Jan 6, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Often in life, when one door closes, another swings wide open.
Such is the case for Saluki junior forward Davante Drinkard, who has been thrust into the starting lineup for Southern Illinois for the first time in more than a year. Drinkard has started the last two games in place of Dantiel Daniels, who will be out another week or so with an ankle sprain.
The 20-year-old Drinkard has taken full advantage of his opportunity, playing a career-high 28 minutes against Bradley last Wednesday and 24 minutes at Evansville on Saturday. He scored 15 points in the two games on 7-of-12 shooting from the field.
A seasoned veteran on this SIU squad, Drinkard has played in 60 career games and made 20 starts. Only senior Kendal Brown-Surles has played in more games in a Saluki uniform.
Davante Drinkard has scored 15 points in his two starts this season.
That's not to say Drinkard hasn't had his share of adversity since arriving at Southern. Although he played every game as a true freshman, he was never fully healthy, less than a year removed from breaking his right foot and ankle during his senior year of high school. Then last season, Drinkard missed the first six games of the season due to academics, and wound up playing 15 games before sustaining a stress fracture in his left foot that ended his season.
On the bright side, the 6-foot-9 Drinkard said his feet are much improved.
"My feet actually feel very good -- I don't have any pain in my feet right now," said Drinkard, prior to his start versus Bradley. "This is as good as I've felt in years. I'm actually 100 percent right now. I'm back on top of my game."
Until Daniels' injury, Drinkard had played a supporting role, averaging about 12 minutes per game. He pointed out that this is essentially the third different coaching staff he's played for since coming to SIU.
"My freshman year, I got so accustomed to those assistant coaches (Lance Irvin and Marcus Belcher), because they're the ones who brought me in, and at the end of the year, they were released," Drinkard explained. "The next year, I really didn't get much chance to know coach (Ron) Smith and coach (Anthony) Stewart. Now with a new staff, we're still learning to get adjusted to the new coaches."
One area where Drinkard has noticed a change is in the area of discipline.
"Last year, we had a certain group of guys who could be late to practices, and no one ever said anything," he said. "This year, one day when we had breakfast in Utah, a guy was late, and Coach (Barry) Hinson sent him back to his room, wouldn't let him eat."
The same philosophy applies on the court as well, Drinkard said.
"I felt like some guys were above others because of their stats in the games," he said. "Now, no matter how many points you score, we're all the same. For instance with Dez (Jackson), he's our best player and leading scorer, but if he doesn't guard his man, he's coming out of the game. Same thing with Jeff (Early). If coach feels he's taking bad shots and just going for his points, he's taking him out. He's not going to let guys go out and do their own thing."
Drinkard said he's not surprised with the team's 7-7 record -- already one victory shy of last year's win total.
"I actually thought we'd have a few more wins by now," he said. "We looked at our schedule and figured we'd have a pretty good chance to win these games. There's not any game we've played that we're not capable of winning."
He also said his academic situation is on solid ground. Drinkard said his struggles during the second semester of his freshman year were an aberration.
"There was a lot going on in my life and I wasn't taking it as seriously as I should have," he explained. "School-work and grades have never been an issue for me my entire life. It was part of growing up. I was out here on my own, I was young and made a lot of immature mistakes."
Drinkard has simple goals for the remainder of his career at Southern.
"I want to develop as a person, get a degree and graduate," he said. "If I'm able, I'd like to play overseas, but if not, I'm ready to get into the workforce and start my life. I'm really good with math and accounting and I'd like to go back to Atlanta and maybe work for AT&T."