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March 26, 2013

Van Treese ready for Indy homecoming

Even though he grew up in the Indianapolis area, Stephan VanTreese has witnessed only a few sporting events in Lucas Oil Stadium, but one made a lasting impression on Louisville's senior forward.

While a senior at Lawrence North High School in 2009, Van Treese was in the crowd for the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional final between UofL and Michigan State, won by the Spartans 64-52.

"I watched T-Will and them lose, and I said, 'Man, I want to come back here and play some day,'" Van Treese recalled.

Little did he know he would actually get that chance, but he'll enjoy a homecoming when he and his UofL teammates (31-5) meet 12th-seeded Oregon (28-8) in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday. He has looked forward to it since Indiana lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, opening the door for Louisville to grab the No. 1 overall seed and play close to home.

"Once IU lost, I said, 'Guys, we have to win the Big East championship so I can go home,'" Van Treese said.
The Cards came through with the Big East title, earned the top seed and obliterated North Carolina A&T and Colorado State in first- and second-round games in Rupp Arena last week to send their teammate home.

"I can't wait. I've been looking forward to it," Van Treese said. "I'm excited. It's a great venue ... I'm pretty pumped to go home. I've been telling all the guys how much fun Indianapolis is. I think everyone's going to enjoy it."

Friends and family on hand should see plenty of their homeboy because he's been an important player off the bench for the Cards down the stretch and in postseason play, providing solid defense and rebounding punch with his 6-foot-9, 245-pound body.

In Saturday's 82-56 victory over Colorado State, Van Treese played 15 minutes, getting three rebounds and two steals. Two days earlier, in the 79-48 rout of NC A&T, he logged 19 minutes, with seven boards and four points. And in the three victories in the Big East Tournament he grabbed 15 rebounds in just 32 minutes, second only in average per game (5.0) to Gorgui Dieng's 8.0.

Furthermore, Van Treese's contributions have allowed Dieng to get some much-needed rest and be more effective during his time on the court.

"I think ever since we started playing Stephan (more) we've grown immensely as a basketball team," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "I was playing Gorgui too much and he was getting tired."

Said co-captain Luke Hancock, "V-T has given us a huge lift."

Van Treese isn't a scorer, but he's comfortable with his role, which is to defend and rebound.

"I think it's similar to Montrezl (Harrell)," he said. "He scores a little more than me, but I feel like we are those energy guys and we keep the ball moving, get rebounds, hustle and play good defense and keep the lead up. I feel like a lot of guys feed off me. They know when I come in I'm going to set a good screen, like for Peyton (Siva) or Russ (Smith), and they can get to the bucket pretty easy or get open shots."

And at times he can surprise opposing players with his athleticism, which he demonstrated early in the Colorado State game. When Siva missed a layup, Van Treese flew to the basket and slammed through a one-handed dunk, which will serve as his offensive highlight of the season until something better comes along.

"When I jumped, I thought, 'Oh gosh, don't grab it on the rim (for goal-tending) or Coach is going to kill me,'" Van Treese said. "I was happy I got it in, but I hope fans don't expect that every time. If they do, I hope it happens.

"That's what Coach puts me in for. He expects me to get rebounds. He got mad at me later in the game when I didn't go in and get the rebound. He said, 'Stephen, you had a wide-open dunk.' He tells us every rebound is a pass to us, so that's how we play."

As for his rare field goals, he just doesn't have a scorer's mentality. He has scored only 62 points this season in 381 minutes. When he touches the ball in the paint out of the Cards' half-court offense he's more likely to pass it quickly back out instead of looking to score.

That has led Pitino at times to tell him, "Stephan, there's a reason they're passing you the ball."

Said Van Treese of possible scoring opportunities: "I do think about it. If they hit me on a pick and roll I can score in the post when I'm facing up. Coach jokes with me a lot. He gives me a hard time. Honestly, he gets mad at me sometimes for passing up a shot. I've just been a guy ... I've never had to score on my teams to make a difference and help us be successful. I've always done all the glue-guy stuff."

Although Van Treese is a senior, he'll be around for another season because he has a fifth year of eligibility due to missing all but three games last year with a knee injury. He will graduate in May with a degree in sports administration. At one point, he considered transferring to play his final season, a move he almost made a year ago when he briefly appeared headed to Bellarmine before deciding to return to UofL with Pitino's blessing.

He might have planned on leaving after this season if he wasn't convinced that Dieng will depart for the NBA, opening up more playing time for him in 2013-14.

"Me and coach talked about it and I talked to my parents, and we thought it would definitely be best for me to stay," Van Treese said. "Coach envisions Gorgui leaving, and I should have a lot of minutes next year. I told him I just need to be able to play. He said as long as I'm doing all the right things, I should.

"I considered moving on, but I thought it would be tough to go to another system and learn all new coaches and players and environment. I've been here four years and I love it, love Louisville. It's a great town."

And if Dieng doesn't turn pro, as expected?

"Then it might be a different question, but I'm really hoping that doesn't happen," Van Treese said. "He aspires to go, and coach is all for him to go."

In the meantime, Van Treese plans to enjoy his homecoming.

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