In Your Face

Feb. 10, 2010

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By Matt Winter Contributing Writer

SEATTLE - Since Venoy Oveton joined the UW team as a freshman in 2007, Husky fans have witnessed the growth and emergence of one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. Quick, pestering, and even rabid at times, Overton's defense has been nightmarish to opposing Pac-10 guards.

'My freshman year we lost a lot of close games because of defense,' explains Overton, who averaged 21.3 points per game his senior year at Seattle's Franklin High School. 'Guys were getting blown by or something. [Former assistant] Coach [Cameron] Dollar preached to me about defense. My high school coach preached it, too. Defense was always my thing.'

Defense has been his thing. Now a junior in his third year of playing 20-plus minutes per game, his experience guarding Pac-10 guards is almost unmatched in the conference. Never timid and always confrontational, Overton has made a name for himself as the guy that nobody wants to play against.

'Really go out and play,' he explains of his mentality preparing for a game. 'I know I'm gonna pressure up top so I don't have to think about it too much. I'm gonna be in your grill to help my team win.'

Make no mistake, this attitude has granted him a fair share of enemies. On Jan. 8 at Arizona State, the Sun Devil faithful showed their disdain for Overton and his physical defense on ASU point guard Derek Glasser by hoisting up a sign with a blown-up picture of Overton and the word 'PUNK' written underneath.

'It definitely makes me play harder,' Overton says of playing Glasser, Arizona's Nic Wise, and other rival guards. 'Once I play against you one time it's gonna be more a challenge.'

Most of Overton's effectiveness on defense is his fervent pressure in the backcourt, making his opponent work as hard as possible before crossing the half-court line. Keeping a skilled ball handler in front of you is more than just speed and quickness--it's a very mental game.

'Guys will feel you out the first time you play them,' explains Overton, who enters the Jan. 26 game against Seattle U tied for seventh in UW history with 121 career steals. 'If you make more than one move in the backcourt then I'll get you, so the next time guys will try and make one move and go by.

'Once I guard a player one time I think I have the advantage.'

If there's one thing you notice about Overton the first time you watch him it's his blinding speed. Much like Romar's teams of the past, UW's success this season has hinged on running the fast break, so naturally Overton has been a catalyst.

'That's when we're at our best,' Overton explains about running the floor, 'We don't' get a lot of stuff done in the half court, mostly in transition. If we're running that's when we're dangerous, that's what I try to bring to the game when I'm in.'

After starting seven of the first eight games of the year, Romar placed Overton back in his last year's role of sixth man. It's that team-first attitude that makes him such a unique player. After playing so much in his first two years, most players would resent coming off the bench. Overton embraces it--seven of his eight double-digit scoring games this season have been as a non-starter. He also notched a career high with eight assists against Stanford on Jan. 14th.

Growing up in Seattle, Overton saw first-hand what a good Romar team looks like. He was a sophomore when Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, and company earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That year, it was Roy who came off the bench, despite being third on the team in scoring (12.8) and second in rebounding (5.0). Overton, now the only Seattle native on the team, is trying to bring back that team mentality as well as the success that came with it. And just like that 2005 team, it starts with defense.

'I feel like defense is overlooked in the game,' he proclaims. 'Offense wins games, defense wins championships. Not too many players think about how hard they play defense, most guys are worried about how many points they're scoring. I just want to let people, scouts, whoever know that I play defense.'

Overton shouldn't worry. Everybody, especially his opponents, knows he plays defense.

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