DII basketball: Father's coaching prepared West Liberty's David Dennis Jr. for stardom
Three years ago, David Dennis made what proved to be a beneficial transition when he switched high schools in suburban Columbus, Ohio, so that he could spend his junior and senior seasons playing basketball for his father.
He left his mother’s home and Hilliard Darby High School to live with his father and attend Harvest Prep. In two seasons at his new school, Dennis was named his district’s co-player of the year and player of the year, respectively, while leading the Warriors to consecutive state final four appearances.
While all that is fine and dandy, none of it would have mattered much, or perhaps taken place, had Dennis not adhered to what was a basic tenet preached by Lori and David Sr.: Education comes first.
Dennis understood that and proceeded to maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout high school. Now a sophomore point guard at West Liberty (West Virginia), the No. 1 ranked Division II team in the country, he is sporting a 3.8 GPA and recently switched majors from sports management to athletic administration and coaching.
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“My mom and dad were always on me, starting in elementary school and through high school, to stay on top of my grades,” he said. “They always told me that God is first, family is second and if I am not doing well in school they would not let me play basketball. My parents have always been strict on me to keep my grades up and if I don’t there are going to be consequences. I accepted the fact I have to sacrifice some of the time that I have with my friends. When I am not on the court I have to spend time with schoolwork and when I am done with that I can hang out with teammates and do whatever college students do.”
Dennis benefitted greatly from a closer relationship with his father during his two years at Harvest Prep. It’s not that they were not close when he was living was his mother. Rather, living with and playing for his father meant the two were together an awful lot, especially during the season.
Sure, it may not have always been the smoothest of rides. After all, David Sr. was David Jr.’s coach and he treated his son like any another player. But those two years set him up nicely for the current chapter in his life.
“It could be hard because there were times when it was like, ‘Hey, you’re yelling at me. I am your son and you are not going to yell at me,’” he said. “But there were times when I could look over at the bench for help knowing that he was right there and was always going to have my back. I really appreciate what he has done for me. We have a very close relationship and he has taught me everything I know.”
Much of what he learned on the hardwood from his father carried over to his freshman season with the Hilltoppers, who advanced to the semifinals under Jim Crutchfield, now in his 13th year at West Liberty.
Dennis, who enjoys coaching up youths at summer basketball camps back home in Ohio, was the Mountain East Conference freshman of the year after starting all 35 games and averaging 14.0 points while placing second in the conference in assists (5.8) and steals (1.9). The 6-foot,180-pounder was also second on the team in rebounds with 5.7.
“That meant a lot coming in here as a freshman and being able to step on the floor with the guys,” he said of the freshman honors. “My teammates took me under their wing and accepted the fact that I was going to be the starting point guard. They put up with the good and the bad because as a freshman there were some bad turnovers and I wasn’t on the right page at times. As the season went along I kept progressing and by tournament time I was where I wanted to be and playing my best basketball.”
Through seven games this season Dennis is right on last year’s average of 14.0 points to go with 6.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals. The Hilltoppers (7-0, 3-0 MEC) were averaging an eye-opening 106.8 points through their first six games before a 67-64 win over visiting conference foe Shepherd on Wednesday.
West Liberty has another big MEC test when they host No. 11 Fairmont State (6-0, 2-0) Sunday on ASN. Last season, the Hilltoppers took both games from the Fighting Falcons by a combined nine points and Dennis is expecting another battle this time around.
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“I am expecting a dogfight,” he said. “We expect a very up-tempo, high-paced and intense game and we know the place is going to be sold out. We know they will push the ball, press us and look to score just as much as we will. So I am expecting a very high scoring game and it will be a heavyweight match.”