January 19, 2010

Nankivil poised to become more aggressive

MADISON - Talking to Keaton Nankivil is similar to watching him play.

He instills a calmness almost to a fault, remains polite instead of aggressive and explains things the way they are meant to be explained. All are similar traits the junior forward displays when taking the court on game days.

So often, Nankivil seems content to shoot the ball from the wing or perimeter instead of establishing himself and demanding the ball in the post. As a result, the Badgers offense tends to suffer as it did at Ohio State last weekend when the team finished the contest shooting 26 three-point shots without a legitimate low post threat for most of the game.

While it's understood that bigs in the swing offense need to be able to shoot from outside the paint, there is also a demand for the bigs to establish the post and work from the inside out to get the best shots.

So, though Nankivil technically plays within the offense, his athleticism could greatly enhance the Badger frontcourt with a little more aggression.

"We've got to piss him off before games," UW senior guard Trevon Hughes said following Monday's practice. "That's when he's in his best mode, when he's pissed off. As players we know that and the coaching staff knows that, too. But we don't want to get down on him, we want him to get his confidence level high.

"We've just got to motivate him and keep him on the right track and piss him off in a positive way."

In football, you see players smashing heads with their helmets, hitting each other in practice and screaming inside the huddle to get everyone fired up. In basketball, a game a bit less physical than football, there are different methods to get someone fired up.

"Probably a pinch," Hughes said jokingly when asked what the team does to get Nankivil upset. "You see his athleticism and he can rise above the crowd often and we just need him to do that. We see flashes of that, we just need to see that constantly."

A perfect example of Nankivil's flash in the pan assertiveness was seen in UW's most recent home game against Purdue. On the play, Nankivil hauled in two offensive rebounds in a crowd of people under the rim.

Finally, on his third try for the put back, he simply exploded off the ground like he had undertaken some sort of power boost and flushed a powerful one-handed slam.

That play epitomized the athleticism the junior forward embodies and really brought the Kohl Center to life. But that type of play only seems to be an exception to the rule.

Without turning this into a full-blown psychology class, maybe that passiveness has something to do with the even-keeled personality Nankivil possesses both on and off the court.

"I don't know if it goes against my personality," Nankivil said. "It's nothing conscious. The way I am it takes me a while to react to anything emotionally like that. If you want to get in my face and expect an instant result, it might not happen."

Another senior guard Jason Bohannon says Nankivil and the rest of the team plays with a great deal of passion and motivation when on the floor. Under Bo Ryan, that should go without saying because if you're not playing with those things, you won't be playing anyway.

Bohannon also made it clear that everybody tries to get everyone else fired up prior to a game inside the locker room. But before that happens, each player partakes in his own separate routine to get the blood flowing.

Nankivil backed those claims up.

"We're not the team that runs around hitting each other in the head and that kind of stuff," Nankivil said. "But if they want to, they can try. I'll do my best to respond to it, but it's got to come from me.

"Really, what will motivate me is to keep trying to win."

Without Jon Leuer in the fray for what surely will be a decent chunk of time as he recovers from wrist surgery, the onus is on Nankivil to produce for a frontcourt that is relatively short with offensive threats.

But as a player that doesn't add any extra pressure because of that absence, Nankivil is not worried about feeling a burden to fill the void left by the team's leading rebounder and second leading scorer.

Instead, he will continue to go about his business as usual and maintain his same approach without adding extra pressure.

Even though several, including his own teammates would like to see a consistently aggressive Nankivil similar to the one they saw trying to dunk on everybody in Maui.

"A lot of it has to do with more scouting reports, the more teams we are familiar with and the Big Ten style of play," Nankivil said. "There's no easy baskets in the Big Ten. There are a lot of big bodies filling the paint. In Maui, there were those teams that might gamble a little bit more and open things up for us."

When talking with Badger coaches, there was one consensus in regards to what it takes to become an aggressive player. And that was the fact that people are born with the 'disposition to dominate' and it is something that cannot really be taught.

So, though Nankivil plays hard, plays smart and serves as a key cog in the Wisconsin basketball machine, his play often seems just a bit too timid at times.

In the end, if the topic of Nankivil's lack of aggression were a mystery, how would it be solved?

"You know what," Nankivil said. "The end goal of winning is really what it is. I've never been a person that gets the instant gratification out of one or two plays. But if I need to fire up I'm going to keep working on it."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!