As James Madison finds itself the loser in three straight and five of its past six games, it’s fair to wonder what’s missing from a team that has shown great promise at times this season.
The Dukes (8-9, 1-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association) have shooters, rebounders, ball handlers, experience and pure athletes. What they might not have is a vocal leader.
In many instances the Dukes look to junior guards Matt Lewis and Darius Banks, who have started since their freshman seasons, or sophomore point guard Deshon Parker.
Up and down the roster are thoughtful players more than willing to lead by example. But perhaps many are not necessarily the type to fire up the locker room with a big speech or get in the face of a teammate when the effort isn’t there.
“We need that,” fourth-year JMU coach Louis Rowe said. “I think there are guys who are trying to step into that role and have been trying. Matt, Banks and Deshon, are guys who are trying to step into the role and if I’m being honest there’s probably some frustration and disappointment from them, but they are guys who are not naturally like that and that makes it hard.”
JMU has already lost four home games in CAA play, digging a hole that won’t be easy to get out of as the Dukes embark on a three-game road swing. It starts Saturday at Towson, as the Tigers have been playing well of late after their own issues early on.
At Towson, senior leaders such as guard Brian Fobbs define the toughness the Tigers are known for. Rowe, on the other hand, is still searching for someone to personify the personality he hopes to see in his team.
“I was talking to somebody this morning about the teams that I have played on, and the chemistry and makeup of those teams,” said Rowe, who played on JMU’s 1994 CAA championship squad. “There’s always a guy like that, and we may not actually have a guy like that. It has to start with me, giving those guys the environment and courage and conviction to say we are going to hold each other accountable.”
Banks and Lewis were more or less thrust into leadership roles of all types this season, becoming unofficial spokesmen for the team as well as the most experienced players on the court.
But following losses to Delaware and Drexel last week, their answers to nearly every question were short and quiet. Even after victories it’s clear they’d prefer to let their play do the talking.
But as the Dukes reach a point where the season could quickly get away from them, JMU needs somebody to step up and speak up.
“As leaders we try to tell guys we can’t keep having these lapses,” Lewis said. “But they just keep happening so we have to find a way to better communicate.”