Freelance journalist and colleague Chris O'Leary has blessed The Can Ball Report with an exlcusive story on the Edmonton Energy's bundle of energy, Michael Linklater. Check out his great look on the rookie right here ...
The Missing Linklater
by Chris O'Leary
A memo to any European basketball scouts, agents or GM's:
Michael Linklater wants to help make your job and your life a lot easier.
You undoubtedly have heard the repeated complaints from the coaches you deal with.
"Player X would be great if we could just get him to focus in for the duration of the game. If we could get him to be hungrier early on, like he is in the last five minutes of the game, we'd be so much better. Our team needs a spark, a player who can come in and lift us as a group."
Just take your team and add one of the grittiest players you might ever come across on a basketball court and watch them grow like they're a rubber alligator in your bathroom sink.
Linklater is getting his first taste of pro/semi-pro ball right now with the Edmonton Energy of the International Basketball League. He's coming off the bench, but he's worked his way into coach/GM Paul Sir's rotation, continually changing out the point guard position with the backcourt tandem of Rashaun Broadus and Will Funn.
In a league that's built on offence (teams average 120 ppg on a 22-second shot clock), Linklater is a rarity in that he's making a name for himself playing D.
At 5-10 and 180 pounds, it's a given that he'll be the smallest player on the floor every night. As you watch him out-hustle opposing guards, simultaneously racking up steals and floor burn, the size issue becomes non-existent. Linklater plays like he's 10-feet tall.
"I've heard this comment from so many people: He's so fun to watch and if everyone played like him we'd be an unstoppable team," Sir says of the former Saskatchewan Huskie, who helped take his team to a CIS title in March.
In his first set of games with the Energy, a three-game sweep over the visiting Tacoma Tide a week ago, Linklater made a sound impression. Going up against a quick, scoring-minded point guard in Antwan Williams, Linklater flat out robbed him of the ball on back-to-back possessions in their first encounter on May 14. These weren't just poke-away steals; they were demoralizing. He timed the play perfectly, stepped in on Williams' dribble and literally ripped the ball away from him with both hands. Twice.
In their second game on May 15, the Energy fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter. Linklater went in and made another defensive highlight on Williams. This time, he watched as Williams jogged the ball up on offence, looking to set up a play. Linklater cut him off on the sideline, torpedoing himself at the unsuspecting guard. Linklater hit the floor face first, arms out and poked the ball away. Williams tripped over him and ended up sitting on top of him. Somehow, Linklater was the first to his feet and ran in for an uncontested layup.
Looking back on the game, which the Energy came back to win handily, Sir said Linklater's hustle turned the game around.
"His ability to make the plays that can turn a game ... That second game against Tacoma when we came out flat and they came out on fire, Michael turned the game," he says.
"His energy, his momentum...what I'm excited about with Michael is that's how you win championships. That's one of the biggest reasons why Saskatchewan won the championship. If they had not had Michael, I would venture to say they wouldn't have won it."
This past weekend, the Energy were troubled by another dynamic floor general in B.C. Titans point Avery Smith. The 6-3 guard, who played at Wisconsin-Milwaukee had range (occasionally, at least), quicks and was great on the drive-and-kick. He's also third in assists in the IBL with 7.7 per game. His trash-talk was also at an All-Star level most of the weekend.
Smith had a great run against the Energy, handing Edmonton its first loss of the season on Saturday night. Still, throughout the three-game series Linklater pestered Smith. On Sunday, with the Titans chipping away at Edmonton's 25-point halftime lead, the normally chatty Smith was subdued. Again, Linklater threw himself to the floor and swiped the ball away from Smith on his blindside. After he snuck up on Smith and forced the guard into a travel, you could hear Linklater taunting Smith.
"Surpriiiiiiiise," he said to him, a grin reaching across his face. "Surpriiiiiiiiiise."
Offensively, he's contributed as well. He can hit the three and he'll drive into the lane against anyone. And a lot of times, like when the Titans were looking to slash the lead down to single digits on Sunday afternoon, those dives to the floor led to Edmonton buckets. His hustle in the fourth quarter on Sunday led to the Energy getting one last offensive burst to stay in front of B.C.
"It's about wanting it, who wants it more," Linklater said to me last week. "Who wants it more? Who wants to win the game more?
"I feel that I want it more than any of my opponents and I try to make that as clear as possible. Whatever it takes for my team to win, I'm going to do."
He's been the hungriest player on the court through six games of the Energy's season and he's shown what Sir calls a "Div I toughness." The next step, it seems, will be the hardest for Linklater. How does an undersized 28-year-old point guard from Canada go from here to a roster spot across the pond?
"He has the ability to, but the question is will he get an agent that can market him effectively?" Sir asks. "If he does that, absolutely. What level? I don't know, but I have no question that he's capable of going over there."
"There's no progress, no agents, I haven't talked to nobody," Linklater says.
"Right now I'm focused on trying to win a championship in this league. Coming off our recent CIS championship, after winning that, I know what it takes to win now.
"I'm looking to do what I can to win a championship here. That's my focus right now. It's not really ... I want to go overseas, but if that's going to happen, it'll happen. If not," he pauses and laughs, "tough luck for me, right?"
For a look at ML's leadership and personal background, check this story I did on him for the Edmonton Journal this weekend.
Be sure to check out the Edmonton Energy right here for the details on their three game tilt this weekend against an always tough Bellingham Slam squad. If you are out of the area, you can check them out here on Sports Canada.