Friday, November 11, 2011

Andre Drummond Everything You Think He Is -- And More

Believe it or not, there was a time – not too long ago – when Andre Drummond didn’t particularly like to dunk.

As a 6-foot-7, somewhat uncoordinated freshman at Capital Prep in Hartford, Drummond preferred gliding in for a layup than slamming the ball through the hoop. “Big Finesse,” his coaches used to call him.

“Me and a couple of coaches would tell him, ‘Dunk the ball!’” Capital Prep coach Levy Gillespie recalled. “He’d jump in the air and want to make an up-and-under layup around a guy who’s, like, 6-4. We’d be like, ‘Andre, what are you doing?’”

Drummond eventually got the message.

“By the end of his sophomore year,” Gillespie said, “he had pretty much perfected that windmill that he loves, and the between-the-legs dunk.”

Ah yes, the windmill and the between-the-legs dunk, both of which he showcased in a dunk contest at UConn’s First Night festivities a few weeks ago. They weren’t enough to win the contest – fellow freshman Ryan Boatright, the underdog at 5-10, won the hearts of the judges – but they sure were an emphatic “Hello, how do ya do?” to the 10,000 fans who jammed Gampel Pavilion that night.

Suffice to say, Andre Drummond now likes to dunk. His first basket in a Husky uniform came on a vicious, two-handed putback slam of a Jeremy Lamb floater in UConn’s exhibition opener on Nov. 2. He brought the house down three days later at the XL Center by slamming home an alley-oop pass off the glass from Shabazz Napier in the Huskies’ exhibition finale.

“I was actually planning on putting it between my legs,” Drummond confessed, “but Shabazz was like, ‘Let me get the assist.’”

Of his 13 field goals in UConn’s two exhibition contests, about 10 of them have been dunks. And there figure to be plenty more throughout the winter – beginning tonight at Gampel in UConn’s season-opener against Columbia all the way to, quite possibly, the New Orleans Superdome in early April.

But Andre Drummond, the Middletown resident who also happens to be the most heralded recruit ever to don a UConn uniform, is about much more than just dunking. He’s everything you could expect from a prodigious talent – and a lot of things you might not expect, as well.

He’s 6-foot-11, 277 pounds yet “quick as a cat,” according to coach Jim Calhoun. “He might be as good a runner as we have on our team.”

Despite his penchant for slamming the ball through the hoop with savage force, he’d rather hit a teammate with a nifty interior pass.

“I get more excited seeing my teammates scoring the ball and watching their reaction than me scoring the ball myself,” Drummond said.

Though famously close-guarded through a recruiting process that left nearly everybody – including the UConn coaching staff – surprised when he declared his commitment to the school via Twitter on Aug. 26, he’s a disarmingly friendly young man, as comfortable chatting with a media throng as he is clowning around with teammates in his dorm.

“He’s a wonderful kid, well-adjusted,” said Jere Quinn, who coached Drummond at St. Thomas More Prep the past two years. “He’s happy, and he likes to make other people happy.”

And despite being the No. 1-rated recruit in all the land by many scouting services and quite possibly the top pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Drummond is as eager to get better as a walk-on trying to earn a scholarship.

“I’m not the type of guy who’s going to read about myself or talk about myself or brag that I’m the best player in the world, when I’m really not,” he said. “Yeah, I think I do some good things, but there’s always room to do better things, to get yourself better prepared to play at the next level.”

Added UConn junior forward Alex Oriakhi: “The thing about him is, with all the hype around him, you’d think he’d be arrogant. But he’s not. He listens. I try to coach him out there and tell him what he’s doing wrong, and he just takes it in like sponge. That’s the greatest part about him. When you have a kid with that much talent and is willing to listen and get better … the sky’s the limit.”

Long, Strange Trip to Storrs

Andre Drummond’s journey from Middletown to Storrs encompassed only 40 miles, but it took four years and seemingly countless twists, turns and rumors before he finally became a Husky.

Drummond is originally from Mount Vernon, N.Y., and figured he’d eventually play at Mount Vernon High, alma mater of ex-UConn great Ben Gordon.

“Everybody keeps asking me, ‘How did you get out of there?’” Drummond says. “Usually, when you’re in Mount Vernon, (you) don’t leave.”

But when Drummond was about 8, several of his aunts and uncles started leaving town and moving up to Middletown. Eventually, his mother, Christine, moved him and his sister, Ariana, as well.

“They liked the environment,” Drummond explained. “It’s a nice place to grow up for the kids and things like that.”

He went to middle school in Middletown, then two years at Capital Prep before enrolling at St. Thomas More in Oakdale, where he “transformed into a totally different person, basketball-wise,” according to Gillespie.

Indeed, Drummond emerged as a dominant force in prep school. He won 55 games in his two years there, including the 2011 national prep school championship, for which he was named MVP. He was heavily courted by virtually every major program in the country.

But he wasn’t above criticism. Perhaps the most prevalent was that Drummond took plays off, didn’t always play hard. While there was a smidgeon of truth to this knock, it was largely a misconception.

“I think sometimes, kids play to the level of their competition,” said Quinn. “His focus was as good as a typical high school player. Did he take some plays off? Yeah, when we were up 15 (points). Did he ever go and hide in a big game? No. Every coach in the country is trying to find a magic potion to make kids play 100-percent.”

Calhoun concurred.

“I would hate to think of him in a high school game right now. He could do anything he wants without working – just run up the floor and dunk on people. He’s not lazy in any sense of the imagination … He’s just a really nice person. We need to get him to learn, culturally, what we try to do: play hard every single possession.”

Indeed, the proper rub on Drummond may be that he’s too nice – particularly on the basketball court.

“When I’m out there, I’m always smiling,” he said. “That’s just the way I play. Some people think it’s because I don’t take the game seriously. That’s not the case at all. I enjoy playing the game and I’m always smiling, there’s no need for me to be angry at all.”

‘Do I Hear, ‘Repeat’?

Despite Drummond’s naturally sunny disposition, he was legitimately conflicted and sometimes pained during his recruitment process, particularly over the past year. He kept his decision-making process so private that, well into this past summer, Quinn had no idea whether Drummond would return to St. Thomas More or pursue other plans.

UConn thought Drummond was going to commit in June, but that was called off. So the Huskies gave their 10th and final available scholarship to 6-8 forward DeAndre Daniels, a national top-10 recruit.

In mid-August, Drummond finally announced that he’d be transferring to Wilbraham & Monson Academy, where he’d play with good friend Kris Dunn of New London, for another year of prep school. A couple of weeks later, Dunn changed his mind and said he’d play his senior year at New London High.

A few days after that, on a rainy Friday night, came Drummond’s Tweet Heard ‘Round the Nutmeg State: “It’s official: I’m heading to the University of Connecticut to be a Husky this year. Do I hear, ‘Repeat’?”

One problem: UConn had no scholarships to offer Drummond. That was solved when Michael Bradley, who had sat out the previous season as a red-shirt and who had spent much of his youth in a children’s home, gave up his to Drummond.

“I’m thankful for everything that he did," said Drummond. "Me and Mike have had a great relationship, I’ve known him since I was a sophomore, so, I’m really thankful for what he did.”

No doubt, UConn fans feel the exact same way.

“Now,” said Jim Calhoun, “the thing is to take this athletic, wonderful kid who listens all the time, and turn him into a terrific basketball player. He’s not that yet, he really isn’t. But he’s got some things you just can’t teach.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home