Stepping into the starting point guard role was as much necessity as it was opportunity for Hampton sophomore Russell “Deuce” Dean.
Graduations already set the stage for Dean’s new starting role but a season-ending injury to backup point guard Amir Nesbitt meant Dean’s minutes would be inflated to the max.
Dean, a 6-foot-4 native of Columbia, S.C., leads the Big South Conference in minutes at 36.6 per game while guiding the Pirates to a 3-4 record with two straight wins ahead of a back-to-back against Gardner-Webb on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Deuce is a general,” Hampton coach Buck Joyner said. “He runs the show.”
And for a fresh full-time starter, he’s run it well. Dean’s assist-turnover ratio (1.8) - a vital stat for a point guard’s efficiency - ranks second in the conference but it’s his 11.3 points per game that have been a pleasant surprise.
Dean scored the winning jumper with 1.3 seconds left in a 70-68 win against Charleston Southern to finish with a career-high 19 points.
“I’m not gonna say I didn’t know he could score the ball as well as he can but at the end of the day he’ll do what the teams needs,” Joyner said. “I like the way he’s matured his sophomore year with us not having backup. The more we put on his back the better he’s coming out.”
Only 3-point maven Chris Shelton (12.4) and senior Davion Warren (17.6) average more points per game than Dean.
Warren was the team’s highest returning scorer from a season ago and Joyner knew Warren’s production would be a cornerstone to the team’s success this year with so many new faces.
With each successive game, Warren has improved. In the season-opening win against George Washington, Warren matched a career high with 20 points before eclipsing that two games later with 21 points and finally scoring 29 points in the Pirates’ latest victory over Charleston Southern.
“He was one of the guys we would need to make a big jump this year,” Joyner said. “He’s learning a new role and it’s a no-excuse role. He has to do a little bit of everything. We’re happy the way he’s filing up the stat sheet.”
Warren has contributed everywhere with top-10 conference ranks in scoring (fourth), rebounds (sixth) and steals (first).
Perhaps the most vital aspect to Hampton’s team success is defense. In the four games Hampton was outrebounded, the Pirates are 0-4. Hampton won the rebounding margin in two wins and tied in the third.
“As long as we can hold teams to one shot at the basket we like our chances,” Joyner said.
Shot blocking has skyrocketed thanks to Old Dominion transfer Dajour Dickens, the 7-foot former Bethel standout who leads the Big South in shot denials. The Pirates also rank second in steals.
“For the defense, yeah it’s technique but it’s also the will to defend,” Joyner said. “You have to be arrogant on defense and our guys are learning to be arrogant on the defensive side of the court. ... Dickens allows us to become more aggressive because we know he’s behind us. We’ve never played with a guy his size and that mobile.”
The Pirates are still adjusting to their new pieces, a period Joyner said in preseason could last until the conference tournament. But a potential 4-0 conference start is a good omen.
“We’re kind of still evaluating,” Joyner said. “Guys are getting in better shape, guys are learning about each other and the new guys are still learning our system.”
Ray Nimmo, 757-446-2364, email@example.com