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The Big South Conference defensive player of the year has been a one-man block party for the Keydets this season.
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
D.J. Covington of VMI (center) led the Big South Conference in blocked shots this season with 88.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Wondering who holds the position of secretary of defense at VMI?
Well, Keydets basketball coach Duggar Baucom has an answer. It’s his 6-foot-8 post man, D.J. Covington.
While VMI has been widely recognized for Baucom’s run-and-gun, high-speed offense that led the nation in scoring five times in the past six years, the Keydets’ arsenal now is stocked with a game-changing difference-maker on defense.
“D.J. has got to be the best big man in program history here,” Baucom said. “You know, it’s difficult to get a big man to come here. Not many 6-8 guys like to march.”
Covington has been right in step in the paint this season. The junior from Virginia Beach paced the Big South in blocked shots (88) in the regular season and his presence gives VMI (13-16) a better-than-a-puncher’s chance to capture the league tournament that continues today in Conway, S.C.
It’s not like Covington doesn’t do anything but swat shots like flies. The ex-Norfolk Academy standout was the Big South’s sixth-leading rebounder (7.2). Plus, he leads the league in field-goal shooting (55.6 percent) and ranks 11th in scoring (14.6).
More than anything, though, the affable big man loves playing the role of intimidating rejector.
“Yeah, I love going in and getting me a block!” Covington said. “I would rather have 10 blocks than 10 points, I can tell you that right now. I pride myself on defense.”
Any offensive player visiting Covington’s territory down low often gets treated rudely. VMI’s human stop sign enjoys foes participating in his numerous court block parties that led to him being named the Big South Defensive Player of the Year on Sunday.
“I feel like that nobody has any business scoring in the paint on me,” Covington said. “I’m not a player who can just sit back and watch somebody just dominate you. I can’t have that. My pride won’t let me.
“It’s just not in me to just let somebody run in there and just lay the ball up. That’s the easiest play, you have to make them make a tougher play or at least get me off my feet and draw a foul.”
Covington has posted at least one block in all of VMI’s 29 games. He’s had 11 contests with at least four blocks, including a season-high seven in wins at Old Dominion and Liberty.
It’s been quite a revival for Covington, who was plagued by back pain much of the season before returning in time to help VMI make it to the Big South championship, where the Keydets lost to UNC Asheville on its home court.
“Basically, I was born with like an extra vertebrae in my back, the doctors said,” Covington said. “I had been playing basketball my entire life and hadn’t had any problems with it and it kind of flared up and caused me to starting having pains in my legs and back. Just happened, it would swell up and I get these pains. So I took some time off and rested.
“It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve been through in my life. I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to play basketball again.”
Covington’s back, which requires daily tweaking and stretching in the training room, hasn’t been a problem this season.
“D.J. being back full has really helped us defensively this season,” Baucom said. “It’s not only the blocks, but all the shots he alters down low.
“Now, we can get out and pressure a little more on the perimeter and feed everything down to him. He takes care of a lot of our defensive mistakes on penetration and stuff. And he’s gotten so much better on that. He used to be bad when he first got here by helping uphill — that’s what we call it — so he would step up and they would dump it down for a layup behind him.
“Now, if you want to bring it in there, he may jump or not jump. Sometimes he doesn’t have to jump to block it but he changes other ones. I think he likes being the intimidator in the back. He’s taken pride and ownership in that.”
Covington’s prime goal now is to help lead VMI to its first Big South title. The Keydets, who have made it to the title game three times in Baucom’s eight seasons, face Longwood (8-24) in today’s 2 p.m. quarterfinal at Coastal Carolina’s HTC Center.
“This thing is wide open. I think it’s anybody’s game,” Covington said of a tournament that saw three lower seeds pull upsets in Tuesday’s first round.
“It’s a new season come tournament time. I mean you can be undefeated going into the tournament and lose the first game and it’s over for you. This is the best year that we can possibly have to win it, especially with Stan [Okoye],” the conference player of the year and VMI’s leader in scoring and rebounding.
“I’m excited. My freshman year we lost in the semis, last year we lost in the finals. Now, I want to win it.”
Pull it off and VMI will earn a ticket to its first NCAA tournament bid since 1978. The mere thought of what could happen made the big man smile.
“It’s March Madness,” Covington said. “It’s one shining moment! All it takes is one moment … just one!”
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