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NLL Entry Draft: So Many US Players & More

0 - Published September 22, 2011 by in College, International, National Lacrosse League, Pro Lacrosse

The NLL held their annual entry draft last year, and the nine teams that will be playing in 2012 picked up a lot of young talent.  When you combine this with recent dispersal draft from the Boston Blazers organization, you have a recipe for a lot of turnover, tons of talented players getting cut, and some very competitive lacrosse.  There were a couple of things worth noting from the draft, and they include, but are not limited to the following: The #1 pick in the MLL was the #1 pick in the NLL.  And he is Canadian.  Lots of players with collegiate field experience were drafted, and picked up early.  Johnny Powless got picked up with the fifth overall pick by Rochester.  And he’s only 18!  And finally, a decent number of Americans were picked up, and the ones that will succeed may just surprise you.

For the full list of drafted players, you can check out NLL.com.

Kevin Crowley was picked up by the Philadelphia Wings with the number 1 overall pick.  He was also selected first in the MLL draft, and is now the first and only player to have ever done this.  That’s pretty cool, and definitely shows his immediate value for any team.  He made Stony Brook great, produced immediately for Hamilton, and will definitely aid a weaker Philly offense.  He could even become the main guy right away as Athan Ianucci was traded away to Edmonton in the offseason before the draft.  Crowley has size, skill, speed and a high lacrosse IQ and could easily be a Dan Dawson like presence for Philly for years to come.

But Crowley wasn’t the only person in the draft with some US college lacrosse experience.  In fact, only two of the first round picks didn’t play at a US college, and only six of the top 18 picks had no college ball experience.  In total, at least 27 of the 53 players drafted had played some college lax, even though all but about 7-10 of them come from the US.  Both Jeremy and Jerome Thompson were drafted, with Jeremy going to Buffalo at #9, and Jerome going at 25 to… Buffalo.  How did the other NLL teams let this happen?  Brother to brother combo could be especially dangerous.

Jerome Thompson box lacrosse

Jerome Thompson pre-NLL

Photo courtesy Home Teams Online

Another Native American player who has been getting a lot of hype is Johnny Powless, and when you consider his lacrosse pedigree and the gaudy numbers he put up in Juniors, the praise seems more than warranted.  Granted, JPowless is only 18 years old, but he has a long history of success in the rough and tumble world of box lacrosse.  If any player can seamlessly enter the NLL and thrive, I’d think Powless could pull it off.  He’s done it at every other level where he’s played.  I’m just hoping no one calls him the LeBron or Kobe of lacrosse, just because he turned down a scholarship to go pro.  Playing pro lax and playing in the NBA aren’t even in the same universe.  The comparisons may be fun, or funny, but they’re far from apt.

Remember when I said that the NLL needs to change a little bit?  Well, tell me that Johnny Powless and players like him wouldn’t be more fun to watch if the NLL instituted some of my proposed changes.  Go ahead, check it out.  I’ll wait.  Ok, now imagine a player like Powless, who has unlimited skill and tons of creativity playing a game that flowed just a little more freely…  it would be a thing of lax beauty.

Some people will say I’m soft, or American, or field biased, for saying the game needs to be cleaned up a bit, but that’s sort of a cheap shot.  I really do think that the game’s strongest points are based off of the skill, the passing, the scoring and the flow of the game.  Fighting, holding, pure physical intimidation, and the overall chippiness of the game right now do nothing to improve the game, improve its marketability or its popularity.  I can see why people would disagree, and I’m happy to argue with you in the comments.  Or we can discuss it.  Either way, I’m down.

And I do think popularity is key to the future success of the NLL.  And one way to increase exposure and popularity is to add more American players.  Now, I don’t want the NLL to add American players just because they are American.  I want them to add them in because they are good, or at least have a large potential to be good!  And I think that a couple of NLL teams picked up some American  that could really help them, either now or down the line.

I was surprised at how low Grant Catalino was taken, to be honest.  Rochester at #49?  Hmm.  He’s got size, can shoot accurately and deceptively, and has actually played box lacrosse before.  He did it over the Summer in between seasons at Maryland, and by his Senior year, it showed on the field.  During the NCAAs he was really good for the most part, and his work in the MLL was pretty solid too.  If Catalino continues to become a better athlete, and REALLY dedicates to learning and practicing the box game, he could be the American Answer to Dan Dawson (and now Kevin Crowley).  As Casey Powell continues to age, someone has to put the mantle of US Box Lacrosse on their shoulders.  Could the Big Cat be the Big Guy?

Grant Catalino-six-nations-arrows box lacrosse

The Big Cat in the box lid.

Photo courtesy ILIndoor, where you can also find a solid interview with BC.

I also like Colorado’s pick at #47.  They took Jovan Miller out of Cuse, and while a lot of people will say that he’s a pure field player who relies on the dodge from up top and his speed, I think he has the potential to fill a big void for Colorado.  He reminds me of Mark Steenhuis or Matt Abbott actually.  Relatively low to the ground, fast, has a great stick for transition, can score or play D, and he possesses a motor that doesn’t stop.  If they can get the ball to Miller in transition, and effectively sub on players, Colorado has the new potential to create a lot of instant offense, and this is something they sorely lack.

Joel White was taken really high, with the #10 pick.  Rochester must have seen what the rest of us did: White’s ability to make a long stick into an effective offensive tool, even in settled 6 on 6.  Maybe they’ll try to use him as their own Brodie Merrill.  Or maybe they’ll use him for transition.  Maybe they’ll even pull a Team USA, and make him a forward!

Finally, we’ve got two Maverik guys in Billy Bitter and Brian Karalunas.  Bitter was drafted with the 33rd pick by Buffalo, and while I definitely see his potential as a Ryan Boyle style NLL guy, I don’t know that he’s going to be the same level of offensive QB right away.  Boyle was always a ball carrier and looking to feed, while Bitter is better known for his dodges to score.  I’m not saying Bitter won’t be able to modify his game to the box style, but I do think it could take some time, and with all the other talent Buffalo picked up, it could be a while before he sees much time.  Of course, I’m ready to be proven wrong!

Karalunas also makes for a really interesting pick.  He can run, has great footwork and then also has a killer stick.  If there is one defender outside of Joel White from last year’s NCAA class who can make the transition quickly to the NLL, it has to be Karalunas.  He’s got an incredibly high lacrosse IQ, and he’ll need it to make the jump.  With just a little more bulk and some box specific training, Karalunas could be a beast pretty quickly.

With only nine teams picking players, a lot of good guys weren’t drafted.  And there will be surprises when the final rosters are announced, but that’s always true.  For the American players on this list, the question becomes how much box lacrosse will they play before training camp?  Not much and their chances diminish greatly.  A lot of time spent playing box and they could shock some people.  For the sake of the US Box Team’s future, let’s hope for the latter!

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