Van Treese returns home for NCAAs

INDIANAPOLIS – It's been a crazy year for University of Louisville backup center Stephan Van Treese. The 6-foot-9 Van Treese went from leaving U of L last spring to playing a key role and now returning to his hometown to play in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament this weekend.

Stephan Van Treese was sitting in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium watching the 2009 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game when the University of Louisville blew out Arizona before losing to Michigan State in the Elite Eight.

This time, Van Treese will be on the court.

The junior from Indianapolis returns home this weekend as a key role player for the Cardinals, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 31-5 record. The Cardinals will play Oregon on Friday night at 7:15 p.m.

"I have come a long way since high school," Van Treese said. "I'm excited to come back home. I remember watching and thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could play here'."

Van Treese has become a "key" role player and U of L coach Rick Pitino said, noting the 6-foot-9 junior "is our best rebounds. Van Treese averages 1.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 11.5 minutes a game.

"I am just trying to do whatever I can when I get in there," Van Treese said. "I just want to do my job, get some rebounds and be a defensive presence.

"I'll do whatever I need to do to help my team win."

Van Treese almost wasn't around to help the Cardinals make a run at the NCAA title. He almost transferred after last season.

As a freshman, Van Treese averaged just 2.8 minutes a game in 16 games but as a sophomore he averaged 2.9 points and played in 33 games. Van Treese started 12 games during that season and averaged 3.5 rebounds in 13 minutes a contest.

After missing last season with a knee injury, Van Treese said in early June that he was going to transfer from the program. Van Treese was injured last season and U of L had 14 players on scholarship after the late signing of Montrezl Harrell, so Van Treese opted to leave.

"I just felt like at the time it was better for me to leave," Van Treese said. "It was a week. I was trying to go to another school, but I stayed in contact with coach Pitino because I didn't know what was going to happen."

A few weeks later Rakeem Buckles transferred to Florida International to play for Richard Pitino, leaving a spot open on the roster.

"It was a lot more complicated than that," Van Treese said. "It's a blessing that I am still here. I love playing for coach P and I love playing at Louisville.

"I don't think there could have been a better situation than what I am in now."

Early in the season, Van Treese wasn't seeing a lot of minutes. His role increased during the seven games center Gorgui Dieng was sidelined with a wrist injury.

But when Dieng returned, Van Treese saw his minutes slip again. It was only when Pitino said he needed to get Dieng more rest later in the season that Van Treese saw more action and he's stepped up.

During the five-game postseason run, Van Treese is averaging five rebounds and led the team with eight against Villanova and seven against N.C. A&T.

"I was kind of wondering when he was going to play me more," Van Treese said. "I knew Gorgi was getting tired and coach saw that from him. Coach wants me to be the best rebounder on the court. I am coming out if I don't get that rebound.

"If I am getting in and doing what I need to do, then I am happy."

Van Treese will be happy to be playing in front of a bunch of family and friends this weekend at Lucas Oil.

"It should be awesome," Van Treese said. "I am glad to be playing at home and Indy is such a great town and they love their hoops.

"So, I am sure I will have a lot of family and friends there."

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