Typically, a first year starting point guard in college basketball is a common thread among teams that struggle to find an identity or have a problem developing on court leadership.
Middle Tennessee has a first year starting point guard this season in James Washington, but the early returns show no signs of some of the typical problems that can plague inexperienced guards.
Washington, a 6 foot, 170 pound transfer from Indian Hills C.C., has impressed head coach Kermit Davis from the second he stepped on campus, not only with his play on the court but with his ability to take ownership of and direct the team.
Washington's first game performance with the Raiders gave fans a glimpse of why his presence has generated such excitement in his head coach.
The junior guard scored 10 points, handed out six assists, and had four steals as the Blue Raiders rolled over North Alabama in exhibition play.
"I just love him," Davis said of Washington. "James didn't play as well (against UNA) as he has played in some scrimmages, but as far as his effort and his leadership and getting other guys to play is why he is probably going to lead us in minutes played."
Washington, who played at the Division One level at Western Illinois before his transfer to Indian Hills, has an advantage over most junior college transfers because of that experience at the highest level.
He acknowledges that his past Division One experience has helped him transition, but he is also quick to point out that his time at Middle Tennessee has already far exceeded what he has experienced in the past.
"(The level of play) is kind of the same," Washington said as he compared his stint at WIU to his first preseason at MT. "Division One is Division One, but I love it here way better than my past school. When I got here, the coaches and the players really made me feel at home and I knew this was the spot for me, so I'm glad I came here."
Davis wants to use Washington as a catalyst for perhaps the fastest tempo team he has ever put on the court in his eighth season at Middle Tennessee.
In the win over North Alabama, the Raiders had 79 possessions. Their season average last year was just 66 possessions per game.
Washington is clear about who ultimately controls the team, but he is also eager to take on the large responsibility that Davis is willing to place on his shoulders when he is on the court.
"It's Coach Davis's team," Washington said, "but on the floor I guess you could consider myself a coach on the floor. But I don't really look at it like that. I enjoy playing with my teammates. They encourage me and I encourage them and by the looks of it as you guys saw (against UNA) it is going to be a fun year this year."
Davis just bid farewell to seniors Nigel Johnson and Kevin Kanaskie last year, a pair of point guards that each had stretches of stellar play during their careers.
Kanaskie left as the program's all time assists leader.
Washington won't be around long enough to break a record like that, but Davis thinks he is the type of special point guard that could leave a big mark in his two years in Murfreesboro.
"He's pretty good," Davis said of Washington. "We've had some good ones. Kevin and Nigel have done well and Fats Cuyler was a solid point. But I think the whole package of different things and how (Washington) leads every single day with his communication skills, that's what really makes him special."
Haddock back to the paint
In the offseason, senior Montarrio Haddock sought to trim some pounds off his body in anticipation of a move to the perimeter due to the return of Theryn Hudson, who would play center and allow Desmond Yates to move back to power forward.
Haddock's work paid off, but now he is having to go back to playing inside as Yates recovers from knee surgery that will keep him out for about a month.
After a night of physical battles in the lane against North Alabama, Haddock, who now weighs in a little over 220, had to laugh about his new body type compared to a year ago.
"I wish I still had the pounds," Haddock joked. "I wish I was still about 230 since I'm banging again down low."
Davis quickly dismissed any thoughts of Haddock potentially being better off at his old weight though, regardless of where he plays on the floor. Haddock's dominating 25 point performance against UNA suggests the coach is right.
"I'm still trying to get (Haddock) to lose more pounds," Davis said. "He played 20 minutes and had 25 and 8 in 20 minutes so that is pretty good. We've got to get him to play for longer periods of time, but I do think this team might have this build where those guys can all get about 20 to 24 minutes per game."
Haddock finished last year strong and was arguably MT's most dynamic player down the stretch. That development took some time because he reported to campus prior to his junior year somewhat overweight and not in great shape.
He looks like a much different player this November than he did last November.
"I'm a lot better than last year," he said. "We push the ball more and I feel more confident in the offense. I got some experience last year. With Boogie being out I've got to score more. I was supposed to be playing the three this year but with Boogie being hurt I've had to move back down to the four, but it will be alright."
Haddock's progression has been evidenced by more than just his body type and skill set though. Davis said he has been a key leader in helping a team with seven newcomers stay consistently crisp in preseason practices.
"It has been (a good practice team)," Davis said. "In the last four or five days it's been our best. Montarrio has really turned it on. He's become much more of an every day practice player. I'm not having to fight his effort. I think the guys have been good and they will have to continue that because we have a long way to go, but (the exhibition game) was a good start."