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Volume 72, Issue 136, Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sports

Guards and more guards for UH

Cougars ink New York standout Nixon 
as Penders pushes to realize system

by CHRIS ELLIOTT
The Daily Cougar

Houston head coach Tom Penders' dream of running a successful three point guard-style offense may have recently gotten one step closer to becoming reality. 

The Cougars signed highly-touted combo guard Zamal Nixon on Friday, capping off their signing period by taking a nice slice of the East Coast recruiting pool pie.

Nixon is listed at 6-2, 170 pounds and averaged 16.3 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game in his senior year at Boys and Girls High School in New York. UH associate head coach and recruiting director Melvin Haralson said Nixon could be an integral part of next season's rotation, even as a freshman.

"Zamal is the type of player that can really break you down on the dribble," Haralson said. "He's got a lot of speed on the fast break. He's a very intelligent basketball player that knows how to get everybody involved, while at the same time he knows how to score his points also. 

"I think he's going to make a very big impact this year. He's young, but I think his know-how, his will and his leadership is going to help out our program in this upcoming season."

One thing's for sure: The Cougars will not have to look too far down the bench to find a guard to come in and contribute. Senior guards Lanny Smith and Robert "Fluff" McKiver should provide UH with All-Conference USA-caliber play next season. Senior Marcus Malone and junior Charlie Jones stepped up as key role players last year and will likely see time. And the additions of recruits Brockeith Pane, Deshaun Williams and Nixon will make things a bit crowded in the backcourt. 

"It's not one of those deals where (Nixon's) going to have to come in here and wait," Haralson said. "I'm not saying that he's going to jump right into the starting lineup, but I think it's going to be hard to keep him out of it because he really understands the game."

Haralson noted that both Pane and Williams will be given the opportunities to prove themselves on the hardwood and pointed out their strengths in comparison to the other guards in the recruiting class.

"I think they'll all have an impact," Haralson said. "I think Brockeith might be the best defender out of all three of them. I think that Deshaun is the wisest of the three. Out of Chicago, he's a very knowledgeable kid about the game that knows how to score and knows how to get everybody involved. He's already stronger than any guard we've got on the team."

Many players have learned the hard way ? by sitting on the bench ? that defense comes first on a Penders-run basketball team. Then there were players like former guard Oliver Lafayette, who was consistently among the nation's leaders in steals per game; Brian Latham, who led the Cougars defensively in the 2005-06 season; and Malone, who held former Rice guard and the nation's third-leading scorer, Morris Almond, to 11 points in a semifinal matchup during the C-USA Tournament in March. Those three players found out that the better they played defense end, the more likely they were to stay on the court.

Haralson doesn't feel like Nixon will have too much trouble earning minutes.

"I think Zamal is going to be good on the defensive end," Haralson said. "He understands that if you're on a quicker guard you have to step off and give him room so that he won't penetrate past you. It might take him a while to get adjusted with the speed of the game, but I don't think he'll have any problems with our defense."

Haralson said an intangible element separates this class from the others recruited during Penders' three-year tenure.

"Something I know is going to bode well for us this year is all the guys we recruited are energy players," Haralson said. "Energy play is very important at this level. With what we've already got and with what our new recruits can bring to the table, I think that we can have a really good team. But they must jell a lot quicker than last year's team."

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