Posted May 8 2012 12:53PM
Are great point guards born or are they made?
Having watched over the course of many years numerous college coaches try to convert shooting guards to the point without much success, the answer to that question seems obvious: A point guard either has the inclination and the vision to pass or he doesn't. It's difficult, if not impossible, to rein in a player with a scorer's mentality and convince him to become a set-up man.
That tidy little hypothesis gets blown up by Scott Machado, who this season led the nation in assists and Iona to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. That's because the 6-foot-1 Machado is a natural point guard who had to be reminded of that fact by his coach. Thus, he was born with the requisite point guard skills but later reconfigured for the job after being hardwired to believe the only way to get attention is by scoring.
When former Iona coach Kevin Willard left for Seton Hall in 2010, Machado briefly considered following him to the Big East. Then Machado heard who Iona was hiring to replace Williard -- Tim Cluess, who had coached Machado as a freshman at St. Mary's High School in Manhasset, N.Y.
In fairness to Willard, who needed Machado to score, Cluess -- who had left St. Mary's and achieved considerable success at NCAA Division II C.W. Post, where he compiled a 98-23 record in four seasons -- knew his new point guard was capable of ramping up his assist totals.
"He has the ability to see the floor well that not every player has," Cluess said. "It's a gift."
Cluess reintroduced Machado to his gift just in time for the 2010-11 season. Cluess runs an up-tempo offense with a strong emphasis on sharing the basketball. His teams always score a lot of points, rack up a lot of assists and convert a high percentage of their shots. Cluess knew that in Machado, he had a set-up man with the potential to play in the NBA -- as long as he didn't suppress his natural talent.
"Coach asked me to be a pure point guard," said Machado, who has been training in California preparing for individual workouts with NBA teams. "I just took it to heart. I had to play more like a point guard and get all my teammates involved."
As a sophomore under Willard, Machado passed for 122 assists. A year later playing for his old high school coach, Machado handed out 281 assists. Iona finished 25-12 and was runner-up in the CIT.
The lesson Machado learned was reinforced last summer, when he played for Brazil in the World University Games.
"He got to see how other players attacked the position," Cluess said. "He heard another voice telling him the same thing -- that passing can get you where you want to be. He came back with the attitude that he wanted to pass."
"I saw how the game was played [on the international level]," Machado said. "And how serious it was to them. It helped me focus at a whole other level."
Besides his World University Games experience, Machado put in a lot of time on his own, losing 13 pounds and hoisting 1,000 3-point shots a day because Cluess had told him there's no way to be an effective point guard without being a threat to score from the perimeter.
The hard work paid off. Machado increased his assist total again, to 327 (9.9 apg), coming within a tenth of a percentage point of being just the fifth player -- and the first since 1995 -- to average double-figures assists since the NCAA began keeping the statistic in 1983. A career .318 shooter from 3-point range, Machado shot .408 from behind the arc.
With targets such as acrobatic senior forward Mike Glover and Arizona transfer MoMo Jones to throw the ball to, Machado led Iona to the NCAA Tournament as a rare at-large team out of a mid-major conference (the MAAC). And as Machado's assist totals mounted, NBA scouts began flocking to Iona games.
"It was just like we told him," Cluess said. "If you're a player from the MAAC, no one's going to notice you if you average 18 points and three assists. But if you average 14 points and eight assists, nine assists, you're going to get noticed."
The attention started early as the Gaels' began their season in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The assist record in that three-day event had been 22. Playing against Purdue, Western Michigan and Maryland, Machado passed for 41 assists -- 15 each against the Broncos and Terps -- and committed just six turnovers as Iona finished 2-1. In a home game three days after Iona's last game in Puerto Rico, Machado torched Saint Joseph's for 33 points and 10 assists. He knocked down 4 of 6 3-pointers in that game while showing off his newly improved jumper.
"Whenever you have a point guard like Machado, you can do an awful lot of things," Saint Joe's coach Phil Martelli said after that game.
Machado was in a groove, and he stayed in it all season. Passing had become his focus and his obsession.
"It was fun," Machado said. "You get the oohs and ahs just like when somebody gets dunked on, or crossed over. Everybody realizes, 'Oh my God, that pass was outstanding.' I started to get my thrills off that."
Machado is hoping those thrills will continue in the NBA. Cluess thinks that will happen, though he's heard mixed signals from scouts.
"Half the teams I've spoken to really love him," Cluess said. "Half think he's OK, but that he's just a little undersized or not quite quick enough or athletic enough."
Cluess has a ready comparison when talking about whether Machado can play in the NBA.
"Jeremy Lin can run a pick and roll," Cluess said. "Scott can run pick and roll offense to death. In all fairness to our team, we were maybe a mid-major team. Scott wasn't throwing the ball to pros. If guys caught the ball and made layups, he could have averaged 14 assists a game."
All this brings us back around to the question of whether a true point guard is born with the ability to make other players better, to find them in positions where they can best utilize their particular talent to score.
"It's a rare kid who, one, understands passing and wants to pass," Cluess said. "Two, it's the vision to pass. A lot of guys look at the rim and how to get by their guy, and that's it.
"To me, an average point guard passes to the color of the uniform. A great point guard passes to who's wearing the uniform."
By that definition, Machado is a great point guard. Like Cluess, he believes the talent to play the position is inborn. He's gotten proof of that watching his 14-year-old brother Junior compete in AAU games.
"He's a smart kid," Machado said. "He picked up basketball very fast. Watching him play, you can tell he's [more advanced] than a lot of kids his age. He just knows how to play the game."
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