While the names of the team's may have been changed to protect the innocent, Tuesday nights match up between Mike Albert Leasing and Slats was as close to an XU/UC Crosstown Shootout as you are going to find. While this was only the first competition during the summer season for most members of the Slats team, athletes such as James White and new Bearcat Devan Downey hope to learn great things from this seemingly meaningless off-season affair.
It is safe to say the James White has a chip on his shoulder. Undoubtedly, White is one of the most outstanding, athletically gifted basketball players in the country. At 6-7, the wing-player was recently forced to pull his name from the upcoming NBA draft due to apparent advising that he would fall to a draft position that carries with it many question marks about his future in the league. While the UC faithful are thrilled to have their most dynamic offensive weapon back in the fold for next season's rotation, White has much to prove to the world and, possibly more important, to himself.
"This is my second season playing in the Deveroes," said White, who through down two of the most impressive dunks I have seen at any level of competition during Tuesday‘s performance. "There are a lot of college guys out here, so you can get a pretty good workout and see where you are at against some pretty good college athletes…I am out here to have some fun with my teammates and get in shape for next season. Every time you got out on the court you look to get a little bit better and improve as a player, so that is what I am looking to do"
In order for White to make his mark on the world of college basketball next season, and prove himself to be a complete player and top-NBA prospect, he will rely heavily on his youthful Bearcat teammates to make him look good out on the court. White is teamed with second-year Bearcat Jihad Muhammad and several of UC's prized recruits from the 2005 recruiting class. Abdul Herrera, DeAndre Coleman and Devan Downey all laced-them-up and took the court alongside their UC brethren. White, while impressed by the total sum of the parts, such some much needed growth that needs to take place between now and the 2005 Cincinnati season in two of the future Bearcats especially.
"The big kid, Herrera, you know he was kind of raw, but had good feet. He needs to work on his hands a little bit, but I expect him to grow and develop and do good things for us in the future," said White about his 6-10 big man project from Florida.
All game long you could hear Eric Hicks and White jawing back and forth about what Herrera needed to do on the court. From maintaining solid positioning, to getting more aggressive and taking the ball up strong, the two vets looked to calm the clearly overwhelmed teenager down on the court and allow him to get his head in the game.
"He's got a big body and he is going to have to learn how to use it. He is going to have to get a bit bigger and stronger and be more aggressive inside."
Part of the strength Herrera is going to have to build-up is mental. Early on in the game you saw the big man put a few shots high off the glass and missing instead of taking it up strong and finishing. Herrera also showed a tendency to "leap" at the shots of the opposing team's big men instead of maintaining a solid base to rebound from, leading to several careless fouls down low. White, Hicks and Armein Kirkland all took turns sitting the youngster down, trying to settle his overwhelmed self.
Not to much surprise, White also saw the big-stage lights of the tiny Woodward gym get to Downey at times as well.
"You know, Downey played really well. He did a good job on defense, showing solid quickness and he passed the ball well, but he was kind of timid on offense," said White about the point guard who had the score first, pass second mentality in high school.
"I was a little surprised about how he played on offense. I knew he was a scorer in high school, so I expected him to shoot a bit more. Jihad took a lot of touches, but I had to tell Devan to be more aggressive and look for his own shot."
Downey finished with only eight points for the game, but to his credit really had to work on defense and really played a terrific all-around game. The speedster did a great job of anticipating outlet passes and getting in the middle of the paint on fast break chances. However, Downey still knows that his scoring is going to be what will get him minutes at the college level.
"I think I was really nervous, first game on the college level. It was good experience and I worked hard on the court," said Downey, who feels that even with his less-than-stellar offensive performance proved a lot to himself about his ability to play at the next level.
"At the high school and AAU levels everything came so easy. This was a good experience to see where I am at in terms of the level of my ability. Even though I was a little shy shooting the ball, I still feel like I showed I can be a good guard at this level."
While realizing that the statistics and wins and losses of this summer league will not guarantee him anything in terms of his collegian career, Downey knows that the opportunity to work with many of his future teammates will be big for him in learning how to play point guard for Coach Huggins.
"I think this is going to be my biggest summer at the college level," said Downey, who is trying to embrace the role of a true point guard. "I get the chance to learn to play point guard at the college level and learn my teammates tendencies and how they play. Because there aren't really that many plays that means that I have to know what my teammates want to do out there and get them the ball in the best place for them to be successful."
Another area of Downey's game that he will have to improve is one that he actually has very limited control over. Standing no more than 5-8 wearing a thick soled pair of the newest Jordan sneaker and sharing a similar physique to many of the middle school kids in attendance (maybe a little overstated), Downey knows that getting stronger is going to be as big a priority as any for him.
"I just need to get in the weight room and get bigger. I got switched on some much bigger guys during the game, but I think I held my own and did the most that I could do against guys that much bigger than I am," said Downey, who was forced to guard the likes of powerful XU small forward/power guard Justin Cage and Keith Jackson on more than one occasion.
"Hopefully, by getting stronger and tougher on defense I can really use my quickness to the fullest of my advantage. Guys will not be able to take advantage as easy down low anymore."
While it is clear that Downey and Herrera, as well as all of the UC recruits and returning vets participating in The Deveroes are looking to have fun this off season, it is clear that each member knows that they have much work to accomplish before the virgin voyage into the uncharted waters of the Big East. Hopefully, from the potential that has been shown thus far this summer, that there are many things to look forward to on the Campus of Clifton come next winter.