Damian Saunders passes it off.
No big deal, no issue, and if it were up to him, stories such as this -- with him being the center of attention -- he'd probably rather not see written.
"Just what I do," he says. "It is just how I play. It isn't about me, man."
Oh, but it is.
The Duquesne men's basketball team -- whether the 6-foot-7 junior forward likes it or not -- has been to a large degree about him in the first 15 games. It will most likely need to be about him again at 2 p.m. today when the Dukes (9-6, 0-1) play at Dayton (11-3, 0-0) in an Atlantic 10 Conference game.
- Matchup: Duquesne (9-6, 0-1) vs. Dayton (11-3, 0-0), 2 p.m. today, UD Arena, Dayton, Ohio.
- TV/Radio, Internet: CBS College Sports; KQV-AM (1410); GoDuquesne.com.
- Duquesne: Dropped 80-68 game against Richmond in conference opener Wednesday. ... Eric Evans is 8 for 18 from 3-point range in past five games and has team-high 57 assists. ... Damian Saunders leads nation with 12 double-doubles and 12.9 rpg.
- Dayton: Leads overall series, 42-19. ... Home win streak (28) is tied for third longest in nation. ... Chris Wright is averaging 14.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg and is shooting 58.1 percent from the field. ... Returns four starters and 10 of the top 11 scorers from last year's NCAA tournament team.
- Hidden stat: Duquesne, which is 5-25 all time at Dayton, is 2-2 in its past four games at UD Arena.
"One thing you love about him is that he is very hungry and very humble," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said.
Trying to take into account all Saunders has done for this team is borderline mind-blowing.
He leads the country in double-doubles with 12 and rebounds per game (12.9).
Saunders is first in the Atlantic 10 in blocked shots (3.5 per game) and steals (3.1 per game), fourth in field-goal percentage (.528) and fifth in minutes played (36.1 per game).
On top of that, he's Duquesne's third-leading scorer at 13.9 points per game.
As Dayton coach Brian Gregory prepared for Saunders, it wasn't so much what the swingman does in a numerical sense, but how he does it -- never straying outside the parameters of Duquesne's structure, never playing selfishly.
"When you watch him, what stands out is how easily he impacts both sides of the court without making it about him. The kid just goes out and plays basketball," Gregory said. "On offense, he does it without having to have his number called all the time. As a coach, you want to see that in a kid."
On defense, though, that's where Gregory sees something in Saunders, a special skill set that he thinks the lanky, long-armed Connecticut native does better than anyone in the Atlantic 10.
"I don't think there's a question that he rebounds out of his area better than anyone around," Gregory said of Saunders. "When there's a miss, he goes and gets it. He has an understanding that is his ball to go and get no matter where he is when the shot goes up. People just don't understand how maybe one or two of those kinds of rebounds can change the whole course of a game."
Changing the course of a game is something Everhart has come to expect from Saunders. The loss to Pitt this season is the only game Saunders -- who had six points as he was saddled by foul trouble -- did not score 10 points or more.
"He's the guy who has ultimately and totally bought in," Everhart said. "To be honest, and I think this is the best thing I can say about him, is that I never worry about him. I never worry about him in the locker room. I never worry about him getting everyone else involved on the floor. I just never worry about him; he does it right."
Doing everything right is why Saunders' reputation has found its way to Dayton before Duquesne arrives there for its game today.
"On offense a couple years ago, Duquesne had that kid who is now at Seton Hall, [Robert] Mitchell, and he shot it every time he touched the ball, every time, so there was a disruption to their offense," Gregory said.
"That's why I like Damian so much, because he can score and make shots. He can get on the glass and rebound. All of a sudden he has 21 points and you don't realize it because he just plays within what happens on the floor.
"I'll tell you what, I'd sure take him on my team. Every coach in this conference would."
Colin Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1459. First Published January 9, 2010 5:00 AM