Is anyone old enough to remember the movie, ‘Little Giants’? You know, the story of the little guys who were picked for the town’s Pop Warner football team? Those guys that lacked size, athleticism and speed? Becky ‘Ice Box’ O’Shea was the best player in the town and got left off the town’s squad coached by her uncle? That ‘Little Giants’ movie?
Well, if not, then perhaps you watched a so-called basketball version of ‘Little Giants’ in 2021-22. That is if you watched the Tarleton men’s basketball team.
Calling the Texans ‘Little Giants’ is not a derogatory term. It is simply a fact. Since joining the Division I ranks prior to the 2020-21 season, Tarleton has lacked size. In 2020-21, Heri Ngalamulume was the tallest player on the roster at 6-9. But, Ngalamulume only played in 15 games and averaged less than 11 minutes.
In 2021-22, Kylon Owens at 6-9 and Bryce Brown at 6-8 were the tallest players on the roster. However, both averaged around three minutes per contest.
So, ‘Little Giants’ seems to fit the bill.
Seven players averaged over 24 minutes per game in 2021-22. The tallest player of that group for Tarleton was 6-6 forward Freddy Hicks.
Imagine going toe-to-toe with the likes of Stanford, top-ranked Kansas and Wichita State to open a season. And all those contests were true road games. Add in the fact that Tarleton had no size and you would think the games wouldn’t be competitive.
However, if you know Billy Clyde Gillispie, you know he can coach. And regardless of the lack of size, Gillispie gets his players to play hard. Tarleton also uses the size disadvantage as an advantage as the Texans guards get after teams on the defensive end, creating opportunities on the offensive side of the floor.
Tarleton averaged almost eight steals per game and forced 16 turnovers per contest in 2021-22. 6-4 guard Shamir Bogues was fourth in the WAC in steals with 55. In fact, it was Bogues’ jumper off a Shakur Daniel steal that cut the deficit to 11 at Kansas with 10:57 to play in Lawrence.
But, the lack of size, as well as depth, can only take you so far. The Jayhawks used that size to outscore Tarleton, 32-17 down the stretch for the 26-point win.
Our trip to Allen Fieldhouse feels particularly relevant this morning ? pic.twitter.com/2WvqJWs0Mr
— Tarleton Men's Basketball (@TarletonMBB) April 5, 2022
Two weeks after the loss at Kansas, the Texans took their lack of size to Michigan and Gonzaga. You know, two teams with a ton of size. Michigan featured 7-1 Hunter Dickinson and 6-8 forward Caleb Houston. Gonzaga had Drew Timme and the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft in 7-footer Chet Holmgren.
No problem, right? For a team whose tallest player to get significant minutes was 6-6. Sure, no problem.
And, for all intents and purposes, it wasn’t. Montre Gipson hit a 3-pointer with 6:06 to play at the Crisler Center to cut the deficit to three. Shakur Daniel knocked down a 3-pointer with 4:20 to play that cut it to 55-52. But, three straight dunks from Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate sealed the win for the Wolverines.
At No. 3 Gonzaga, the ‘Little Giants’ from Tarleton held their own.
There is not a team we will play all year that plays harder and plays better defense than Tarleton,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said prior to tipoff.
In fact, it was a 1-point game at halftime. The Texan guards held Gonzaga to just 11 percent shooting from 3-point land in the first half. And overall, Montre Gipson, Shakur Daniel, Tahj Small, Shamir Bogues, Javontae Hopkins and Freddy Hicks did a fantastic job defensively. Gonzaga hit just three 3-pointers in the contest and had one of their lowest offensive scoring nights of the season.
Pretty impressive for a squad that didn’t have a player over 6-6 going against a squad with All-Americans and the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
The 2022-23 roster will be similar with a lack of size. But, you can’t count out the Texans. Freddy Hicks can play multiple positions. Shakur Daniel, Shamir Bogues, Javontae Hopkins, Noah McDavid, they will all get after it defensively. And with the Texans being eligible for the WAC Tournament, it may be even more so in 2022-23.
Billy Gillispie mentioned the need to get a big man to Tarleton. But, the third-year Tarleton head coach also mentioned it is about getting the best big man to Stephenville.
And believe this, as soon as Tarleton gets that big guy, the ‘Little Giants’ in Stephenville won’t be so little anymore.