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At America East Championship, UVM Will Continue To Lean On Senior Drew Urquhart

Brian Jenkins/Courtney Adams/UVM Athletics
The UVM Catamounts will rely on Drew Urquhart in the America East championship on Saturday.

When Anthony Lamb broke his foot during a practice over the Christmas holidays, University of Vermont men's basketball coach John Becker knew his team stood at a crossroad. 

If the Catamounts hoped to continue their two-year run of excellence, every player on the roster would have to do more — and no one needed to step up bigger than Drew Urquhart.Lamb, a sophomore forward, was not only the team's leading scorer and rebounder, but he was a preseason America East all-conference selection and arguably the most talented player in the league.

But Urquhart, the senior big man from British Columbia, would shift from a sixth-man role coming off the bench to that of a starter in the front court, asked to replace at least some of Lamb's production.

Vermont will play host to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday in the America East championship in large measure because Urquhart not only met expectations, but far exceeded them. Without his contributions, UVM would not be 27-6 and stand on the doorstep of a second consecutive berth in the NCAA tournament.

"I thought Drew was as good as any big man in our league this year," Becker said. "He raised his level and responded after being thrust into a role in terms of minutes and responsibilities that he had never been asked to deliver in his career."

"I thought Drew was as good as any big man in our league this year. He raised his level and responded after being thrust into a role in terms of minutes and responsibilities that he had never been asked to deliver in his career." — John Becker, UVM men's basketball coach

Urquhart's statistics paint a clear picture. The Catamounts are 20-1 since he became a starter. Over that span he has led the team in scoring five times, in rebounding 11 times, in blocked shots nine times and in assists six times. He has scored in double figures in each of the last 12 games.

"When Anthony went down, Drew really started to blossom,"? Becker said. "I told him and [front court partner] Payton [Henson] that they needed to stay on the floor and play as many minutes as they could.

"For a guy like Drew, that was exactly what he needed to hear from a confidence standpoint. He's really taken this opportunity and run with it," Becker said.

Urquhart hated the way that opportunity arrived, but was ready to make the most of it.

"With Anthony going down, you never want to get your minutes that way,"? he said. "But I had a pretty good start to the season and my confidence was high. I'm a confidence player, and when I'm rolling, I feel no one can stop me."?

Urquhart is averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds and has had four double-doubles along with 56 assists and 35 blocks. He came into this season with a career 3-point shooting mark of 2 for 12 but has hit 13 of 25 attempts this winter while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 76 percent from the foul line.

He went from being a non-factor in preseason to earning second team all-conference honors.

"We saw him as a role player but he's had an unbelievable year,"? then UMaine coach Bob Walsh said after Urquhart had 10 points and 12 rebounds in Vermont's 75-60 victory over the Black Bears in the tournament quarterfinals. "He's very economical and efficient and when you look at his stats, those are first-team [all-conference] numbers."

Urquhart's basketball career in Burlington has been one of patience and perseverance. After playing his junior high school season in Vancouver, he transferred to Eastside Catholic in Washington state for his senior year in hopes of raising his recruiting profile.

But in a bureaucratic snafu, Urquhart was ruled ineligible to play basketball at Eastside. As a result, his resume for college coaches rested primarily in his play for a summer AAU team. He was on Vermont's radar, but the first recruiting trip he took was to America East rival Binghamton.

"At the beginning, he really wasn't too responsive to us, quite honestly,"? Becker said.

But soon after the 2013-14 conference preseason poll became public, with UVM picked No. 1, Urquhart reached out. Becker was on the next plane west and persuaded Urquhart to make a campus visit.

"He was an important kind of guy because of the way we were trending toward playing where we have bigs who can shoot and spread the floor,"? Becker said. "He could shoot, dribble, pass and had a nice basketball IQ.

"I think Drew just had a good feeling about Vermont and the program. One thing about Drew is that he just wants to win and our culture was very appealing to him," Becker said.?

"I'm a confidence player, and when I'm rolling, I feel no one can stop me." — Senior Drew Urquhart

While Urquhart had size — 6 feet, 8 inches — he was scrawny for a post player. He averaged eight minutes a game as a freshman, a number that doubled his sophomore season. But last year when the Cats went 29-6, he was caught in a numbers game.

Henson, a transfer from Tulane, was now eligible, and Lamb had arrived as a highly touted freshman. Then Darren Payen delivered a senior season that saw him average seven points a game while shooting 70 percent from the field. Urquhart became the second big man off the bench and his numbers went down, even though he had added weight and muscle.

"Drew is a kid who probably would have benefited a lot from starting, but there weren't a lot of minutes for him,"? Becker said. "And when you come off the bench, you have a shorter leash."

Urquhart understood.

"I would have liked to have had a bigger role but we had a lot of good bigs and it was fine because we were winning,"? he said. "We won a [conference] championship and that's all you can ask for."?

Urquhart's goals in the off-season were to improve his shooting with his left hand, increase his shooting range and be a go-to guy in the post when the team needed a basket or a rebound. Mission accomplished.

"Offensively, being able to stretch defenses out to the three-point line and play with his back to the basket and be able to pass the way he does is a pretty unique skill set for someone at this level," Becker said. "And he's a really, really good rebounder."

"[Senior guard] Trae Bell-Haynes is the player of the year in our conference, but Drew might be the most valuable player on our team for what he has provided, night in and night out," Becker said. "He's been that good."

Andy Gardiner is a former sports writer for USA Today and the Burlington Free Press, who lives in Burlington.
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