J.D. Powell was in the parking lot of Staples on James Island when he got the phone call.
On the other line was Matt Van Scyoc, a high school senior Powell had been recruiting for months. Van Scyoc was trying to reach Chuck Driesell, to tell The Citadel basketball coach that he wanted to be a Bulldog.
“I couldn’t help myself. I let out a yell right there in the parking lot,” said Powell, a Citadel assistant coach.
“I’m surprised they didn’t call the police. It was one of the best days of my professional career.”
More than a year after Van Scyoc, a 6-6 forward from Green Lake, Wis., made his commitment to The Citadel — choosing the Bulldogs from among 15 Division I scholarship offers — it’s becoming apparent why Citadel coaches celebrated that day.
Van Scyoc (pronounced “Van Soyk”) has established himself as a candidate for freshman of the year in the Southern Conference.
A starter from the first game of the season, Van Scoyc is averaging 11.7 points and shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range. A recent surge — 15.6 points per game and 40.1 percent shooting over a seven-game stretch — coincided with improved play from the 4-14 Bulldogs, who host Wofford today at McAlister Field House.
“We knew he was a special player and would fit in well with what we are trying to do here,” Driesell said.
All of which begs the question: What is Matt Van Scyoc doing at The Citadel?
“The opportunity,” said Van Scyoc, who had offers from Nevada, Illinois-Chicago and Army, among others. “I really wanted to go someplace where I could make a difference. The Citadel is one of the few schools that has never been to the NCAA tournament.
“Winning hasn’t happened a lot here, and to be able to help them do that, that would be big for me.”
Citadel coaches found Van Scyoc in their effort to recruit Wisconsin and Minnesota, states with a lot of players but few Division I schools.
“After (the universities of) Wisconsin and Minnesota pick the ones they want, there are a lot of players left over,” Driesell said. “A lot of the Division II schools in that area are very good, because they are getting D-I players. So we think that area can be good for us.”
Powell spotted Van Scyoc playing center for an AAU team at an evaluation event in Milwaukee. He ended up making nine trips to Wisconsin over the summer and in Van Scyoc’s senior year.
At one point, Powell sent Van Scyoc — and 11 members of his family and circle of friends — a note every day for 30 days in a row, touting the advantages of The Citadel.
“Matt was heavily recruited,” Driesell said. “But not so heavily recruited that we couldn’t get in on him. We really worked hard to develop a relationship with he and his family, and I think they saw what The Citadel could do for him in the future.”
The Citadel saw what Van Scyoc could do right away as he scored 18 points in his college debut, a win over VMI. But in the next game, he had no points and six turnovers in a loss to Air Force, and the learning curve began.
And it continues. After scoring 17 points in a 73-69 loss to College of Charleston on Jan. 14, he found himself a marked man in the rematch. The Cougars never left Van Scyoc to double-team another Bulldog, and he scored just four points on 2 of 8 shooting in a 69-54 C of C win.
But Van Syoc bounced back with 20 points in Saturday’s loss to Elon, though he missed 5 of 6 from 3-point range. He showed a mid-range game, hitting 6 of 8 inside the arc, and got to the foul line six times. Consistent production is the next step, he knows.
“I’ve psyched myself out before some games this year,” Van Scyoc said. “Air Force, Georgia Tech, Davidson … Sometimes I get too antsy and put too much pressure on myself, and that’s when I mess up. I’m learning to deal with the pressure and calm down a little bit.”