Army 53, American 49: Jalen Rhea postgame quotes

Senior guard Jalen Rhea spoke after American fell 53-49 to Army to drop to 4-13, 1-5 in the Patriot League. Full video above and select quotes below. 

ON JAMES WASHINGTON
"Right now we're just trying to get his reps up in practice, get him more confident on the court. He had a little lull there for a while and I think we're just trying to get his confidence back up to get back on the court."

ON CHALLENGE OF RETURNING AFTER NOT PLAYING AT ALL IN THREE GAMES
"I mean, I've been there. It is a little bit of a challenge but I think James is up to it and he's working -- he had a great day of practice yesterday. He's just gotta stick with it and keep working."

ON IMPORTANCE OF BENCH (0 POINT TODAY) WITH DEPTH THINNING
"Our depth is important and it's become more important this year. Trying to get people minutes -- it's hard to do in tight games like this. But yeah we're still working on our depth like I said in practice each day and I think in the next two games you guys are gonna see us start -- the pieces start to fall together a little bit better." 

ON MORALE OF TEAM
"The morale of the team is, we've got a lot of young guys who haven't been through this before and it's easy to put your head down. But this league is so even and you just have to stick with. And coach always tells us that it's not about our record -- it's if we're getting better every single day, which we are doing. We're right on the cusp of being on the other end of these games." 

WHAT'S KEEPING TEAM FROM GETTING OVER THE CUSP?
"The big thing is youth. It's the first time Sa'eed and Mark have seen Patriot League play and it's very, very new to them. And I've seen it for four years so it's not as surprising to me. It' just me and Charlie trying to get these guys ready for these Patriot League games that they've never seen before. So I think they're starting to get used to it now and it's gonna start picking up for us."

ON LONNIE AND NOT BEING ABLE TO PRACTICE
"It's hard because we ride the bike for an hour and then come out and practice for however long we can with our injuries right now. But just trying to get him a feel out there is tough to do with a foot injury. Getting his alertness up and keeping his alertness up is probably what's gonna keep him in the game, I'd say, because he helps us a lot when he's out there. We just have to work on getting him out there enough." 

AU 2016-17 Media Day Quotes: Charlie Jones, Jalen Rhea

Selected quotes from seniors Charlie Jones and Jalen Rhea in advance of American's season-opener at Maryland. 

CHARLIE JONES

On Matt Cimino’s eligibility?
"It’s definitely exciting, Matt’s been working hard all preseason.  It’s a little bit of a different situation for him, not knowing if he can play, but he’s kept his head down, been working really hard and coming along really nicely - and he’ll definitely be able to help us out this year."

What did you improve the most during the offseason?
"My shot’s more consistent, I’m more confident with it this year. Hopefully I’ll just be able to step in, and if the shot’s open, take it, knowing that I’ve put in the work to make some shots; also, making plays with my right hand, finishing a little better.  Still can get better in both those areas, but definitely feel more comfortable and confident." 

How’s the three looking this year?
"Good.  I mean, there are some days when it’s not feeling as good. But the days where it’s going in over and over again are more and more than they have been in the past."

On his offseason conditioning and what he worked on?
"I went back out with my trainer who I’ve known for several years from my time in Baltimore out in California - was out there for a few weeks. And I did a lot of conditioning/strength stuff with him as I do every summer. But also, every summer I do focus on my game a lot, and making sure I can make more shots, be more of a force on offense, (so) that teams have to respect me on my home court so I can make the game easier for my teammates."   

Quick thoughts about the Maryland matchup?
"No, just excited for the atmosphere.  Sure, we’ll probably get a lot of hate from the students, but I have a lot of people who actually care about the game that’s going on."

Big home town crew coming?
"I’ve got a lot of family coming. I’ve got a lot of friends who go to Maryland, so they’ll probably be in the stands.  They’ll probably bring up some old dirt on me. We’ll see what they come up with." 

----------------------

JALEN RHEA

Thoughts on the NCAA’s ruling on Matt Cimino’s eligibility?
"I’m excited honestly.  I like Matt as a guy and the skills he brings to our team are going to be very important for us to win this year, honestly. He can shoot from the outside, his post moves are getting better by the day. And he’s doing what coach is asking him to do in the post, and he can see and pass.  So he’s gonna help us out a lot this year and hopefully get me a couple threes open too."

What part of your game, whether it was conditioning or technical aspects of your game, do you think you’ve most improved on?
"The most improvement for me was probably my conditioning.  I used to get winded a lot last year, which is part of the reason why I don’t think I played a ton. But conditioning was a big thing and I worked on my handling a little bit this offseason. And then, honestly, the biggest thing for me was confidence, and now seeing the offense for four years, I’m able to help the younger guys know what they’re doing and on top of that helps me know what I’m doing. So I would say just knowing what i’m doing is the biggest thing for me.  

 

I noticed that Pete Carril is here, the godfather of the Princeton offense.  Does he typically come for practices?
"Yeah, he usually comes once a year for a couple of days span, at least for the past two years he’s been here for a couple of days … just kind of doing what he does, just telling people Princeton tricks and tips and stuff. I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about. He wrote a book and my dad actually bought it for me and I read it my sophomore year. That dude definitely knows what he’s talking about and he understands the translation from basketball to life, so I really admire him."

First game’s coming up Friday night.  Butterflies?  Are you excited?  
"I’m excited. I really am. Honestly this is my last go-around and Maryland’s an enormous game. It’ll be a crazy atmosphere and I just can’t wait. I’m excited, nervous a little bit since it’s the first game of the season. But for the most part I’m excited just to be in that environment especially with these guys who I’m getting really really close to now." 

