Tag: 2013-14 season preview

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell transitions into a leader at Louisville

Leave a comment
Getty Images

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

It’s been a whirlwind year-and-a-half for Louisville sophomore Montrezl Harrell, and Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino has noticed plenty of changes in his 6-foot-8 forward since he stepped on Louisville’s campus last year.

“He wouldn’t talk last year,” Pitino joked to NBC Sports. “You thought he was just a shy kid from rural North Carolina, and now we can’t get him to shut up.”

Hailing from the small town of Tarboro, North Carolina — with a population of just over 13,000 — Harrell has quickly made a name for himself in the college basketball world after his breakout performance during Louisville’s championship run. He followed that up with a strong showing at the FIBA U-19 World Championships in Prague this summer with USA Basketball.

But up until this season, Montrezl (pronounced mon-TREZ, the “L” is silent) did most his talking through the powerful way he played the game of basketball.

At 6-foot-8, 235 pounds with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Harrell’s raw power was often on display in the form of thundering dunks and his play above the rim. Harrell once had 18 dunks in one 51-point high school game and also broke a backboard during practice his senior year of high school, but throughout many of those efforts he remained quiet. That didn’t change through much of last season, as he became one of the Cardinals key players off the bench.

“Montrezl is an easy transition (for us this season) because his personality has changed. He was a shy, introverted person and he’s taken on much more of a leadership role,” Pitino said. “He’s a kid from a rural part of North Carolina, he grew up in a very small town. So now he comes into a city and he has a great ending to his season and I think he’s taken it upon himself to show more leadership.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s American Athletic Conference Preview)

Montrezl is now more of a vocal leader as a sophomore, and will earn much more playing time this season after averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16 minutes as a freshman. But the transition from quiet country boy to NCAA Champion and potential NBA lottery pick took quite a few steps.

Harrell was originally committed to Virginia Tech and signed a letter of intent in the fall of 2011 when Seth Greenberg was coaching the Hokies. After Greenberg was replaced by former assistant James Johnson, Harrell wanted a fresh start and the Hokies allowed him out of his Letter of Intent in May of 2012.

Spending the year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia, Harrell was a consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school, but fell more in the 70-90 range as many recruiting analysts didn’t expect him to be a major initial contributor.

But with a lack of big men available in the spring before the 2012-13 season, Harrell picked up scholarship offers from Alabama, Cincinnati, Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina before deciding on Louisville. Harrell’s relationship with Louisville assistant coach Kevin Keatts, the former head coach at Hargrave that placed Montrezl at the school without ever coaching him there, paid off for the Cardinals.

“We were lucky because Coach Keatts placed him at Hargrave, so we were lucky there,” Pitino said of Harrell’s recruitment. “But he was very shy; he was painfully shy. But he grew out of that in a hurry.”

Growing comfortable at Louisville became easier for Harrell when basketball became apart of the equation. Although quiet in the past, Montrezl always had a tremendous motor on the court and he quickly identified with how hard his teammates worked and focused on getting better.

“It was just the kind of team that they had,” Harrell said of his decision to attend Louisville. “I look around at these guys and they all really want to work and really get better. So looking at that and looking at myself and how I’m willing to do whatever role that Coach can think of, that’s kind of the overall feel for things. The way that Coach has a passion for the game, that’s something that really helped me out as a player.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

As the 2012-13 season progressed, Pitino noticed Harrell’s rapid improvement. By the end of the season, Harrell had a 20-point, seven-rebound performance in the Big East Tournament Championship win over Syracuse and also got minutes off the bench throughout the NCAA Tournament including a key role in wins over Colorado State and in the Final Four over Wichita State.

This season, Harrell has more expectations placed on him thanks to his postseason run and his efforts with USA Basketball this summer.

“He just grew with each week — he just kept getting better and better,” Pitino said. “And now he’s added the mid-range game, the jump shot to his game. He was very mechanical when he first came to us and he was basically a runner and a dunker. And now he’s added very good footwork to his game, he added a 16-foot jump shot to his game. He’s physically mature. He’s just added a lot to his game and gotten better week-after-week.”

