Iona senior David Laury might have lost somewhere between 20 and 25 pounds since last season, but that isn’t the most notable change according to head coach Tim Cluess. Now he’s a much more vocal leader as well.
“I would never imagine that he would lead practices and be as vocal as he is in a positive way,” Cluess said. “I’m letting him run with it. I’ll tell him what we’re going to do in practice, I’ll tell him what the next drill is and he’s going to be the one who vocalizes it to the players and gets them there.”
“He punishes guys now, how about that? When a guy doesn’t do something right he makes them do push ups or he says you missed a layup and you have to go do 20. I’m loving it because I’m like great, it doesn’t have to come from me all the time, that he’s taken ownership of this team and gets it. It’s been a great thing.”
Of course it wasn’t like that just over two years ago when a young sophomore, who had to sit out first semester, came in after a prolonged period of struggles.
At the time of his recruitment, then Iona assistant coach Mark Calzonetti ran point on bringing Laury, who averaged 16.2 ppg and 9.8 rpg at Lamar State C.C., to New Rochelle. When Cluess met him for the first time, he could sense a person in need of stability and someone who could be pushed, but also had room for growth.
“I could just tell that he was a really good young man with a good heart, and to me that’s number one, the kid’s like that has a good heart you can kind of tell that part about him,” Cluess said. “He would have to walk away from us, we were never going to say, ‘Dave that’s it, we’re not going to because you’re not growing quick enough.’ I think it took Dave a while to understand accountability to all of his actions, and that he was going to be held responsible for them and that his excuses and poor, poor, pitiful me thing wasn’t going to work.”
One of the first things Cluess said about adding Laury, a player who was forced to miss half of his sophomore season with the Gaels due to transfer rules, was that he would need to get in shape. The 6’9″ big man had to figure that out on his own though, because he was not allowed to practice with the team until he was eligible to play.
“Coach Cluess was telling me the whole time, the year I sat out, ‘Run on your own, you have to run, like not just coming in shooting and playing pickup,'” Laury said. “You have to run.”
The 240-pound sophomore was exposed to college basketball early and often in his first season. Laury started after sitting out the first nine games, but was inconsistent. Laury said that he struggled with being aggressive, even in Iona’s upset victory over top-seeded Niagara in the MAAC tournament semifinals when Laury scored 20 points. Cluess knew it was going to be a continuing battle to keep his talented forward motivated and focused.
“There was times in those first couple of years where you’d see positives and then it would turn into a negative and you’d wonder if he’d ever get it,” Cluess said. “This year, for the majority of the time, you sit there and say he seems to have taken that next step forward where I think he’s on a great track right now to continue in that direction and carve out a good life for himself.”
The senior remembers one practice where Cluess, who Laury admitted is willing to call out any player for anything, called him out while he was having one of his best practices to date.
“I remember one day in practice, I made about I want to say no lie like seven assists in a row. We’re scoring, we’re rolling and I shot a one on three layup in the fast break,” Laury said. “I thought I attacked the rim hard, I got fouled and then he’s like, ‘Why would you shoot that shot?’ I’m a little upset because I’m like, I just got seven dimes. … He was like, ‘Do you think that was a great play?’ He said to me ‘Seven great plays.’ He said, ‘Good players don’t make seven out of eight, good plays or great plays, they make eight out of eight great plays, so make the right play every time.'”
Laury has continued to elevate his game and the MAAC coaches certainly respect him. The senior was named MAAC Preseason Player of the Year after averaging 14.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg and shooting 54.9% from the field last season.
When reflecting on the biggest lesson he’s learned while at Iona, Laury said he found a coach who cared to push him even harder and never give up on him.
“When I first got here, I’ve seen a difference in how I’ve been pushed before and it’s funny because you don’t get anything out of not being pushed,” Laury said. “You can have all the talent in the world and I remember, every time we go running or every time we do things that are high in difficulty, I hear [coach Cluess] behind me, totally behind me like, ‘Push yourself kid, push yourself.’ It just inspires me to keep going and go even harder.”
“It’s just a total difference, not being pushed my whole life and then coming and being pushed, not being receptive to that kind of stuff, not really easy to take it initially, but I’m happy that I have somebody who cares enough to push me. I’m glad he’s pushed me.”
Now entering his fifth season with the Gaels, Cluess senses that trust Laury gives to the coaching staff. He will spend more time just in conversation with the coaches, on basketball and outside of it. One part of the untapped potential Cluess has realized is not only Laury’s leadership but his ability to learn and show how intelligent he is.
“I can say something in practice, and I can ask nine guys what I just said and nine of them are not going to be able to know what the heck you are talking about, and you go to Dave and he can repeat things word for word. That’s the kind of sharp mind he really has,” Cluess said. “I don’t think anyone ever steered it in the correct direction and I think he’s using it in a lot better direction now.”
“He’s tremendous in the classroom, when he talks to guys on the court about basketball, he’s out there teaching them what to do because he remembers everything that was said to him. Now he feels confident enough about himself, because he’s working hard enough that guys have to respect that. He’s got that pride about him and I just love the young man he’s becoming.”
As for where he wants to improve, Laury would still like to become a better shooter and show that he can give as strong of a second and third effort as his first.
“I take a lot of lessons along the way, but the most important one is to just stay the course,” Laury said. “Things happen, but you just stay the course and just go after what you want.”
So far, it appears he’s earned the preseason accolade amongst the coaches. Now it will be up to earning the postseason award and punching Iona’s second ticket to the NCAA tournament during his time with the Gaels. However, Laury has already learned lessons that will endure for much longer.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.