Nov. 7, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - In basketball, you have shooters, and you have scorers - and they aren't necessarily the same.
You have your rebounders, and your playmakers. You have your defenders. You even have your "garbage men," who can provide a very good and timely task.
Then, Marshall has redshirt sophomore DeVince Boykins, who can be some of the above and even more.
"Coach (Tom Herrion) wants me to play defense, take open shots," Boykins said. "It's important for me to be a `glue guy,' to do the little things to help us win."
"Glue guys" are very important, especially to a Herd season with plenty of new names on the roster after the unraveling during a 13-19 finish last winter. The Thundering Herd opens the 2013-14 season Friday night at 7 at the Henderson Center, facing South Carolina State.
And while it will be the tipoff for the 102nd Marshall season and Herrion's fourth guiding the Herd, it is the first season opener for the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Boykins, who returned Dec. 1 of last season after having his career curbed by a redshirt season that turned into a bad sprain, and then a right medial collateral ligament tear and surgery.
His numbers in 2012-13 are hardly worth mentioning, but then Boykins - while averaging 10.5 minutes in 22 games - wasn't the player he will be this season. When the Herd starting five is introduced Friday night, he may be among them, at the 2 or 3 spots.
"Based on last year my role was pretty much come in to play defense," Boykins said. "I've translated it over to this year, too, come in and pick up the defensive intensity, while being more aggressive on offense. I've talked to Coach and he wants me to be more aggressive on offense, look to score when it's there."
Boykins is one of those guys who - as coaches likes to say - "just plays." His effectiveness doesn't often show up in a boxscore, but it does when those in charge of the program sit down to watch tape with their players.
"With his versatility, Devince can play the 1, 2 or 3," Herrion said. "He's strong enough to guard 4s some nights in our league (Conference USA) and on our schedule. He's got enough basketball acumen that he knows all three positions, which helps.
"Some guys don't have the capabilities to play multiple positions because they struggle learning different spots. But with DeVince, to his credit, that increases his opportunity to play, knowing all those positions."
Boykins, 20, is finally ready to show the Herd faithful the promise he brought as a 2011 recruit from Forest City, N.C.
When he finally got onto the old floor at "The Cam" last December, he hadn't played in a game since mid-July 2011, when he scored 11 points in the North Carolina High School All-Star Game at the Greensboro Coliseum.
He was a 2A All-State first team pick at East Rutherford High in Bostic, N.C., and he led his team (27-1) to a state title at UNC's "Dean Dome." After signing with the Herd, Boykins finished his prep career averaging 17.2 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in his final season.
The Herd's backcourt was well-stocked in 2011-12, so decided a redshirt season would be wise. But late in that season, he suffered a bad ankle sprain in practice. About the time he started feeling much improved, he injured his knee.
Then, two weeks before practice began last October, he tore ligaments and after returning played with a large brace on his right knee.
"It was after last season," Boykins said when asked when he finally felt like his knee was back to its pre-injury state. "I think the last game we had (last season), I was able to take my brace off, and gradually over the summer with it off, I was able to move a lot better and started to do a lot of things without the brace. And I started feeling comfortable without it.
"The (five-game exhibition) trip to Canada really helped me. I was able to play without the brace, and that gave me a lot of confidence. I felt like I was getting my athletic ability back and the brace had been holding me back.
"That trip gave me confidence in my knee and now for the first time in a long time, I feel 100 percent. I feel like I have all of my athletic ability back."
He averaged 6.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and had nine assists in 23 minutes per game on the journey north of the border. Herrion saw the player he had hoped would round back into form.
"First and foremost, he's got to embrace the game as one of our best perimeter defenders, night-in, night out," the Herd coach said of Boykins. "It's got to be a challenge he embraces, taking on one of our opponent's most talented players. He's got to be a guy we can count on to be consistent as a defender.
"DeVince has a high basketball IQ, so he usually doesn't make a lot of mistakes, and he's gaining more and more confidence in his offense. He's a steadying influence for us, plays with good pace and obviously he's healthier than he's been since he's been here.
"We want him to attack, he's such a strong, athletic player, he needs to finish at the rim, and when the shot shows, you want him to have confidence. He's an improved shooter, worked hard at it and it has improved his game. He's a guy who embraces the things that we need for him to do for us to be successful."
To call Boykins a role player wouldn't be accurate - because for this Herd, chances are he will play many roles.
"I think I'll play some (point guard); I want to be versatile," he said. "That will allow me to play a lot more, get more minutes, help the team at different spots. Just getting my athletic ability back, I can guard a 3, bigger than me, defend the 2, play the 1 some.
"We've practiced that some. I handled the ball a lot in high school, and learning to handle the ball there always has helped me. I had those skills to bring the ball down the court, start the offense.
"With my knee, I don't know I'm stronger and better than before, but I've gotten back to the point where I was before I got hurt. As far as my jumping, I feel that's to my advantage when I need to finish at the rim. That can lead to points, or getting to the free throw line.
"Having my (jumping ability) back is going to enhance my game, change what people have seen from me here."
Herrion is just happy that Boykins has glued his game back together.
"His redshirt year, he rolled an ankle late, it was significant, really set him back," Herrion said. "To that point, he was starting to really play well. The ankle was a long rehab, then it was a knee, then another issue with the knee.
"This is the healthiest DeVince has been in a long time. He's a quiet leader. He has his teammates respect and he has our staff's respect because he does things the right way on and off the floor - you can count on him - and he needs to continue to evolve as a leader, be vocal. We need what he does."
Boykins' first name is pronounced duh-VIN-see. Maybe the Herd's "glue guy" should be nicknamed "Elmer."
# # #
BY THE NUMBERS: Marshall is 78-23 in season openers, and has an all-time record of 1,396-1,025 in 101 seasons ... The Herd enters its 102nd season with the most victories - the won-loss record is 1,396-1,025 - among the 16 Conference USA members. Tulsa is second with 1,338 wins, followed by 1966 NCAA champion UTEP (formerly Texas Western), at 1,287 and Louisiana Tech, with 1,228 ... Marshall's 1,396 wins rank 79th all-time among the 351 Division I men's programs this season ... Western Kentucky, which joins C-USA in 2014-15 (as Tulane, Tulane and East Carolina leave for the AAC) has 1,675 wins in history, ranking No. 17 all-time ... Marshall ranks third in men's hoop seasons played among C-USA programs, with the Herd's 101 following Tulane (103) and Tulsa (102). This season is the 100th for Rice.