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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Stutz struggles with bad game

By Jeffrey Lutz
The Wichita Eagle

Garrett Stutz is 22 years old. A man by every definition. He’s 7 feet tall. He plays Division I basketball for Wichita State. He’s a business major with a 3.1 grade-point average. He played his last college game on Thursday, but he’s a safe bet to do something noteworthy later in life.

Garrett Stutz is 22 years old. Still just a kid, even though he’s matured physically and emotionally during his WSU career. He’s not completely sure of himself. Slow to realize his true potential. Confident enough to assume the weight of an entire team but not always strong enough to carry it.

The man and the kid both appeared at the Rose Garden during and after WSU’s 62-59 loss to Virginia Commonwealth. The man, unexpectedly, took the final shot — a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer that missed. The play wasn’t designed for him, but that was fine. He knew it was going in. But it didn’t.

The kid provided a heartbreaking scene in WSU’s locker room 20 minutes after the loss. He’s sure this moment will haunt him for years. As he pains himself to describe his emotions, it becomes clear that he doesn’t have to. The kid cries.

Never mind that Stutz’s teammates dismiss the notion that he was to blame. Stutz is sure of it. The man calmly and stoically answers questions from reporters, then the kid covers his head with a towel and labors to carry a different kind of weight.

"I don’t know, Stutz said. "I’m apologetic. The loss was my fault. We had the right game plan — guards took care of the ball, we got the ball down low and I got right to the rim, I just couldn’t make a shot. So I’ll take this one."

The kid played the first half in the man’s uniform. Stutz reverted to his pattern of his first three years, when he often provided the most imposing matchup problem but was limited because of foul trouble.

The Shockers were determined to let Stutz be the difference maker, but as he endured a long stretch on the bench with three fouls, the game evolved differently. WSU began to press and score in transition. When Stutz came back, the Shockers at times broke their flow in an attempt to re-establish him.

The man helped WSU even from the bench. He was eager to get back in, but if he didn’t, he wasn’t going to let negative energy permeate the WSU sideline.

"I was still watching the game," Stutz said. "Trying to figure out little things I could do, trying to get any advantage I could sitting on the bench. Talking to my teammates, talking to the coaches."

The man was trying to lead, but the kid was lagging behind. Stutz wanted to make his mark. He wanted to avoid being the wrong kind of difference maker. So he kept pushing for position. Used all of his post moves. Kept shooting.

Nothing worked. Stutz missed 9 of 11 shots. He was sometimes outworked for rebounds. He was hesitant because of the foul trouble. He missed the shot that could have offered him a chance to earn atonement. He had the ball at the end, so he felt it was all his fault. It wasn’t.

"There’s five guys on that court, not just one," WSU point guard Joe Ragland said. "He led us here all season, being consistent, and he was the focal point of their defense. Other guys had to step up."

The kid pulled himself together. He rose from his chair near the corner of the locker room. He sat with his head up. This won’t be the worst experience of his life, it just feels like it for the moment.

Stutz’s real life is just beginning. He’ll probably play basketball professionally somewhere and opportunities will be afforded to him because 7-foot is a valuable trait. He may reflect one day and determine that his final college game transformed him, finally and completely, from a kid to a man. It may not happen soon.

"This one," Stutz said. "is going to hurt for a while."

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