Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mental toughness led Drake to tourney

March 20, 2008


— When Drake was piling up wins and rewriting the school's record books, coach Keno Davis insisted he wasn't concerned with prevailing wisdom.

See, most people thought that since Drake (28-4) hadn't really dealt with pressure before, it was destined to stumble eventually. Davis and his team knew better.

Nearly all the Bulldogs had battled through personal adversity to get to where they were, and something as silly as high expectations weren't going to get in their way.

Drake overcame a brief February swoon that followed a 21-game winning streak and dominated the Missouri Valley conference tournament. The Bulldogs, fresh off the most surprising regular season in school history, will play their first NCAA tournament game since 1971 tomorrow when they face Western Kentucky in Tampa, Fla.

"It's pretty sweet," said senior forward Klayton Korver, who has started 32 games this season despite undergoing two knee surgeries since 2005. "To be here when we weren't very good, the Knapp Center wasn't very full ... and to be here now when we've had this great year, and to be able to play under Coach (Davis), it's been a great season."

Drake's mental toughness was forged by senior leaders like Korver, Adam Emmenecker and Leonard Houston, and hardened through years of losing. But while Emmenecker's journey from walk-on to league MVP and Houston's emergence as a star made headlines, Korver's role in shaping Drake's persona has often been overlooked.

Ironically, Korver came to Drake in 2003 as one of the few big-name recruits the school has ever had. That's thanks to his older brother Kyle, who twice won league Player of the Year honors at rival Creighton.

Klayton has found a way to contribute despite an injury that would have ended the careers of many players, and he's been invaluable this season in Drake's perimeter-heavy offense.

He has hit 77 threes and is shooting 87.8 percent from the line.

"You're talking about somebody that only cares about the team. He just as well will make a pass into the interior to score, or make the big rebound late in games," Davis said. "When you look at somebody who's come back and fought through his knee injuries and worked as hard as he's had, you cheer for that kind of story."

It isn't just toughness Korver's teammates admire. He's fought through it all with a smile on his face.

"I learned a lot of patience. I've learned you've got to enjoy it," Korver said. "You don't know when it's going to be your last day. You might blow out your knee tomorrow. You never know. So enjoy your teammates, enjoy the whole experience and don't take anything for granted."


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