Picture Me Ballin’
If you don’t know (these players), now you know.
When the time came to select players to run for the latest mag’s PMB section, we decided to run some names that you may not have heard previously, but thought you should be aware of. By now you should have already read the issue, but in case you didn’t cop it yet, below are the players’ names and blurbs as they appeared in the Picture Me Ballin’ section of the mag. Don’t stop after reading those three names, though. If you keep on, you’ll learn about another cat, one that was also supposed to appear in the mag. Due to a decision to not have any more Class of ’09 ballers after SLAM 130, you never got to see his name on glossy paper. To make up for the exclusion, we decided to blow out our coverage of Dan Capkin online. Pay Attention! You don’t want to sleep on this crew of ballers.
Originally published in SLAM 131…
Picture Me Ballin’
DJ Rivera, Binghamton: A chiseled 6-4, 190 pounds, Rivera may seem small compared to his late uncle Hank Gathers, yet he has no problem matching up with anyone in the America East. The rising senior, who transferred from St. Joseph’s, averaged a league-best 20 ppg last season thanks to strong drives and a change-of-pace J. But offense isn’t what makes him special—it’s Rivera’s ability to battle bigs on the glass (6.5 rpg) and guard the little men (1.8 spg) that makes him so valuable. This past season, the versatile DJ helped the Bearcats reach their first-ever Tourney, where he gave the world a glimpse of his talent by dropping 20 on Duke.
Ben Smith, Jacksonville: Listed at 5-10, this speedy rising senior finds himself looking up at most people on the hardwood, yet the three-year starter doesn’t let that stop him. With averages of 16.9 ppg, 4 apg, 3.3 rpg and 2.2 spg last season, Smith did his part to help the Dolphins make the NIT. Already in the Dolphins career top 10 in steals, assists and FTA, look for Smith to continue making a big impact in the Atlantic Sun Conference—and Jacksonville’s record book.
Jaleesa Ross, Fresno State: A First-Team All-WAC performer, Ross just led the Bulldogs to their second straight NCAA Tourney. The 5-8 rising junior, a superb shooter, connected on 41 percent of her trey attempts. The consistent Ross averaged 13.7 ppg and made at least one three in all but one game. The two-time WAC Tournament MVP also displays great hustle and tenacity, using effort to track down 4.6 rpg.
Bonus Online Coverage:
You can hate and disrespect Dan Capkin. You can mitigate his credentials by saying that he went to a no-name DIII school (Gettysburg College), in a no-name conference (Centennial Conference). You can hate that the recent graduate was never able to lead the Bullets past the Sweet Sixteen (in the DIII Tourney!). You can dismiss him because his stats dipped slightly in his senior year. Hell, you can even hate the fact that you’ve never heard his name spoken before, and may not have even seen him garner a mention on some of the bigger hoops’ sites. There’s one thing you can’t hate about the 6-2 guard, though: his basketball game.
If you live in the state of Pennsylvania, it’s likely that you actually have heard Dan Capkin’s name before. It was only four years ago that Capkin, then a high school senior, along with teammates Garrett Willamson (now playing at St. Joseph’s) and Ryan Brooks (now playing at Temple), led the Lower Merion Aces on a miraculous run to the state finals. Along the way, Capkin showed off a knack for making big shots, hitting a game-winning three from deep with mere seconds left (against Central Dauphin) in the second round of the state playoffs. And while the Capkin-led Aces eventually fell in the finals to a tremendous Chester team, Dan came to play in that game, too, depositing 17 points in his final game suiting up for Lower Merion.
To put his high school career in perspective, Dan Capkin achieved the type of stats and team success at LM that only a few guys had before him, namely Kobe Bryant. The run to and through states was the first time the Aces had made it there since Kobe Bryant was wearing a white-and-maroon jersey. As an individual, with a vast array of jumpers and drives to the hoop, DC managed to bucket 1,073 career points, putting him in elite company. Mix in the fact that some of his best games were his team’s biggest games, and it’s easy to say Cap was a talented and successful high school player.
