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Darryl Proctor A Warrior

March 5, 2008 Columns No Comments

This is the Story of a Warrior

by Sam Perkins

On February 20th the visiting University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers were clinging to a one point lead with a half a minute left over the University of Albany Great Danes. The Great Danes were surging, having just completed a four-point play, the latest of a half dozen back-breakers they connected on over the course of the night. In front of a boisterous crowd with all the momentum behind them, Albany was on the verge of pulling out a potentially back-breaking victory over the first place Retrievers.

“I told our guys that if we got one stop, the game was over because I had no doubt we’d score on the last possession down one, and win the game,” Albany head coach Will Brown reflected later.

There was no telling of how a loss would affect UMBC, as their validity as a conference favorite had been questioned all year, and with the conference tournament approaching fast, the carry over from such a loss could be significant for a team that had little experience as a conference top dog. And with less than thirty seconds left it appeared that Albany would get the stop that Brown desperately needed, as Retriever gunner Ray Barbosa missed badly with the shot clock closing in on zero, failing to even connect with the rim.

As Barbosa’s shot plummeted towards the floor, a trio of Danes appeared to have the rebound surrounded. But Darryl Proctor, the hardest working player in the conference, swooped in. Proctor, the league’s smallest post player standing well below his listed 6’4″, fought his way through the sea of bodies despite being hobbled by a banged up knee, and in one swift motion corralled the rebound with one hand, and banked a scoop shot off of the glass and in as the shot clock expired, all while getting fouled.

Proctor’s heroics won the game, and told everything you need to know about the Retrievers’ man without a position: Darryl Proctor will never stop fighting, Darryl Proctor can do great things through sheer will and determination, and you are probably going to have to kill Darryl Proctor to get him off of the basketball court.

The Making of a Baller

UMBC Head Coach Randy Monroe has constantly referred to Proctor simply as a “basketball player, a ‘baller’,” and Proctor’s game can be traced back to his roots growing up in District Heights, Maryland, and has an accent that is Maryland to the bone. Proctor grew up surrounded by athletes, and it was only natural for him to follow suit,

“My whole family is athletes,” reflected Proctor. “My mom ran track and played basketball in high school and ran track in college, my father played basketball in high school, my uncles played college basketball, it sports were all around me.”

Darryl’s step father Levi Franklin is an assistant coach at Robert Morris University. As a youngster Darryl played both basketball and football with a passion, and as a standout outside linebacker and tight end, drew serious interest from college recruiters on the gridiron.

However, Proctor’s heart always belonged to basketball, in no small part because of the bond he shared through the sport with his older brother, Steve, who incidentally played for conference rival Binghamton University. “My brother was the biggest influence on me, in my life,” said Proctor. “Growing up, watching him, I just wanted to do everything he did. From watching him play, I wanted to play basketball with all my heart because of him, and if I ever didn’t want to play he made me play.”

Proctor has maintained a close relationship with his brother throughout college, talks to him on a daily basis, and attributes a lot of his success to his brother’s constructive criticism. “He’s probably my biggest fan other than my mom, he’s always criticizing my game, but he’s the big brother,” he said. “And with me being the little brother I don’t want to hear it, but I know it’s going to help me.”

When Proctor stepped on the court in high school, he was a man without a position, and despite being undersized, with his stocky-strong build and linebacker’s mentality, he was thrown into the low post as an underclassman, something which hindered his status as a recruit, but ultimately paid off down the road. “Darryl’s low post game is so advanced, because he developed it at a young age, and being younger and smaller than his opponents forced him to find ways to adapt and succeed,” explained Monroe. “He had to play inside, and he’s developing post moves, learning how to use his body, and develop his hook shot.”

During Proctor’s senior season his team needed him to move to the point guard position. Despite having found his niche in the low post, Proctor never once complained about having to adapt to a new position and move away from his comfort zone. “My sophomore and junior year, I was a low post player, but my senior year what my team needed was for me to bring the ball up the court. I did whatever my team needed and played all positions,” said Proctor.

While adjusting to a new position may have hurt Proctor’s numbers and recruiting status, Monroe feels that in the long run it greatly helped to develop his unique game, saying, “His senior year he’s playing away from the basket and developing an inside-outside game, and a lot of players can’t do that.”

Despite putting up good numbers, Proctor was very lightly recruited, as scout after scout found fault with his game. “Coming out of high school people said ‘your too big and too slow to be a guard, your undersized to be a forward, you can’t jump, you can’t shoot, you should have gone D-III or D-II,'” reflected Proctor.

But Proctor had his mind set on playing Division I basketball, and landed at Coppin State, a small Division I program in the Middle Eastern Athletic Conference, and a school that didn’t care about his lack of a true position, or perceived failings, but rather fell in love with his work ethic and drive. In his first two years at Coppin State, Proctor used all the doubts about his size and game to motivate him, and used and inside outside attack to put up 801 points and pull down 435 rebounds during his two years there (averages of 13.6 and 7.4 a game). Proctor earned the conference Rookie of the Year award in 2004-2005 and had ten double doubles over two seasons.

