What's in a name? A new philosophy for Boise State basketball

Coach Leon Rice is replacing traditional position names of guard, forward, center with trigger, gunner, pusher, pitcher, crash.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comNovember 6, 2013 

Boise State senior Jeff Elorriaga, who played quarterback at Jesuit High in Portland, is a prime player for the Broncos' trigger position, a spot coach Leon Rice referred to as "like being a quarterback."

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

— Boise State's guard-heavy system is not traditional, so why should the team use traditional names for its positions?

That was coach Leon Rice's thinking last season as he looked over his roster and the success his team was finding with four starters 6-foot-6 or shorter.

"It evolved because we wanted to play our best guys regardless of position, and you don't want to just put a big guy out there for the sake of being out there if he can't play," associate head coach Jeff Linder said. "We knew our best lineup was with four guards, but no guard wants to be called a (power forward)."

Out of that thinking, Rice set out to change the names of all five spots on the floor to fit the Broncos' style. He consulted Boise State football coaches for possible names and he got a list. "Animal names, pirate names, everything," Rice said.

After some deliberating, gone were point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center — traditional basketball position names.

Now the Broncos have a trigger, a gunner, a pusher, a pitcher and a crash.

"It can let you fit guys according to a skill set instead of just a certain size for that spot," Rice said. "We aren't going to pass over a good player who is 6-4 in favor of a bad 7-footer."

In his office, Rice's recruiting board is sorted by the new position names. He notes that it's easier to find players who fit a skill set than it is to find a prototypical power forward or center. Sure, Rice says, in a perfect world he'd have a half-dozen freak athletes 6-8 or taller. But what his team has done with four guards has worked just fine, and it's likely to remain for some time.

"You don't want to get away from what we're winning with," Rice said.

With new names for the positions, along with slightly different roles that come along in using an atypical system, Rice spoke this summer at coaching clinics regarding the change. A major conference coach recently texted Rice asking about what each position's responsibilities are and lamented how tough it is to find a "crash."

"It's kind of caught on a little bit, and that's pretty great," Rice said.

The new spots

Here's a look at the Broncos' five positions.

Trigger: A flexible spot that typically requires a strong outside shooting touch, but also needs a very smart player who knows every position well. It's where a 6-2 senior like Jeff Elorriaga can thrive, as well as a 6-8 freshman like Nick Duncan. "That's probably the unique position - it's not what the traditional power forward is," Rice said. "It's like being a quarterback. It's being able to see the whole floor, swing the ball, keep it moving and space us out, where we thrive."

Gunner: A tough-minded guard-type who can get to the basket, either drawing in defenses, or getting to the rim with the ball in his hands. Junior Derrick Marks and his ability to drive are what is needed. "We get it to him and he can attack," Rice said.

Pusher: Often the first man to take the ball down the floor, the primary players employed at the spot are junior Igor Hadziomerovic and sophomore Mikey Thompson.

"That's the guy we want pushing the ball as fast as we can," Rice said.

Pitcher: Often the recipient of the pusher's pass, he's typically a strong scorer. That is a fit for junior Anthony Drmic. "That's who we want to pitch the ball ahead to," Rice said.

Crash: The man in the middle, providing a presence on the inside with so many guards flanking him. That's senior Ryan Watkins, who averaged 8.4 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. "You crash into the on-ball, onto the boards. They just have to have that mentality," Rice said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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