(Photo credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
St. Bonaventure junior forward Denzel Gregg is returning to his hometown of Syracuse tonight when the Bonnies take on the Orange at the Carrier Dome, but he doesn’t expect or want the bells and whistles.
“I’m just trying to do my best to treat it like any other game,” he said. “Obviously I’ll have a lot of family there, but I’m just preparing the same way I would for anybody else… I’m just trying to calm down the hype a little and focus on the game.”
It has been five years since one of the most athletic players the Atlantic 10 conference has to offer last played an official game for school in his hometown. Gregg spent his first two years of high school at Nottingham High School, three miles away from the Dome, before moving on to Oakdale, Conn. to play prep ball for St. Thomas More School.
One aspect that the 6-foot-7 Gregg has made marked improvements at has been his maturity. If this game had taken place last season, he would not have been able to play due to a six-game suspension for a violation of team rules. A year later, the young junior who just turned 20 last month, had time to reflect on his growth since he was forced to sit.
“I was young, I made some mistakes, but I learned from them and won’t make them again so that’s why we’re here now.”
That new-found maturity also helped Gregg deal with the departure of the two players he came into the program with, Jalen Adams and Xavier Smith. Both players transferred due to a desire for more playing time, Adams going to Mott Community College back home in Michigan and Smith going to Tarleton State University back in Texas.
“It’s tough, obviously; we were real close,” said Gregg. “But they had to make the choice that was best for them, and I respect it. We still talk, we’re still cool and everything so it’s not really a big deal.
“You make new friends, you get new teammates and you develop new relationships, so it’s not really hard, but it’s sad that they left.”
Over the summer, Gregg took his talents to Indianapolis to train with Nike basketball’s Chris Thomas, who has trained the likes of LeBron James, Vince Carter and Amar’e Stoudemire. The twice-a-day regimen included conditioning, cardio and, of course, basketball drills.
“It was fun. I had a good time, met a lot of people and made a lot of connections out there,” said Gregg. “I’ll be going back next summer, and I kind of miss it. I had a real good summer and got a lot better.”
The summer grind Gregg was put through has helped him with the new small-ball St. Bonaventure offense that places an emphasis on pushing the tempo and scoring as quickly as possible. Bonaventure’s coaches ran the players ragged the entire preseason to prepare for the run-and-gun offense that is still a work in progress.
You can count the Bonnies’ no. 12 as a fan of the new offensive scheme.
“It’s tiring, but I got in shape,” Gregg said. “I like to play in transition anyways, so it’s cool, I like it. I like it more than what we played last year.”
If Bona is to win at the Carrier Dome for the first time ever, the team will have to be sound on both sides of the ball. The brown and white head into this one as nine and a half-point underdogs, but the focus is on shooting and defending, not the Las Vegas line or the 3-23 all-time record against the Orange.
“We have to shoot the ball really well and really focus on defending,” Gregg said. “They’re big, they’re long and they’re good players, so it’s really going to be about being able to defend and shoot the ball against that (2-3) zone.
“Everyone wants to be down in history for something. To be one of four (Bona teams to beat Syracuse) would be great.”
Tipoff between the Bonnies and Orange is set for 7 p.m. at the Carrier Dome. The game is available on MSG Plus in New York and ESPN3.com and WatchESPN outside of the state.