On the VCU Rapid Reaction, the quickest pre-recorded UD basketball recap show on earth, I prayed for the Kung Flu to cancel one of UD’s remaining games. Specifically, I was hoping that Saturday’s tilt against St. Joe’s, clearly the biggest landmine left on the schedule, would succumb to the whims of our totalitarian statists (although, in hindsight, perhaps a loss to the hapless Hawks would have been the bow on the shit sandwich Anthony and the Boyz served us this season). Lo and behold, my wish came true. The possibility of yet another embarrassing defeat was banished by the Gods of fate.
So, here we are, left with just four games on the regular season docket. Tonight, a visit to the Ryan Center to take on the Kingston Rams awaits. After that, at home Friday for round two of the ABC, a roadie in the boonies of Western New York and probably/maybe yet another sobering loss at the hands of VCU to close out the league slate. It will all be over soon, I promise.
While all the palaver seems to be concentrated on the recruiting trail (these people realize Anthony Grant will be coaching them, right?? How does that inconvenient fact not temper expectations?), there is still business to tend to. Granted there’s not a lot of mystery left to uncover, yet there are some storylines that are compelling if you squint hard enough: Jalen Crutcher continuing to build his legacy as the greatest point-guards most of us have seen in a Dayton uniform, Rodney Chatman possible return to the fold (for what it is worth, I hope Chat doesn’t return. I’m encouraged by the recent play of Eli Weaver and would like to see him close out the season strong), and whether or not Chimichanga will continue to bring the ball down past his knees on entry passes.
Let’s shift the focus to tonight’s game and what really matters: the probable swan song for Fatts Russell as an enemy combatant.
It all started with the Jon Rothstein tweet. In the midst of Dayton’s historic run, the irascible basketball commentator started a social media riot in the Gem City by exalting the talents of URI’s diminutive guard in a manner that suggested the Flyers would be better served with Russell, not Jalen Crutcher, running the show alongside Obi Toppin. Rothstein’s statement seemed ill-informed at the time, and certainly provided to be nothing short of moronic in retrospect. Through no fault of his own, Fatts became a target of scorn and derision for the mouth-breathing Flyer set.
While I vehemently disagreed with Rothstein’s take, I certainly understood his fascination with the Rhody guard. A tiny, waterbug quick guard who scored in bunches was an easy guy to cheer for. He was the Atlantic Ten’s version of Allen Iverson, without the talent and rap sheet. But more so, it was the nickname — FATTS. Without that moniker Russell wouldn’t have received nearly the amount of attention or acclaim that followed him throughout his collegiate career. It was an adorable byname that made an otherwise pedestrian basketball player hard to forget.
And I say pedestrian with a heavy heart. I was a Fatts fan, I wanted to see him develop and continue to be one of the league’s most exciting players. Instead, he quickly evolved into what, in reality, he always was — a volume scorer with a fun street name. Russell’s reputation is firmly cemented as a shoot-first, shoot-twice, point-guard that seemed to relish accumulating buckets late in games when the result was already well in hand. It’s a shame, but perhaps we expected more out of Fatts than he was capable of delivering (or he simply couldn’t shoulder the burden of being “the man” in Kingston, take your pick).
Dayton’s relationship with Fatts is skewed a bit due to the fact that he always seemed to underperform against the Flyers. As you will note below, Russell’s statistics against Dayton University are less than stellar:
In his career against UD, Fatts averaged just under ten points a game while posting an abysmal 33/30/52 shooting line. In a put-up-or-shut up situation pitting Russell against the Dayton fanbase, the Rhody playmaker was awfully quiet. Taking a lookback at Fatts’ performance against the Cagers, it’s clear why he failed to make an indelible impression on the Flyer Faithful and why such umbrage surfaced in the Fatts vs. Crutcher “controversy.”
Tonight is, in all probability, the last time we will see Russell suit up against the Flyers, here’s hoping he can go out with a bang. Matt, you have any parting shots for Mr. Russell?
While these things can change at the drop of a hat, Tuesday night is the last scheduled home game for Rhode Island. With that, it likely the last time both Fatts Russell will take the court at the Ryan Center and the last time, barring a A10 Tournament meeting, that the Flyers will matchup with Fatts. As long as I’ve had the privilege to write on the BBR and URI and UD have met up, I have made no secret I have not enjoyed Russell’s style of play in his years with Rhody. Nothing personal against him, but not only does his shoot early and often style not fit in with the efficient scoring gospel that I preach here, I find it aesthetically unappealing as well.
Perhaps my disdain for Fatts’ play on the basketball court is further reinforced by his form against Dayton across his four years. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Russell is averaging 9.7 points per game, the second lowest of any Atlantic 10 opponents in his career. Against the Flyers, Fatts has averaged shooting 30% of the perimeter and 35.7% from two point range for an overall field goal percentage of 33.3%. A career 80% free throw shooter, Fatts even struggles from the free throw line against Dayton, only hitting 52.4% of his free throw attempts. While there is no doubt Fatts can fill up a box score, often through sheer volume, but against the Flyers he has never really been able to do that.
While he’s never been an efficient scorer, to be fair to Mr. Russell it has been pretty apparent that he has fought through injury most of this season. He did not play at all in Rhody’s loss to VCU and took only 5 shots in their loss to UMass. Volume wise, he was back at full strength against SLU where he took a team high of 14 shots. Of course he only earned a true shooting percentage of 44.5% on those 14 shots and the Rams lost, but Fatts was feeling better to get off his typical number of shots. If he’s feeling ok health wise, I suspect we’ll see something similar against UD on Tuesday. Why hold back now? Will he finally make Dayton pay? Hopefully not.
While we should cherish our last moments of Fatts Russell in Rhody blue, sophomore Makhel Mitchell already seems like another Rhody big man that will be a thorn in the Dayton side for years. Like those Rams in the paint of the past, Mitchell is a rebounding machine, pulling in an offensive rebound on 8.7% of opportunities and 18% of defensive rebounds. He also blocks 9.2% of shots he faces, further emphasizing his dominance down low. As annoying as quality Rhode Island big men of the past like Hassan Martin and Cyril Langevine were, at least they weren’t consistently playing together. With Mitchell, the scary thing is there are two of them! Rhody lost twin brother Makhi Mitchell to a season ending knee injury after seven games this season. Makhi seemed to play a similar style to his brother, which will provide Rhody with literal twin towers in the future. He might be second in the shooting pecking order Tuesday to “Fuck it” Fatts Russell, but Mitchell will be a handful for the Dayton frontcourt in this game and for years to come.
While I want to write a happy ending to the “Fatts Russell versus the Gem City” book, I just can’t conjure up anything believable. Russell didn’t have enough of a supporting cast this season to make a run in what is, by all accounts, a rather horrible Atlantic Ten from top to bottom (I’m not really sure there really is a “top” this season). The loss of Jacob Toppin and Tyrese Martin turned what could have been a contender into a pretender, URI lacked the firepower to compete this season.
You know what, fuck it, Fatts is going off tonight! Rams 71, Flyers 69. #LOWD