Jon Brockman (Dawgman.com)
WASHINGTON D.C. - Jon Brockman came to Washington as the heralded recruit, the McDonald's All-American, the one Lorenzo Romar had to keep home from the clutches of Duke. Justin Dentmon came from prep school, pretty heralded, but not to Brockman-like extremes. It's been a tale of two divergent paths, one that wasn't expected and one that has been a very pleasant surprise.
When Dentmon moved to Seattle from Carbondale, Ill., not much was known about him, other than that Illinois had been interested in the one-time Illinois State signee. But Dentmon felt Washington was the place that suited his particular talents. He made an immediate presence during the summer runs at Hec Ed, runs where he would have to go up against a player that had recently been picked No. 21 in the NBA draft. But Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar knew he had found something special in Dentmon, even though he would be thrown to the wolves early.
"Justin has been a scorer all his life," Romar said of Dentmon. "He is learning the point guard position and has done a remarkable job. I like point guards that can score because if nothing's going for you offensively and the ball is in his hands, instinct just kicks in. Down the stretch, we didn't tell him to start going to the basket. We always give him that option, within what we do. Our guards always know that they have the option to penetrate when they see it, be aggressive. His instincts kicked in and he just did naturally what he does. Some point guards are just totally distributors, very cerebral and are extentions of their coach. That's great, but I like to have the luxury of having a point guard that can go and score when he needs to."
"He was aggressive from the minute he stepped on campus," recalled UW senior guard Brandon Roy. "We were playing pickup ball and he was going at guys. He was going up against Nate (Robinson), and I was like, 'He's not scared. This dude is trying to go at Nate a little bit!'. It was a fun matchup to watch. He was going at Appleby too, so you could tell he was tough. From the moment he stepped on campus, I knew he was going to be ready. He put so much pressure on himself, you have to believe in him. He puts the pressure on himself, but he lives up to it."
"I saw an opportunity to get better," Dentmon said of those summer sessions going up against Nate the Great. "When you're playing somebody that's better than you, you get better yourself. Playing him made me realize that I wasn't as good as I thought and I needed to get in the gym more. I'm a gym rat, and gym rats want to get better than the next opponent. While I'm resting, someone out there is getting better than me. I just needed to get in the gym as much as I could."
So who was getting the better of it? JD or Nate? "He (Nate) wins the majority of his battles," said Roy. "This was after Nate had been drafted (No.21), and Justin had heard of him, but he wanted to get a taste of him. It was good. Nate won the battles, but Justin was right there. He wasn't intimidated. A lot of guys hear about Nate and they back up off him, but he was going at 'em. That was fun to watch."
Dentmon didn't get much of a chance to shine in the Pac-10 tournament, but in the NCAA's the Illinois Iceman has been nothing but nails in his first two games. He's averaging 12 points, four rebounds and four assists per game, all while not turing the ball over once so far in 80 minutes of play. Not too shabby for a true frosh point guard.
"He played two great NCAA games," said UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar. "He was there for us down the stretch and didn't turn the ball over in two games. And that was the question, first time he hit the road, would he be able to handle it? Pac-10 tournament, will he be able to handle it? NCAA tournament, will he be able to handle it? I think he's done pretty well."
"I surprised myself a lot," Dentmon said, in response to questions about his tournament play. "Knowing I had no turnovers was a real big surprise. I just know that if I turn the ball over, it could be a turning point and we could lose the game. I try to keep the ball in my hands as much as possible, make the correct pass to the scorers and make my free throws.
"Once Brandon is getting doubled, I feel like I need to make some key plays. Coach didn't recruit me to pass the ball, he recruited me to make plays and run his team, so that's what I try to do best."
Things came to Brockman just as easily - at least early in the season. He was MVP of the Black Coaches Association Classic, something that is normally unheard of for a true freshman. Slowly but surely, as better competition arrived on the scene and the game began to speed up, Brockman found the sledding to be a little tougher. In the three post-season games he has played so far for Washington, Brockman has racked up six points and six boards - not exactly the production he was hoping to achieve.
"I didn't notice it until right before the Illinois game, he was kind of feeling the pressure a little bit," Roy said of Brockman. "I was like, 'JB, go out there and don't worry about the score. Just play hard and have fun, and if you do that you'll be fine'. He's feeling the pressure a little bit, but that's something we'll try to take off of him a lot this week. It's a fun experience. When you're a junior or senior you can put that kind of pressure on yourself, but right now he's too young to be putting the weight of the team on your shoulders. I think he's kind of playing with that mentality, and hopefully we can relieve him of that this week. We are going to need him a whole lot against these big guys from Connecticut."
Brockman is taking the advice to heart, knowing that his basketball education at the college level is just beginning. "I definitely feel like when I'm on the court, I've got to produce," he said. "I have to do a better job at taking what comes to me. It's something coach (Cameron) Dollar has been talking to me a lot about lately. I can't let my offense be the only thing that gets me going. I have to have pride in my defense and rebounding."
"I have a pretty good gauge on Jon," said Romar. "In that Illinois game, he was bangin' and ready to go. He got a couple of boards early. We would certainly want him to be more productive that way, but I don't think it's anything you point to and say, 'What's wrong with Jon Brockman?' We'd like him to be more productive and I'm sure he will."
But Brockman admits that it's been a struggle holding his focus on the offensive end when he knows he's probably the fourth or fifth option in the offense. "It's tough," he said. "My sophomore, junior and senior years, I was that guy (like Brandon Roy). It's exactly like what it was when I was a freshman in high school."
But he can't be a freshman anymore. The Huskies are counting on key contributions from Dentmon and Brockman if they hope to continue a deep run in the tournament.
"It's part of growing up, part of the experience," said Roy.