Jan. 14, 2008
By Jon Terry, Bucknell Athletic Communications
On a Wednesday night in the middle of preseason, Bison head coach Dave Paulsen dismissed his team from a late practice, walked to the other side of the Langone Athletics & Recreation Center to check on an injured player in the sports medicine center, hopped upstairs to his office to check some e-mail and finally walked all the way back to Sojka Pavilion for a shower. Paulsen emerged from the coaches' locker room about an hour after practice ended, only to hear the faint sounds of a ball bouncing on the Sojka floor. Probably just some students who snuck in after hours, he thought. Peeking through a portal just to be sure, he discovered the source of the racket was his sophomore point guard Darryl Shazier, in full sweat, shooting jumper after jumper as the clock approached midnight.
"That's Darryl," Paulsen says. "He has such a tremendous desire to be good. Darryl understands that along with the added responsibility of being our point guard comes a lot of hard work, and he has proved willing to put in the time."
As a freshman a year ago, Shazier apprenticed at the point behind veteran John Griffin, and he wrapped plenty of "wow" moments around some evident growing pains. Now Paulsen in his first year as Bucknell's head coach has handed the kid the keys to his motion offense.
The son of Darryl and Dee Shazier, Darryl and younger sister Kiana, a high-school field hockey player, grew up in a close-knit family in Newport News, Virginia. That coastal region happens to be a basketball hotbed, and little Darryl began his rec-league hoops career there at the age of five.
Most youngsters in that area grew up emulating the region's most famous basketball prodigy, Allen Iverson, and Shazier was no exception.
"All the kids back home either want to be like Iverson or Michael Vick ... well not so much Vick anymore," Shazier says. "But a lot of kids really look up to Iverson, who is one of my idols. He shows up at games a lot down there and sometimes you see him at the mall with his posse. I've probably seen him about 10 times."
Shazier attended Menchville High School, began playing with the varsity in the ninth grade and was named team captain as a sophomore. As a junior he led the district in scoring at better than 22 points per game while also averaging six assists per game, but the team had yet to fully blossom.
That changed in his final year. With improved team chemistry and a solid talent base that also included Arkansas-bound Marshawn Powell, Delaware Blue Hen Kelvin McNeil and a couple of other teammates headed for the Division III ranks, Menchville made it all the way to the regional semifinals.
Shazier's scoring average went down some, but he was clearly a better all-around player as a senior and was rewarded with Peninsula District Player of the Year and second-team all-state plaudits. Shazier also played AAU ball in the well-known Boo Williams Summer League, and as a 17-year-old his team made it all the way to the national championship game, where it lost to a stacked squad led by prep phenoms O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker.
"I guarded Walker," Shazier recalls with a laugh. "It was an interesting experience playing a high-profile guy like that, but it was good for me."
By the end of his junior year, Shazier's name began to show up on college recruiting boards. One early suitor was a young assistant coach from Emory & Henry College named Jamion Christian, who would soon be joining Pat Flannery's staff at Bucknell as manager of basketball operations. When he got to Bucknell, Christian mentioned Shazier to Flannery, and soon after the match was made.
"The successful history at Bucknell and just the reputation of the program and the school were what sold me," reflects Shazier. "When I came on my visit I loved it. Everyone in the program seemed very close. I watched a couple of Bucknell games on TV. I remember the Wake Forest game that went overtime, and even though Bucknell lost the game I remember being impressed by the atmosphere in Sojka and just the fact that they were going toe to toe with an ACC team that I grew up watching.
Like many freshman, Shazier found the transition to the college game trying at first.
"I just felt like everyone was so much stronger, and the game was a lot faster," he admits. "It was just something I had to adjust to. It took the preseason and a couple of weeks of practice to get used to the pace of the game. When I checked in for the first time on opening night [against Albany] I wouldn't say I was nervous, but there were some butterflies. It was always my dream to get a scholarship to go play college basketball, and that hit me then. It was a dream come true and a great experience."
Shazier played 25 minutes off the bench that night as the Bison opened with a victory over the Great Danes. He played in every game as a freshman and joined the starting lineup for good in mid-February. Right away it was apparent that Shazier could handle the basketball well, and he could potentially be a terror on defense. The scoring ability that he showed in high school was slow to come, however, as Shazier shot only 29.4 percent from the field and averaged 3.1 points per game while playing about 20 minutes a night.
With Griffin now graduated and playing professionally in Germany and a new coach in place, Shazier enters his sophomore year as the clear No. 1 point guard. That means the onus is on Shazier in particular to understand the system and see things on the floor at a faster rate than his teammates.
But beyond the Xs and Os, Paulsen is looking for Shazier become more of a vocal leader on and off the court.
"On the very first day," Shazier remembers, "when we left the court Coach Paulsen called me over and said, `I'm disappointed in you. I need you to be louder. I expect more out of you as a point guard. Be a leader.' I know what he expects out of me, and I appreciated him telling me that and putting his faith in me. I love his style. He gets his point across. You have to hold yourself accountable because he is going to hold you accountable. But you know what to do and you will know his expectations.
"Particularly with the absence of Stephen Tyree, we are really pushing Darryl to become a more vocal leader," Paulsen says. "It won't happen overnight, but he is responding well and playing with confidence."
"With the new system, it's almost like we are all freshmen," Shazier offers. "There are no veterans when it comes to this system. In past years you had the older guys helping to show you where to go, but now you've got the seniors asking the same questions as the freshmen."
One might assume the increased role for a still-young player would be accompanied by a feeling pressure, but Shazier is not easily fazed.
"There's no pressure at all," he says. "It's exciting. It's what you play for, to be the guy who plays 35 minutes and has the ball in his hands."
Shazier's coolness was on display on a number of occasions last season, but there was no better example than on an early February night, when he capped a furious Bison rally at Colgate by stroking a 3-pointer at the final buzzer of regulation to send the game to overtime, where Bucknell eventually won a barnburner, 91-85. Shazier, who says he hit a number of buzzer shots before coming to Bucknell, also hit a trey late in regulation to set up an overtime win over Lafayette last season, and he scored a career-high nine points in the epic triple-overtime win over Navy in the Patriot League Tournament. He also played well in a return to his hometown to play Old Dominion in the BracketBusters game.
On a team in transition in 2008-09, Shazier would love to up his scoring ledger without sacrificing his defense and playmaking. If that happens it won't be by chance, rather it will be born out of the kind of hard work put in while no one is watching.
Except perhaps by a head coach wandering the Sojka Pavilion corridors late at night.
Note: This story appeared in the 2008 fall/winter edition of the Bison Roundup magazine.