College of Charleston's Baru embraces extra attention

College of Charleston's Adjehi Baru (1) drives against Miami's Tonye Jekiri during a game last month in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee),

Even before the ball is passed into the paint, College of Charleston center Adjehi Baru can feel the double-team coming.

Rather than panic, like Baru might have done when he was a freshman or sophomore, the 6-9 senior embraces the double-team nowadays. There's a part of Baru that even welcomes it because if there are two defenders on him, one of his teammates is bound to be open.

While the Cougars have struggled to find consistency on offense, when the ball goes through Baru the end result usually is points.

College of Charleston coach Earl Grant doesn't keep statistics on how often the Cougars score when Baru touches the ball, but he knows that percentages of scoring are higher when the Ivory Coast native becomes involved in the play.

"We talk all the time about getting the ball inside to Adjehi, not just so he can score," said Grant, whose team plays Hofstra on Thursday night at TD Arena.

"When we do get the ball into Adejhi, he's like a vacuum cleaner. He just sucks everyone over to him. Adjehi has made great decisions with the ball all season. He's able to kick the ball out to the other guys for a 3."

For his part, Baru said he's become more patient with the ball. Instead of making the quick pass, Baru will survey the court to find his best option.

"I know I've grown as a player from my freshman year to now," said Baru, who has 15 assists this season. "I've learned how to handle the pressure and then find my teammates. They've done a good job of getting to the open parts of the floor so I can find them."

Anthony Stitt has noticed the difference in Baru over the last two seasons.

"He's matured so much as a player," Stitt said. "He knows how to pass out of a double team now. He knows the right reads and he knows what he's looking for. When the ball gets into the paint and especially when Adjehi gets the ball, our results have been tremendous. When we're getting those inside-out 3s, I know we're knocking down at a pretty high percentage."

He's also playing smarter, Stitt said.

"He's playing with his head more than using his athletic ability to beat guys," Stitt said. "He's been more of a leader this year, being more vocal, and I think that has helped us."

Baru, who had offseason knee surgery, said he is playing pain-free for the first time in more than a year. When he's not on the floor, Baru peddles on a stationary bike at the end of the Cougars bench to keep his knee from stiffening up.

"The knee feels great, I feel great," said Baru, who is averaging 7.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. "Much better than last year. I'm able to play without any soreness."

As one of three seniors on the roster, Baru has started to assert himself.

"We can't have our head down, we have to be strong," Baru said. "We have to have faith that what we're doing is going eventually lead to a win. We can't just hope to win, we have to win. We want to win. We're going through some adversity right now and we've just got to handle it and get through it."