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Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Updated: October 26, 10:11 AM ET
Team preview: Old Dominion

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It's hard to process the irony that Old Dominion nearly throttled Butler's run to the Final Four in the round of 64 last year.

The Monarchs, who made their fourth NCAA Tournament in seven years last season, could easily be considered the nation's best rebounding team -- Old Dominion led the nation in rebound margin (+11.7) and grabbed an astounding 45.3 percent of it own missed shots, tops in the country as well -- but with its three best rebounders under the basket, a pseudo-air ball caromed to Matt Howard, who laid in a buzzer-beating game-winner.

The rest is history.

"It's hard to put into words when you lose and feel like you measured up," said ODU coach Blaine Taylor. "It's hard not to look at that with a little bit of envy and a little bit of what could've been."


Taylor is quick with a quip but is quietly one of the more analytical coaches in the conference. He sees he lost four seniors who represented more than production -- they were leaders and warriors and the core of the program.

It's hard to think that Taylor might be having a few doubts, but he's taking the time to try to work things out. After all, 100 years from now nobody will remember the nuance.

"Virtually every player on our team will be in a different role," he said. "Every season and group of kids fits together and unfolds differently. You can look at it two ways: look back or look ahead. I've learned to look ahead and be invigorated by challenge."

Long-armed senior Kent Bazemore (12.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.9 apg) is about as far from a typical point guard as you will find. The 6-5 lefty may be the best pure athlete in the conference, and he is certainly one of its best defenders -- he earned Defensive Player of the Year and second-team All-CAA honors and returns as the CAA's leading thief (2.2 spg).

Importantly, Bazemore is a gym rat willing to work on his deficiencies. To wit: Bazemore was a combined 18-of-64 (.281) from three-point range his first two seasons, but last year showed he can knock down an open shot, going 31-of-76 (.408) from three.

Bazemore's 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio isn't exactly sparkling, but Taylor knows he has to let his horse run sometimes and live with aggressive errors. However all of those attributes are in peril, as Bazemore suffered a foot injury in a summer league game and isn't expected back until December.

No matter the speed of recovery, the lingering effects may hamper Bazemore's explosion, a critical part of his game. Taylor's assessment of Bazemore's importance looms larger now.

"He has to be more of a contributor across the board in terms of making others better," Taylor said. "He'd better figure out our production and recognize them. For him it's like wearing one shoe around town. He's going to have student body right covering him."

Trian Illiadis (6.0 ppg, 1.4 apg) enters his senior season not the player he was billed to be, but perhaps more valuable. The 6-3 Illiadis was hyped a deadeye shooter and is a former leading scorer for the Australian U20 national team, but his touch has never materialized in a significant manner. His 41 threes last year are more than his previous two seasons combined; but that's not exactly a big number. Last season he shot a solid .347 behind the arc (41-of-118).

Illiadis will have to be that guy that steps up production relative to his minutes -- going from mid-teens to mid-20s. There's good news on that front: Illiadis scored in double figures and made 13-of-23 threes in the four games he played more than 20 minutes.

"He's really expanded his game," Taylor said. "If you watched his defense it improved in areas, he has a nose for the ball, and he makes plays above his physical presence."

The second member of Taylor's step-up team is 6-9 Chris Cooper (5.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg). The senior has provided a basic offensive skill set and grabbed 83 offensive rebounds last year. The challenge this year is to move from creating his own touches to being a post presence.

"Players have sacrificed and shared and are anxious to have the opportunity to contribute in a different way," Taylor said. "Coop not only battled [All-CAA center Frank] Hassell, but he watched him and talked to him. That, we expect, will pay off."

Marquel De Lancey (1.9 ppg, 1.1 apg) has always been a harassing defender and quick. He's also carried the stigma of being limited offensively, but the limiting factor may have been his opportunity. The 6-0 senior point guard is like Cooper in that he's patiently waited his turn.

De Lancey didn't shoot much his first two seasons, and when he did there was usually a loud clanging noise. However last season he hit half his threes (6-of-12).

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"Marquel is stout and strong and never complained [about playing time]," Taylor said. "You could tell he was chomping at the bit, and he's going to get a chance."

There is a sort of a historical figure on this year's team, 6-4 Donte Hill (1.4 ppg, 0.6 rpg in 2009-10). Hill will be eligible to play after the first semester because he transferred to ODU from Clemson, the first transfer to play for Taylor in his 10 years at ODU.

That said, Hill, a sophomore, is the kind of player that has been in Taylor's team picture since he was coaching Montana. Hill is big (205 pounds) and physical and can defend multiple positions. While Hill has a way to go on offense, he can fill a void at the 2/3 position for Taylor.

"I'd be surprised if he doesn't step into a game action and find a role," Taylor said.

Junior Nick Wright (1.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg) is a bouncy, lean, hard-working athlete on the baseline. The 6-8 Wright is a jolt of energy and the kind of player that goes into a game and things start happening. Wright scored eight points in 10 minutes in the Xavier win.

Denmark native Anton Larsen (1.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg) is Taylor's latest international project. Even though he played just 12 games and has a way to go, Larsen, a sophomore, stands a noticeable 7-0.

During the summer Taylor did something else brand new: he brought in a junior college transfer. Junior Nayquann Mitchell stands 6-8 and is a lean 200 pounds. Mitchell averaged 12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 5.4 bpg at Lon Morris in Texas.

The ODU Way annually provides a redshirt or two, and last year's redshirts are expected to jump in and contribute as freshmen.

Both Dimitri Batten and Richard Ross are Blaine Taylor's kind of player. Batten is a 6-3 combo guard who gets after it on defense and has natural skills the coaching staff can develop. Ross stands 6-7 and may be a better athlete than Bazemore -- he high-jumped 6-10 to finish second in the Texas state high school track championships.

"They both have a certain level of athleticism that's fetching, but how fast they can step onto the court in their first college game is the barometer," Taylor said. "But the fact is that our young players are going to have to take the court most every night, and some nights at critical junctures."

The two true freshmen face an uphill battle, but Jason Pimentel has a chance to play early because of ODUs frontcourt needs and his high-energy, rebound-focused game. Pimentel is a 6-8 forward who played at Montverde (Fla.) Academy for former ODU assistant Kevin Sutton.

Breon Key is a 6-2 guard and a local product from Hampton's Phoebus High School. He fits the Taylor mold of having natural offensive skills but is a better defender at this point in his development.



The natural observation is that Old Dominion is in trouble. After all, the Monarchs graduated four seniors who were the guts of the program and return only one proven player along with several others who make ODU fans cross their fingers.

But consider the 2006-07 team lost four valuable seniors, including this year's director of basketball operations Drew Williamson, and returned a similar team construction. What happened? The Monarchs won 12 conference games, 25 overall and the CBI championship.

Taylor's system is more a matter of feeding the machine.

"The fact is that we've done it and we know what it takes to do it again," Taylor said. "We have to build it again the way we do it here at ODU. It's the character of the kids and of the program."

Size at every position has been a hallmark of Taylor's, but he understands that "you can't teach size" applies even when you don't seem to have it.

"I like size, but speed and skill are important ingredients," he said. "At times we'll be an alter ego of what we've been in the past, but we've always played a variety of lineups. The divergence of method of attack during the course of 40 minutes is something we should embrace. I think we can be good."

And Taylor has set a high bar for good in Norfolk.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at or call 1-877-807-4857.