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UW’s Hughes eyes Toney award

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McClatchy Tribune
March 20, 2009
— It’s hard to be a basketball player from Queens, N.Y., and not have a special place in your heart for St. John’s.

Trevon Hughes was a big fan, especially of the playmakers.


“They always produced very good guards, All-Americans,” the Wisconsin point guard and Queens native said. “Omar Cook … Erick Barkley. (Anthony) Glover, even though he wasn’t a guard.”


Cook, as Hughes disappointedly noted, turned pro after one season. Barkley, however, stuck around for two years and as a freshman helped a Red Storm team that included Ron Artest reach the Elite Eight of the 1999 NCAA tournament before losing to Ohio State by three points.


It’s the kind of run Hughes would love to help provide for seniors Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft this year.


“They keep me motivated,” Hughes said. “It’s the least I can do. I owe them a good run in this tournament.”


Hughes and the Badgers (19-12) face an uphill battle in making that happen, though. Seeded No. 12 in the East Regional, they will face fifth-seeded Florida State (25-9).


The Seminoles are one of the upstart teams in the NCAA field. Picked to finish 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference, they finished fourth, emerged as one of the nation’s top defensive teams and have a bona fide All-American candidate in senior guard Toney Douglas, who averages 21.3 points per game.


That’s where Hughes comes in.


Can he make Douglas work for his looks? And on the other end of the floor, can Hughes run the Badgers’ offense while Douglas, who is by all accounts a superb on-the-ball defender, tries to be disruptive?


Wisconsin hopes so. Like a quarterback in football, it’s hard for a basketball team to get much further than its point guard takes it.


“Point guards are constantly in a position where they can make or break the flow of your offense, your possessions,” UW coach Bo Ryan said. “And defensively (they’re) the guy who is back to prevent fast breaks, transition. So that’s a tough position to play.”


And as quarterbacks know, there are a lot of arm-chair point guards and Hughes hasn’t been immune to the second guessing.


He opened himself up to criticism with a rough three-game stretch in January in which he committed 14 turnovers. He also admittedly could have done a better job of running the team in some of the games in which UW lost late leads.


But he has a certain confidence about him that Ryan appreciates. Ryan calls it city skills, which is simply the belief that he can get the job done when the pressure is on.


Hughes is the kind of player who can be benched for an extended stretch, as he was in the second half against Virginia Tech in December, and come back hit the winning shot.


“I’ve never met a Philly, New York, Chicago guard that (didn’t want the last shot) …” Ryan said. “The important thing I’d like to hear a guard say, and what we try to instill in our point guards, is, ‘Get me the ball. I’ll either get you something or maybe I can finish something myself.’ “


The value of good point guard play was never more evident than during Wisconsin’s tournament run last season.


After a slow start that included foul trouble, Hughes came back in the second half to post eight points, two assists and three steals in UW’s victory over Cal-State Fullerton in the first round. Two days later, he went off for 25 points and three assists in a 72-55 victory over Kansas State.


He might have been headed for bigger things in the Sweet 16 but he twisted his chronically bad ankle early in the game and was done for the day.


The Badgers lost to Davidson by 17 points.


“It hurt knowing what you can do and that you can help the team, but you’re on the sidelines,” he said. “I felt like I let my teammates down, my coaches down and the guys that aren’t here any more.”


That’s why Hughes puts so much emphasis on sending out Landry and Krabbenhoft with a bang.


And that is why Ryan should be happy that his continually evolving point guard will be ready to play Friday night.


The better Hughes plays, the better Wisconsin’s chances.


“We just keep working to get him better and he’s working to get himself better,” Ryan said. “The most important thing is, do you make the team better? A good point guard makes the team better; he makes the people around him better. So that is what we’re constantly working on with him.”



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