College Basketball's All-Floor Burn Team
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When there's a loose ball on the court, a player has a choice to make: Can he get to it first, without risking injury or...
Too late. One of these guys is already on the floor with the rock, trying to decide between passing to a teammate or calling timeout.
It's college basketball's All-Floor Burn Team. They're fearless, single-minded and, yes, oft-injured. The 10 players on the squad have missed more than two dozen games in their careers due to concussions, not to mention an uncountable number of scrapes and bruises.
They aren't the best players on their respective teams, just the heart and soul of them. And make no mistake about it: Unless you're willing to sacrifice as much as they are, make the trainer your best friend and spend more time in the ice tub than your dorm room—that loose ball is theirs.
Decision time: Are you willing to pay the same price to reach that ball?
Too late. They already have it.
Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin
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It's easy to spot Mike Bruesewitz during Wisconsin games. He's the 6'6" senior forward with the curly red hair throwing his body around the court.
Judging from the long list of injuries he's sustained during practice this season, Bruesewitz doesn't change his approach when the stands are empty.
He missed time after cutting his leg flying into the basket support during a team workout, suffered a concussion in a collision with a teammate at practice and has been known to challenge teammates who take plays off.
"The first day back after his concussion, he was in the middle of a scrum,” Wisconsin assistant coach Greg Gard told Jim Polzin of the LaCrosse Tribune. “When you pulled the bodies apart, there was Mike on the bottom.You’re not going to change that and we don’t want him to change it."
"I think when Mike gets in there and mixes things up, I think he affects his teammates," head coach Bo Ryan told Jon Masson of Madison.com.
The Badgers are currently eighth in the nation in scoring defense and ninth in personal fouls per game. It's the team nobody wants to play. All because the Badgers follow the lead of the frizzy-haired senior who no one wants to practice against.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
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Still a junior, Aaron Craft is already Ohio State's career leader in steals. He's also the defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and Sports Illustrated described him as "the nation's most creative defender."
He's been known to dive head first into the stands in search of a loose ball, trusting the fans in the courtside seats to brace his fall.
"He's a terrific competitor," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said last season, after Craft scored 17 with eight assists and harassed three Blue Devil PGs into 5-of-16 shooting with five turnovers. "He busts his butt."
Florida coach Billy Donovan was similarly impressed after Craft harassed Erving Walker into 1-of-6 shooting and three turnovers.
"Clearly he dominated the game from start to finish," Donovan said. "He was the whole key. He physically manhandled our guys -- steals, strips, loose balls and drives."
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
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At 6'6", Melvin Ejim is the leading rebounder in the Big 12 and, with 181 through 19 games, has more boards than any other Division I player 6'6" or shorter.
"Melvin thinks everything’s his," said teammate Chris Babb, who has had Ejim rip the ball out of his hands on occasion (h/t Randy Peterson, Des Moines Register).
Fighting among the giants to make sure he comes out with the ball takes a toll on the undersized Ejim. He told Peterson the Des Moines Register he sleeps with a bottle of ibuprofen next to the bed.
"It’s tough sometimes after night games, getting up the next morning,” Ejim told the paper. “I’m always sore."
Jeff Elorriaga, Boise State
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Jeff Elorriaga has missed six games with a broken thumb and a concussion over the last two years. Boise State is 0-6 in those contests.
Teammate Ryan Watkins said that Elorriaga’s biggest strength was “leadership,” and without him in the lineup, the team suffers.
“There’s a big hole in your lineup,” coach Leon Rice added (h/t Dave Southorn, Idaho Press-Tribune).
That’s a big tribute to the junior guard who spent his first two seasons as a walk-on before getting a scholarship prior to this season. At 6'2", Elorriaga is the smallest player on the roster, but once he takes the court, he plays with a Napoleon complex.
“It’s more about the way Jeff plays," Rice said (Brian Statesman, Idaho Statesman). "I can’t fathom him being out on the court without hitting the ground and taking charges and battling in there on the boards.”
Josh Hairston, Duke
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The 6'7" forward brings energy and enthusiasm off the bench for a Duke team that has been ranked No. 1 twice this season and in the top five the entire year.
On a team that Kentucky coach John Calipari accused of flopping in a TV interview earlier this year, Josh Hairston has taken a charge every 10 minutes.
Despite being seventh on the team in minutes played, he's drawn more offensive fouls than any other Blue Devil and has nearly a quarter of the team's charges this season.
