Old Dominion's Batten begins to realize potential

NORFOLK — Dimitri Batten can be an exceptional player. He believes it, his teammates believe it, his coaches believe it. Now comes the hard part.

Directed effort is the bridge between belief and result, a bridge that Old Dominion's 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman guard builds one day at a time.

"When you're getting something out of a guy, you want more, and we're getting something out of Dimitri," ODU coach Blaine Taylor said. "If he wants more, too, then we've got a chance to continue to make strides."

Batten, who prepped at Kecoughtan High and before that at Heritage, has provided a tantalizing debut. He is the Monarchs' No. 4 scorer, averaging 9.3 points per game, as they prepare for Saturday's game against Central Florida in Orlando.

In various games, he has led the Monarchs (5-4) in scoring, assists and steals. He grabbed nine rebounds in one game from the guard position.

"I want to get to the point where I'm getting those kind of numbers every game," Batten said. "I need to bring as much enthusiasm as I can, be the spark of the team. Bring energy to the team. Just keep playing the way I am and get better."

'Want-to' isn't the issue with Batten. He and the ODU coaches agree that consistent, focused effort will get him where he wants to go. When the motivation becomes more internal than external, so much the better.

"Dimitri has learned some stuff by virtue of the redshirt year," Taylor said. "He was a loooong way from being able to step on the court last year. Everything was a transition to college, as much as anything the workload.

"Things have always kind of come (easily) to Dimitri. He's been able to succeed, so the extra workload was probably the biggest transition. He still has problems with keeping his motor running, conditioning, concentration at times. But I have to remind myself at times, he's still a freshman."

Taylor has ridden Batten relentlessly this season — privately and publicly, critically and in jest. A couple of weeks back, Taylor said in postgame remarks, with Batten seated alongside him, that when the freshman gets winded and loses focus, "he looks like a lava lamp out there."

"I don't take it personally," Batten said, "because all he tries to do is test me to see how I'm going to adjust to it — if I'm going to say something back to him or I'm going to push through it and keep playing. It's a matter of him pushing me through stuff, seeing how I'm going to react and what I'm going to do."

Senior guard Kent Bazemore, who knows a thing or two about being the object of Taylor's attention, said, "If he stops talking to you, that's when you should worry. If he's on you, that means he cares a lot about you and he sees a lot in you."

Like Batten, Bazemore redshirted and benefited greatly from the extra year to acclimate himself to college and the college game.

"The benefits were me getting into better condition and being smarter, on and off the court, getting my grades right," Batten said. "Seeing how fast-paced the game is. Learning the plays. Also getting a bond with all the coaches."

Batten has had to contribute for a team that lost three starters and a key reserve off of teams that won the past two CAA tournaments and went to the NCAA tournament. In addition, the Monarchs' roster has been in even greater flux because of Bazemore's recovery from summer foot surgery and the end-of-semester additions of transfer Donte Hill and redshirt freshman Richard Ross.

"We've had to put a little more stress on his development because of injuries and being shorthanded," Taylor said. "How Dimitri fits into the team as we move forward will be interesting, as will the rest of the roster."

Batten is the Monarchs' most consistent shooter at the moment, both overall (.449) and from 3-point range (.400) — significant for a player who came to school with the reputation that he couldn't shoot.

In the Monarchs' second game, a 77-69 win versus Long Island, Batten was the leading scorer with 16 points. Against Howard, he hit back-to-back 3-pointers that pushed ODU's tentative four-point lead to a 10-point cushion in an eventual 53-43 win.

After a disheartening 65-63 home loss to Vermont, Taylor implored his team to provide rebounding help for Chris Cooper — periodically plagued by foul trouble. Against East Carolina, Batten grabbed nine rebounds to go along with his team-high 18 points in a 63-58 grinder of a win.

Batten recorded five steals in ODU's most satisfying road win of the season, a 69-59 effort at Northeastern. He handed out a team-high five assists in the Monarchs' 59-51 loss at Fairfield.

Hill and Ross are expected to be available Saturday at Central Florida. This week was the first time this season that the Monarchs could prepare as if their expected full roster was available.

"We're making progress every day," Batten said, "but we can get much better. We're not even halfway through the season. If we keep practicing hard every day, by the end we can be one of the best teams in the CAA — if not the best."

For that to happen, Batten must continue the career arc he's begun.

"Once Coach Taylor gets his hands on him and molds him into the kind of player he wants him to be," Bazemore said, "the sky's the limit for that kid."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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