A year ago, the pressure on Zak Irvin was monumental as his college decision loomed large. At that point some his AAU teammates had already verballed to Indiana and Purdue, but Irvin was undecided and would be playing for his future throughout summer of 2011. The 6-foot-6 wing guard was up to the challenge.
Irvin played well in the spring, impressed at Michigan’s camp in June and earned a coveted Michigan offer a couple of days later on June 15th. He continued his strong play in front of coaches throughout the July evaluation period and committed to the Wolverines on the final day of July.
That decision appears to be already paying dividends on the court. Irvin, along with most of his teammates – who will be attending Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame – are playing with the ease of players already committed to major schools. They’re no longer worried about impressing coaches in order to get a scholarship, and that allows them to play looser and more focused.
Matt Green, coach of the Eric Gordon All-Stars, said that his team is benefiting greatly from having the weight of a college decision lifted off their shoulders.
“They can just play to win games now,” Green said. “They’re not worried about that stuff… all they care about is winning.”
That attitude has paid dividends on a team level as the Eric Gordon All-Stars have lost just one AAU game this spring. It has also allowed Irvin to really open up his game. He has extended the range on his jumpshot to beyond the 3-point line and his handle has improved to the extent that he even ran some point over the weekend in Indianapolis. It’s safe to say he is now his team’s go-to scorer on the wing — an impressive feat on a team that features four other wing players committed to high major schools.
Green said Irvin is becoming a player who can take over a game offensively with his ability to score in bunches.
“When he gets hot, we give him the ball,” Green said. “And when he gets it going, he gets that look in his eye, and you know he’s feeling it right now. So we give him the ball.”
That was the case in the Adidas Spring Classic semifinal as Irvin exploded for 23 points in a three-point loss to Wisconsin Swing. Irvin is becoming a more complete player and according to his coach he’s starting to understand that he has the ability to dominate games.
“Offensively, he’s starting to get that kind of ‘takeover mode,’” Green said. “That’s the next level in his offensive game: saying, ‘I can take over this game now,’ and that’s where he’s progressing offensively.”
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While Irvin’s progress on the offensive side of the ball is impressive, perhaps more impressive is his commitment to other areas of the game. Irvin himself talked about making an effort to go harder to the glass, and his coach said that although people notice the offensive skills, it’s on defense where Irvin really stands out.
“Defensively, he’s our stopper,” Green said. “We put him on the other team’s best player. So sometimes you’ve got the best offensive guy, he’s going to work, but then he’s got to turn around and play defense against the other team’s best player. He’s capable of doing both.”
When the All-Stars were in zone, Irvin played at the top and was disruptive. His 6-foot-6 frame and long arms made it nearly impossible for smaller guards to get a lob pass over him, and his quickness allowed him to hound the ball without getting taken advantage of.
When the All-Stars were in man-to-man, Irvin guarded the opposing team’s best player and gave them plenty of trouble. Irvin’s combination of size and quickness allowed him to guard post players and wing players equally effectively.
“His best attribute right now is being a lockdown defender,” Green said. “Defensively, he’s always been a lockdown defender and that’s never going to change.”
However, this isn’t to say Irvin doesn’t have room for improvement. His coach would like to see him move without the ball more and he needs to bulk up in order to handle the physicality of the game. His rebounding numbers during the tournament were good — he notched 12 in the final game on Saturday, along with 22 points.
Green emphasized that although Irvin has become an offensive force, he continues to be unselfish. He isn’t scoring more now because he’s taking more shots — he’s just making more out of his opportunities.
“He’s a great kid,” Green said. “He’s not a selfish player, he knows when he’s got it going to be more aggressive, when he’s not he just passes it to the open guy like everyone else.”