Although it appears that Luke Devlin is the forgotten man on the University at Albany basketball team, the junior forward would like to think that he’s still playing a vital role behind the scenes in the team’s strong start.
The 9-2 Great Danes host Quinnipiac in a non-conference game tonight at 7 at SEFCU Arena. Devlin, a starter in seasons past, has played sparingly so far this season, but he may see more action tonight against the Braves, who feature a larger front court.
Devlin, a 6-foot-8 native of Sydney, Australia, is averaging only 9.5 minutes per game, and produces just 1.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.
That’s a stark contrast to his freshman campaign, when, as a member of the America East Conference All-Rookie team, he averaged 7.4 points and 6.9 rebounds, which was sixth-best in the conference. He started 31 of 32 games, and connected on 32 shots from beyond the arc.
Devlin had back surgery the summer before his sophomore season, but he still averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds while starting 29 of 32 games. A knee injury curtailed his playing time in the second half of last season.
The Great Danes’ coaching staff hoped Devlin would return to his freshman-season form this year, but that hasn’t been the case, so far.
“It’s been frustrating, so far, from a personal standpoint, but I’m trying to maintain my focus,” said Devlin. “I want to be playing more and contributing, but I’m happy, because we’re 9-2, and I just want to do everything I can to help this team win.”
Devlin admitted that his strong rookie season raised expectations for his career.
“I played more than I thought I would as a freshman,” he said. “I had the freedom to shoot plenty of three-pointers, and my shooting touch was pretty good. But the back injury set me back longer than I expected it would. The good thing is that we have plenty of depth with our bigs now. John Puk is playing well, Blake [Metcalf] is playing well and so is Sam Rowley. It’s hard to get back in the rotation.”
As one of four captains, Devlin is trying to contribute in other ways.
“I really try to keep the focus up in practice. I’m very vocal in practice, and I try to get the guys to play as hard as they can every day,” he said.
But Devlin still is hoping for a larger role in actual games.
“I’d like to find my consistency again with my shooting stroke,” he said.
UAlbany head coach Will Brown believes that Devlin will once again be a factor for the Great Danes.
“He’s been playing very well in practice lately,” Brown said. “The trouble is that he’s not making anything outside the paint. He’s thinking about his game too much right now, and since he’s struggling from the perimeter, he’s trying to do more at the basket. That’s fine, but we thought he would be able to stretch the defense more with his perimeter game.
“The good thing is that Luke plays hard all the time. He’s working hard. He’s been a leader for us. But he’s a thinker, and he needs to stay confident.”
Brown understands why it’s taking Devlin more time than anticipated to return to form.
“That back surgery was the key. I wouldn’t want anybody poking around in my back,” he said. “What happened with the combination of his back surgery and knee problems last year is that he’s lost a step. Now, he needs to be more of a center, in terms of his role for us. It’s not uncommon to lose a step after that kind of surgery. If he finds his game, he definitely makes us a better team.
“As a freshman, he was always in the right place at the right time defensively. I think he’ll get more minutes, but I don’t want to force it. He’s an all-world kid, and his work ethic is through the roof and off the charts.”
Even without Devlin playing a major role, the Great Danes have plenty of firepower. Senior guard Mike Black and fifth-year senior guard Jacob Iati lead the team in scoring at 17.5 and 16.3 ppg, respectively, and they are getting strong play from Rowley and Peter Hooley off the bench. The Danes, ranked 20th in the latest College Insider Top 25 Mid-Major poll, are 4-0 at home and have won six straight.
Quinnipiac (3-6) has four starters back from last year’s team that won 19 games. Former UAlbany assistant coach Eric Eaton is now an assistant coach for the Bobcats, while current UAlbany assistant coach Jon Iati is a former assistant coach for the Bobcats.
Ike Azotam, a 6-7 forward, leads the Bobcats in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (9.4) while former Vermont standout Garvey Young is next at 10.3 ppg.
“They are a tremendous rebounding team,” said Brown of the Bobcats. “They are very good off the glass. They have three good bigs who are physical. It will come down to toughness. We need to be ball-getters and be physical against them to win.”