Stuck On You

Nov. 7, 2006


By Bryan Armen Graham



Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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The best freshman in the country last season not named Tyler Hansbrough is tucked away in the small town of Cheney, Wash. -- pop. 8,832 -- just a stone's throw from Spokane in the Pacific Northwest.


But if Rodney Stuckey's second collegiate season is anything like his first, it's doubtful that Eastern Washington's scintillating shooting guard will remain under the radar for long.


"Rodney had perhaps the greatest freshman season in the history of the Big Sky Conference," EWU coach Mike Burns said. "The one thing we and he can do better is win more basketball games and try to win a conference championship. Rodney would be the first to tell you that is very much the goal with this group."


If that sounds a bit hyperbolic, it's not. From a statistical point of view, Stuckey's freshman campaign ranks among the best debuts in Division I history.


Playing on a team with just one senior, the 6-foot-5 slasher averaged 24.2 points -- the conference record for a freshman and the eighth-best clip in Division I -- to go with 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals. The Kent, Wash., native was the team's leading scorer in its final 27 games, including a 38-point performance against Portland State in the Big Sky Tournament and a school-record 45 points in a loss to Northern Arizona.


When the dust cleared, Stuckey was the first player in the 43-year history of the Big Sky Conference to earn the conference MVP award as a freshman. Aside from breaking seven school records, his other accolades included Freshman of the Year, Associated Press All-America Honorable Mention and NABC All-District 13 First Team honors.


"He's a really good player. It's kind of like he's playing the game at a little different speed," said then-Montana coach Larry Krystowiak, who has since taken an assistant's job with the Milwaukee Bucks. "He's got all the facets of the game. Usually a guy's either a three-point shooter or a mid-range player or an around-the-basket kind of player. [Stuckey's] pretty productive at all three spots."


Portland State coach Ken Bone reserved even higher praise for Stuckey, who poured in 91 points in three games against his Vikings.


"Stuckey might be the best player ever to play in the Big Sky. He is just head and shoulders above guys on our team. There is not a thing we can do about it," Bone said. "The guy is just way, way better than anyone else in the Big Sky. I am proud and happy for Rodney Stuckey, I tried to recruit him at the University of Washington when I was there."


A prep stud out of Kentwood High in the Puget Sound area, Stuckey made the All-Washington first team while leading the Conquerors to the 4A state title in 2003-04. But while plenty of bigger schools made pursuit of the area star, Stuckey didn't have the requisite grades and test scores to play right away -- an academic concern that scared some schools away.


But Burns would take a chance on Stuckey, who responded with an outstanding academic performance during the first semester to make grades and get on the court in time for the team's first contest Nov. 19.


Individual achievements notwithstanding, Stuckey helped the Eagles to a 15-15 record and a 9-5 mark that was good for third in the Big Sky -- a seven-game improvement from the team's lackluster 8-20 campaign in 2005-06.


This season, the Eagles return five players with starting experience, and Burns is confident that his program's improvement will only continue as Stuckey's star rises.


"When you return a player of Rodney's caliber in addition to having eight of your top nine players back, I think you have reason for great optimism as we do," Burns said. "We expect this team to be extremely competitive in our conference and non-conference schedules. We improved a lot in January and February last year, and I think that improvement has propelled us into this year and hopefully to greater success."



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