Van Dorpe centers on final season Mount senior has one last shot to impress pros

November 22, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

EMMITSBURG -- Money time has arrived for Gerben Van Dorpe.

"This is a very important year for me," said the 6-foot-11 Belgian who will be completing his eligibility at Mount St. Mary's. "I feel like I have to prove myself [to the pros]. I've had some offers at home and now the rest of Europe is starting to open up."

Van Dorpe is the centerpiece of a veteran Mount team that is the 44th for Jim Phelan, now the winningest active college coach in ** America. Phelan said he believes Van Dorpe has a future in the game overseas.

"If he has a big year, it will just improve his value on the foreign market," said Phelan.

The native of Erembodegem has progressed steadily since arriving in 1994 as a gawky, green freshman. He didn't start playing basketball until age 16 and needed a lot of refinement.

"Actually, I was only into horseback riding, jumpers, as a youth," said Van Dorpe. "Everybody thought it was pretty funny that a kid 6-7 was doing that."

On the court, his jumper is still his forte. Like a lot of European players, Van Dorpe has tended to approach the game from the outside in, but an off-season focus on strength training should make him more of a force around the basket this time.

"I worked on my strength this summer," Van Dorpe said. "The main focus was my inside game and so far it's been steady. I don't miss that much close to the basket and I'm starting to focus on moving inside and working out."

Van Dorpe first became noticeable in the 1995 NCAA tournament when the Mount took a pasting from a powerful Kentucky team in the first round.

He had 11 points, including a three-pointer, and six rebounds in 24 minutes against the Wildcats after a regular season in which ** he averaged only 2.2 points and 1.9 rebounds.

The averages rose steadily until early last season when illnesses slowed him.

"After the Villanova game, I had the flu, an ear infection, bronchitis and that worked on me mentally," he said. "It was tough because we were young and I needed to step it up.

"We'd have half games, but we never seemed to put together a whole one."

Van Dorpe, who has been selected for the Belgian national team next year, anticipates a more exciting Mount season because the big men, including himself, can run in an up-tempo game.

"We should be exciting to watch," he said. "We're quick, with good shooters, and there aren't any superstars. The guy who's open will get the shot.

"Last year, we showed we could have beaten [Northeast Conference favorite Long Island University] up there and I think we're going to sneak up on some people. I like being the underdog."

Van Dorpe was a virtual unknown when a coaching friend of Phelan's in Belgium alerted the veteran coach about Van Dorpe's potential.

"Not a lot of people knew me because of my late start," said Van Dorpe. "I came to a basketball camp in Boston to get accustomed to the American way of playing and Coach Phelan told me, 'If you want to play in America, you can come play with us.' "

The experience has been a rewarding one for the 220-pound center.

"I've loved it," he said. "I think I've gotten a lot better as a player physically and mentally. I got the chance to play here that I couldn't have had at another school."

Now, what he needs is a big finish -- personally and by the team.

"He's looking forward to the best year of his career," said Phelan. "He's playing with great confidence and added muscle."

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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