Moving On and Moving Up

After two years at Coppin State, things fell through for Proctor, and he felt that it was no longer the right place for him. Two people played a large role in Proctor landing at nearby UMBC. One was childhood friend Brian Hodges, who was (and is) starring for the Retrievers, and the other was Don Anderson, the assistant coach who recruited Proctor to Coppin State and had since moved on to coach at UMBC. (Anderson now coaches, ironically, for conference rival Binghamton.)

Despite putting up big numbers at Coppin, many coaches still felt that Proctor’s lack of height would negate his low post game, and Proctor wouldn’t be staring for the Retrievers without the blessing of their Head Coach. But after seeing Proctor in high school and at Coppin, Monroe didn’t have any doubts about Proctor’s lack of a true position; rather he liked it.

“He’s a player without a position and I like players like that,” said Monroe. “He certainly has the ability to play inside, come away from the basket, and he is just what I call a relentless warrior. He’s always in the middle of things, making some big shots, whether he’s hitting a fifteen-foot jumper of posting guys up, he’s playing on high octane. And his teammates feed off of his energy and enthusiasm.”

Above all else, Proctor simply loves to play the game of basketball, and coming to a new school and being forced to watch a year from the sidelines (due to NCAA transfer rules) was hard for Proctor, because he was itching to get out on the court. But he took it in stride, and instead of climbing the walls used it as a way to advance his game. “I was thinking that it was a step through my life, and that I had to sit out the year to better myself for the following year,” he recalled.

Furthermore, the Retrievers forged the bonds that have made them the tightest-knit team in the conference this year during the previous season, when Proctor was joined by fellow Retriever stars (and transfers) Cavell Johnson and Ray Barbosa, as all three were forced to watch from the sidelines. “It definitely wasn’t a hard adjustment, me and Brian Hodges grew up together and played together, and from practicing and doing open practices with Ray and Cavell and JG (point guard Jason Greene) and everybody, we all just got along and the transition was easy,” said Proctor.

The Retrievers, despite being a mixed bag of returning players and transfers, have all known each other in one way or another for much longer than their time at UMBC, making the transition that much easier. “When we were in high school, we all played against each other in some way,” recalls Proctor. “Me and Brian played against each other, me and Cavell are from the same area and I grew up with his cousins. And JG and Ray grew up playing against each other all the time and they played against Matt Spadafora and grew up with him.”

The other added bonus of Proctor’s transfer was getting to watch his brother Steve play out his senior year for rival Binghamton, something the Proctors cherished, saying, “Just getting to see him play was amazing and exciting.”

Watching his brother’s career end also was not lost on Proctor, and served to further motivate him in the hopes of making it to an NCAA tournament, something his brother was never able to accomplish. “Watching it end for him, seeing how much he hurt, that hurt me, too,” reflected Proctor.

A Leader is Born

When Proctor arrived, the Retrievers were desperately in need of a leader, as senior Brian Hodges is a terrific player and teammate, but he is more of a quiet and unassuming workhorse. Proctor was the emotional and spiritual leader of his Coppin State squads, but he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers by appointing himself as the spokesman of the team, and furthermore that isn’t Proctor’s style. However, with Proctor, actions have always spoken louder than words, and his work ethic elevated him to a leadership role.

“The team put me in that role,” said Proctor. “I was a little shaky coming over here, because I was a captain for my two years at Coppin, but I didn’t want to come over here and tell everyone what to do. I was a new guy and it wasn’t my place, and I’m not that type of a leader anyways, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I’m not going to tell you what to do anyways, if I see something wrong, or that I can help you with, I’ll make some suggestions, but I’m not going to tell anyone what to do or get on anyone. I’ll lead by example but not by being loud or commanding.”

For Monroe, it has been equal parts Proctor’s work ethic and nature that have made him a player that everyone looks up to and follows, as well as his refusal to put himself above anyone else on the team. “His heart makes you want to do the same things, in terms of getting out and leaving it all on the court, and it makes your team so much better, because everybody is following his lead.”

Monroe added, “He’s got the personality that he can get along with the devil. He get’s along with everybody, he can fit in with the most difficult of personalities to the most pleasant of personalities. He’s part of a group that very unselfish.”

A Warrior on the Floor

For all of his leadership abilities and perseverance, this article wouldn’t be getting written if he wasn’t producing on the court, as Proctor has been the Retrievers’ most consistent, and possibly most valuable, player. Proctor is third on the team in scoring, averaging 14.7 points per game, and leading the team in rebounds (and is second in the conference) at 8.6 a game, averaging almost a full rebound more in conference games. Furthermore, Proctor has been the team’s most consistent player, having scored in double figures in 27 of his 29 games played, and has posted twelve double-doubles.

His versatility from not fitting in to a true position has been invaluable to the Retrievers, as despite only playing seven players, Proctor’s ability to fill different roles allows Monroe to play an incredible assortment of lineups, from a small one in which Proctor plays the center position, to a big one with Proctor at the small forward or even 2-guard position.

