CRAWFORD | Bellarmine's 'beautiful game' has Knights on brink of another postseason run
With an 11-game winning streak, the Bellarmine University basketball team is once again one of the top shooting teams in the nation, and is gaining national notice. The Knights are 23-2 and ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II heading into the final two home games of the regular season.
Saturday, February 21st 2015, 2:00 am EST
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Bellarmine University basketball coach Scott Davenport's phone has been ringing quite a bit lately. That's what happens when The New York Times decides to travel to Louisville and publish a feature about your offense, which annually produces one of the highest field-goal percentages of any team at any basketball level.
The Knights are right there again this season, No. 2 in NCAA Division II at 53.1 percent. And they're right there again in the middle the national picture, at 23-2 and ranked No. 3 in the nation with No. 5 Indianapolis visiting Knights Hall Saturday night.
Davenport's sons and wife gave him a framed
, but he hasn't yet decided where to hang it — at home or in his office. It probably doesn't matter. He doesn't need it as a daily reminder. He has the phone ringing.
“Bellarmine in the New York Times. Who would have ever thought?” Davenport said Thursday night after his team shot 64.2 percent and dished out 20 assists to thump Saint Joseph's 95-71. “It's been the most amazing story ever between Bellarmine alums, former players, former guys I coached, guys I coached with. High school coaches call and say, ‘If I drove to Louisville, could I have some time?' It's been mind-boggling.”
He shouldn't be too surprised. The Knights are worth some closer study. If you weary of watching games with guards going one-on-one or around ball screens, or teams relying on brute force to pound it inside, get to Bellarmine for a game while you still can.
At Bellarmine, basketball is still The Beautiful Game. In fact, Davenport, who has become fanatical about the San Antonio Spurs and their precision passing attack in the NBA, showed his team a YouTube video entitled,
, before the season.
“I'm all about the Spurs,” Davenport said. “But these players, they embrace Bellarmine basketball. They came here to play this way.”
They always do. Chris Whitehead, a former high school standout at New Albany, played last season at Fordham before transferring to Bellarmine. He took a while to find his way earlier in the season, figuring out his place. On Thursday night, he was 11 of 12 from the field and scored 25 points to lead the Knights in scoring. He could've scored more, but he's always looking to move the ball, taking the drive only when he can get to the rim.
“He's playing great basketball,” Davenport said. “His judgment of when to push the gas for our basketball team, he's taking on calling sets out there when the break is not there and he's really, really in control.”
“Get layups,” Whitehead said of his scoring role. “This team is just about sticking together, offensively and defensively. We know what we want to do — play Bellarmine basketball, move the ball and look for each other. That's what we do. The offense will come if we do that, and we feel like we'll go as far then as our defense will take us.”
Whitehead said in the early season, coaches would show the players video of the Spurs to illustrate what they wanted.
“Now, though,” Whitehead said, “they show us tape of ourselves.”
That means things have come along. In the Spurs YouTube video, at one point ESPN's Michael Wilbon comes on and says, “The Spurs don't get knuckleheads, they don't get clowns, they don't get guys with huge egos. They get guys who have to do what they're told to do.”
Wilbon was talking about the Spurs. He just as easily could've been talking about Davenport's team.
“The key is, everybody on this team is responding to everybody else," Davenport said. " . . . Go down the list on this team. I'm just thrilled with the way we're playing, and again, it's all in front of us right now. . . . The better we pass, in our system, our assists numbers go up, our percentage just skyrockets. And they take pride in passing. And it's the mentality that I'm going to get you a shot, because I know if I get open you're going to get me a shot. That's a great, great luxury to have on a basketball team.”
Jake Thelen led the nation in field goal percentage last season at just over 72 percent. He has cooled down this season to 68.1. And his teammates are aware of his efficiency. I counted three times in the entire game Thursday when he came open that he didn't get the ball. Big-time post players around the nation will be envious of that. Bellarmine players are always aware of where he is, but the ball doesn't stop when it goes to him. He's always aware of where others are.
Bellarmine has begun to get That Look. There are no guarantees in basketball, which produces upsets at a rate few sports can rival. But Davenport's team is coming together. It has won 11 straight games. During those, it has shot 56.1 percent from the field. It has shot 43.8 percent from three-point range. It has dished out just under 17 assists per game.
Davenport not only is getting production from the expected sources, but from players like Whitehead, Josh Sewell and others. His bench is blossoming, from former walk-on Michael Parrish who can speed up the game in less time than it takes to say “put him on scholarship,” to former walk-on Corbin Maynard, who contributes his own frenetic brand of defense.
In fact, defense and rebounding are the big additions this season. The Knights are throwing together stretches in which their help defense and deflections are causing opponents fits — they rank seventh in the nation in field goal percentage defense — and rebounding, long an Achilles' heel, now is a strength. Bellarmine ranks in the top 25 nationally in both defensive rebounds per game and rebound margin.
“Defensively, everybody raves about us passing the ball, but like I keep saying, every time we score, the other team gets the ball, so let's play defense together in terms of our talking, in terms of helping one another,” Davenport said. “What it is, it's everybody helping everybody.”
“Rebounding has been the discussion since practice started in the preseason,” Davenport added. “. . . The theory is if you shoot a better percentage than your opponent, which we've been able to do, then it's simple math. If you get more shots than them, you win. How can they get more shots if you rebound the ball?”
The storylines are setting up. Josh Derksen, a forward from Australia, welcomed his parents for a month-long visit to the U.S. last week and played in front of them in a college game for the first time Thursday night. They got to watch him score 17 points.
“I just hope they enjoyed it,” he said.
If they stick around, they may well get to see something special. There's the story of Parrish, from his
. There's Maynard, who, like Parrish,
until he earned a scholarship.
So many of these players came to Bellarmine because they wanted to play this way. Starters Rusty Troutman and George Suggs do a little of everything, pass, rebound, score.
There's no telling if this group can return the Knights to their national championship perch. All you can say for them is that they're doing the right things.
“I've said since August I love this basketball team,” Davenport said. “Their commitment in the offseason in the weight room, their commitment with each other, has been as good as any team I've ever been around. It's outstanding. They feed off each other. They pick each other up. They celebrate each other when they do well. There's not a selfish person in that locker room, and it's a great thing.”
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