Dennis driving Kutztown success

Posted: January 29, 2010

When Kutztown University's Stephen Dennis finished an explosive drive to the basket and laid the ball off the backboard for a basket against Shippensburg University recently, he let out a scream.

It was just two out of thousands of points Dennis had scored during his basketball career but this bucket was important enough that the referee's whistle blew, stopping the game so the West Chester Henderson graduate could savor the moment.

"It feels good to finally get it done, just so I can focus on team goals," Dennis said of breaking the Golden Bears' school record for scoring. "It's a relief that it's over with, and now I don't have to think about it anymore."

Dennis now has 2,054 career points - currently tied for seventh on the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference all-time scoring list with a good chance to move up several spots by the end of the season. When he reached the school milestone in an 82-69 win over Shippensburg on Saturday, the former scoring mark (2,017) had stood for just 15-plus games. That record had been set by Dave Ben, formerly of Coatesville High.

At Kutztown, Dennis has been much decorated. A point guard listed at 6-foot-6, he is a two-time all-PSAC first-team honoree; he was the 2007 conference rookie of the year, and this season, he's a contender for PSAC player of the year.

So far, Dennis leads Division II in scoring average with 27.4 points a game. And he's shown he can perform against the big-timers, too. He had 21 points and eight assists in a 110-84 exhibition loss to Villanova on Nov. 5.

Dennis has helped Kutztown to a 16-1 record, 4-1 in the PSAC East. Undefeated in their last 24 games at home in the Keystone Arena, the Golden Bears are ranked No. 7 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches/Division II Top 25 poll.

Dennis and former school scoring leader Ben became acquainted as opponents in the Ches-Mont League National Division. Ben, who was senior guard last season, was on hand to celebrate Saturday.

Ben credits Dennis' success to his size and speed.

"He's way bigger than the average point guard and he's faster than the bigger guys," Ben said. "He's just a matchup problem for everybody."

"When he first came [to Kutztown] he was a great scorer, but the last two years he put in the hard work in the summer," Ben added. "He's got the killer instinct now."

Dennis, 22, scored 1,395 points at Henderson, where as captain he helped his team win two league championships.

Unusually big for his position, Dennis filled many roles for Henderson head coach Leon Bell, the least of which was his "natural position" - point guard. Dennis saw time in the frontcourt as well as at shooting guard.

"Steven was one of the bigger players and he could jump really well, so I put him where the team needed him most," Bell said. "That helped him to become well-rounded, and I also think it helped him understand the game of basketball better."

Dennis had hoped to go to a Division I school - but when that didn't materialize, he decided on Kutztown, where head coach Bernie Driscoll, in his 10th year with the Bears, decided to move him back to point guard.

Not going to a Division I school "made me want to prove to everybody that I could play that kind of basketball, that high level," Dennis said. "Going into my freshman year, I thought I had to show everybody I should be [in Division I]."

Both Driscoll and Ben stressed how smart a player Dennis is.

"If you look at the box score, he is only taking 20 shots a game," Driscoll said. "His shooting percentage [55.4 percent] is extremely high, which is almost uncanny for a point guard. That's a real credit to Steve."

Former teammate Ben echoed the coach's observation.

"You are never going to see him take a shot where you are thinking 'What are you doing, Steve?' " Ben said.

Not surprisingly, Dennis' goal is to play in the NBA.

"Europe is definitely an option," said Jim Clibanoff, president of ClibHoops Scouting Services, which is used by the NBA. "But he could also try to pursue the NBDL [National Basketball Development League], a viable alternative, and if he were able to make a team in that league, he could get onto someone's radar, that is, if he were to get stronger and elevate his game."

The Dennis File

Here is the skinny on the pro potential of Kutztown's all-time leading scorer Stephen Dennis (6-foot-6, 190 pounds), from pro scouting service director Jim Clibanoff:

"He's probably closer to 6-4 1/2 ... smooth ... wiry and definitely needs to get stronger."

"Not a pure floor general at all, but possesses a tight handle, has solid court vision, and point guard is indeed his best possible position as a pro."

"Needs to work on extending his range. He's

talented and contributed in a lot of ways, but unsure if he has enough in his game to overcome his slightness and the fact that he just did not play with a ton of pure grit."

Hard to imagine him being more than ordinary against bigger, stronger defenders and players he will face at higher levels. That said, he certainly has enough ability to be a solid D-I player."

"He can score from all over, has a solid mid-range game and does an excellent job slashing to the basket to draw fouls."

- Jim Clibanoff, the Inquirer's NBA draft expert, has a scouting service, Clibhoops, subscribed to by most NBA teams.

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