Big Stage for Drummond

LOUISVILLE – The NCAA Tournament could become Andre Drummond's stage.

Will he use the spotlight to take his game to another level? Can he do the things he needs to do to help Connecticut win tournament games? Or could this be the final hours or days for this ultra-talented NBA prospect?

"It's a huge stage," Drummond said. "I'm not really worried about coming back or what's going on in the future. I'm just worried about what's happening right here and right now. I'm just trying to help my team get some wins and we're going to try to get to the national championship game.

"It's not about me. We're going out there to make a team statement."

The highly touted freshman has had an up and down season. He is averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. He has blocked 88 shots, so his presence has definitely been felt. At 6-10 and 270 pounds, the Middletown native is certainly intimidating to opponents.

"Drummond is the biggest player that we'll see, maybe the biggest guy any of our players ever see," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said of Thursday night's matchup in the KFC Yum! Center. "I remember seeing him last year on the AAU circuit. The first time you see him, your jaw hits the floor.

"Not only is he big, but he's one of those bigs that gets up and down the floor. You don't see a lot of that with guys his size. They throw him alley oops, he beats his man to the rim. It doesn't look like he ever gets tired."

Some UConn observers would say he doesn't get tired because he still hasn't embraced the work ethic of Connecticut basketball under Jim Calhoun. But during the Big East tournament last week, Drummond did exhibit better low post moves and he played better one-on-one defense – defense that goes beyond blocking shots.

"He's a baby," Calhoun said in New York. "As big as he may be, he is a baby. He's a wonderful young kid. But he's got to compete."

Assistant coach Glen Miller has been working with Drummond on everything from his free throw shooting to his low post moves, trying to build a skill set that can help UConn now.

"We don't want him expanding [his game], we're trying to get him to contract," Miller said Wednesday before UConn's public practice. "Part of the problem is he's so immensely talented. He can do so many different things. We're trying to get him in the areas we need him to be in to help us.

"The main thing with Andre is that he's active. If he's active, he puts up numbers even without having any real definition to his game. He does a lot of things pretty well, but no particular post move."

UConn has had success throwing the alley oop to Drummond. He can get behind zone defenses and score off the pass or score off the glass. The coaching staff wants him to take fewer turnaround jumpers and develop a low post move that he is comfortable with.

Drummond has averaged 11.8 points the last six games. Miller said UConn wants Drummond to "value possessions." At times, that has been the case but it hasn't happened with consistency.

"When you get into the postseason, you can't take any plays off – or your season is over," Miller said. "He's a good worker. He's very coachable and he's a great kid. But he's got to understand how critical it is to play every possession."

In many ways, Drummond is caught between stages of his career. He can't be the freewheeling guy he was at St. Thomas More School, where he could do anything and everything. But there is no doubt he has the type of potential that will still land him among the top five picks in the NBA Draft. He can help his NBA stock in the tournament, but he likely won't hurt it. Teams have seen him already and there will be individual workouts ahead – if he goes pro, as expected.

But for now, Drummond needs to step on this new stage and make the most of it. The next few hours and days will determine how his UConn career is remembered. "We need it to be a great stage for him," Miller said. "We need him to play real well."

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