Gateway's Cottrell gets involved on IUP's playoff squad

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Sitting out didn't sit well with Devon Cottrell.

The former Gateway basketball star red-shirted his first year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and while he knew it was the right thing to do, that didn't make the experience any easier.

“It was probably the hardest thing I've done when it comes to basketball,” he said.

Cottrell missed competing, but he needed time to get stronger and work on his game as he made the transition from high school basketball to college. He practiced with the team, learned coach Joe Lombardi's system and hit the weights, adding 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-7 frame.

“In high school, I couldn't tell you where the weight room was,” Cottrell said. “Now I'm in there all the time.”

Cottrell returned to the court for the 2012-13 season, and the redshirt freshman forward became a regular in Lombardi's player rotation. He saw action in 31 games, starting six of them, and averaged 2.1 points and 2.4 rebounds while playing 11 minutes a game.

He also produced 25 blocked shots, nine assists and seven steals for the Crimson Hawks, who went 26-6 and reached the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 for the third time in the last four seasons.

“We had a lot of upperclassmen,” Cottrell said. “When I got my chance, I tried to make the best of every opportunity.”

Cottrell's top performance came Jan. 11 against Shippensburg, when he had 14 points, five rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot in 18 minutes. It was the only game of the season in which he reached double figures in scoring.

But his most memorable game may have been an exhibition contest in October when IUP visited the Petersen Events Center to take on Pitt. The Crimson Hawks battled hard in a 69-54 loss to the Panthers.

“It was a great experience,” Cottrell said. “Growing up, I always went to Pitt games.”

IUP's season ended March 19 with an 83-63 loss to top-seeded West Liberty in the 2013 NCAA Division II Atlantic Region championship game. The Crimson Hawks are one of only six schools in all of Division II to advance to the NCAA Tournament each of the last five seasons.

It was IUP's fifth straight 20-win season under Lombardi, who also guided his team to the school's ninth Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship and fourth straight PSAC West title.

“I had some offers at lower Division I schools, but I'd rather play at a high Division II school and win,” he said. “At IUP, it's all about winning. It feels good to be part of a winning program.”

IUP loses five players to graduation, so Cottrell will have an opportunity to compete for a spot in the starting lineup next season.

“I still have a lot to work on,” Cottrell said. “I'm going to work hard this off-season and see where that takes me.

“I'll be ready to play whatever role coach asks me to.”

Dave Schrecengost is a freelance writer.

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