IPFW men's basketball coach Tony Jasick has a simple way of deciphering how good of a teammate each of his players is being within the program.
“I think this is an undervalued thought,” Jasick said. “Would you like playing with you?”
That “undervalued” but deep thought captures the value of senior point guard Pierre Bland to the Mastodons program.
“The answer for Pierre is overwhelmingly 'Yes,'” Jasick concluded.
IPFW will travel to Denver (7-9, 0-1 Summit League) at 9 tonight (ESPN 1380-AM).
Why do the IPFW players like having Bland be part of – heck, that's doing him a disservice – lead this program?
There are many reasons. First, Bland has evolved into a leader both literally and figuratively.
“Pierre is a huge, huge factor in our success,” Jasick said. “He is a guy that our team relies on for leadership.”
Jasick will be the first to tell you that in years past, whenever certain players were having a discussion with others, he wasn't always at ease with what was being discussed. When it comes to Bland conducting a meeting on or off the floor, Jasick never sweats it.
“I don't go out on the floor with the intent that 'Tonight, I'm going to score 20 (points) or tonight I'm going to get (10) assists,'” Bland said. “My job, as far as being a leader on this team, is to make sure my players are tuned in, making sure that everybody is locked in on what their roles are.”
Notice he said “my” players. As if he is the coach, which in essence he has been on the court this season.
“Coming from a coach, a guy might not take (criticism) the right way,” Bland said. “Me, being the coach on the floor, that's my job to know how to talk to the players. That's something that I feel that I know how to do. Maybe I don't do a great job at it, but I do a good job.”
No, Bland was correct the first time. He's been great at just about everything this season.
He is an honor student, which dispels the stereotype of a typical junior college transfer, and not only has he led verbally, but he's also done so statistically.
On six occasions Bland has led IPFW in rebounding. Twice he's led the team in scoring and blocks, and he has led the Mastodons in 11 games in either steals or assists or both.
His 2.1-to-1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio is second-best in the Summit League this season, while his assists and steals averages are also second-best in the conference. All of those numbers are tangible ways to measure Bland's value, but Jasick knows that his impact goes way beyond the numbers.
“Pierre is a guy that continues to improve and set the tone defensively,” Jasick said. “The point guard is arguably one of your more important defenders because the other four guys see him (defending) the whole possession.
“Your inside guys, the teammates, don't see them very much. But if you are guarding the ball out on the floor, everybody watches. So your intensity, your discipline, affects your team's overall defensive effort.”
Bland's play also affects his team's overall success.
A year ago, he spent a large portion of the season playing through a leg injury and “should've missed some games,” according to Jasick. Bland struggled with his shooting (42.6 percent compared with 54.2 this season), rebounding (2.7 vs. 4.6), and scoring (3.0 vs. 9.7), and the team struggled to win games.
As he got healthier later in the season, the result was IPFW winning six of its final seven games.
Bland's improved health and play have carried IPFW (14-5, 2-0 Summit League) to its best start in program history as an NCAA Division I team.
“We set our goals at the beginning of the year,” Bland said. “And we have steps to go through to get to an NCAA Tournament. We try to focus one day at a time, going hard every day in practice, and making sure you do the right thing on every play. Once you do that, everything will fall into place.”