alone in the challenge of defending them. They bridged the transition from Mark Slonaker to Bob Hoffman and helped establish a mindset for Mercer. The first time I saw Emerson, I thought he was perfectly suited for ‘World Strongest Man’ competitions – country strong with a low, wide base. I did not envy Belmont’s bigs having to contend with him down low, especially boxing out on free throws. Florence remains one of the hardest players to defend in the open court I’ve seen, with his ability to attack the basket with quickness and strength. At times he could score and/or draw fouls at will. Were it not for his red-hot night in the 2010 A-Sun Tournament, Belmont might have had another banner.”

2. Ben Smith (Jacksonville) – “When you hear Bill Raftery say things like, “He’s got a big ticker,” Ben Smith applies. He was the central piece in helping rebuild the Jacksonville program. He had a little hitch in the delivery of his jumpshot, but it went in more often than not. And few players had a greater impact in the outcome of conference games against Belmont than Smith. During Alex Renfroe’s 38-point game on Senior Day in 2009, Smith made numerous fadeaway, pullups and floaters with Andy Wicke draped all over him. I always respected Smith’s toughness and on-court demeanor. If he were 6-3 instead of 5-10, he might have played in a BCS league.”

1. Kevin Tiggs (ETSU) – “Probably the one opposing A-Sun player where I thought to myself, ‘He could really play in the league.’ Unreal combination of athleticism and skill. Tiggs had the prototypical measureables (6-5, 205) plus tremendous offensive versatility. He was a matchup nightmare – great footwork and finishing ability if you tried to defend him with a guard AND superior ball handling ability, shooting range and touch if you tried to defend him with a bigger player. Then add to the equation that he’s left-handed and a great free thrower. I didn’t see a way to hold him under 20 points unless he a) got in foul trouble b) played zone or c) his teammates forgot about him. He just looked like a starter at an SEC school…probably having a nice career somewhere.”

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The Byrd Cage thanks Greg Sage for his collaboration.

Stay tuned for your OVC previews!

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