In 2005, Washington State signed a 6-foot-10 center from Australia named Aron Baynes. The Aussie came through the international ranks under the tutelage of Marty Clarke, at the Australian Institute of Sport, and brought size and toughness to Pullman, Wash.
Baynes put in four years at Washington State, where he finished with respectable career averages of 8.7 points and 5.7 assists in 22 minutes per game. Toward the beginning of Baynes’ senior season, Wazzu signed another 6-foot-10 Australian center to take the torch as WSU’s rock-solid big man.
His name is Brock Motum.
The rail-thin lefty grew up just a few towns away from Baynes and also trained under Clarke in high school. The Cougars’ center succession plan was in place, and through two seasons it looked like Motum would carve out a legacy similar to that of his Australian counterpart.
He averaged 2.9 points per game in 6.7 minutes per contest as a freshman and upped that to 7.6 points in 19.2 minutes his sophomore season. It appeared Motum would develop into a serviceable big man, albeit with a very slim chance of ever having his name called on draft day.
Fast forward 25 games and now it looks like Motum may not even make it to his senior season. His game has gotten that good.
“When you average 20 points a game in conference play, you’re an All-Conference player. I would put him in that category,” UA head coach Sean Miller said. “He’s one of the hardest individual players that there is to guard in our conference.”
After sitting behind former Cougars’ starting forward DeAngelo Casto last season, Motum has exploded in his third year with the program. He’s averaging 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, shoots 56.7 percent from the field and is on a tear as of late.
Over his last five games Motum has averaged 25.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 60.5 percent shooting and 55.5 percent from three. He’s emerged as the conference’s top big man, and similarities between him and Baynes stop after the words Australia, 6-foot-10, center and Marty Clarke.
While Baynes tries to stick with the Ikaros Kallitheas Basketball Club in Athens, Motum is building up quite the resume for the NBA due to his multitude of talents.
“He’s very physical. He rebounds the ball at a very high level. He can score both facing the basket and with his back to the basket,” Miller said. “Look at his three-point percentage, free throw attempts, free throw percentage, how he can really put the ball on the floor and drive.”
As Miller implied, Motum can do it all. He leads the Cougars in scoring and rebounding and is their second-best 3-point shooter at 41.2 percent on the season. He’s made more buckets than anyone in the conference, and can beat teams from virtually anywhere on the floor. With that said, it’s up to Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill and Angelo Chol to keep the Aussie in check tonight.
“He’s their go-to guy right now,” Hill said. “He can do it from the inside and outside. He’s real efficient from the outside so we have to play them differently.”
Perry will start with the assignment on Motum, but Miller made it clear it’s going to have to be a group effort to slow him down
“It’s not going to be a one-on-one matchup, we have to do it as a team,” Miller said. “He’s a load. He’s a handful. We certainly want to make the game hard for him.”
Arizona limited Motum to 4-for-13 from the field in their first meeting, despite his scoring 18 points. However, no one’s been able to stop Motum as of late, and Arizona may not be an exception.
What’s Motum’s secret? Like Dirk Nowitzki’s one-footed fade away or Manu Ginobili’s side-step, Motum is unorthodox, and it plays to his advantage.
“He utilizes what they call the euro step, which to me sometimes looks like a travel,” WSU head coach Ken Bone said. “That’s just not the way you teach it, at least in this country. I look at that and think ‘what in the world are you doing, that’s not even a good shot.’ He’s pretty efficient and accurate with that shot. He does just a few things a little bit different than some other guys.”
Whatever Motum is doing, it’s working. He’s making the most of his added minutes to separate himself in the Pac-12 and earn an All-Conference slot.
Unlike Baynes, Motum is an “individual player who can really dominate a game,” as Miller described. To think, all he needed was some playing time.