You don’t have to be a starter to be a game changer

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Every player who puts on a uniform has a goal of being one of the starting five.

It’s an exhilarating feeling to see the crowd on their feet, to hear your name announced as you run through the tunnel your team has created for you and to be on the floor at the opening tip.

The top players in each position earn that coveted role, but how important is the sixth man?

If you ask Villanova today, my bet is they will say it’s pretty darned important!

Donte DiVincenzo (a.k.a the Big Ragu) came off the bench for the Wildcats in Monday night’s NCAA championship contest and put up 31 points in his team’s 79-62 win over Michigan.

He became Twitter famous with tweets like “It’s not delivery, it’s DiVincenzo”, and “Donte’s Inferno.” It’s likely this redshirt sophomore will level up to the starting five next season given his performance was not an anomaly, but that he came off the bench with his obvious skills speaks volumes for the importance of that role on his team.

Instant energy is what a great sixth man provides, and though they don’t enjoy the glory of being a member of the starting five, they are just as vital to the success of the team.

My favorite NBA player, Andre Iguodala, is another great example of how important the sixth man can be. Though he was pushed out of the top five of the Golden State Warriors’ lineup by the acquisition of several offensive powerhouse players, every time he takes the court he makes an impact on the game.

After being named the NBA Finals MVP in 2015, Iguodala became the first off the bench and though his stat numbers may not reflect it, he has been the “Swiss Army Knife” for the Warriors, according to head coach Steve Kerr.

Last season, he was among three who were named as finalists for the Sixth Man Award, and it was only his numbers that held him back from winning it.

Of course, we don’t have to look to the NBA or the NCAA to find a shining example of what a sixth man can mean to a team. The Dogies’ own Lyle Whitney embodied all one looks for in the first man off the bench.

In fact, it was his energy and the spark he provided for his team that landed him the sixth man role rather than a starting position. Like Iguodala, his numbers in the scoring column didn’t rank in the vicinity of the offensive weaponry of the top four, however he impacted the game in so many other ways.

Whitney consistently and successfully defended players much bigger than himself, and he holds the single season record, the career record and the school record for charges taken. I watched him rack up an astounding seven in one game, several of which were taken in pivotal moments of the contest.

Taking a charge ranks right up at the top of the most important moments in a basketball game. They nullify an opponent’s basket, they tack a foul onto an opposing player, they swing momentum and ignite a fire for a team. Whitney came off the bench and sacrificed his body to give that advantage to the Dogies on the regular.

As a former player and coach, and a current fan of the game, I have a special place in my heart reserved for the sixth man, and his importance to the team cannot be overstated.

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