Monarch Insider NO. 19-Ross, Batten and Hill
Jan. 30, 2011
Brendan O'Hallarn Monarch Basketball Insider
It's the tail end of a spirited Tuesday practice, the day before the Monarchs play a pivotal road game at Georgia State.
Teams are sorted out for the end-of-practice scrimmage. The starters and main substitutes play on one team. The other team consists of freshmen Anton Larsen and Josh Hicks, and three guys who in all likelihood won't play a second this season - Richard Ross, Dimitri Batten and Donte Hill. Mismatch, right? Don't tell that to the team's redshirt players.
Batten tips a pass away from Darius James, and jumps as high as he can to secure it with both hands. Hill drives in from the three-point line and fires a slick wraparound bounce pass to Larsen for a jumper. Then Ross flashes down the lane, takes a feed from Hicks and hammers home a windmill dunk.
For the players who don't suit up, these practices ARE the games. And they'll scratch and claw and fight for every loose ball. They take it personally. Finally, Frank Hassell grabs an offensive rebound and puts it back for the starters to win. The subs line up on the end line for their "punishment" suicide sprint.
Hassell takes a huge breath and his shoulders slump. That was a battle.
The competitive spirit fostered by the redshirts helps make the starters better. It's also a tradition in the ODU men's basketball program going back several years. Promising young players spend a year not in uniform, with the hope they'll be even better by the end of their fifth year.
"We don't recruit kids to redshirt. We recruit guys that are good players that we think have a great future," said associate coach Jim Corrigan. "Then when they get here, we assess whether we think they're going to play a lot. If we determine they're not going to play a lot, they're better off redshirting."
So Ross, who was a star athlete in Texas, and Batten, who was a local prodigy, lead the cheers on the team bench during games. "I'm not going to complain about it. I think it's probably a positive thing," Ross said.
"Just knowing that I'm playing behind people like Ben Finney and Kent Bazemore, I feel like I'll be more of a contributor next year than I would be this year. Just knowing that I'll be spending this whole year better just keeps me motivated." Batten had a big adjustment to college ball, injuring his ankle in training camp, and losing his grandmother Evelyn Batten to cancer last fall.
"I was going to redshirt either way. I was going through a lot of stuff with my family, and then I got injured," Batten said. "I'm just working real hard on a couple of things, my jumper's getting better."
The third "amigo" among the Monarchs who don't dress for games is Donte Hill. Another local star, Hill was recruited by Clemson and accepted a scholarship at the Atlantic Coast Conference school.
But he transferred back home and enrolled at ODU last fall. He isn't eligible to play for the Monarchs until December, but Hill is so happy to be at ODU.
"It was like taking a step back to take steps forward. It really humbled me, being a scholarship player and coming here and having to pay for a semester, not being able to live on campus with the guys," Hill said.
The hardest part? Not being able to help on the court during games. "It's torture watching the guys and not being able to help out at all. I'm just trying to support my teammates and fit in and learn as best as I can."
So the three guys pour their hearts into practice every day, the same as Frank Hassell, Keyon Carter, Kent Bazemore and Nick Wright have done before them. Four pretty good endorsements for a Monarch utilizing that redshirt year.
"Every kid gets humbled when they come to this level, whether they redshirt or not," Corrigan said.
"But those guys, it's hard for them because they went from being a star to now they sit on the bench and just watch. We're fortunate now that we have some players ahead of them that have already done it, and had some success. And wouldn't everybody like to spend an extra year in college?"
Ross sought the counsel of the former redshirts before making his decision to sit out this season. They talked about how much it benefited them, but also offered some tips for navigating the process. "They told me that everyone's going to hit the wall when you just feel down. They told me you just have to fight through it."
The year has also been beneficial for all three to adjust to the academic rigor of university. Ross, who is deciding between psychology and marine biology for a major, said tackling time management has been his biggest challenge.
Batten had his family loss to deal with. He leaned heavily on Monarch captain Ben Finney for support.
"I was just with Ben a lot. He had the same sort of thing happen when his brother passed," he said. "When my grandma passed away, he just told me to look at the positive things. Keep doing what's good for you, what she wanted you to do. Just keep moving forward, don't ever look back. She's always going to be there rooting for you."
The transfer experience has been incredibly positive, and eye-opening, for Hill. "The VCU game was crazy. It was very similar to an ACC game, the way the crowd packed it in here. The arena's a little bit smaller so you can feel the effects of the crowd more. It's a great place to play, so I'm just looking forward to being able to play in the Ted," Hill said.
He thinks a lot of local high school stars might consider taking another look at ODU.
"With any situation, especially being a young kid coming out of high school, you tend to get caught up in the name of the schools," Hill said. "The major thing you have to do is think about what's best for your situation, long-term for your career.
"As far as ODU, I think that a lot of local kids, if they show some foresight, can think about what this program can be in a couple of years. We can really, really put ODU on the map. It starts with keeping the top talent at home."
Brendan O'Hallarn, an employee in public relations at Old Dominion University, writes Monarch Basketball Insider. To see other stories, please see the Monarch Insider website, at http://www.odusports.com/ot/monarch-insider.html. If you would like to share your thoughts about ODU basketball, or have a story you'd like to see Brendan write, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.