PULLMAN – Enjoy Junior Longrus’ final two and a half seasons while you can. The 6-foot-7 Washington State forward is a nuanced style of basketball player that appears be going the way of milk trucks and the dodo bird.
Undersized forwards have been mainstays in the Pac-12, with guys like Jeff Varem, Sam Clancy, Jamal Williams and others who used deft body positioning and superior quickness to make up for their lack of prototypical height.
But in an effort to drive up overall scoring numbers, the NCAA this year instituted new rules that emphasize defensive hand-checking while changing the definition of a charge to benefit the offensive player. Last season the average scoring in men’s hoops dipped to 67.5 – the lowest in decades.
Previously a defender merely had to be set in his position when the offensive player initiated contact for the refs to grant an offensive foul. Now he must be set before the offensive player has “started his upward motion with the ball to attempt a field goal or pass.”
“It’s definitely really frustrating; it does kind of take away an advantage from me,” Longrus said.
While officials had a quick whistle early in the season, leading to some consternation among coaches and players, both sides have made adjustments and there have not been an inordinate amount of trips to the free throw line in conference play.
Granted, the rules have made an impact. The median percentage of fouls per possession is up just under 2 percent. Last year the national team leader in fouls per game at this point in the season was committing 11.9 fouls per game. This season Michigan leads with 14.8.
But where the impacts of the new rules can be seen are in the adjustments teams have made to avoid the whistle. WSU coach Ken Bone said that his team hasn’t practiced taking a charge since an officiated scrimmage in early October.
“It was just foul, foul, foul, foul, foul,” Bone said. “And every time it was against the defender so we’ve gotten away from working on taking-charge drills. We still encourage it once in awhile, look for an opportunity but you better be there about 30 seconds in advance or you’re not getting the call.”
That has limited players like Longrus, a defensive specialist whose value lies in his hustle and the energy he brings to the floor. Such players have been as integral to college basketball as the un-athletic spot shooter and the lightning-quick point guard who can’t shoot a lick but makes up for it with his ability to blow by defenders.
But their days may be numbered. Bone says that undersized forwards may have lost their utility, and as such, may not be who recruiters target going forward. Conversely, guards who attack the rim are more valuable than ever.
“No doubt,” Bone said. “I think it changes the way you recruit defensively and I think it changes the way you recruit offensively. Getting to the free throw line has always been important but now it’s gone to another level.”
With the charge no longer a viable weapon for defenders, coaches have intimated that they’ll seek post players with height and length, so-called “rim protectors,” who can block or alter shots even if they aren’t as skilled as players of shorter stature.
This is just as much due to the hand-checking rules as the charge rules, said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who has utilized undersized posts such as Williams, Jon Brockman and Desmond Simmons in his tenure with the Huskies.
“Players can go to the rim with the defender being a little more tentative to touch him, and when you have long bodies, (a) long-armed shot blocker around the rim, I think that helps,” Romar said. “If you don’t have rim protectors with the new rule, I think you’re at a disadvantage.”
Longrus may not be a rim-protector, but has done his best impersonation so far, leading the team with 0.9 blocks per game. He also leads the team in offensive rebounds per game with D.J. Shelton, showing that while he may no longer have an ideal body type for the position, he’s not going to let it affect his value to his team.
“It’s been a challenge,” Longrus admitted, before adding, “I like challenges so it’s been fun figuring out a way to still be effective dealing with those big guys while still adhering to the new rules.”