THE MOST DIFFICULT people to defend in basketball aren't always the ones with the pure jump shots or the ball-on-a-string handle. The ones who can pose problems even without those two skills can be difficult simply because they are lefthanded. Guarding a lefty means going against the norm, guarding against unfamiliar angles.
Temple product Khalif Wyatt is not lefthanded, but he possesses all the quirkiness - and then some - of any offhanded player. As 76ers teammate Evan Turner said, "Khalif plays like an old-school guy."
There is nothing conventional about Wyatt's offensive game. Expect him to race to the basket for a layup and he'll stop a couple of feet short, take the impact of a closing defender and shovel up a shot that somehow finds the net and is followed by a free throw. His ball fakes are sometimes so slow and methodical that defenders pay no attention. That's when Wyatt will change gears and catch his defenders flat-footed. His outside shooting is good enough, if not far above average, that it keeps defenses honest.
Many feel Wyatt learned his craftiness with the ball because it was a way to overcome his lack of quickness, and that may be true, though the undrafted guard is working hard to put the negative talk about his quickness to rest.
At 6-4, 200 pounds, Wyatt has a different look now. The round face has gotten quite a bit thinner and he has shed some of the extra upper-body weight. He may be in his best shape ever, even though he accumulated 1,576 points at Temple, including 20.5 a game as a senior, when he landed Atlantic 10 player of the year honors. He has bought into coach Brett Brown's emphasis on fitness and hopes it helps him land a spot on the opening night roster in what suddenly has become a crowded backcourt for the Sixers.
"I definitely feel a lot better than if I went in 10 pounds heavier. I'm 10 pounds lighter and I feel good," said Wyatt, referring to the team's eight practices in 5 days before heading to Europe for two games. "My wind felt good, my body felt good. It was a good experience for me. I competed, got in there with my teammates, and I feel like I got better as the week went on."
He initially impressed in July as a member of the Sixers' team in the Orlando Pro Summer League, leading the team in scoring, including a 27-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets. The numbers that he posted weren't nearly the most attractive part of his game.
"Khalif has one of the more unique games you're going to find," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "He's intelligent, knows how to use his body, great at reading defenses and has a knack that is unusual for a player. He makes up for lack of speed and athleticism with his smartness."
The athleticism is something Brown wants to improve.
"I see signs that he has NBA potential," Brown said. "I think he has, like a lot of the young guys, a long way to go, but he does some NBA-type things. We keep talking about him getting to be as fit as he can be because when he is quicker and faster I think you start getting a little bit of a swagger and toughness. Those are the areas I always will challenge Khalif. He's got a long way to go, like everybody else, but at times you see things that make him unique."
You will hear a lot of adjectives thrown around about the Sixers this season, many unflattering. But when you hear words such as "quirky" and "unique" to describe someone, it's probably going to be Wyatt.
The Sixers will play the Oklahoma City Thunder today in Manchester, England, then will fly home immediately after the game. They most likely will be off tomorrow, practice on Thursday then host the Boston Celtics at the University of Delaware on Friday at 7 p.m. . . . Though he sat out Sunday's preseason game in Bilbao, Spain, forward Lavoy Allen (left knee) may play against the Thunder . . . Khalif Wyatt didn't see action on Sunday, either, due to a coach's decision.