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Lakeview alum Pruett rolling after slow start

POSTED: January 5, 2011 1:58 p.m.

GREENWOOD, S.C. — David Pruett came to Lander with a reputation of being a stellar 3-point shooter. But of his first 32 shots from behind the arc this season, he made only six.

And what was the response from his coaches and teammates?

Keep shooting.

Pruett, a Lakeview Academy graduate, has dramatically shaken off the slow start as well as a foot injury and has won two of the last Peach Belt Conference Player of the Week awards.

“First, I’d like to thank my teammates because without them I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish Player of the Week even once, let alone twice,” the 6-foot-4 sophomore wing said. “I feel very honored and hope to win it a few more times here at Lander.”

Pruett’s Player of the Week honors were no-doubters. Last week, the Armstrong Atlantic State transfer averaged 27 points per game in leading the Bearcats to victories over Hiwassee College and Lenoir-Rhyne in Lander’s Bearcat Holiday Classic.

He started the week with 26 points against Hiwassee, then came back and put up 28 against Lenoir-Rhyne. Pruett shot 58 percent (15 of 26) from the field and 55 percent (11 of 20) from 3-point range. He also shot 87 percent (13 of 15) from the foul line while averaging 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in those two games.

“We are very excited for David to be named Peach Belt Conference Player of the Week for the second time,” Bearcats coach Jeff Burkhamer said Wednesday morning. “He is very deserving and has earned the honor by playing well.

“David’s outstanding play has really helped our team score and has led to some terrific wins. Our team believes in David and has tremendous confidence in him shooting the ball. We are shocked when he misses an open shot.”

Three weeks earlier, Pruett scored a career-high 34 points in a 98-91 victory over Southern Wesleyan to earn Player of the Week for the first time. He hit 11-of-19 shots from the field and seven of 12 from behind the arc to go along with all five of his free throw attempts. He also grabbed six rebounds and blocked one shot.

His 34 points are the most scored in a single game in the Peach Belt so far this season and the most from a Lander Bearcat since Adrian Penland, a West Hall graduate, scored 38 against Allen University during the 2002-03 season.

Pruett has climbed to sixth on the PBC scoring chart with 16.6 points per game and is fourth in the league in 3-pointers made per game.

His ascent up the league scoring ladder is no surprise given Pruett’s solid scoring reputation.

Pruett averaged 21.7 points per game as a senior at Lakeview and is the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,961 points.

Burkhamer, then at Armstrong Atlantic, recruited and signed Pruett to play for the Pirates. After two years, Pruett reunited with his former coach for Burkhamer’s second season at Lander.

“Coach Burkhamer recruited me to Armstrong in 2008. My freshman year, Coach and I agreed the best thing for me to do was to redshirt,” Pruett said.

Pruett played last season for the Pirates and had a solid year, leading AASU in 3-point field goal percentage while finishing fourth in the Peach Belt. He played 20 minutes per game, shooting 42 percent from behind the arc. He averaged eight points and three rebounds per game and had a career-high 21 points versus Clayton State.

Pruett, the leading returning 3-point shooter in the PBC this season, left after two years in Savannah and has already surpassed his career high three times while at Lander.

“When coach left Armstrong after that (2008-09) season, I missed his system,” Pruett said. “So, after my first season playing at Armstrong, I asked for a release and visited Lander.”

The decision was not easy.

“Armstrong was a fantastic experience for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t take anything back from the two years I spent there. I had ample amounts of playing time, so that was not an issue.

“After visiting Lander, I knew it was the place for me. The student body and the faculty, as well as the City of Greenwood are all very supportive. They really turn out for the games here. The facilities are top notch. Plus, Coach Burkhamer is here.”

“David is a leader and he already knows what to expect from me and knows how we do things,” Burkhamer said of Pruett’s transfer. “We are counting on him to be a leader because of the number of new faces we have.”

The transition has not been easy, however. First, Pruett and teammate Dawda Njie, also transferring from Armstrong, were joining a team that was not only new to them, but pretty much new to everybody.

Lander had only one returning player, Tovi Bailey, from last season. Therefore, Njie, who had very limited playing time with the Pirates, and Pruett were the only players who had ever played together before.

“Early in the season, we were learning how to play with each other,” said Pruett, who is majoring in Mass Communications. “We’re continuing to learn about each other and we’re working very hard to improve as a team.”

Pruett’s transition was slowed by a left foot sprain in the fall, and it “was tough to get back into the flow,” he admitted.
In fact, Pruett missed Lander’s first two games of the season versus Newberry and Voorhees. His first game with the Bearcats was against Erskine and he did well, scoring 18 points including four 3-pointers.

But then came a three-game stretch against UNC Pembroke, Winthrop and Montevallo where he struggled shooting the ball, going 6-for-29 overall and 2-for-23 from behind the arc.

He was one of nine from long range against Pembroke, missed all four attempts at Winthrop, and hit only one of eight against Montevallo.

After going 4-for-11 against Erskine, the next three games left him six for 32 from behind the 3-point line on the season, or 19 percent.

“Well, it was tough coming back from the injury. I was in a shooting slump,” Pruett said.

“The coaching staff and my teammates would not let me get down on myself. They believe in me as I believe in them.”

“David did not shoot the ball well early in the year and I think a lot of it had to do with his foot injury,” Burkhamer said. “He was favoring one foot more than the other and it was affecting his shot. We noticed that he was turning his body and coming down with his feet turned to a side instead of keeping his feet straight and aimed at the rim. Once his foot healed, he starting shooting with his feet straight and his shot came back.”

Pruett added, “As I got to feeling better, coach Burkhamer helped me tune up my shot where it was prior to the injury. Eventually, I just went on the court and started hitting some shots.”

The turnaround was remarkable. He hit two early 3s at Georgia College & State University, and that was a sign of things to come. Pruett nailed 7-of-12 long-range shots against Southern Wesleyan, 5-of-9 versus Hiwassee, and 6-of-10 against Lenoir-Rhyne.

Pruett is now 26-for-68 (38 percent) from 3-point range after the very slow start, and has made 18 of his last 31 (58 percent).

Pruett has also done his fair share inside the arc, making several plays defensively during Lander’s last three games, all victories. “But I still have much to improve on defensively,” he said.

More importantly, he scored Lander’s final eight points to help the Bearcats hold off Lenoir-Rhyne last Thursday, including five of six free throws in the final minute plus. He is now 27-for-31 from the line (87 percent).

“I never worried about David’s shooting percentage early in the year because I’ve seen him shoot the ball and know he can make shots,” Burkhamer said.

“Shooters sometimes go through stretches where they miss shots, but eventually they come out of their slump. I knew he would too. He just needed to get well and then have a breakout game. He did that and now he is rolling.”

Burkhamer is clearly excited to have Pruett back on his side.

“I think David is one of the best shooters in the Peach Belt Conference,” he said. “He is terrific on catch and shoots, he can pull up and hit a shot, he shoots the deep 3, and he is an outstanding free throw shooter. He has beautiful mechanics on his shot. We are excited that David is a Bearcat and glad we have him for a couple of more years.”


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