GORCHES: Is LaVonte Dority best Valparaiso guard since Bryce Drew?
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @SteveTGorches February 6, 2014 9:52PM
Valparaiso's LaVonte Dority reacts after hitting a three point basket against Milwaukee during their game held at Valparaiso University on Saturday January 18, 2014. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media
Detroit (10-14, 3-6) at Valpo (14-10, 6-3)
When: 8 p.m. Friday
TV: ESPNU; Radio: 95.1-FM; 95.9-FM; 1230-AM
The skinny: Just like the last home game, when the No. 24 jersey was retired, showing up early for this one is mandatory. That’s because Jim Cornelison will be singing the National Anthem at around 7:45 p.m. Cornelison is the famous anthem singer for the Blackhawks, and he’s worth the price of admission. The bonus will be watching Valparaiso play a game that it should win, considering how well it’s played lately. Valparaiso is two games behind Green Bay with a game left at Green Bay, so keeping the pressure on the Phoenix is important. As for the anthem, it will be interesting to see how many fans do what Hawks fans do during Cornelison’s performances — cheer loudly.
Updated: March 8, 2014 6:42AM
As time was running down in the first half at UIC on Saturday afternoon, Valparaiso senior guard LaVonte Dority was holding the ball, with his team up 10 points.
He was setting up a play, but the way he was shooting, he decided to go videogame and play a little NBA Jam.
Dority launched a 3-point attempt from about 30 feet. Nothing but net.
“Maybe it was a heat check,” Dority joked when asked about it this week.
Or maybe it was a confirmation that he’s playing the guard position better than any Crusader since — dare we say it — Bryce Drew.
Now that’s just ridiculous, right?
Well, the stats prove that Drew was the best guard in Valparaiso history, even for a single season, when he averaged almost 20 points per game his junior and senior years.
As for the guards donning VU brown and gold since Drew graduated in 1998, Dority could be better than any of them by season’s end.
Before listing those guards — some of them quite forgettable — let’s recap what Dority is doing over the last couple weeks.
His career-high 33 points on Saturday brought his average over the last six games to 23.8 ppg., and his season average to 17.3 — which is the second-most of any guard since Drew, only 0.4 behind Brandon Wood’s 17.7 in the 2009-10 campaign. I remember watching Wood that season — and the following year in which he averaged 16.7 ppg., before bolting for Michigan State. His scoring wasn’t always in the flow of the offense. Dority is all about the team.
“For a guard, this is as good of a stretch as I’ve seen,” Drew said. “LaVonte’s been scoring the ball really, really well, shooting with a high percentage and scoring in a variety of ways.”
He’s driving to the hole, making steals and breaking away for dunks, hitting stop-and-pop midrange jumpers, getting to the free-throw line and making almost every one of them, and hitting 3-pointers — some of them really long, like that “heat check” at UIC.
“He’s done it within the offense,” Drew added. “At no point am I, or any of his teammates, looking out there thinking he’s being selfish. He’s been very efficient and done it within the team concept.”
Dority has also improved his defense immensely since the beginning of the season, especially during the Horizon League season.
“He’s taken his defense to a higher level as far as his focus and determination to help our team get stops,” Drew said.
The humble Dority attributes all of it to simply wanting to win.
“I’m just trying to play to win, that’s all,” he said. “Whoever is on, that’s who scores. If other teammates are hitting shots, then that’s what it takes.”
Yeah, but he’s the one who’s on fire, not his teammates. And when he scores, the Crusaders win. In the one game out of the last six they lost, he had 10 points (at Cleveland State). In the others, he’s scored between 20 and 33.
And don’t worry about any dissention from his younger backcourt mates — freshman Lexus Williams and sophomore Keith Carter. They’re following Dority’s lead. In fact, during the win at Detroit, Williams led the way with 22 points while Dority had 20. Good luck trying to find the last time a Valparaiso backcourt duo scored 20 points each in a game.
“I have a couple years under my belt, so I’m just trying to lead by example with them,” Dority said. “They’re doing a really good job.”
Back to those guards over the last 15 years, without going through the whole list — do you really want to hear names like Jared Nuness (career 5.6 ppg.), Dwayne Toatley (7.0 ppg.), Seth Colclasure (6.1 ppg.) or Jimmie Miles (6.7 ppg.), let’s just break down Dority’s season so far in comparison.
As stated earlier, his 17.3 points per game is second to Wood’s 2009-10 effort, while the next highest was Ron Howard’s 13.8 in 2004-05. Dority’s 85.9 free throw percentage is the highest for any guard with more than 50 attempts in a season (Dority has 128 with several games left). His field-goal percentage of 49.2 is the highest for anyone with more than 250 attempts (Howard Little shot 55.4 percent in 240 attempts during 2010-11, while Brandon McPherson shot 51.6 percent in 246 attempts in 2006-07).
And don’t forget Dority’s “heat check” ability. His 3-point percentage of 46.5 (53-of-114) is the most of any guard with more than 100 attempts (Jarryd Loyd shot 51 percent in 51 attempts in 2005-06).
So put the whole package together, Dority’s having the best season of any Crusaders backcourt player since Drew’s magical 1997-98 season.
Does that mean the 6-foot-1 Chicago native will get picked No. 16 in the first round of the NBA Draft like his coach? Probably not, but don’t sell his pro chances short. Playing hard on defense and shooting ability is a valuable combination that NBA coaches covet in bench players (i.e. Vinnie Johnson with the 1980s Detroit Pistons and Nate Robinson with last year’s Bulls).