TODAY’S GAMEWho: Western Carolina at The CitadelWhen: 7:05 p.m.Where: McAlister Field HouseRecords: WCU 4-9, 2-0; Citadel 3-8, 0-1
As a broadcaster for ESPN, Len Elmore is paid to train a critical eye on college basketball players. Here’s his take on a Citadel player he’s fairly familiar with:
“I think four years away from the game has dulled a little bit of his skills,” Elmore said. “He was a pretty good scorer in high school, and I’d like to see him develop into more of a scoring threat. I think the Georgia Tech game was a good example of what he can do.”
The player of whom Elmore speaks is his own son, Stephen Elmore, a 6-6 forward at The Citadel. The younger Elmore scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ recent loss at Georgia Tech.
That would have been an off night for the 6-9 Len Elmore during his All-American days at Maryland, where he played from 1971-74 and became one of the 50 greatest players in ACC history before an eight-year NBA career.
But for Stephen Elmore, playing his first season of basketball after four years of baseball at Princeton, the stat line was a hint of good things to come.
“He’s like a freshman, but a freshman that took four years off before coming to college,” said Citadel coach Chuck Driesell. “But he’s coming around really well. He wants to work hard and doesn’t let things get him down and is playing a big role for us.”
The problem for Stephen, who is a fifth-year graduate-student transfer at The Citadel, is that he has only one season into which he can pack a college basketball career. As the 3-8 Bulldogs take on Southern Conference foe Western Carolina today at McAlister Field House, Elmore is already more than one-third through his only season.
“I’m just trying to enjoy this,” said Stephen, who has started five games and is averaging 3.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. “These first 11 games have flown by, and I’ve got about 20 left. It’s a thrill for me, and I feel lucky to have this opportunity.”
Len Elmore, who is also an attorney and president of the NBA Retired Players Association, said he wanted his sons Stephen and Matthew to view sports as a “means to a more glorious end.”
Stephen, who starred in basketball and baseball at New York City’s Horace Mann High School, turned his baseball talent into a history degree from prestigious Princeton. Matthew is a student at Columbia, another Ivy League school.
But for a variety of reasons, including injury, Stephen’s baseball career at Princeton did not go as planned. He appeared in only eight games over four seasons, and after graduating last spring felt athletically unfulfilled. He’d also read about how former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus played one season of football at Syracuse after graduating from Duke.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ” Stephen said. “So I started doing some research.”
Chatting with his own coach at Maryland, Lefty Driesell, Len Elmore mentioned that Stephen was looking for a place to play basketball. Lefty mentioned that his son Chuck was coaching at The Citadel.
“Stephen was hell-bent on walking on at Maryland,” Len said. “He grew up there and developed a love for all things Terrapin, and (coach) Mark Turgeon was great and promised him a shot. But The Citadel needed someone to step in and contribute, and I think the opportunity to play was better for him there.”
Chuck Driesell has known Stephen since Elmore was a kid, but they formed a bond when Stephen was in high school and Chuck was working for his dad at Maryland.
“We became really close then,” said Stephen, who went to camps and played pick-up games at Maryland’s gym. “He’s still the same guy, still energetic and enthusiastic and passionate.”
Before he could play at The Citadel, though, Stephen had to get in basketball shape. “Stephen has been an athlete, so he was not a mess to work with,” strength coach Jim Kiritsy said. “But as far as running shape goes, he was in a very different type of shape than we needed him in.”
Citadel players must run the mile in less than six minutes to pass their conditioning test, and Elmore first tested at 7:15. After weeks of intense work, Elmore got his time down to 5:52.
“He really took it seriously,” Kiritsy said. “Then we had to get him in practice shape and game shape, and piece by piece he got better and better. Now, he’s in as good a shape as we could hope for.”
With forward C.J. Bray sidelined by ankle problems, Elmore’s minutes have increased. He’s started the last five games, averaging 4.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 23.4 minutes in that stretch.
“His offense will come around,” Chuck Driesell said. “That’s what we need next. We knew he could rebound and help us there. If he can get 6 or 8 points a game, that would be great for us.”
The TV analyst/father, who attends as many games as his schedule allows, would agree with that.
“I just want him to enjoy it,” Len Elmore said. “I told him, don’t let the pressures of the game weigh on you. Just soak it in and enjoy it, because it will be over before you know it.”