The play at the end of last season got people’s attention, but Harrell’s play this summer during the U-19 World Championships in Prague has college basketball buzzing. On a loaded USA Basketball squad, Harrell started every game and averaged 10.6 points and 3.7 rebounds on 57 percent shooting to help lead the squad to the Gold Medal.

NBA people are also beginning to take notice as some have tabbed Montrezl as a potential lottery pick. Still, Harrell is only focused on the task of repeating as National Champions and this season he’ll play a much bigger role for the Cardinals in that quest for another title.

When NBA decision makers eventually go over Harrell’s pros and cons, his game may still be developing, but they’ll be able to check “winner” under the positives column.

“I’m just looking to work hard and maintain my intensity and take it to another level,” Harrell said. “Just trying to get better in every aspect of the game and just trying to do little things to make my game that much better and help my team win.”

Oakland’s Travis Bader shoots for J.J. Redick’s NCAA career three-point record

Greg Kampe, Travis Bader
Leave a comment

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Travis Bader isn’t a household name, but pretty soon the Oakland senior shooting guard’s accomplishments will be heard across the country as he closes in on J.J. Redick’s career three-point field goal record this season.

The 6-foot-5 redshirt senior from Okemos, Michigan has been knocking down three-pointers at an alarming rate since his freshman season and after knocking in 139 in his junior season, he sits 101 three-pointers short of Redick’s NCAA career record.

While Redick was a highly-recognized sniper at Duke — one of America’s most visible programs — Bader has quietly knocked down three-pointers and expanded his offensive game under Greg Kampe’s rapid run-and-gun offensive approach at Oakland.

The Golden Grizzlies move to the Horizon League in 2013-14 after 15 seasons in the Summit League, but Bader has garnered so much respect among people in the Horizon that he was voted preseason First-Team All-League after averaging 22.1 points per game last season.

Kampe’s offense at Oakland — where he has been head coach since 1984 with a record of 506-366 in DI and DII — is perfect for Bader because they prefer quick and frequent three-pointers early in the shot clock. Bader himself averaged 10.9 three-point attempts a game last season.

“Coming in as a freshman I don’t think anybody ever thought that I would be where I am today,” Bader said. “So that just means I just put in a lot of hard work during my years in Oakland and I’m going to keep putting up shots and trying to be in the gym more than anyone else.”

CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Horizon League Conference Preview

For Bader to be in position to potentially break Redick’s record, he had to play and succeed early. But that wasn’t necessarily supposed to be the case early in Bader’s college career.

“Nobody really believed in me and that started in high school,” Bader said. “I wasn’t big enough or strong enough, wasn’t quick enough or athletic enough. I’ve just always kind of had that fire burning inside of me just to prove people wrong.”

Oakland was the only Division I program to offer Bader and after a redshirt year in 2009-10, Bader was expected to be a potential role player for the Golden Grizzlies. But after a violation of team rules from some teammates, Bader got an instant chance during the first game of his freshman year.

“Even when I got to Oakland, they knew I was a good player but they didn’t know how much playing time I’d see,” Bader said. “My freshman year a situation happened where a couple of guys were late to the bus and I actually started at West Virginia our first game and just took advantage of the opportunity.”

Bader was 3-for-8 from beyond the arc in the West Virginia game and has been a fixture in Oakland’s rotation since. As a freshman, Bader averaged 10.5 points per game before upping it to 15.9 a game as a sophomore before his breakout junior campaign.

But for as nice as Redick’s record would look on Bader’s resume as he closes out his collegiate career this season, he’s only focused on team success and returning to the NCAA Tournament as a new member of the Horizon League.

CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories

“People talk about the three-point record but making the NCAA Tournament would mean the world to me more than an individual record,” Bader said. “That first year I got to play, and to lose by four to Texas, I’ll tell everyone I know that that’s the best moment of my career here at Oakland. Playing in the NCAA Tournament is great and I try to stress to all the guys on the team the significance it had to me and how much it means to be in the NCAA Tournament. They’re trying to do whatever they can to make it back there.”

Kampe and Bader hope to lead a surprise Golden Grizzlies surge to the top of their new league, but the big question surrounding Oakland is how its high-octane offense will fare in a typically grind-it-out Horizon League? But Oakland’s focus will be running their offense and how the rest of the league adapts.

