BOGACZYK: Elmore Wants to Make the Point, Not Points
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 15, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – For Jon Elmore, it wasn’t about the boxscore.
It wasn’t about having his name announced with the starting lineup.
For the Marshall sophomore point guard who – finally – made his Herd and college basketball debut in Monday night’s 92-73 Cam Henderson Center victory over North Carolina Central, it was simply about the game.
“It was awesome,” Elmore said after starting and playing 18 minutes on a five-point night. “It felt like a century since I played my last organized game, dating back to high school in (March) 2014. So, it was just great to finally get back out there.
“I was a little nervous to start and I got a couple of fouls, but then I settled down in the second half and I think we really kicked it into gear tonight.”
Elmore’s story, until the third straight victory for the Herd (3-6), has been about his history.
The Cliff’s Notes version … His father, Gay, scored 2,422 points as a VMI forward in the mid-80s. The son went to his dad’s alma mater, then left, and VMI wouldn’t give him a release to transfer to Marshall … so the Charleston native sat until the end of the fall semester, losing a semester of eligibility.
Even as the hours counted down toward his debut, the 6-foot-3 guard had to endure with more than patience. He sprained his right ankle – badly – in practice on Dec. 3. And even as he spent much of 10 days in the training room, when he’d finally play was a lingering question.
Elmore couldn’t play in a game until the MU registrar’s office certified his grades. That deadline came Monday afternoon.
“Aw, it was awful,” Elmore said when asked about the previous 72 hours. “I was on edge all day (Monday). Saturday we had a game (Eastern Kentucky) and I heard if I took some finals early -- stuff like that -- I might be able to play and then I didn’t, so it didn’t work out.
“And then (Monday) came, and I was on edge all day, going crazy. I didn’t know if the grades were going to get posted by the registrar, didn’t know if I was going to be signed off on. Then about 4:45 in the afternoon I found out, and I was so excited that I was going to play.
“I was ecstatic. I called everybody in my phone book, saying, ’I’m back.’”
Being “back” lasted only 6:23 into the game, as Elmore picked up two fouls in a 55-second span. At 13:37, he went to the bench for the remainder of the half.
“I was nervous and I got a little too aggressive, even stupid at one point,” Elmore said of the fouls. “I was anxious to be out there and I think that had a big deal to do with it. But I think once I settled down I didn’t end up with any more fouls and got into the game a lot better.”
He was 2-for-6 from the floor, including 1-of-3 behind the arc. He also contributed 2 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. D’Antoni said it was a good start to scratch the surface.
“I felt it was very important that he got to play this game,” said the Herd coach, whose team goes to the Charleston Civic Center on Thursday night to face No. 20 West Virginia (8-1) in the Capital Classic. “It’ll take him, like the others, a few games before he gets into a rhythm. It’ll be nothing but improved play for him.”
Elmore averaged 31.4 points per game as a senior at George Washington High. He was named the state’s top player with the Evans Award, an honor also won by his father, Herd assistant coach Mark Cline and Elmore’s new teammate, walk-on Jacob Kilgore.
And while Elmore can score – and will – that’s not what his true value is to the Herd. Elmore’s presence allows fellow guards Stevie Browning and CJ Burks more opportunity to play off the ball, and gives D’Antoni much more backcourt versatility and depth.
“It’s about having a true point guard and controlling us,” said Marshall junior forward Ryan Taylor, whose career-high 27 points in Elmore’s debut led the Herd. “I’m not saying Stevie (Browning) isn’t a point guard, but he didn’t have control of the team.
“Jon’s going to be the leader out there, just like a quarterback, you know? It helps out a lot, and he can also score and we need that, too. Teams won’t be able to focus in on James (Kelly), (Austin) Loop and me now. He’s a scoring threat, and it makes our team a lot deeper, too.
“Jon sees the floor very well. He’s going to help us a lot with our efficiency.”
And although Elmore played only 18 minutes in his first game, the Herd’s attack did prosper. Marshall scored on 42 of 71 possessions, a superb 59.2 percent rate. The Herd averaged 1.3 points per possession.
Practicing every day with the Herd while he was in game-night exile, Elmore – he’ll turn 20 Sunday – learned what he could mean to a program that wants to build its hoops profile.
“As a lot of people know, we started out slow, (losing) the first six in a row,” Elmore said. “And in practice, the energy was different. It didn’t seem like we went as hard, day-in, day-out, and then we started winning and going pretty good and the energy was so much better in practice.
“What I want to do is make sure the energy is there. Every day, I just try to do my job, which I think is to make the guys around me better. That’s first. Shooting the ball, passing the ball, distributing, playing defense … doing whatever it takes to win.
“What I try to pride myself on is making the guys around me better.”
He wasn’t 100 percent because of the ankle sprain, but since he was eligible to play, there was no way D’Antoni was going to keep sitting a player he’s consistently referred to early this season as so crucial to the Herd program’s growth.
“The ankle (sprain), it hurt me, hurt me mentally as well as physically,” Elmore said. “I was so ready to go, in shape, ready to just hop in when I could. I sprained it really bad and I’ve been in the training room religiously. Tonight I had it taped up; it’s a little bit fatter than my (left) one, but once I got it loose and the adrenaline hit me, it didn’t really bother me during the game.”
He will have better games, to be sure. And if it’s any consolation Elmore needs on his first-game numbers and having to practice patience just to get there, he can ask his father for another of those history lessons.
Gay Elmore made his VMI debut on Nov. 28, 1982, in a 58-33 loss at James Madison, in the inaugural game in the JMU Convocation Center. Elmore scored four points. The freshman forward scored only 12 more the rest of that season, all in a loss at South Florida.
He was injured for a second time that season in early January (just before VMI was to play at Marshall) and gained a medical redshirt to repeat the year … and finished in 1986-87 with 2,422 career points and his Keydets jersey retired – with the same No. 33 his son wears for the Herd.
“Really, I didn’t know if I’d start,” Elmore said of his long-awaited debut. “Coach D’Antoni does a great job, and if I didn’t, so be it. I’d jump in whenever and help the team however. But I ended up starting and we ended up getting the win, so it was a great night.”