For the past 4 basketball games Chris Beard has placed Niem Stevenson in the starting lineup. Stevenson replaced Devon Thomas in the backcourt, most likely because Stevenson had a little more offense to his game and was rangier on the defensive side of the ball. I was not sure about the switch, as I liked the backcourt duo of Keenan Evans and Thomas. Evans and Thomas were both quick and strong guards. Evans had the advantage on scoring while I was comfortable with Thomas on defense.
I knew Stevenson had been a two-time JUCO All-American. He was a third team pick 2 years ago, and a first team pick last season. He is a junior and has one more season remaining on the roster after this year. When I first watched him, his game was a little awkward because of his long frame. He is not your typical guard that you see in a Big 12 backcourt. After observing him in a few games this season, I liked the way he would get points on the board just about every way imaginable. Yet, his ball control skills seemed to be a little worrisome. He was not as smooth of a dribbler or passer as his other backcourt counterparts.
When Coach Beard placed him into the starting lineup against Oklahoma and we won, I thought that I would sit back and see if this would become a permanent switch. He scored 8 points, grabbed 7 boards, and had 3 assists with only 1 turnover. Not bad.
His second start came in our loss to TCU. He finished with 10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, and a block with no turnovers. A great all-around game stat-wise, but I was not sold yet.
The barn burner against Kansas was where a few things stood out to me about Stevenson’s skills. He had 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. He got to the free throw line 7 times. I liked how he was aggressive on the offensive side the ball and could get the ball through the hoop multiple ways, and also get hacked getting chances from the charity stripe. I was still somewhat cautious of his ball handling coming up the court, as he had a costly turnover in the final minute of a tied ballgame.
This last big victory over Baylor, Stevenson has stayed hot. He put the ball through the rim piling up 21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal with no turnovers. He got to the line 11 times, but only hit 7-11 FTs. Here is what Chris Beard had to say about him after the game…
“I still think he can get better. What was he from the free throw line tonight? Yeah, he missed [4 free throws]. One thing you have to love about Niem is that he’s fearless. He wants to be in those moments. He wants the ball. He wants to make the big play. He’s been very coachable. I’ve been very hard on Niem, probably harder than anyone on this team. It’s just because I know this team needs him to take it to another level. He’s done that lately, but I’m still not ready to send him a text message tonight and buy him a waffle later. He needs to show me more. I want to see this two or three more games in a row. I think he has that in him.”
It is excellent that Chris Beard is staying on him to get to another level, and also I think that my thoughts are along the same as our Coach. I have began to get more comfortable with Stevenson in the starting lineup playing 30+ minutes per game. He is an asset, and does some great things to help this team win. I hope he keeps it up over the next two or three games. I am starting to really like his game and appreciate his skills. Keep it up Niem, we’re all rooting for ya… Wreck ’em Tech!!!