July 21, 2005
Typically during the summer months, Santa Clara players work on their games in pickup games at West Valley College and by playing with the pros in San Francisco. One notable absence the last couple years was center Sean Denison, who was working out with the Canadian National Team. That's changed this year with the Nelson, B.C. native staying on the Mission Campus to prepare himself for his junior year.
A stress fracture that caused him to miss the entire non-conference season forced an evaluation of what needed to be done to take bigger strides toward improvement.
"I'd been thinking a lot before the spring quarter came around and I threw around the idea of just hanging around here and working on my game myself," said Denison. "I don't need more experience in game play. I need to get stronger."
Anyone that's followed the program has heard the opinion: `Pretty skilled but needs to get stronger.' Sean's aware of the perception, but hasn't been able to beef up over the last couple years for a very good reason.
"That's hard to do when you're doing two-a-day practices for five or six hours total per day," says Denison. "You just eat and sleep basketball, which makes it hard to get a lift in. You're just beat down every time you're playing. It's just too hard to do everything when my body was already worn down."
On another level, the time away from the Broncos over the summer took its toll. Socially, Denison felt it was odd coming back to the team after a couple months and try to reconnect with teammates.
"It's more difficult to get to know everybody after spending so much time with another bunch of guys," says Denison.
After the last two seasons being dominated by guard play, the Broncos will have a different look with an emphasis on the interior. No one typifies this stylistic change more than Denison, who begins the transition from center to power forward.
"It's not cast in stone," says Denison. "The coaches have recruited some pretty big guys and it works out for me because I like to shoot a lot more than bang around. It's not official but it would be a pretty good deal."
Depending on how well freshman John Bryant from Pinole Valley High School comes along, Denison could be dividing his minutes at the "4" with senior Tristan Parham. That means Travis Niesen should slide over to play some small forward. Niesen seems ready for the challenge and his jumper has a much smoother and quicker release. He'll be an absolute beast if he's defended by a true small forward.
As for Denison, the "4" will give him a chance to use his passing skills and ability to face the basket. Associate Head Coach Steve Seandel envisions Sean becoming the starting power forward for his senior year with Bryant and 7'-0" transfer Josh Higgins from Western Kentucky manning the middle.
"It would give Travis a little breather when he's out and a little time at the 3 when we're both playing. I think it will work out pretty well," said Denison.
There are few differences between the two positions in Dick Davey's program. The center is the first post down on the block while the power forward trails the play and takes the ball out of bounds. During his time at Santa Clara, Sean has learned both spots even though he hasn't had the chance to get in the mix at the "4".
Denison likes to think himself as a student of the game along with being a student-athlete. An avid reader since the 10th grade, he can always be seen with his head buried in a novel. But, Denison says he still does his homework for the team. That wasn't the case in one practice on the road where Davey noticed Denison wasn't familiar with the opponent. In a colorful presentation that could only be seen to be appreciated fully, Davey told him that he'd be better prepared if spent as much time with the scouting report as his book.
"It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where George is caught reaching into a tip jar to get his $5 bill and is noticed by the guy behind the counter," said Denison. "It's never noticed all the other times he put the dollar in the glass. When Coach called me out it was just the way life works. That one time you don't do something is the one time you'll get caught."
Not only getting in his lifting this summer, Denison is working on his game at the San Francisco Pro-Am against other college players, former college players, some guys from overseas and a few with NBA résumés.
"I'm getting my minutes up and having some good run," said Denison. "Some teams are more pro-style with a lot of isolations and let the players make plays. As for our team, the ball keeps moving with guys cutting to the rim for easy baskets."
Just a couple years ago, there were those who wondered if Denison would be able to hang with guys with pro experience after not being heavily recruited out of high school.
"The year I went to the U-17 national team, I was seen in Las Vegas at the Big Time Tournament," said the Canadian. "The coaches saw me the year before and I was really weak and not very good at all. But they saw that I had some potential but I fell off the radar for a year of recruiting when our team played down in Venezuela. The only other schools that were really interested were Eastern Washington and Washington State. Utah State was interested in me, but I wasn't that interested in them. The schooling part of it was a big deal. I just didn't want to go to a place to play and cruise all the way through. I want to be challenged and learn a lot and I liked the idea of the quarter system. Also, I thought I could come in and get minutes right away. The visit went great and everything took off from there."
The rawness began to develop with time spent with the Canadian national training camp in Vancouver, where he would practice against grown men, some married with children. To get there and where he is now Sean is grateful for his mother, who logged many miles on the road to pursue the goal.
"It's great to have that kind of support," said Denison. "My mom drove me eight hours one way to the national camp in Vancouver and drove me to those camps all the time. She would take off work to make it happen."
On paper this year, it looks like a wide-open battle for second place with the team from Spokane loaded for bear once again. For Santa Clara, it will be younger team and other players like Denison will have to elevate their games with the losses of Doron Perkins and Kyle Bailey to graduation.
"It's going to be tough to lose those guys because we all respect what they did for the program," says Denison. "But it will help bring us together and give some other guys a chance. I think a lot of people will underestimate us. It will be a pretty well structured team without guys that can break their guys down off the dribble so much. We'll have to work a little harder to get baskets but we're ready for the challenge."