Bank on it!
After a bumpy road, Devin Ebanks is ready to silence all doubters.
by Franklyn Calle
It was only three and a half years ago when Devin Ebanks hit that major turning point in his life. In April of 2006, close to two months away from finishing his junior year at Bishop Loughlin HS in Brooklyn, NY, Ebanks was expelled from school.
The event not only brought reaction within the school, it also made headlines in the local newspapers and blogs throughout the New York City area. And as you may already know about the local media in the New York, it isn’t forgiving. It doesn’t matter the sport or whether the athlete is pro or just in high school. You can ask anybody from Lance Stephenson to Alex Rodriguez. When you are on top, they praise you, but when you are down, they’ll be the first to kick you. But Ebanks saw it differently. Many could have taken it to the heart or gone on the offensive. He instead saw it as a time to reflect on some changes that he needed to make for his own benefit.
Prior to his expulsion, Ebanks and his parents had already spoken about him going away to prep school the following academic year. The plan was for him to hang in there for a couple of more months and finish the year off. But things obviously things turned out very different. The 6-9 forward ended up getting expelled from school in an alleged incident with a teacher, which according to the school was one of many problems throughout the year. Eventually he would have to redo his junior year all over again at St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut. That automatically made him ineligible to participate in the McDonald’s All-American Game — an event in which he could have made a run for the MVP award.
But there are no regrets if you ask the Queens native. Those things needed to happen in order for him to be where he is now.
Being expelled from Loughlin could turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to Ebanks as it helped him reflect and allowed him to give sole focus on his priorities. It was all books and ball. “The prep school scene helped me a lot, I was out on my own and able to focus more on school and basketball without the distractions of being in New York City,” says Ebanks. “It helped me a lot and it has gotten me to where I am right now.”
And the fact that the school was located in the middle of nowhere was even more beneficial.
“Definitely being in the middle of nowhere helps because there is only two things you can focus on, in basketball and schoolwork. Also it helped me learn and get some discipline in my life,” Ebanks says. “Those are things that definitely helped me along the way.”
The bad media rep he got was something that not only affected him; many in the basketball community were outraged by how he was publicized. He was portrayed as someone who had done a crime instead of just making an immature mistake. “I was kinda surprised about it. I felt I got some negative publicity,” remembers Ebanks. “I was surprised they even found out. But I was able to move on from it.”
He never did anything that was crazy or that had crossed the line. But it was the little foolish things that added up and one day let to Ebanks’ exit from Loughlin and eventually from the city. “From the first time I met him, he was always a happy-go-lucky kid,” says his summer youth coach, Gary Charles. “I think the whole process helped him mature a bit more.”
When asked if it was the girls, the media or the city that caused distractions, he acknowledges that it was a little bit of everything. “I would say all three of those. I was really immature back then at that age,” says Ebanks. “Just very young making young mistakes. But I have learned and grown from it now.”
“It was just kid stuff. It was me, Lance, Sylvan and some others. We used to cause a little wreckage. That’s about it. It was just all fun stuff back then.”
As Ebanks grew older he realized it wasn’t all just fun and games. The better you are, the more you must realize how much of a business the sport has become. For those top ranks prospects, everyone is watching.
The national class rankings were something that he admits focusing on, maybe a little too much and probably causing distractions. “I used to care about the rankings. That changed when I went to prep school. You learn to not care because at prep school is a totally different level; everyone is good. So you just have to go out there and prove yourself.”
In his two seasons at St. Thomas More, Ebanks scored over 1,000 points. As a junior, he averaged 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. His senior years numbers jumped to 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. While at the 2007 USA Basketball Development Festival held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, Ebanks averaged 28.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, shooting 60.2 percent from the floor.
His freshman stats were just glimpses of what is to come. Starting 34 of 35 games for coach Bob Huggins, the New York native averaged 10.5 points and a team-leading 7.8 rebounds per game. He scored double-figures in 14 of his last 16 games and had 9 double-doubles on the season. He set his career highs when it mattered the most, the Big East Tournament. In the third round, Ebanks put up a then season-high 20 points with 7 rebounds against the No. 2-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers. The following game, he finished with a new career-high 22 points along with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in a 74-69 loss to No. 20-ranked Syracuse. In the NCAA Tournament first round loss to Dayton, Ebanks recorded 14 points and 12 rebounds, his 12th game finishing with double-figures in the rebounding column.
That early exit from the big dance left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. But spirits are higher than ever for the upcoming season. “We really think we are a Final Four caliber team. We feel we can beat some of these teams that are ranked ahead of us,” says Ebanks. “It’s just about continuing to work hard day in and day out.”
Expectations are high for the Mountaineers this season. They were chosen to finish second to Villanova in the Big East at the preseason coaches poll. They’re also ranked top 10 nationally. Senior forward Da’Sean Butler and him are expected to be the leaders on and off the floor. But who will be their main go-to guy? Who will be that primary leader? It really doesn’t matter if you ask Ebanks. “With the team we have, we don’t really care who gets the credit as long as we keep putting wins on that column,” says the sophomore. “We’re trying to get to the final four, so we just want to win games and not worry about the individual things.”
There were never doubts about what he could do on the floor. Those that doubted how far he would make it were always about whether he could mentally stay focus. But those doubts are history. If this past offseason was any indication, Ebanks is as focused as he’s ever been.
The forward added 26 pounds to his frame during the offseason after arriving to campus at 190 pounds as a freshman. “He’s definitely gotten stronger. He has gone from about 190 pounds when he first got here to about 217-220 now. He is much more confident than he was at this time last year. His leadership with team, he’s a lot more vocal than he was last year,” says West Virginia assistant coach Larry Harrison. “He seems to have the presence that he knows he is an important part of what we are trying to do here and he is very confident that he can be successful in doing that.”
“I stayed with the weight program they had me on,” says Ebanks of his summer routine. “I ate, ate well. Ate the right foods at the right time. I’m really taking it serious. That’s one of the main things I worked hard on over the summer.”
As you may already know, there have been some players from West Virginia in the news as of late involved in legal matters. But Ebanks has been nowhere near any problems, just another prime example of how much more mature and grown he has become.
He’s been on everyone’s rankings since before high school. This time around his name is listed in probably the most important rankings he’s been on yet. The 2010 NBA mock drafts. But he’s not making the same mistake he made once before. He knows those lists mean nothing at the end of the day. He has learned that he controls his own destiny, and not any projection list. “I’ve obviously heard about the rankings but right now I’m just focused on this season,” says Ebanks of the mock drafts that have him being selected anywhere from 6th to 20th in next year’s draft. “We trying to win the Big East Championship for the first time in West Virginia history.”
But it won’t be easy. He’s no longer a freshman and won’t be surprising anybody. Other teams are going to be doing everything in their power to stop him. There will be all type of defensive schemes thrown at him. But according to Harrison, that’s something Ebanks will have no problem with. “I think he is looking forward to that challenge,” says the veteran assistant. “I think he is a lot more confident this year than he was last year. I think he welcomes the opportunity to compete against the best.”
Anyone that has known Ebanks since his days at Loughlin will tell you that he is a different man. “Now he is more reserved, he is more focused. I think he sees that light at the end of the tunnel,” says Charles. “He knows the opportunity is there for him. We always knew that opportunity would come for him to get to the next level.”
For those who still have doubts about this kid, watching a couple of West Virginia games should clear it all up.