DeMont Westminster's big shot

December 07, 1993|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Contributing Writer

Bank shot, jumper, finger roll, hook shot. No matter how many shots 6-foot-7 Russ DeMont of Westminster makes -- and on this night it's 23 in a row -- his expression never changes.

The Westminster gymnasium was empty on the night of DeMont's streak, as the Owls went through one of their final preseason practices. But when asked later, the 185-pound center had no recollection of the streak.

He had been busy.

"It takes a lot of work," said DeMont. "It's like coach [Dave Byers] says, nothing is given to you. You have to go out and get it on your own."

And DeMont has done that. Last year, DeMont averaged 10 points and nine rebounds per game and was a first-team All-County and second-team All-Central Maryland Conference selection. He should be one of Westminster's top threats this year as well as one of the county's top players.

What makes his success so interesting is the senior never played basketball until the eighth grade -- he barely knew about the game -- but has made great strides.

"He's unique for a tall kid," said Byers. "He's got good skills. He can dribble, he can shoot. He just doesn't dominate because of his size."

DeMont's role has grown while on the varsity. He made the team his sophomore year and saw some playing time, starting occasionally.

Last year, DeMont arrived, starting throughout the season and becoming more of a force. During each of DeMont's two years on the varsity, the Owls did not look to him as the big gun. Other more experienced players carried the load.

Byers said this helped DeMont, letting him develop with less pressure. This year, however, is a different story.

He wants the pressure.

"This year, I'm going all out," said DeMont. "I'm trying to do what I can do. There are no limits. That's how I see it."

To that end, DeMont said he wants to be the Westminster go-to guy. When the clock is winding down and the game is on the line, DeMont wants the ball.

His shooting ability will increase his chances of getting the ball in the clutch. He demonstrated his soft touch while hitting the 23 straight in practice. DeMont made driving layups with either hand, jumpers from the top of the key, bank shots from either side and free throws.

Said Byers: "He does have a good touch."

What makes all of this more amazing is his history. DeMont never played organized basketball until four years ago. And even then, he needed to be recruited.

Joe Camilleri is one of the coaches who guided DeMont on the Gamber-Smallwood Gators' travel team that year. Camilleri was one of those coaches who went to DeMont's house to ask him to play.

Some coaches had seen DeMont at basketball and his first love ZTC in sports -- baseball -- and thought his athletic ability and height would make him a winner on the hardwood. Camilleri was one of them.

"For as tall as he was [6-1 at that time], he was still fairly coordinated," said Camilleri. "And, for a young boy, it was unusual to see both the height and coordination."

DeMont said the coaches finally convinced him, and he joined the team. First, however, he had another problem -- he did not know the game.

Both DeMont and Camilleri remember how much teaching took place. Camilleri said DeMont did not know about things such as the three-second rule, the double dribble and how to play zone defense or set ascreen or a pick.

But he learned. By the end of that season, DeMont ruled the middle, and the Gators won a championship.

"The difference between the beginning of the year and the end of the year was quite drastic," said Camilleri. "He picked up quite a bit."

Said DeMont: "I began to enjoy the game."

DeMont, who played first base for the Westminster varsity last spring, loves the game now. Before joining the Gators, he rarely played basketball.

"There isn't a free time in his day that he doesn't have a basketball in his hand," said DeMont's mother, Robin. "The bug has bitten him."

DeMont now just wants to keep improving. He said he tries to take one level at a time and keep getting better. The next level is college. Small schools such as Longwood, Wesleyan, Lock Haven and Gettysburg have shown interest, and DeMont wants to be a college basketball player.

"I've got a lot riding on this year with college coming up," said DeMont. "I just want to do the best for the team. I don't feel any pressure. I've just got to keep working."

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