East Xtra: Cottrell playing key role for IUP


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The IUP men's basketball roster reads like a veritable who's who among world globetrotters ... players from four states and from as far away as Australia, France and Uruguay.

One player hails from much closer to home, however, and is contributing to the nationally ranked Crimson Hawks in a big way.

Gateway High School graduate Devon Cottrell is a starting forward for IUP and has helped his team to a 7-0 start, 3-0 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West, and a No. 7 ranking in the NCAA Division II polls.

"We've just been playing really well on both ends, defensively and offensively," he said. "It's just being in the right spot, helping each other on help defense, passing the ball."

And blocking the ball.

Cottrell, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound redshirt sophomore, has found his niche in the IUP defense and it's making opponents think twice about shooting anywhere near this talented forward.

"Devon was a great shot-blocker in high school but he's got a good defensive awareness," IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. "He has great mental speed, meaning he can see things happen before they happen.

"[Shot-blocking] becomes a mental thing. The thing with Devon is he doesn't pick up a lot of fouls blocking shots either. He stays down and doesn't go for a lot of shot fakes. His timing is really good in that area."

In his first season of collegiate basketball last year, Cottrell led IUP with 25 blocks, finishing tied for 12th in blocks in the PSAC. This season this Monroeville resident already has 16 through seven games and ranks fifth in the conference.

"It's probably the favorite part of my game, blocking shots," Cottrell said. "It helps out on defense because even if you're not there in time and you get them to pump fake, it gives you time to recover and your teammates time to recover and then you can still block it. If they didn't pump fake, you wouldn't have had time to recover.

"It's really just natural, you time it. When you've been around the game long enough, you get a timing for it."

Cottrell has been around the game ... and excelling at it ... for a long time.

A four-year starter at Gateway, Cottrell was the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,170 points until Tyler Scott broke the record in 2012. His efforts landed him on the Post-Gazette's Fabulous 5 team and caught the eye of Lombardi, who is in his eighth season at IUP after a stint as assistant coach at Pitt from 2003-06.

"Devon is doing a lot of things well. Defensively, he's an above average defender. He's been a great rebounder so far, especially with his minutes played. He's averaging 20 minutes played and he's at 8 rebounds, which is a really high number for that amount of time.

"Offensively, he has really developed a nice jump hook around the bucket. He doesn't have a lot of variety of moves but he has a go-to move and finishes at a high percentage.

"He does the little things that help you win, too. He comes to work every day. He's a big intangible guy with his attitude and work ethic. Those things don't always show up on a stat sheet, but when teams win and you wonder why they win, a lot of times it goes back to the togetherness a team has and the unselfishness."

For the season, Cottrell is averaging 7 points per game, 7.7 rebounds and has the second-highest field-goal percentage among starters, hitting 21 of 39 shots for a percentage of .538.

In the season opener against West Virginia Wesleyan, he finished with five blocked shots. He had 10 points and 11 rebounds against Clarion and 10 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks against Pitt-Johnstown.

As a team, IUP's man-to-man defense has been giving opponents fits.

The Crimson Hawks rank second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 58.7 points, and rank third in rebounding margin at 9.7. IUP is currently on a run of four PSAC regular-season titles in a row and three PSAC tournament championships in four years, finishing in the Top 25 in each of the past four seasons.

Adding another local touch to the IUP roster is Allderdice graduate Ben Mickens. A 6-foot-5, 200-pound redshirt freshman guard from Squirrel Hill, Mickens was named All-City League in 2012 after helping the Dragons to three consecutive City League titles.

It was one of the Crimson Hawks' foreign players, Mathis Keita of France, who gave IUP a tough, 56-54 victory Saturday at Seton Hill in Greensburg. A senior guard, Keita hit an 18-foot jumper with 4.8 seconds to play to give the Crimson Hawks the win.

IUP is off now until Tuesday when it welcomes Millersville to the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex for a PSAC crossover game. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. and begins a stretch run in which all remaining games are against PSAC opponents.

With IUP's past success, Cottrell knows the Crimson Hawks will have a target on their backs and there will be no such thing as a night off.

"We have to come out hungry every night and play with energy -- energy and passion every single night," he said.

Rick Davis: rdavis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3789.


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