Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

Basketball’s beginning to bounce DU’s way, Scott says

Late in the evening of March 8, two notable moments for DU men’s basketball occurred simultaneously in an Arkansas arena 941 miles from DU.

The Pioneers’ post-season ended in a seven-point loss to North Texas, and year four of the Joe Scott coaching era got under way. It was a heart-rending ending and a rebirth of optimism at the same stroke of the clock.

Several weeks later, the sting of defeat having soothed a bit, Scott can look back at what went right this season — more overall wins, more league wins, 15-straight home wins, getting further in the Sun Belt tournament — and what lies ahead.

“The last five weeks of the season was the best we’ve played here,” he says confidently. “It’s our habit now. That’s how we’re going to play … with a level of knowledge of what a good team does all the time.”

Add to that a dozen returning players experienced with Scott’s system; the addition of 6-foot 9-inch transfer Trevor Noonan plus one or possibly two ready-to-play recruits; solid team chemistry; a year’s growth for the team’s 10 freshmen and sophomores; and a body of incremental success Scott can point to. Call it the 11-15-19 wins-per-year plan.

“With further development of skills, with guys getting older and stronger, with adding new blood, that’s the thing that makes you go from 17 wins to 22,” Scott says. “We start out year four playing the way we finished year three. Then we grow and get better and we have a chance to be pretty good.”

Not entirely clear yet is the “pleasant surprise” factor, players Scott expects to contribute at one level but who end up offering much more.

“The thing we’re going to miss most about Nate [Rohnert] is he loved to play,” Scott says. “If you love to play and you’re a gym rat and we coach you the way we coach you and you want to get better, you can get better. All our kids can.”

They’ll have to. Rohnert — one of two graduating seniors — was the team’s captain and top scorer, a quiet leader who ended his career as the ninth-leading scorer in DU history and first-team All-Sun Belt Conference for the second straight year. Who fills his shoes may be one of next season’s biggest questions, though there may be an answer as soon as August. That’s when the Pioneers cap 10 days of practice with a six-game, 12-day tour against a half-dozen professional teams in Italy.

“We’re going to fly into Milan then work our way south — Venice, Tuscany region, Sienna,” says Scott, underscoring how similar tours helped teams he coached at Princeton and Air Force.

Competing against seasoned Italian players should help whittle down what Scott calls “the unknowns of October.”

“We went 4-1 in November, 6-3 in December, 3-5 in January when it starts to get hard,” Scott says. “But we came back from that and played our best basketball. That’s the sign of team that’s starting to get it.”

“Our last 10 games, teams shot 42 percent from the field against us whereas prior to that they shot 48 percent,” Scott says. “Teams shot 32 percent from the three-point line and prior to that they shot 39. Add to that being one of the top-10 shooting teams in the country and that’s what I mean when I say we’re starting to be good.”

NCAA statistics rank DU eighth in the nation in field-goal percentage at 49, second in two-point shooting at 56.8 percent and 14th in three-point shooting at 39.5 percent. Scott sees those as important categories to build upon.

“I told our team when we lost that we knew why,” Scott says. “When you know why it’s a powerful thing; you can change it, make things better. If you don’t know why, you’re in trouble. Now we know exactly where we’re at and what we have to do.”

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