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Cavaliers count on Thorpe to grow into a big-man role this season

Austin American-Statesman — Thomas Jones Austin American-Statesman

Nov. 14--LAKEWAY -- In a pair of preseason scrimmages last week against Cedar Park and Del Valle, D.J. Thorpe was reminded that it's not easy being the biggest guy on the court.

Smaller defenders swarmed and hacked Thorpe, Lake Travis' 6-foot-8 junior post who anchors one of the best teams in the area. The referees mostly kept their whistles silent, but Thorpe kept his cool and collected his buckets while showing the resolve that Cavaliers coach Clint Baty wants to see from his team this season.

"That's one thing we're always preaching: You have to have a little more grit and a little more toughness," Baty said. "And part of that toughness for D.J. means that he has to be physical and not get frustrated.

"You can't coach guys to be 6-8 so when you have 6-8 going against 6-3, they're going to try and push you around. D.J. will be bigger than a lot of kids, but one way to counteract his size is to be more physical to try to aggravate him, frustrate him, annoy him. That's what teams will do."

It may be one of the few ways to slow down Thorpe and his teammates, who have made two consecutive trips to the Class 6A regional quarterfinals.

With four starters and seven lettermen returning from last season's 24-11 squad, Lake Travis looks to be primed for another stellar season under Baty, who has a record of 154-51 in his six seasons at the school. The Cavaliers were 10th in the Class 6A preseason rankings released by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.

Lake Travis boasts plenty of productive players, including guard Garrett Wilson, who's busy this fall playing wide receiver for the football team but averaged a team-best 17.7 points per game last season, and recent Mercer signee Luke Hamilton, a 6-6 senior forward who averaged 7.5 points as a junior. Thorpe's play in the paint, though, might determine if the Cavaliers can overcome No. 1-ranked Westlake team and reach the Class 6A state tournament for the first time.

Thorpe has stellar footwork and an innate feel for the game, Baty said. He also has a valuable resource at his dinner table in his father, Otis, a 19-year NBA veteran who started at power forward for the Houston Rockets' championship squad in 1994.

"He always gives me pointers," D.J. Thorpe said of his father, who's 6-10. "During the game, he'll sit back and watch and soak it in. Afterwards, he'll tell me what he saw and give me some tips. It's nice having advice like that."

Baty agrees, calling Otis Thorpe a "huge advantage" for both D.J. and his teammates.

"He has been super," Baty said. "He allows me to coach D.J. here, and with that kind of resource at home, I'm sure D.J. gets some good coaching at home. Their family has been very supportive; we both have the same goal in mind, and that's for D.J. to become the best player that he can be."

That means channeling more aggressiveness out of a naturally unselfish player. A willing passer, D.J. Thorpe gets as much satisfaction from swinging a pass to an open teammate as he does sinking a hook shot over a shorter foe.

"But whenever he gets down low and it's one-on-one, we all want him to score," said Hamilton, one of the Cavaliers' senior captains. "We want him to dunk on someone."

Thorpe is beginning to accept his revised role for the Cavaliers. He added about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason in anticipation of carrying a heavier load than his averages of 8.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season.

He said Baty has been on him about "being relentless and going hard every possession. Being a big man, the game is as much psychological as technical. You don't get the ball every time but you still have to keep going and going.

"And when I get my chances, I have to be ready."

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