St. Bonaventure has always been the perfect refuge for the overlooked and undervalued basketball gem. Come, work, develop and perhaps leave a lasting mark on the program that will be remembered for years.
Demitrius Conger fits that mold when you consider the results that he’s produced since arriving four seasons ago. He has an outside chance to become only the second player in school history to reach 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 steals, joining David Vanterpool. He did it while performing under the immense shadow of Andrew Nicholson for three years. While Nicholson rightly gobbled up the headlines, it was Conger who played the role of sidekick.
“I would be lying to you if I told you he would be leaving with the numbers he’s leaving with,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “It’s a pretty amazing story for him. Coming in his freshman year he struggled and didn’t do much but he’s the type of kid who’s always in the gym, he loved to play and got better. I’m proud of what he’s accomplished and he’s really worked at it but we had no idea he was going to be the player and put up the numbers he’s put up.”
At times, he’s emerged from Nicholson’s shadow. It was Conger who led the Bonnies into the A-10 Tournament championship last March with 22 points and 10 rebounds, which helped hold back a Massachusetts rally, 84-80, in the semifinal round. In last season’s NCAA Tournament loss to Florida State, Conger hit two three-pointers in the final 44 seconds and helped keep the Bonnies’ upset bid alive.
“I’m a big fan of the kids who use this experience to get everything they can out of it,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “Not every kid in this league is going to make money like Andrew Nicholson. … Conger has a championship ring and he had as much to do with it as Andrew Nicholson. I know everyone thinks it was a one-trick pony type of situation. It wasn’t.”
As a senior, Conger’s scoring (13.9), rebounds (6.9), assists (2.8) and steals (0.9) are all up from a season ago, which is in line with the way the 6-foot-6 swingman has done throughout his career: Improve gradually each season while doing a little bit of everything.
“I just worked at it and progressed, that’s the main thing,” said Conger, who is 22 steals from 100 in his career, which has seven regular-season games left heading into tonight’s 7 o’clock start against LaSalle in the Reilly Center. “I stayed in the gym and worked at it. I found things to work on and improve on. In high school I played a similar role, so playing at St. Bonaventure was a little like high school. I learned a lot of things, especially off the court and the defensive aspect of the game.”
He played on the wing last season but now that the Bonnies are playing small he’s playing more inside and leads the team in rebounds.
“He’s been a stat stuffer for us this year,” Schmidt said. “A lot of people talked about Andrew last year, and Andrew was a big, big key for our team, but Demitrius was someone we really depended on and we’re depending on more this year. At times he’s played really well and he’s putting up good numbers. He’s worked with his back to the basket a little bit but that’s still not his game. His game is more a perimeter game. He’s doing a decent job covering bigger guys.”
Xavier coach Chris Mack said Conger is one of the toughest mismatches in the A-10.
“It makes for a nightmare matchup when you’re talking about kids who are used to guarding players closer to the basket with limited ball-handling ability now all of the sudden having to guard a guy who can shoot the three and blow by you in a heartbeat,” Mack said. “He can finish around the rim, he can pass the ball, he’s extremely versatile. I love his attitude. You can tell that he’s a warrior. ”
Five years ago, Schmidt already had Nicholson in the fold but he needed someone to help fill in the blanks and saw what he needed immediately in Conger. He was long, athletic with arms as long as a Russian novel and could defend on the perimeter and in the post. He was also raw and needed to tweak his jump shot, but Schmidt saw a player who could grow.
Conger was a Brooklyn native but spent three seasons at tiny Covenant Christian Academy in Atlanta so his exposure was low. His only scholarship offer was from Mercer.
“He’s somebody that really loved to play,” Schmidt said. “We try and get kids who have a high ceiling, guys who aren’t there yet but we think – with development, with the love of the game – they can certainly become Atlantic 10 players. … We try to get those guys who can potentially get there with a good work ethic and that’s what he had.”
Said Conger, one of 10 children: “I liked the small campus and family atmosphere. I was close to home but not too close, that was one of the positives.”
Adjusting to the A-10 did not come easily for Conger, who shot 16 percent from three-point range while averaging just 3.6 points as a freshman. But he spent time in the gym and watched NBA players to learn some of the game’s nuances, such as how to get open and play in open space.
“You notice things like how a player back cuts or how they ran a flex action and things like that,” Conger said.
Step by step, the production moved up to 10.0 points per game as a sophomore to 12.1 a year ago.
“Guys like Conger who come in and take their lumps as freshmen and to see them blossom into all-league candidates as seniors I think is a tribute to the program Mark Schmidt runs and a tribute to this kid’s work ethic,” Martelli said. “I don’t know him that well but the results speak to the work that went into getting him to where he is today.”
That is a player who will finish as one of the more versatile players in school history.
“It’s a great honor,” Conger said. “St. Bonaventure has had a lot of great players.”