Venoy Overton was smiling. He's always smiling. On the floor. On the bench. Pregame. Postgame. Overton's smile is as wide and constant as...
NEW YORK — Venoy Overton was smiling. He’s always smiling. On the floor. On the bench. Pregame. Postgame. Overton’s smile is as wide and constant as expectation.
Washington’s freshman point guard plays as if he knows how lucky he is to have a basketball in his hands. He plays contagiously. His joy connects to his teammates, to the fans. He is a spreading fever. The best kind of heat a point guard can bring to his game.
“When I step out on the court, it’s just basketball and I know I’m going to have fun,” Overton said. “I like to play for the fans, play for the team and play for the program. That’s all it is, right there.”
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Last week, he crouched in front of Utah point guard Tyler Kepkay. Actually, coiled is a better description because Overton plays offense even when he’s on defense. He isn’t content to stay between his man and the basket. He is looking to make a play, make a steal, make a difference on every possession.
“I’m always going to take chances. That’s always better than just playing hesitant,” Overton said. “Hesitant’s not my game. When I’m playing, I’m not thinking about making turnovers. I’m just playing to help my team. I just want to bring the joy back to this program. Get the people back to believing in the Huskies.”
Overton hovers on the brink of control, often oscillating between disaster and difference-making. He plays fearlessly, which is what makes him good. It’s what could make him the most exciting player at Washington since Nate Robinson left for the NBA after the 2005 season.
“He’s a handful,” said Jason Kerr, Overton’s high school coach at Franklin. “He forces you to have to get on his case about certain things, but then you turn around with a smile on your face because the plays he challenges himself to make are all the gutsy plays you want all your kids to make.
“But you also realize that most of your kids can’t make those same kind of plays. And the thing about Venoy is that he knows you’re stuck in that situation. So when you’re turning around and grinning, he’s turning around and grinning too. He understands the game enough and he’s so confident that he’s willing to be daring and try the things that are difficult.”
He feels the game, as much as he plays it. Basketball is intuitive to him. With the ball in his hands, his head always is up. Overton always is looking to make a three-quarters-court pass, for a quick-strike layup. He’s always making the plays you talk about on your way home.
“In basketball you’re always trying new stuff,” he said. “You try this and see if it works, you go with it. If it doesn’t, you try it again. I surprise myself every day.”
Late in the close win last week against Utah that put them in tonight’s NIT semifinal game against Texas A&M, Overton went into the stands and threw the ball off Luka Drca, giving possession back to the Huskies.
“Nate [Robinson] used to make those plays time and time again,” assistant coach Cameron Dollar said. “Coming up with loose balls in timely situations. Getting the offensive rebound you really needed. That’s what good players do.”
Overton, who generously is listed at 5 feet 11, will make mistakes of aggression. He had four turnovers in an exhibition victory over Seattle Pacific and four more in Sunday’s win over Eastern Washington.
At times he will try to do too much. He’s a freshman and with his fearlessness comes the occasional recklessness. But everything he tries will be attempted with the idea of turning nothing into something.
“You take the good with the bad,” Dollar said. “You don’t want to micromanage him, because you don’t want to stifle some of those instinctive plays that are going to come.
“We don’t want him to be a robot. The beauty of his game is that he can make plays. There is some give and take in there and you know, even as you are striving for perfection, you’re going to get some potholes in the road.”
Overton’s attitude and quickness makes Washington’s on-ball defense better than it has been in the past couple of seasons. With Overton pressuring point guards, the rest of the Huskies can take chances on the press, jump into passing lanes looking for turnovers.
“Your defense doesn’t really start until you have a guy on the ball who can really bother and create pressure, especially the way we play,” Dollar said. “His tenacity and the way he plays with kind of a reckless abandon, he reminds me of Will [Conroy] and Nate. They kind of set the standard for the way we like to play.”
Overton is the next generation of Washington guard. He creates the same sort of on-floor storms Conroy and Robinson did. And he plays the game, always, with a smile.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org