Home Court Advantage

By Shawn LaFata

You always remember your first one.

At least that's probably what Jacksonville University coach Hugh Durham would say. The first player Durham recruited after accepting the job at JU - guard Shawn Platts - has turned out to be everything Durham expected and probably more.

Durham had to wait a little while for that first one to come to JU. Platts, now a senior, spent a year at FCCJ. But when the former Terry Parker High School standout did arrive on campus, Durham had himself a player that could play as many as three positions on the court, and play them well.

"We were fortunate he ended up going to junior college," Durham said. "He had a number of offers and he made the decision to stay home."

Platts could have played at LSU, TCU or even San Diego State. Bob Huggins and the Cincinnati Bearcats were interested in Platts, but they were a day late, as Platts signed to play with JU the day before Huggins called.

Platts said Durham was one of the main reasons he signed with the Dolphins.

"I really give him [Durham] credit for getting on me early, that way I didn't have to wait it out," Platts said. "He told me I was going to come in and play right away."

Platts did play early, starting 22 games his first season at JU while averaging seven points and finishing second on the team with 73 assists. Platts started all of the games he appeared in last season and finished second on the team with 92 assists, despite missing the last five games of the season because of an injury.

Platts isn't on a pace to equal last season's assist total, but that's by design. With a new season, a new role has come for him. That role includes switching from point guard to a wing position, a spot Platts said he prefers.

"It [the wing] involves more scoring and shooting," Platts said.

Durham said he likes Platts on the wing as well.

It's obvious, as Platts has averaged more than 14 points per game this season. But just because he has switched positions, Platts hasn't turned into a one-dimensional player. He can still run the point if he has to and he can penetrate for points in the paint.

"He has the ability and strength to take it to the hole," Durham said. "Then he has the mid-range game where he doesn't have to take it all the way to the hole and he has the ability to shoot the ball from the outside. So he has the total look."

Platts has shown that by hitting more than 40 percent of his three point shots this season and leading the Dolphins in overall field goal percentage.

He is even dangerous when he doesn't have the ball.

"He's like a decoy," Dolphins center Kris Hunter said. "When he doesn't have the ball, teams are keying in on him and that opens up the inside for me."

Hunter said the 6 foot 3 Platts is even more dangerous when he has the ball in his hands because of his ability to drive to the basket.

"He drives to the hole and creates opportunities for us," Hunter said. "He drives in and kicks it out to us or he drives in and takes a shot. He might miss, but if the defense collapses, we'll be there for the rebound."

Platts is enjoying a career year, but all of this might not have ever happened if it wasn't for the persistence of Terry Parker coach Larry Rozier.

Platts gave up basketball after his father died midway through his eighth grade year. But Rozier never gave up on Platts, even when he didn't play basketball his freshman year in high school.

"Coach Rozier just kept coming around the house every day and nagging me to play," Platts said. "So I told him I would play. I owe a lot to him for getting me back to playing."

Platts didn't have to look far to find other leaders in his life after his father died. With two older brothers, a cousin and a couple of coaches playing major roles in his development, Platts has done just fine. He includes Durham as one of those all-important leaders.

"He [Durham] reminds me of my dad," Platts said. "He isn't going to beat around the bush, he's going to talk to you and let you know what you are doing wrong and what you need to do."

Now Platts has become the leader and is a player that Hunter said the rest of the team looks up to.

"He is not a very loud, outgoing person," Hunter said. "He just kind of keeps to himself, but when it's time to say something he has the guts and the balls to say it."

Platts isn't shy about making a gutsy statement on the court either. He showed that in back-to-back games this season against UCF and Mercer, taking both of those games over down the stretch to lead the Dolphins to key conference wins.

"I have tremendous confidence in him [down the stretch]," Durham said.

Platts has shown his ability in the clutch from the free thrown line as well, shooting better than 90 percent from the line in the last five minutes of the game.

The Dolphins will need Platts' leadership as they enter the stretch run right in the thick of the race for the regular season TAAC title.

But winning the TAAC tournament is what really counts, as that gets the champion a spot in the NCAA Tournament, a place Platts said the team will certainly get back to soon.

"One of our main goals since I've been here is to get back there," Platts said. "And I've always believed that one day we will get there, even if I'm not here. But hopefully it will be this year."

Whether JU makes the NCAA's this year or not, Platts has seen quite a turnaround in the three years he has been with the program. The Dolphins only won a combined 20 games the last two seasons, but are on a pace to have their best finish since the team went 18-9 in 1994-95.

Platts said better team chemistry has led to the turnaround.

"We didn't hang out much outside of basketball [my first two years]," Platts said. "Now the team hangs out with each other and that helps us on the court as well."

Platts isn't looking past this season and said he hasn't really thought about his plans after JU or what he will do with the degree he will earn in June.

Durham said Platts has the ability to play on the next level in some capacity, but has hopes for him beyond basketball.

"My dream for him [Platts] is to see him get a degree," Durham said. "If he has the opportunity to play at the next level, he can be successful. I would love to see him play in Europe, it would be a great experience for him."

Durham probably wouldn't mind seeing Platts in the NCAA Tournament either. If Platts is able to lead the Dolphins back to the tournament it will be JU's first trip under Durham.

And you always remember your first one.

Shawn LaFata writes for Sideline Sports & Fitness