Cj’s Dominique Yates, Jon Hale and Jason Frakes discuss the votes for the Kentucky Mt Rushmore of Sports.
Louisville Courier Journal
The word for the year is “Rise.”
Bellarmine University’s basketball players settled on it by team vote, then crafted a consensus paragraph concerning their move to Division I.
“Our goal is to RISE as a program, as a team and as individuals every single day,” it says. “We will make it our standard to leave everything better than we found it. From competing in each practice and game, to taking care of academics and supporting each other on and off the court, we will RISE through leadership, accountability and relentless hunger. We are being blessed with an opportunity to RISE as a University and to serve as the face of it.”
The pledge is posted prominently in the home team’s dressing room at Knights Hall. It has been honored thus far as if it were a blood oath.
“They came back from the pandemic in better shape than when they left,” Bellarmine coach Scotty Davenport said. “We’ve been blown away. They knew this (Division I) was hanging over their head. …
“To say they’re excited would be understating it.”
Previously: Knights’ day: Wednesday marks Bellarmine athletics’ first step as a Division I program
Moving up in class means more exposure for the Knights, but it might also mean getting exposed. Division I opponents are generally built to more demanding specifications: bigger, stronger, more agile. As much success as Bellarmine has had at the Division II level, Division I is a different and more daunting deal.
“The guys get a little nervous when they talk about it,” senior guard C.J. Fleming said. “But then again, we know what the coaches have taught us has worked. So we are still going to continue to play Bellarmine basketball
“Guys haven’t really changed too much. They just know we have to get better at what we do because some of the competition will be better.”
Half-court precision should not be a problem. Bellarmine’s ball movement and discerning shot selection are program staples sure to frustrate teams conditioned to rely more heavily on athleticism and transition.
Rebounding, though, remains a concern. Bellarmine was out-rebounded, 130-85, in its last four losses last season, and the grabbing figures to get tougher against the larger leapers who populate Division I.
They will need to Rise, with a capital R.
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“It’s got to be all five guys doing it together,” Fleming said. “And that will help. If our 5 guy (center) is taking on some 6-10 dude, then the guards have got to get in there and help rebound, take some of the load off.
“We’ve just got to do it together and that will help erase some of the physical differences that we’re going through.”
In time, those physical differences may dwindle. Division I status should expand Bellarmine’s recruiting reach and eventually make for better matchups.
Though Davenport cannot expect to compete for the most coveted players, and probably not many of the second-tier prospects, his system should strongly appeal to the skilled and the selfless; those players who prize high-percentage shots (no matter who takes them) and even higher winning percentages.
Davenport’s Knights have won at least 20 games 12 years in a row, with one Division II national championship and four Final Four appearances.
The names change, but the system’s success is a constant. What Davenport preaches, his players have put into practice on an annual basis.
Barring another coronavirus bump, Davenport will resume preaching with the start of formal practices next Monday.
“I told them, ‘I’m going to coach your socks off on Monday, July 20,’” he said. “They were hitting each other like, ‘This is great.’”
They are rising, as it were, to the occasion.
Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @TimSullivan714. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/tims.