Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
From his very first game at La Salle, Tyreek Duren has only needed to be himself.
That first on-court appearance as an Explorer, against Columbia back in November 2010, netted Duren eight points and nine assists, not bad at all for the guard who coach Dr. John Giannini was entrusting at point guard for the next four seasons. Always calm and under control, Duren provided stability and leadership from day one, averaging 9.8 points and 4.4 assists per game in that first year.
Since then, not too much has changed.
Duren, a six-foot tall Philadelphia native and graduate of Neumann-Goretti High School in South Philly, has been as steady as they come for the Explorers over the last two-plus years. Now in his junior season, he’s doing something he hasn’t done too often on Olney Avenue–lead the team in scoring.
The only player to score in double-figures through La Salle’s first five games, Duren’s averaging a career-high 16.4 ppg to lead the Explorers so far this year. His best effort so far came on Thursday night in Lawrenceville, N.J., when he connected on all six of his shots (including two 3-pointers), adding in six free-throws for a game-high 20 points in a win against Rider.
“Scoring has never been, that’s never been me,” Duren said afterwards. “My coaches tell you I just play within the rhythm of the game, so if I score, I score but everybody knows I look to pass the ball first. But at the end of the game, Coach G always tells me and (Galloway) to get the ball, so I think that has a lot to do with it.”
Duren’s assist numbers had dropped from 4.4 per game his freshman season to 4.0 in his sophomore year to just 3.0 apg entering play against Rider, but in his best scoring effort since March (and seventh 20-point effort at La Salle), he dished out a season-high six assists as well.
“To me, he’s been playing the same; a little bit more aggressive,” said Ramon Galloway, second on the team in scoring at 15.6 ppg. “That’s what you have to do, you have to be more aggressive because most of the time, the ball is in our hand…at the end of the shot clock, Coach G’s telling us to go get the ball and try to make a play for others, not even ourselves–but if it’s open, take it.”
That aggressiveness has paid off in getting Duren to the free-throw line, where he’s averaging 7.6 free-throw attempts per game–that’s more than double his average of 3.7 in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“He just works hard in the offseason and every year he comes back a little bit stronger, a little bit quicker, a little more confident, a little smarter and he just keeps getting better because he loves basketball,” Giannini said.
Galloway–a transfer from South Carolina in his second year at La Salle–was the second-leading scorer on the team last year (14.1 ppg) behind now-graduated Earl Pettis, who was also a transfer (Rutgers). Duren averaged 13.2 ppg last season, and with a team that also includes junior Sam Mills (10.6 ppg as a sophomore), he wasn’t exactly expected to score as much as he has been due to the increased workloads of forwards Jerrell Wright (12.4 ppg) and Steve Zack (7.4 ppg).
“(Duren’s) been playing great and I’m just trying to feed off him, keep the energy up with the team and just keep it moving,” Galloway said.
Looking at Duren’s advanced stats on KenPom.com, Duren has been remarkably consistent through his three seasons. He’s never committed many fouls, has always been a half-decent 3-point shooter (36.1 percent for his career) and good defender, averaging 1.7 steals per game for his career. He looks the same out on the court as he did in that first game, but the standard for his play has just gotten a little higher each year.
“He’s a better version of Tyreek,” Giannini said. “He plays the exact same way, he’s not trying to score any more. He’ll take whatever the defense gives him.”