Proctor has seemed to rip down rebounds in traffic and put the ball through the hoop through sheer tenacity, a testament to his determination and mind set. “I figure I’m not the tallest and I might not be the most talented, but if I can work harder than that person that day, then I’ll be the better player that day, and that’s how I have to come out mentally every day, no exceptions, no days off,” said Proctor.

His offensive repertoire is as impressive as his tenacity, as he easily boasts the best low post moves in the conference, and his fade-away jumper is automatic and seemingly impossible to defend. One opponent remarked, “When he’s on, the only thing you can do about that fade-away is close your eyes and pray that he’s going to miss, because you’re not going to block it.”

Proctor has also established himself as the best fundamental rebounder in the conference, as despite giving away height and leaping ability to almost every post player in the conference, he continues to dominate the boards at an incredible rate, thanks to tremendous fundamentals. “In Darryl’s situation, when the ball is shot he’s like a Dennis Rodman and he’s already jockeying for position, and he’s either coming down with it or going up with it while you’re still trying to get into position,” explained Monroe.

But beyond Proctor’s fundamentals on the low blocks is something that you simply can’t teach: incredible rebounding instincts, instincts which his coach has never send before. “His rebounding abilities are something that’s instinctive,” said Monroe. “Sometimes people get the misconception that you have to be the biggest and tallest guy on the floor to rebound. Rebounding is about having a nose for the basketball and it’s all about positioning, and he does a very good job for his size of getting that inside positioning before the ball is shot.”

Proctor also may have the conference’s best, and strongest, hands, and he has been able to make himself taller by actually ignoring the fundamentals, as he has an uncanny ability to rip down rebounds with one outstretched arm. That both amazes, and sometimes aggravates, his coach, as Monroe described. “Sometimes I do have to remind him to grab the ball with two hands, but he can go up there and get it with one hand, and he’s strong with it, you’re not going to take the ball away from him. It’s not something that we taught, his instincts are unbelievable. And he likes to go inside and mix it up and be physical.”

But perhaps the most impressive aspect about Proctor’s game is his sheer physical toughness, as he has never failed to finish a game this season, despite taking a pounding in the paint. It is a rarity for a game to end without Proctor being covered in bruises and hobbling a bit, but the thought of leaving a game will never cross his mind. When asked what it would take to keep him off of the court, Proctor responded, “Until the trainer tells me that I can’t go back out, I’m staying in the game, and if they tell me that I don’t think I’m going to listen. If I can walk, I’ll be on the court, as long as I can breathe I’m going back out on the court.”

Added his coach: “He fights through things. He might be a little sore, but he just fights through it, and that’s having a mindset of who you are and what you’re all about, and I think that’s the difference between being successful and the people who don’t succeed.”

What Lies Ahead

Proctor and the rest of the Retrievers find themselves in uncharted territory for their school. UMBC had never, until this season, won a Division I conference championship, nor has it ever participated in a post season tournament at the Division I level. By winning the America East regular season Title, UMBC ensured itself at least a birth in the NIT, but for Proctor anything short of an NCAA tournament will be a disappointment. “The NCAA tournament is the goal, it’s our goal that we’ve had all year and anything short of it is going to be hard to take,” said Proctor.

Many insiders around the conference have wondered aloud whether the Retrievers are tiring down the stretch with such a short bench and so many minutes in a game, but Proctor feels the opposite. He finds playing almost and entire game every night invigorating.

“People dream about playing this much in college, and we’re getting the opportunity to play this much so we have to take advantage of it,” he reflected. “This year has been great, I’m playing the best basketball that I’ve ever played, and I think everyone on the team is playing the best basketball that each of them has ever played in their lives.”

With his distinct accent and outgoing and engaging personality, if David Simon ever were to bring back a reincarnate of his Baltimore-based drama The Wire, a show that Proctor watches every Sunday, there is little doubt that Proctor could land a recurring role. (Simon has made a point to cast locals for many parts.) Proctor, who is majoring in Sociology, has ambitions of opening up his own night club, but his immediate goal, and his true dream, is to play basketball professionally somewhere. And with his drive and determination, there is no reason to doubt him anymore, as chances are he’s only going to prove you wrong. Even his coach learned this the hard way, when Proctor threw down a dunk in an earlier game this year.

“He got a dunk this year, one dunk,” joked Monroe, before adding with a hearty laugh, “When he dunks in practice, I always kid him, ‘whose been lowering the rims?’ I’m convinced in that game someone lowered that rim to nine feet, I’m trying to find some concrete proof.”

One thing is for sure, when the lights go up this weekend in Binghamton, no matter what happens, Darryl Proctor is going to leave everything he has on the basketball court, and he will have no one but himself to credit.

“Everything he’s accomplished, he’s done himself,” said Monroe. “He didn’t have any hype, no one has handed everything, but he’s gone out there and accomplished everything everyone said he couldn’t, and that is a testament to the tremendous heart in his chest, and I think everyone who ever steps foot on the court can learn something from Darryl Proctor.”

That’s a pretty accurate summation.


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