Jan. 23, 2008
By Darren Shimp
When then newly-hired Eastern Washington University men's basketball head coach Kirk Earlywine traveled to the streets of New York City to watch Eagle Adris DeLeon play basketball, his reaction was summed up in five words.
"It was unique," said Earlywine. "Really unique."
While examining the skills and qualities of the 5-foot-11-inch guard, he noticed one interesting observation from the East Coast that has carried into DeLeon's brief time in an Eastern uniform.
"He's an extraordinarily likable guy and very, very well known in the City," said Earlywine.
Known as "2 Hard 2 Guard" back home in the Bronx, DeLeon made a name for himself with his ability to get to the rim, punishing defenders with ankle-breaking crossover dribbles, acrobatic spins at the hoop and no-look passes to wide-open teammates.
It was there that DeLeon matched up against NBA talent in the city streets, such as Orlando Magic starter Jameer Nelson, Houston Rockets reserve Mike James and summer league legend Kenny Satterfield. The junior guard had also been featured in a New York Post article to promote the annual summer streetball league last June.
After jumping from the College of the Siskiyous (Calif.) to the College of Southern Idaho his first two years of college, the Dominican Republic-born DeLeon has seemed to find his niche at Eastern.
Following a masterful 42-point, 42-minute performance against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17, which earned him accolades as Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, DeLeon admitted what fuels his skills.
"Back home in New York, the crowd is crazy. I'm the type of person that likes to play with the crowd," said DeLeon. "That night I was more aggressive because of the crowd -- I was into it. The same thing happened against Kansas."
It was in Lawrence, Kan., where DeLeon scored his previous career high of 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting in 25 minutes against the No. 3 Jayhawks. His 42-point masterpiece against the Bears was the third most in school history and 19th best in the 45-year history of the Big Sky Conference. Former Eagle and current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey joins DeLeon as the only two BSC players to have scored 42 or more points in the last seven seasons.
"The game was like it has always been -- create for your teammates and stuff like that," he added. "I just got comfortable."
With the remaining home games likely to have increased student attendance, compared to those over the holidays, the Eagles will conceivably see a similar impact from the aggressive guard.
"It is a huge benefit for us when our students are there," said Earlywine.
The transition for DeLeon from streetball to the hardwood would seem to be difficult, but he says the game is the same wherever he plays. It is the pressure that is the difference.
"Back home everyone expects something from you, whether you're going to put up 40 or 50," said DeLeon. "It's just different here. I've got the same mindset wherever I play, but the coaches here tell me to relax and play. At home I have to make plays all the time."
It is those playmaking skills that have contributed to an increase in playing time from 23.4 minutes per game in non-league games to 33.8 in Big Sky Conference play.
"From a basketball perspective, he has the ability to put pressure on the defense," said Earlywine. "He can really break defenses down, and he has the ability to create easy shots for other guys.
"Since we have him in tune playing the game as a team, everybody has had a hard time defending him on the high ball screen. He is extraordinarily quick and fast. Those big guys step out there to try to help, and it really is a mismatch in terms of foot speed."
With seven Eagles averaging over five points per game, the team concept has sunk in with DeLeon. He is comfortable knowing that if he doesn't have his shot, someone else will pick up the slack.
DeLeon has averaged nearly four assists per game in conference play and his teammates have taken advantage. Milan Stanojevic is among the conference leaders in three-point field goals and Kellen Williams is near the top of the Big Sky in points, rebounds and field goal percentage.
"I've been playing like that the whole season," said DeLeon. "Sometimes Milan is hitting, or someone else. Anyone can go off anytime -- there's not one main guy. It is a whole-team offense."
While the fans got to see the array of dribbling skills DeLeon has to offer against the Bears, Earlywine stresses that it is the end result that pleases him.
"I think sometimes in the past Adris would have been pleased with the move itself, but I'm more concerned about the ball going in," said Earlywine. "He's getting it. He's getting a little better every day. It's the better he plays and distributes the ball that makes us a better team."