This being your last year, what’s the most desired outcome as the year plays out?
"Early season I just want to see the younger guys pick up because I know how talented they are with Sa’eed and Mark. I just want to see them do well. And then I want to see us compete non-conference. And once conference time comes I want to handle our business and hopefully I can get a second (Patriot League) ring before I head out of here."

Report Card 2016: Jalen Rhea

Photo credit: American University Sports Information

Photo credit: American University Sports Information

THE NUMBERS

Minutes
MPG: 16.6
% Minutes: 29.2

Offense
Points: 4.3 ppg
O-rating: 99.7
E-FG: 46.5%
Two-point shooting: 33%
3-point shooting: 33.8%
FT shooting: 66.7%
Turnover rate: 10%

Defense
Rebounding: 1.2 rpg
Defensive reb %: 4.7%
Steals: 0.5 spg

———————–

STRENGTHS
The biggest takeaway is that Rhea went from a player at the beginning of the season who couldn't find the net and shot with little confidence to a key cog in the rotation during the Eagles' two winning streaks that turned the team's season around. When AU was playing well, Rhea — coming off the bench — was usually a part of it. Consider this:

Rhea minutes per game
AU wins he played in: 22.1
AU losses he played in: 14.3

Those numbers exclude the nine games Rhea didn't play in (five DNPs and four after he suffered a concussion diving along the sideline against Colgate Jan. 30). The Eagles were 3-6 in those games. They make it pretty clear that Rhea made the Eagles better when playing well. And that meant him making 3s.

Rhea shot the same from beyond the arc as from two, 33%, but took three times as many attempts from deep (65 to 21). His role on the team was simpler than anyone else's — make shots. It took him a while, but once he did, Rhea became an absolute zone killer — particularly from the corner against the 1-3-1. Navy tried that look Jan. 27, and Rhea's 5-8 shooting from downtown was the difference in a surprising Eagles road win against one of the league's best teams at the time.

Jalen Rhea 3-point shooting splits
AU wins: 17-32
AU losses:  5-33
Pre-Navy game: 6-38
Navy game & after: 16-27

Rhea's jarring shooting splits can be attributed to a couple factors. One, which coach Mike Brennan mentioned throughout the season's first months, was learning to play with the younger guys. Passes weren't always to his chest. Defenders didn't sag off. He often caught the ball away from his comfort spots. Secondly, though, Rhea got a lot of open looks and just missed them. Not getting anything from Rhea until the end of the season's third month was a reason the Eagles simply couldn't keep up offensively with opponents.

Credit to Rhea for sticking with it, continuing to shoot, and finding his stroke to help American on its impressive season-ending run.

———————–

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
This is tricky, because Rhea epitomizes role player for the Eagles. Asking him to modify his game or make drastic changes as a senior isn't fair or realistic. The 6-foot-2 guard is who he is, mostly. But don't get me wrong — Rhea improving is going to play an integral role in the success of the 2016-17 team:

Free-throw shooting: 66% (14-21) isn't good enough for such a smooth shooter. Rhea should be one of the team's top three at the line and a late-game guy.

Ballhandling: Rhea's good 10% turnover rate belies the fact that he's still shaky with the ball. I know he doesn't handle it much, but if he's out there in crunch time he might be thrust in positions where he needs to.

Defense: This is the  area that kept Rhea on the bench for long stretches of early season games and even out entirely for full games. Rhea is not the quickest lateral defender and when he loses focus that means getting burnt and layups for the opponent. But he improved throughout the year and the effort was always there. Another summer of conditioning, and Rhea can be an average to good defender as a senior.

He also needs to become a better rebounder (see below).

Defensive rebounding rate for Patriot League guards 6-foot-2 or shorter (who played at least 40% of available minutes)
Zack Rufer, 13.4%
Alex Ramon, 11.4%
Andre Walker, 10.4%
Stephen Brown, 9.7%
Austin Tillotson, 9.6%
Kyle Foreman, 9.4%
Bryce Scott, 9.3%
Tillman Dunbar, 8.8%
Cullen Hamilton, 8.5%
Anthony Thompson, 8.5%
James Washington, 7.8%
Kahron Ross, 7.2%
...
Jalen Rhea, 4.7%

Leadership: With Jesse Reed and Marko Vasic gone, there's once again a leadership void that needs to be filled. Charlie Jones and Rhea will be the longest-tenured active seniors on next year's team — Paris Maragkos and Leon Tolksdorf will be seniors in their second year of eligibility with the program — and regardless of whether he's on the court or not, Rhea will need to develop into an emotional leader for a team whose core will still be among the youngest in the Patriot League.

———————–

GRADE: B-

———————–

QUOTABLE
“I think it’s just in our offense where I happen to end up and drives come and the defense collapses and Jesse and Charlie and Delante and everybody are able to find me somehow in the corner and I just happen to be right there in the corner. I’m gonna keep shooting them, I know they’ll keep finding me. I don’t know what it is about the corner, but I’m going to try to stay close to the corner.”

— Jalen Rhea, Feb. 24, after making 3-4 from 3 in AU's 72-65 home win over Navy

———————–

QUICK TAKE
The season had two halves for Rhea, and can almost be categorized as pre- and post-concussion (although pre- and post-first Navy game is more accurate). The most interesting thing to watch next year is whether A) Rhea will move into the starting lineup (doubtful) and; B) How Rhea will fit into the rotation when Brennan inevitably plays Sa'eed Nelson at point guard and James Washington off the ball. That lineup will be too small to also include Rhea, so expect him most likely to be the fourth guard for the Eagles behind those two and Delante Jones, who will also play some three.

Also expect Rhea to feel more comfortable in AU's offense during the season's first three months and have a more balanced season.