From handshakes during pregame introductions to raucous cheering from the bench, to his time on the floor, which usually starts with a scream and ends sprawled on the floor, Hairston does it at full speed and with intensity.
Pierce Hornung, Colorado State
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At 6'5", Pierce Hornung leads the Mountain West in rebounding and is the shortest player in the nation's top 25 in rebounds per game.
"If you work hard, that negates height,” he told Andrew Schaller of The Collegian. “I don’t even think about it, I look at the guy just as a guy going against me, I don’t look at stature or height or anything like that.”
Jay Bilas included Hornung on his list of toughest players in December, and Jon Rothstein had him in his top 10 glue guys earlier this month.
"He brings something you just can't teach," head coach Larry Eustachy told Terry Frei of the Denver Post. "You're born with it. He's so competitive."
Richard Howell, NC State
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If it's possible to go out on your shield in a game your team won, Richard Howell did it against top-ranked Duke.
Howell grabbed 14 of his game-high 18 rebounds in the second half and outworked Player of the Year candidate Mason Plumlee.
At one point, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried scolded his team during a timeout, asking if anyone else was going to get them a rebound. "Don't worry about it, coach," Howell reassured Gottfried (h/t Joe Giglio, Charlotte Observer). "I'll get them all."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Howell "a beast" and added (h/t Jim Summer, collegechalktalk.com), "He’s one of the most unique players in the country. He’s a kid that every team would want to start."
"I don't want to look back and say, 'Damn, I could've played this game a little harder,'" the senior told the AP. "At the end of the game, I want to know that I did my best and went as hard as I could ever second I was on the floor."
Victor Oladipo, Indiana
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The junior guard is pushing Cody Zeller for team MVP honors on the third-ranked Hoosiers, mainly because Victor Oladipo supplements his undeniable talent with relentless energy.
"He plays so hard," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after losing to Indiana (h/t Bob Kravitz, USA Today). "He's the Ray Lewis of basketball."
Oladipo is second to Zeller in scoring, but his points are not his most significant impact. "He's an energy guy and he does everything," Izzo told CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman. "He defends, rebounds, guards just about every position and plays both ends."
"You respect hard work,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said (Terry Hutchens, Indystar.com) . “And Victor Oladipo affects the game even when he doesn’t score."
Travis Releford, Kansas
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At the start of practice this season, Kansas coach Bill Self explained what a team needed in order to be successful. “If you don’t turn the ball over, outrebound your opponents and you get 70% of the 50-50 balls, you’re going to win,” Self said at the Jayhawks’ Midnight Madness (h/t Sean Keeler, Fox Sports Kansas City).
With the Jayhawks looking to replace Big 12 Player of the Year and NBA lottery pick Thomas Robinson, who was one of the toughest players on last year’s Final Four team, Travis Releford has stepped up to make sure Kansas gets 20 percent more than its share of loose balls.
Releford is also one of Kansas’ stiffest defenders, usually running through forests of screens and taking shots to try to blanket the opponent’s best scorer.
“He is smart. He is strong. He can slide. He is athletic,” Self said after a win over Kansas State (h/t Gary Bedore, KUSports.com). “He was exhausted the second half. He asked to come out. I said no.”
In a January game at Texas, Releford scored eight of his 12 points after Kansas fell behind a double-digit, helping key a comeback win from the Jayhawks biggest deficit of the season. Texas coach Rick Barnes paid Releford and his teammates a compliment by questioning his team’s mental toughness.
Brandon Smith, Cal
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Senior guard Brandon Smith is still working his way back into the lineup after missing a month with concussion symptoms.
Smith suffered the injury on Dec. 22, after colliding with a Prairie View A&M player while going for a loose ball. Smith was in the air when he took the hit, and what comes up must come down.
"I just closed my eyes and knew it was going to be a tough landing," he told Jeff Faraudo of the Mercury News. "And then -- boom! -- my head hit the floor and bounced up. I was just gone for a second. I don't know how long that was."
One day after getting cleared to play by doctors, Smith, who has had two concussions at Cal and four in his lifetime, went back to his no-holds-barred play.
“You got to give the guy huge kudos,” coach Mike Montgomery said in his postgame remarks (h/t John Coon, BearInsider.com). “He's been out for a month with a concussion and the first time he has a chance to take a charge, he doesn't hesitate. He steps up and takes it. That shows me some guts.”