After graduating Lower Merion High School, Capkin, despite several looks from small DI schools, decided to take his game to the small, quaint Gettysburg College. Through what his coach, George Petrie, calls “an intense competitive nature and the natural ability to knock down shots,” Capkin ascended the varsity ladder, from a lightly used freshman to being a super-sophomore for the Bullets. In just his second year out of high school, Capkin led the team in scoring (16.5 ppg) and finished fourth in the conference. That would prove to be just the tip of the iceberg.
After lifting weights at a local gym, working on his pick-and-roll game and playing in highly competitive Philly summer leagues, Capkin came back ready to light up the nets his junior year. And that’s what he did. With averages of 19.6 ppg and drilling upwards of two threes a game, Capkin not only led his team in scoring again, but also led them to the DIII Tourney. In the biggest game of his life (except for maybe the Chester game), Cap notched 30 points, on 11-14 shooting, en route to knocking off Salem State and winning Gettysburg’s first-ever NCAA Tournament game. But like he proved in high school, whether because of his scoring prowess or unmatched competitive nature, Dan just flat out helps teams win, and that’s what he did again, as the Bullets won their second-ever Tourney game a few days later. And while the season ended in a loss in the Sweet Sixteen, Cap’s year ended with a plethora of awards bestowed upon him from the team, the conference and numerous DIII committees.
The summer before senior was a replica of the previous one. Except it wasn’t. Dan was always more than a scorer, averaging upwards of a steal three rebounds and assists per game junior year, but he wasn’t satisfied with the level of his game. So he went harder than ever that summer to put on more muscle and fine-tune his offense. Coming into the season, DC was ready to go, having bulked up to 175-lbs to better bump bodies with opposing players. As the season got underway, Capkin’s summer work was paying dividends. Looking like a mini Rip Hamilton, Capkin was dodging and weaving his ways to the basket, and finding room to launch and hit open J’s. Shooting higher than 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc, Dan was pouring it on for the Bullets. Until he wasn’t. Dan doesn’t want to blame the drop in his stats on any outside factors; he’s willing to say he just couldn’t get it done. But that’s not the reason his numbers dipped this past season. Capkin shared a possible reason, but says he doesn’t want to use it as an excuse. The reason: early in the season, Dan’s mother, with whom he’s very close, confided in him that she had been diagnosed with cancer.
“My numbers were good and I’d been playing well,” says Capkin. “It was a day or two before Christmas and my mom told me she had cancer. And for whatever reason, not that that’s an excuse, but everything turned around. The close games we would have always won started going the other way. Shots that I would always hit started rimming out. It was one of those things, and we spiraled downwards a little bit…My mom, thank God, started doing better. And right in time for the conference playoffs, we started clicking again.”
Even when his stats were down, they weren’t truly down. Cap ended the year with averages of 14.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, almost 3 apg and over a steal a game. The only place his stats truly declined, and a spot that they often do worsen when a player is having off-court problems, was the free-throw line, where Dan shot only 63.5 percent, or almost 20% less than he did for his career.
Though the season was hard, and even though Cap and the Bullets weren’t collecting buckets and wins like they were accustomed to, it all fell into place in time for conference playoffs.
The conference tournament was hosted by Franklin & Marshall, the 23rd-ranked DIII squad and top seed in the conference tourney. After a couple of hard-fought W’s, the third-seeded Bullets found their way to the championship game where they would battle the host school for an auto bid to the NCAA Tournament. In a wire-to-wire skirmish, full of lead changes and key plays, the Bullets found a way to prevail, 73-65. In that game, suprise, suprise, Capkin came through with 26 points, behind the strength of an 8-12 night from behind the painted line.
Three months removed from that night, all Coach Petrie wants to discuss is the game against F and M. “That game was pure Dan. He made shots. He scored. He showed his intense competitive nature. The other guys leaned on him, and that game was fun to watch. He really performed. He got after it defensively. All his dedication showed.”
A few nights later, the Bullets lost in the first-round of the NCAA’s. 1,514 points—fifth all-time at Gettysburg— after it began, Capkin’s college career was over.
Now working out atleast six-hours a day, Cap is looking to land on a team overseas. It should happen—what with his wet jumper and burning desire. But if by chance it doesn’t, the honor roll student should find himself a nice job somewhere.
So if you still want, feel free to hate the player, just don’t hate his basketball game.