UB basketball hopes Davonta Jordan can fill former point guard Lamonte Bearden’s shoes
When Lamonte Bearden texted UB men’s basketball head coach Nate Oats during the summer that he wanted to meet about next year, Oatssaid he figured “he wanted to talk about our team.”
When Bearden walked into the meeting with Oats and new assistant coach Lindsey Hunter, he told them he wanted to transfer from the program.
It wasn’t the first time Bearden flirted with the idea of transferring. He nearly transferred after his freshman season when former coach Bobby Hurley left the program, according to Oats.
“Some people just aren’t happy anywhere they’re at to be honest with you,” Oats said. “At some point you’ve got to not beg somebody to stay here if they think the grass is greener elsewhere, I think he’s figured out maybe it isn’t.”
Bearden wanted to go pro and he told Oats he “had to make a decision for himself this time.”
At the time, Oats had just brought in Hunter, a 17-year NBA veteran, to help work with the players, specifically the guards.
Oats said he harbors no ill will toward Bearden and still thinks he’s a good kid, but had an issue with the fact that Bearden didn’t announce his decision to transfer until July. Oats said Bearden originally told him he was staying after the 2015-16 season.
Most transfers typically announce their decision by April. Bearden was UB’s leading scorer last season, averaging 13.7 points per game. His late decision left the team with a major hole at the point guard spot and little time to fill it.
Meanwhile, down in Florida, Davonta Jordan, a talented young point guard who had just graduated high school, found himself looking for a school late in the summer.
Jordan was initially deemed ineligible for the 2016-17 season because he scored poorly on his first SAT, according to UB assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Bryan Hodgson. However, after Jordan transferred to the highly regarded Montverde Academy for his senior year, he was able to raise his grade. It was the same high school that produced top NBA draft picks Joel Embiid, D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons.
“He got the score so late, a lot of people didn’t know that he was qualified,” Hodgson said. “If he was qualified early he would have had a million different options.”
Buffalo didn’t even have Jordan on their radar until Bearden left the program. In July, a friend of Hodgson’s told him to check Jordan out.
“It happened really quick, it was kind of like a three-week deal,” Hodgson said.
Jordan was the 30th ranked point guard recruit in the country and ninth best recruit at any position in the state of Florida in his class, according to ESPN Recruiting. In 2014, ESPN ranked Bearden the 28th best point guard in his class, making him the highest graded recruit to ever choose UB at the time.
Had Bearden de-committed in the spring rather than the summer, it’s unlikely Buffalo still would have had an open scholarship, or a point guard position, by the time Jordan became eligible.
“If Lamonte hadn’t left, we wouldn’t have Davonta and honestly, it may have worked out better anyway because Davonta’s really good,” Oats said. “I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player here.”
A huge part of Jordan’s decision to come to Buffalo was to have the opportunity to run Oats’ fast-paced offense, he said. Buffalo played at the 32nd fastest adjusted tempo in Division-I last season, according to kenpom.com and Oats has made it clear he doesn’t plan on changing his offensive philosophy.
Jordan doesn’t seem too worried about keeping up.
“I’ve played at a fast pace my whole life,” Jordan said. “This was the perfect fit to bring me out and let me go.”
Jordan shares certain traits with Bearden. Both are athletic, quick and have great ability to finish at the rim. But the coaching staff and Jordan feel there is one significant difference between the two.
“I play defense,” Jordan said jokingly. “We can both go to the rack, both finish, both make others around us better, so just the defensive part that’s better.”
The coaching staff feels Jordan is more physical on both sides of the floor and plays harder. He is expected to be an upgrade from Bearden defensively.
Offensively, however, he may endure some growing pains. As with any freshman point guard, specifically in such a fast-paced offense, turnovers may be an issue as he adjusts to the college level early. But the coaching staff is confident Jordan will progress quickly.
“The biggest thing is not just the skill, but...the work ethic,” Hodgson said. “That’s something that he brings every day and that’s the one constant. There’s days where he turns the ball over, days where he doesn’t shoot it well, but he constantly brings the effort and the right attitude.”
Jordan hopes that his more physical, hard-nosed style of play can lead Buffalo to new heights that they didn’t achieve under Bearden, who led the team to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
“Everyone says, ‘Monte did this, Monte did that,’ but I’m a different type of player, so hopefully what I bring to the table will get us farther than where Monte got us,” Jordan said.
Jordan won’t be alone in running the offense this year.
Senior forward Blake Hamilton is expected to run the point for stretches offensively this year. Sophomore guard CJ Massinburg is also expected to get minutes at point guard once he returns from his absence with mononucleosis. Sophomore transfer guard Dontay Caruthers is another player who should get some minutes at point guard, although the coaching staff seems to regard him as more of an off guard.
Jordan won’t be expected to carry the load by himself but Oats is hoping he can play key minutes for the team at the one as the season goes on. Oats suggested he may manage Jordan’s minutes similarly to how he managed Massinburg’s last year, keeping him on the floor in crunch time, even though he often came off the bench.
“Even if he ends up not starting, I think we need him to play heavy minutes for us and be in the rotation,” Oats said. “The starting lineup will be in flux for a while here… last year, sometimes the starters, often times the starters didn’t finish the game and I think it’s more important who finishes the game.”
Jordan is the only true point guard on the roster and if things work out as Oats hopes, Jordan will be in full command the Bulls’ fast-paced offense by season’s end, just as Bearden once was.
Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org