Dec. 30, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Day after day, week after week, in the hour or so before Marshall Men's Basketball practices, Kelvin Amayo was the personification of a Neil Diamond hit song.
He was a solitary man.
Amayo would shoot jump shots from all angles on the Henderson Center floor. Then, when Coach Tom Herrion's whistle blew to start practice, Amayo anxiously sat and watched.
"It was hard," said Amayo, whose basketball sabbatical has ended. "But I just knew I had a big goal ahead of me, and I tried to focus to be ready to work when I could. I shot a whole lot before and after practice. I ran a lot. I did what I could."
Amayo officially joined the Herd on Dec. 20, and two days later made his college debut with three relief minutes late in Marshall's loss to Kentucky at Rupp Arena, before the largest crowd to watch a game in 100 seasons of MU hoops.
"It was crazy," Amayo said a couple of days ago before a Herd practice. "I was just happy to get in there, finally. It had been a year and a half since I played in a game. When Coach called my name, I was just happy to play for Marshall University, because they gave me an opportunity.
"I'm ecstatic to be part of this team now."
It had actually been 19 months since the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Amayo last played in a game, for NIA Prep in Newark, N.J., in March 2011. He thought he was taking his game to Towson University, but he was denied initial eligibility with several other NIA teammates in an NCAA decision based upon what the organization said was a lack of core classes at the prep school.
Amayo sat out the first semester of the 2011-12 school year, then enrolled at Marshall a year ago. He's in Herrion's program as an invited walk-on, a freshman who could provide some answers at point guard for the Herd (7-6), which entertains Delaware State (5-8) on Wednesday night at the Henderson Center.
If things pan out as he hopes, he'll go on scholarship for the 2013-14 school year.
Amayo wants with the Herd what he hoped to be at Towson -- a difference-maker. He was a big-time prospect, sought by Seton Hall, Providence, Oklahoma State and College of Charleston, among others.
His connections with the Herd started during his junior year at NIA Prep, when former MU assistant Bill Barton came to watch a guy who's now a Herd teammate, Jamir Hanner (a Philadelphia native who then finished his prep career at Notre Dame in Fitchburg, Mass.).
Before that, Herd backup big man J.P. Kambola and Amayo were teammates at St. Benedict's (N.J.) High, and Amayo had played against Marshall point guard Chris Martin when Martin was at St. Patrick's High.
"I felt like this was family," Amayo said. "Right from the start, everybody was warm to me, and since I've been here a year, I'm settled in ... I played in big programs in high school and in prep school, and here, I know what's expected of me.
"I played both guard spots in prep school, but coming to college, I expected to be a point guard. I can play combo (guard), but I thought I'd be a point at this level. I'm just glad to be out there playing again."
Herrion said Amayo's arrival - and any quick progress in the Herd system - may allow injured junior star DeAndre Kane (right hand injury) to move off the point on occasion, depending on the rotation.
"We'll try to play (Amayo) at one position because he's a bit overwhelmed right now," the Herd coach said. "To begin with we'll play him at some point, he'll focus his reps there, and we'll speed up his learning curve, get him as ready as possible as soon as possible."
Asked if he expected Kane to return as the point guard, Herrion said earlier this week, "I don't. I'd like to move him around. He's obviously shown he can play there, second in the nation in assists (8.5 per game). I'd like him to play wherever we need him to play, whether it's one, two or three. Maybe sometimes we'll go three-guard offense when he returns."
Amayo gives Herrion another option. The Riverside, N.J., native averaged 19 points per game for a 26-7 NIA Prep team, but he doesn't expect to be the aggressive rim-attacker he was at his pre-college stops.
"I think I have a pretty good basketball IQ," Amayo said. "There are different things I can probably bring to the table from our other guards. We're all different players. I think in the time I was sitting out I've grown a lot.
"My jump shot has gotten a whole lot better. I just need to keep working so when I get to the games and Coach puts me out there, it's the same as practice to me."
Practice is something not every player enjoys. After watching for so long, however, Amayo said he tries to take advantage of what he missed.
"I found out I wasn't going to play when I left summer school (in 2011) and came home for two weeks," Amayo said. "(Towson) Coach (Pat) Skerry told me to stay home, and not come to campus because he didn't want me to owe a bill if I wasn't cleared.
"So, I waited to see what would happen, and I was ruled ineligible. It wasn't easy, but it's all worked out. I'm totally OK with it, because I'm in a really good place with good people and an opportunity to play."