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For the URI Rams, It Has to be Jeff Dowtin Time

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URI guard Jeff Dowtin. Photo courtesy of Alan Hubbard.

GEICO has been running a campaign reintroducing its best commercials of all time. Our charge as viewers — to vote for the best of the best. Well, the votes are in and Hump Day took home the title. A camel saunters through an office cube farm trying to lure workers to acknowledge that it’s hump day. It’s amusing. And I harbor no ill will towards Wednesdays.

But how about David Cox and the URI Rams basketball program? How do they feel about hump day? Most weeks I’d imagine they’re neutral about it.

But not when it comes to Wednesday, March 13th in Brooklyn.

That’s the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at Barclays Center where teams seeded between 11th and 14th in the league are relegated to the mini-bracket — a battle among four for two rights of entry into the larger bracket. Cox and the players will preach one game at a time right now but, peeking ahead, nobody wants to tip midweek in Brooklyn.

With four regular-season games left, Rhode Island (12-14, 5-9) sits an eyelash above this relegation zone. Injury-decimated Saint Joseph’s (4-10) along with GW (4-10), UMass (3-11), and Fordham (2-12) trail the Rams. Rhode Island plays three of these four chasers in the next two weeks. They’ll begin with George Washington tomorrow night on YurView, then travel to Dayton (10-4) and Saint Joseph’s before returning home for the regular season finale versus UMass.

Unfortunately, Rhode Island has lost five straight by an average of 18 points, although they competed at a higher level against 11-3 Davidson on Friday in a nine-point defeat. In spite of the slide, the Rams remain in control of their own Wednesday destiny.

That’s why it simply has to be Jeff Dowtin time.

URI guard Jeff Dowtin. Photo courtesy of Alan Hubbard.

Rhode Island’s junior lead guard is in the midst of a successful season.

Dowtin’s playing iron-man minutes at 36.7 a contest. He leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game while averaging 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He’s scored in double-figures in all but two games and is up to 896 points for his career. He’ll eclipse the 100 assist mark yet again, hovering at 99 heading into Tuesday’s tilt with GW.

That running tally becomes more impressive when considering the team is 238th in the nation in offensive efficiency and many of Dowtin’s set-ups have been met with hollow follow-through from this young and oft confidence-challenged roster.

His three-point percentage has tailed off some, as teams pin his picture to the top of the scouting report and clean looks are scarce, but Dowtin has elevated his two-point field goal percentage from 41.8 to 44.6 to 46.5 percent from his freshman to junior seasons.

It’s a similar story for his free-throw percentage, which has risen from 57.1 percent as a freshman to 75.9 percent this year. His caretaking stands the test of time, with the 99 assists offset by just 51 turnovers, a nearly 2-to-1 ratio.

Defensively he’s still a thorn in the side of any opponent. Dowtin averages 1.5 steals per game which leads the Rams and balances his terrific IQ with natural length to wreak havoc. He’s also managed to commit only 34 fouls on the year, a staggering stat when considering the extended minutes he’s forced to play and his overwhelming involvement on both sides of the ball. He committed 56 last year on a team overflowing with guards.

URI guard Jeff Dowtin. Photo courtesy of Alan Hubbard.

Then there are the intangibles, like his decision-making when operating in the ball screen game that’s become so widely-employed throughout the college ranks. His vision and recognition are superb. He’s also shown an ability to play off the ball this year for Cox – mostly out of necessity.

Sure, ideally Dowtin would have the ball in his hands more, but the reality for this team is that only Dowtin and, in waves, Tyrese Martin, have shown a penchant for perimeter scoring. It’s a primary reason that Dowtin has to be used off the ball at times with Fatts Russell or another guard handling. It permits Dowtin to be freed up for looks or seams to quickly take the edge and exploit… and it also promotes spacing because Dowtin’s perimeter offensive game garners respect.

For the Rams to rediscover confidence and keep the chasers at bay, it will be about the greatest intangible of them all — Dowtin’s leadership. This team has experienced stretches where shoulders have slumped and they’ve lacked grit, collectively.

These last four games are all about grit. About having pride as a unit. About getting right again. Dowtin is uniquely suited to impact that not only because of what position he plays but also because of his intelligence, who he is and most importantly how he plays.

He strikes the right tone in post-game press conferences, frequently taking responsibility of showing “his guys”, as he calls them, the way. “It’s my job to push them,” he’s said. There’s no question he’s sincere in his effort.

This reality offers him a higher challenge and opportunity to double-down on his own growth. For him to push his own boundaries and, perhaps, make subtle adjustments in the way he connects with teammates to pull the most out of them as a unit.

I’m not in the locker room or on the bus. But all of us, in our jobs, relationships, etc. can examine, find room for growth, and continue to identify ways to improve our understanding of how to communicate most effectively and inspire.

So, can a certain teammate absorb a slap in the back of the head as a motivator as Kenny Green shared a week ago? Does another guy need you to get in his ear and offer more positive reinforcement to dig deeper that he’s not otherwise getting? Is there a way to serve a high maintenance teammate differently (even it if means placing your interests second) that benefits the unit as a whole? Can someone be challenged to be better or more engaged through a one-on-one conversation?

Essentially, this is true personalized leadership — and it’s one key ingredient that can help this team regain traction.

Admittedly, that’s a lot to ask of a 21-year-old. But since he stepped on campus Dowtin has never been ordinary for his age. Now’s the time, with four games left before Brooklyn.

Watch the URI Rams take on George Washington on YurView Tuesday, February 26th at 7pm ET.

“The David Cox Coach’s Show” is on YurView Wednesday, February 27th live at 6PM EST, and can be viewed streamed on YurView.com.

YurView is Cox Channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.