Sophomore Tre Demps starts every game the same way. He arrives about an hour and 45 minutes before the game to get taped up, then spends some time reading the Bible. Once he prepares his “heart to go out there and play for God’s glory,” he’s ready to start his pregame shoot-around.
He’s done that before every game this year. But at the beginning of Big Ten play, it wasn’t working. In the first two conference games, he was averaging only 4.5 points per game and 26.5 minutes on the court.
And coming off their third straight loss – the second in a row by more than 20 points – Demps and the rest of the basketball team met to discuss what was happening to their season. Michigan had just beaten them by 23, and the game before, against Wisconsin at home, wasn’t even competitive.
“They could have won by 60 if they wanted to,” head coach Chris Collins said.
That meeting wasn’t like normal meetings, though. In it, every player had a chance to express his concerns about anything he was thinking. At that point, they were 0-2 in Big Ten games, and some observers were even predicting them to go winless in conference play.
“We basically said that win or lose, we wanted to go into the locker room and say that we fought and that we gave it everything we had,” Demps said. “We felt we hadn’t done that up to that point.”
Senior Drew Crawford, one of the team leaders and the leading scorer, said they "found out how to win collectively as a team." That signaled a turning point.
For Collins, it was a way to see where everyone was and give people a chance to speak their mind, knowing they would be supported by their teammates.
“Some guys were angry, some guys were sad, some guys were frustrated, there was a range of emotions,” Collins said. “The common thing that we all realized, though, was that everybody in the room really cared. Nobody wanted to see the season fall by the wayside. Whatever it took, we wanted to make something of this year.”
The results of that meeting weren’t immediate – they lost to Iowa by 26 the next game – but they were tangible. After the game against Iowa, they were able to pull off major upsets and have won five of their last eight games, including a big win at Wisconsin. The whole team turned up the intensity and fight in each game, but none more so than Demps. Since that meeting, he’s now averaging more than 11 points per game, and is being rewarded for his success with more minutes.
“Tre has made unbelievable strides this year in terms of his offensive game, his defense, his ability to pass the ball, and then knocking down shots to end the game,” Crawford said. “Tre has stepped up big time.”
Opposing teams have taken notice. After playing against Demps Saturday, Cornhuskers’ coach Tim Miles said that he was game planning to make sure Demps didn’t get the ball.
Despite the loss to Nebraska, he continues his upward trend. The future is bright for this sophomore. Those pregame Bible verses seem to have been preparing his heart well for those last-second shots. Now, he’s the one getting the ball at the end of games, the one willing to take the game-deciding shots. And lately, he’s been nailing them.
“It’s just confidence,” he said. “I know the coaching staff believes in me, the players believe in me. It’s something that you’ve always dreamed about as a kid, taking those shots.”