Navy's Heary scores points with coach Expanding game improves his, and team's, standing

March 02, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

In Navy's final regular-season home game against Bucknell two weeks ago, Michael Heary found himself the middle man on a three-on-one fast break.

Heary took it strong to the basket, but, at the last second, attempted a behind-the-back pass that was intercepted. At the next whistle, Heary found himself sitting next to coach Don DeVoe.

"We don't practice behind-the-back passes," said DeVoe, a strict fundamentalist.

This brief incident is vividly recalled because it was one of the few times this season that DeVoe had reason to criticize his junior guard. Heary helped the Midshipmen (18-8, 10-2) clinch first place in the Patriot League at Holy Cross on Feb. 22 by scoring 27 points, hitting seven of eight three-point attempts.

It gave Navy a first-round bye in the tournament that started yesterday in Bethlehem, Pa.

Said DeVoe: "We were able to win our conference title outright because Michael Heary has been able to step up and consistently knock down the big shot for us.

"But this year he has contributed in so many ways besides scoring a lot of points. He's worked extremely hard to become a better defender, improve his rebounding and find the open man on offense."

Heary earned first-team All-Patriot League honors, ranking third in scoring (17.8), first in three-point percentage (.408), second in free-throw percentage (.824), and fourth in field-goal percentage In all, it has been a highly satisfying season for the 6-foot-5 swingman after a disappointing sophomore year.

Heary was being hailed as one of the Patriot League's future stars after averaging 13.6 points as a plebe and winning a spot on the all-rookie team, but last winter the native of Fredonia, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo, struggled with every phase of his game. His scoring average fell to 11.0 and his shooting dipped to 36 percent.

"It was pretty frustrating," Heary said. "Obviously, I would have liked to have seen my game progress every year.

"I think I felt more of a burden to score last year because we had lost our inside presence when Wes Cooper and Larry Green graduated. Plus, I was fighting Eddie Lucas and Jimmy Hamilton for playing time at shooting guard and small forward.

"If I didn't get off quick or made some errors, I didn't get a lot of minutes. This season, I'm playing more relaxed, not looking over my shoulder to the bench."

DeVoe has his own theories for Heary's sophomore slump.

"Michael probably got too much hype as a freshman," the coach said. "He caught a lot of people by surprise. Teams were concentrating on stopping Cooper and Green, and that gave Michael a lot of open shots.

"Last year, defenders gave him lot more attention and he forced a lot of shots. He tried to do too much on his own instead of letting the offense work for him.

"This year, he didn't settle for the outside shot. When defenders play up on him, he's driving the ball to the basket and drawing a lot of fouls. That's a real plus for us, because he is such a high percentage free-throw shooter."

Heary, who has led the team in scoring three straight years and ranks 14th on Navy's all-time scoring list with 1,126 points, attributes his overall improvement to his summer appearance in the Empire Games.

In addition to becoming more aggressive, those games also made him concentrate more on defense, the part of his game in which DeVoe sees the most significant change.

"Michael was such a prolific scorer in high school he didn't have to worry about other parts of his game," DeVoe said. "But to be a complete player on the college level, he had to improve his

defense, rebounding and getting other people involved on offense."

For Heary, defense is mostly a mind-set.

As an illustration, Heary remembers his two matchups with Colgate's Seth Schaeffer.

"He really hurt us the first time we played them in January," Heary recalled. "When we played them again at home, I wasn't going to let him get a good shot, and he didn't get a basket in the second half."

Michael Heary talking defense. It's almost enough to make DeVoe overlook an occasional blind pass.

Tonight's game

Navy (18-8) vs. Lafayette (11-16)

Site: Stabler Center, Bethlehem, Pa.

Time: 7

Radio: WNAV (1430 AM)

Outlook: Top seed Navy, which received a first-round bye, is led by first-team All-Patriot League selections Hassan Booker and Michael Heary and second-team pick Brian Walker, a 5-foot-8 senior guard. Heary, a 6-5 junior guard, leads the Patriot League in three-point accuracy (.408). Booker, a 6-3 power forward, ranks second in the league in rebounds (8.3), steals (2.2) and field-goal percentage (.564). Heary leads Navy in scoring, averaging 17.8 points. Navy beat Lafayette twice this season, 60-55 and 74-72. Lafayette G Brian Ehlers, a Patriot League all-rookie pick, scored a season-high 20 points against the Midshipmen.

Patriot League tournament

! At Bethlehem, Pa.

First round

Yesterday

Bucknell 84, Lehigh 54

Colgate 104, Army 79

Lafayette 70, Holy Cross 65

Semifinals

Today

Bucknell vs. Colgate, 5 p.m.

Navy vs. Lafayette, 7 p.m.

Championship

Wednesday

Semifinal winners, 9: 30 p.m., at higher-seeded team

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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