Greg Kampe joked during Horizon League media day in Chicago that he couldn’t name, “10 players in the league right now,” but the only thing that likely matters to Kampe and Oakland is that everyone in the conference can name Travis Bader when they step on the floor this season. And they’ll have to stop Bader and Oakland from scoring.

“I know it’s a great league, very competitive with good defense,” Bader said. “I don’t know as much as everyone else and I’m kind of the same as Kampe right now. I saw a couple of games on TV last year and just from playing against them in the past, I know a bit.”

Horizon favorite Wright State’s ‘surprising’ ’12-’13 season was no surprise to the Raiders

Leave a comment

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Wright State was picked to finish last in the Horizon League before the 2012-13 season and nobody expected them to be 23-13 and within four minutes of playing in the NCAA Tournament as they were last March.

Except for maybe Raiders head coach Billy Donlon.

The 36-year-old Donlon — known for his quick wit and one-liners — knew Wright State would compete last season, and although he didn’t outwardly predict that the Raiders would hold a six-point lead at Valparaiso during the Horizon League Conference Tournament Championship game, he fully believed it was possible heading into last season.

“Name me a program in the Horizon League that’s won more than Wright State over the last seven years?” Donlon said at Horizon League Media Day in Chicago this fall. “We had one bad year; other people choose to pick us last. I didn’t choose to pick us last. The standard of our program didn’t go down because we had one bad season.”

The Raiders “surprise” season ended in heartbreak, however. Wright State led 50-44 with 5:35 to play in the championship game last season before losing to Valparaiso 62-54.

That was without senior and returning leading scorer Cole Darling, a 6-foot-8 forward who missed the final 11 games of the 2012-13 season with a shoulder injury.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Horizon League Conference Preview)

Wright State was one of only five teams in the country to not start a senior while being the 11th youngest team in the country. They return 9 of their top 10 and add a valuable transfer in Butler junior guard Chrishawn Hopkins.

But while the Raiders return basically the same team from a year ago, Donlon has moved past the game last season.

“The 11th time I was watching the last five minutes on the bus ride home from Valpo, Scott Woods — he and I have worked together for seven years, he’s one of my assistants — he tapped me on the shoulder and he said, ‘Billy, it ain’t gonna change. Shut the computer off.’ And I did and I haven’t watched it since,” Donlon said.

Darling is focused on coming back and leading the team to the tournament. A first-team preseason all-Horizon selection after garnering second-team honors last season, Darling rehabbed and is ready for this season.

“It was rough, a lot of hours in the training room and everything,” Darling, who averaged 11.3 points and 4.6 rebounds before getting hurt, said. “At first, I healed up pretty quick and wanted to get out of the sling and start moving around. The hardest thing was the anticipation of not moving around in the sling for six weeks. After that, it was just range of motion.”

Players like Darling are the reason that last season the Raiders were one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. The mentality in the program never changed for Darling or the players despite preseason expectations.

“We win at Wright State,” Darling said. “That’s what we do. We have to get in that mindset of a 20-win season and everything that they’ve had in previous years. We have to get back to the tournament.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

Darling said that this year’s group is already off to a great start in practice and he likes the way they play.

“We’re definitely a lot more athletic this season. Everybody can change positions and play different spots and score the ball, so we’ve had a lot of spacing and a lot of equal scoring opportunities,” Darling said. “Also with our depth now, our pace of play doesn’t have to necessarily slow down when we change guys in and out. Which will help us out defensively and offensively.”

Dealing with injuries like Darling’s and also Matt Vest and AJ Packer has been difficult but something Wright State has dealt with thanks to their depth.

“Matt Vest is 50/50 on whether he’ll play or redshirt. AJ Packer had surgery on his foot and he’s doing better,” Donlon said.

“I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy the last eight months.”

Donlon believes that Wright State has always been one of the league’s top teams — with a target on its back — so last season and this season will both be competitive.

“Is there a target on our back? I don’t know, we started 5-1 to start the league. So the rest of the games — I would imagine — after starting 5-1 there was a heck of a target on our back,” Donlon said. “The target has been on our back since Brad Brownell was the coach and that won’t change.”