Despite regretting transfer to Eastern Michigan, Riley returns to SU having maximized time as Eagles star defender

first_img Published on December 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm Contact Matt: [email protected] | @matt_schneidman A dejected Da’Shonte Riley walked off the court of EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. The 7-foot freshman didn’t score in just five minutes of action during top-seeded Syracuse’s 63-59 loss to fifth-seeded Butler in the 2010 Sweet Sixteen.He would never play again for Syracuse. After sitting out his sophomore season with a broken foot, Riley transferred to Eastern Michigan.Now a redshirt senior, Riley returns to SU on Tuesday as the starting center and leader of the Eastern Michigan Eagles. The No. 2 Orange (12-0) hosts EMU (7-4) in the Carrier Dome at 3 p.m.“Basketball-wise, I regretted it just because Syracuse has a lot of success and tradition there,” Riley said. “It’s been a slow process here at Eastern Michigan, but I take pride in the decision that I made in trying to build something here.”Riley, a Detroit native, knew he wanted to transfer closer to home, but didn’t know exactly what school he wanted to attend. Then Eastern Michigan hired SU assistant Rob Murphy, and it became an obvious choice. It’s a decision that he may not fully agree with in hindsight, but one he’s benefited from as well.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn the two years since, he’s grown into a defensive stalwart and one of the best shot-blockers in the country. He ranks 13th nationally with 3.5 blocks per game and is pulling down 5.6 rebounds per game for a team that has only lost to a non-Top 25 team once this season.“I came to Eastern Michigan for personal reasons,” Riley said. “I had a good chance to be closer to my family, build closer ties and better relationships, and spend more time with them.”Murphy, who also recruited Riley out of Detroit Country Day School, was actually in the process of helping him find another school before he was hired at EMU.Once he was brought on, Murphy called the addition of Riley a perfect fit.“Both of us being from the area, having a prior relationship and knowing he was familiar with the concepts of the zone I wanted to play,” Murphy said, “it was very beneficial for me as a head coach starting with a new program.”The NCAA granted Riley a waiver that allowed him to play his first season at Eastern Michigan. He averaged 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game. In his second year for the Eagles, Riley stayed near four points per game, but raised his rebounding output to more than six per game.Back in Central New York, the Orange had turned its fate around in March and rebounded from its two early exits from the NCAA Tournament during Riley’s time there. Trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four the two years after Riley’s departure left him watching from home.Instead, he was helping lead Eastern Michigan to 14-18 and 16-18 finishes. Riley said he still keeps in touch with many of his former teammates.“I talk to James Southerland a lot, Andy Rautins a bit, Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph,” Riley said. “I talk to a few guys that I played with there, and we all have pretty good relationships. We just talk about life after college. They basically coached me through my college experience.”In his three years at Eastern Michigan, Riley has been instrumental in helping Murphy implement the 2-3 zone defense. Riley has worked with all the front-line players, and Murphy emphasized how essential it was to have someone who knew the intricacies and philosophies of a zone.On an individual level, Riley sought out to improve his level of play and preparation. He gained 20 pounds of muscle, Murphy said.And leading scorer and rebounder Karrington Ward said he saw that extra work translate to the court.“He’s a great teammate,” Ward said. “He scores, rebounds, and blocks shots.”Ward pointed out that Riley, along with Murphy, will be especially helpful in preparation for the Syracuse game. They know the ins and the outs of Jim Boeheim’s system.Riley’s practiced against Baye Moussa Keita. He’s played as a visitor in the Carrier Dome. He’s suffered a 36-point defeat to the Orange.But Riley has been able to put family above all else and truly maximize his experience at Eastern Michigan.It’s a decision that he regrets to some degree, but has made the most of.“What I gained most from Syracuse was just a hard work ethic and an understanding of what it takes to be successful,” Riley said. “We work hard every day and we’re prepared to come in there and play our best.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img