Ability has never been something Dustin Salisbery lacked. In the classroom and on the court, he has always had the talent to succeed. What coach John Chaney has searched for is a spark of emotion other than the detached distance the sophomore guard usually conveys.
“You don’t want a guy to be a loner,” Chaney said. “You don’t want a guy to always sulk and always feel, ‘Hey, I should contribute more,’ if he just wants to see himself as a person who’s going to score 20 points.”
According to Chaney, that’s exactly the attitude Salisbery carried around last season. Now, with one season under his belt, the 6-foot-5 guard wants to show he’s grown up.
“Coach says I don’t get back on defense, that sometimes my hustle isn’t there,” Salisbery said. “This year, I’m working on that. I’m making sure I get back on D this year and make a lot of hustle plays.”
Salisbery came to the Owls fresh off an award-laden career at J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster. His offensive prowess was immediately evident, as he scored double figures in 11 games in his first year as an Owl. But he disappointed his coach and teammates by lagging in other areas. Salisbery averaged 2.6 rebounds per game and blocked only four shots his entire freshman season.
“Scoring is something he can do,” Chaney said. “But to be a better player, a good player, requires him to be prideful, to be conscious of what good players are made of. What is it they do? What they do is work their ass off on the little things: defense, being a member of the group, not focusing so much on winning and losing as much as what I can do to make the team better. That is really the most difficult thing for me to get across to him.”
All of Chaney’s frustrations over Salisbery’s lackadaisical habits culminated in the coach’s insistence this past spring that the young guard should transfer. Salisbery heard his coach list the holes in his game-defense, rebounding, hustle, pride-and, instead of transferring, set out to improve in those areas.
“Sometimes Coach just likes to test you to see where your heart and your head is,” Salibery said. “So when he tells me to transfer, he might mean it, but I don’t think he means it in a literal sense. He just wants more effort, and that’s what you’ve got to know about Coach. He’s going to say stuff like that to make you play harder.”
Chaney, who has coached players from broken homes, wants Salisbery to appreciate his intelligence and solid family foundation as much as his physical gifts. Chaney said Salisbery can have equal success as a student and an athlete.
“I’m looking for some consistency in his behavior, and not just on the court,” Chaney said. “He’s a very, very smart person. But he doesn’t want people to know he’s smart. He’d much rather act stupid, like he is not a good student. He’s had a great ability to think since high school. But that’s the kind of mentality a lot of youngsters have, that they’d much rather identify with the bad element than identify with somebody who’s very intelligent.”
Still, in this young season Salisbery has shown a greater dedication to the little things. This past Saturday, he pulled down six rebounds and tallied three assists and a steal to help the Owls beat Villanova.
His heightened defensive energy has carried over on offense. With the Owls and Wildcats tied, 50-50, in the second half on Saturday, Salisbery took the feed from double-teamed point guard Mardy Collins and knocked down the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:07 left in the game.
“He’s a little more even-tempered,” Chaney admitted. “I saw him talking to Mark [Tyndale on Saturday]. Usually he doesn’t say anything to Mark. He was telling Mark he was going to screen for him. And he did. Mark hit a big basket all because of that.”
Junior co-captain Antywane Robinson added his own praise.
“He takes the initiative to take open shots when he has them,” Robinson said. “He has been the most consistent one out there this season. You’ve got to commend him for what he’s able to do. When he’s got the open shot, he takes it. When he sees the open man, he hits him. He’s been wonderful to have on offense.”
In the postgame press conference, Chaney playfully imitated the guard’s moody attitude by calling it “prehistoric” and making low, grumbling noises. Salisbery, the emotion of the big shot fresh in his mind, broke into a rare smile.
“I’m glad Mardy had confidence in me to pass the ball to me,” Salisbery said afterward. “It just goes to show what happens when you don’t play by yourself.”
Staff writer Christopher A. Vito contributed to this report. Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.