Friday, March 02, 2001

Sato's defense has come a long way

Freshman makes return to Dayton Sunday

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For Romain Sato, offense was a given. A player who owns a 40-inch vertical leap and is the team's best pure shooter will dent the scorebook.

        His season's syllabus spoke of defense. Xavier tried the trial-by-fire approach, sending a freshman with one year of organized basketball experience to guard the opponents' top scorers.

  Sato is at or near the team lead in several categories:
  • 3-point shooting: 1st, .391
  • Free throw shooting: 2nd, .746
  • Turnover-to-assist ratio: 2nd, 1.56 to 1
  • Scoring: 3rd, 11.0
  • Rebounding: 3rd, 5.4
  Other notables:
  • 31-point game at Rhode Island is XU's single-highest output of the season.
  • Set single-game school record with eight 3s at URI.
  • Tied XU single-game freshman rebounding record with 16 against Samford.
  • Ranks third in the A-10 in 3-point shooting.
  • Averages 0.96 turnovers a game.
  • Fewer fouls per minute than any other Musketeer.
        That XU is 21-5 suggests he has succeeded.

        “That's really surprised me,” XU radio analyst Byron Larkin said. “I thought he'd go out there and be like a deer in the headlights, with some of the guys he's playing against.

        “He has really risen to the occasion. That's pure athleticism and desire.”

        The former exchange student from Dayton Christian High School makes his homecoming Sunday at Dayton (17-11, 8-7 Atlantic 10). He probably will guard UD senior Tony Stanley (16.6 ppg), the Flyers' leading

        scorer, and bear the brunt of boos from fans angry he left town to attend XU.

        In short, he'll be in the spotlight. Where he has been as much as any XU freshman ever.

        “We're real pleased with what he has given us,” XU coach Skip Prosser said. “It's tough for any freshman to make the adjustment to college and to this level of basketball, and with him you add in extra studies continuing to learn English. But he has adjusted better than most.”

        Barring injury, Sato will become the second player in school history to start every game of his freshman season; David West was the first. Sato averages 11 points a game, and his 5.4 rebounding average is stellar for a shooting guard. His .391 3-point shooting ranks third in the A-10.

        “The one thing we lacked was consistent outside shoot ing, and that's what he gave us,” Prosser said. “He stretches the defense.”

        The coaches have told him not to worry about his production, which has varied from a low of two points (twice) to a high of 31.

        “Now I'm not worried about my offense,” Sato said. “I've just got to worry about guarding.”

        Early this season, Sato defended no better than a matador's cape. In the loss at Princeton, he looked lost watching the Tigers weave their screens.

        Yet he has come this far: Sunday at LaSalle, he harassed the A-10's third-leading scorer, Victor Thomas (20 ppg), into 3-for-11 shooting. Thomas had no baskets in the first half as XU built a 24-point lead.

        “He could be a very good defender,” XU assistant Jeff Battle said. “He's athletic. He's strong. He's got long arms and good size (6-foot-4). He has the potential to be our stopper.”

        On offense, Sato stays mostly on the perimeter. Seventy percent of his shots have been 3-point tries, and his jumping ability has paid off with just one dunk.

        He is slowly expanding his game, as Prosser emphasizes getting more points on drives to the basket and offensive stickbacks.

        “Most people develop the driving part of their game, then develop the jump shot second,” Larkin said. “He has the benefit of doing it the other way around, which is great.

        “Once you get the reputation as a jump shooter, guys start flying at you (to defend 3-point shots) and you drive past them. He's going to be very difficult to guard.”

        Sato and his coaches agree he could make big strides in the offseason. He has been hamstrung thus far by heavy course loads and tutorial sessions which result in 14-hour work days.

        “My schedule should be better next year,” Sato said. “But I'm still having fun now.”


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