Dec. 11, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When Marshall basketball coach Tom Herrion lauded two of his reserves following Saturday’s win over Coppin State, it was music to DeVince Boykins’ ears.
And if anyone among the Thundering Herd hoopsters knows music, it would be Boykins.
Boykins is an accomplished drummer, and the redshirt freshman guard’s return to health after arthroscopic knee surgery in late September could pay dividends soon to a Herd team that keeps losing personnel.
After the comeback win over Coppin, Herrion praised the jump-start that Boykins and fellow freshman guard Tamron Manning gave the Herd, particularly through trapping pressure defense. Now, with leading scorer and point guard DeAndre Kane out indefinitely after suffering an injury to his right (shooting) hand, the two guards figure to play a more prominent role.
“I’m just so excited to finally play, I don’t really think about it,” Boykins said before the Herd’s Monday practice, when asked about bouncing back following his injury, and wearing a brace on his right knee. “What Coach said was a great feeling not only for me but Tamron, too.
“I told Tamron if we got in the game and got an opportunity to play we’ve got to make something happen. We just went out there and we were in it together. We made that run and won and it felt really, really good.”
And with 11th-ranked Cincinnati (9-0) facing the Herd (6-4) on Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Civic Center, the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Boykins is ready to add to the 14 minutes he’s played in three games since his return to workouts on Nov. 14.
Boykins, of Forest City, N.C., finally got onto the floor for two minutes in a Dec. 1 Henderson Center victory over UNC Wilmington. 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 to a state title at the 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.
A crowded 2011-12 backcourt helped Boykins and his family decide that a redshirt season suggestion by Herrion would be best. So, Boykins – his first name is pronounced dee-VIN-cee -- sat last winter, then suffered a partial tear of his right medial collateral ligament two weeks before “Herd Madness.”
“Redshirting, sitting out, it was really tough,” Boykins said. “When I was confronted with the situation, I kind of got down on myself in a way, but I look at it like a chance to get an extra year of schoolwork done, as well as an extra year of getting better on the floor.
“I felt like I needed to improve on my jump shot and I worked all year on that, and my jump shot has improved a lot. Other than that, I just used it as an opportunity to get better, and think I took advantage of it as best I could.”
Herrion said the business management major, who turns 20 on Monday, had the smarts to handle what can be a difficult situation.
“I think anytime that (redshirting) conversation comes up, for any young player, it’s a little bit of a shock,” Herrion said. “That’s because they’ve always been the biggest, they’ve always been the best, coming from high school or junior college.
“How I always try to talk to a young man and his family about it – and ultimately it’s their decision – is we talk about it in business form, candidly. At the end of the year when we look at minutes, are we going to look back and say, ‘Was it really worth it, the probability of short minutes, and 3-4 years down the road can we reap more benefit there?’
“That’s how you break it down for them. Try to be honest with them. Redshirting a kid … it doesn’t mean he’s not a good enough player. It just means we’re willing to invest more time in him.”
Boykins also had plenty of basketball “real world” experience on his side in his parents.
His father, Robert, was a three-time All-CIAA player at Division II Johnson C. Smith. He scored 1,640 career points (seventh in school history). The 6-foot-7 lefthander then played pro hoops six years in Europe and four seasons in the USBL – winning a title at Atlantic City -- before retiring in 1999.
Boykins’ mother, Tonya, ran track and played basketball at East Rutherford High, where she’s a hall of famer. She also played hoops at Johnson C. Smith. Tonya Boykins is a teacher at East Rutherford in career management, and also is an ordained minister.
Their son plays the drums at their church – True Vine Pentecostal Church of God – when he is home. Last week, however, when Herrion’s team was staying overnight at the Embassy Suites in Charleston prior to last week’s Capital Classic date against West Virginia, Boykins surprised many teammates and others in the Herd party when he sat down at the lobby piano and quickly played a tune.
“When I was younger, I started to play the violin, but I kind of shied away from that,” Boykins said. “I do play the drums at church, and right now I’m just in the process of learning to play the piano. My grandfather, he plays in church, and I’ve told him I always wanted to pick up on that.
“Maybe when I get out of college, get older, depending on what I’m doing, I can take his place playing at church … I actually don’t know the name of the song (he played in the hotel lobby). It’s something my grandmother taught me, something I picked up on real quick.
“It’s something I like to do, one of my activities I like to do when I have a chance. I’ve never been around the music hall here at school. If I was and I had the chance, I’d get on it, fool around with it some.”
Boykins said he is getting past playing with thoughts of his repaired knee, and after getting two minutes against UNCW, one minute in the Capital Classic and then 11 in the Coppin win, he’s looking for more as the Herd heads toward conference play without Kane, who ranks third nationally with 8.5 assists per game.
“It hasn’t been tough at all, getting back into it,” Boykins said. “I actually thought it would be a lot tougher, coming back to practice and things like that. In my mind, I tried not to think about it, go out and play, practice, go through drills.
“I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable with (the brace), jumping, running, cutting, I really don’t think about it when I’m on the court. I’m just so excited to play again I don’t really think about it.
“I kind of feel like I picked up where I left off. There were some nerves and all, but once I got in I was fine, and I’m gaining more confidence.”
Herrion said he hasn’t been surprised by Boykins’ emergence and wasn’t concerned about asking the redshirt freshman for double-figure minutes last Saturday.
“I had confidence in him,” Herrion said. “Clearly, it’s been long time since he played those kind of minutes, and never on a college level, never mind a long time since high school, but he’s a young man that has poise and he practices that way, has a good feel for that game. In that way, it didn’t surprise me.
“DeVince has a really good basketball IQ, and I think right now he is still fighting a little of that mental block, where his knee injury not allowing him to play as athletic as he truly is. He’s got to continue to become a more consistent perimeter shooter.
“Another strength is his ability to defend and be in the right positions in our defense. He knows how to play.”
Boykins seems finally ready to hit the right notes on the floor boards as well as the keyboard.