Former West star looks good in black and gold

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 22, 2006

By Bret Strelow

Salisbury Post

BOONE — Donte Minter made his Appalachian State debut Thursday.

The Mountaineers’ season is five weeks old, but the entire process took five years.

Minter, a former West Rowan star, came off the bench in a 93-53 home victory against Brevard and contributed 10 points, seven rebounds and one noteworthy assist in 16 minutes.

Minter committed to ASU on Oct. 9, 2001, and he finally enrolled Jan. 9, 2006. He signed during his senior year at West Rowan but didn’t qualify, and he spent a post-graduate year at Fork Union Military Academy before moving on to Virginia.

Minter played two seasons for the Cavaliers but left the team last December.

“That’s all in the past now, and we’re thrilled to have him up here,” seventh-year Appalachian State coach Houston Fancher said. “It was sort of like we won the lottery when we signed him, and now we get him with all the taxes taken out. He’s still in a good situation, and we’re excited to have him back here where we felt he belonged the whole time.”

Academic advisor Jean Roberts sat five rows behind Appalachian State’s bench in the Holmes Center with a “Donte Minter looks good in black & gold” sign, and the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Minter was able to joke with three enthusiastic students about alley-oop dunks in a quiet arena that featured an announced attendance of 823 fans.

Minter made all four of his field-goal attempts and ended a streak of 33 consecutive games without an assist.

“It felt great,” he said. “It should have been the first game a long time ago.”

Five Mountaineers checked in four minutes after the opening tip, and Minter swiped the ball away from Cory McAlpin for a perimeter steal 94 seconds later.

Minter’s first low-post touch ended in a turnover because he stepped out of bounds on a baseline spin. He passed out of a double-team for his assist and scored back-to-back baskets during a span of three possessions late in the first half.

“For him, it’s going to be a thing he feels his way into here,” Fancher said. “I predicted one of the first two times he touched the ball he’d walk with it. He didn’t — he went out of bounds with it the second time he touched it — so I was half-right.”

The left-handed Minter converted a baby hook and scored on an up-and-under move from the left block in the first half. He had one putback in the second half, and he followed a blocked shot with a foul-line jumper in the closing minutes. He recorded a steal on the next possession.

“We joked with him a lot,” said senior guard Nathan Cranford, who shares a dorm room with Minter. “We actually got some new chairs out on our bench, and we told him they were in honor of him. We were just trying to make sure he didn’t feel too much pressure.”

Minter last appeared in a game 21 months ago, and he hadn’t scored since posting one point in Virginia’s loss to North Carolina on Feb. 16, 2005.

He averaged 5.6 points as a Virginia freshman but suffered a dislocated right kneecap before his sophomore season. A broken finger also slowed his development, and the school replaced head coach Pete Gillen with Dave Leitao before Minter’s junior year.

Minter, who didn’t play in the first seven games of the Cavaliers’ 2005-06 campaign, decided to transfer. He called Cranford, a former Central Cabarrus star and East-West All-Star game teammate, to discuss the option of heading to the high country.

“The campus is great,” Minter said. “It’s cold, but I got used to that. It was cold in Virginia and I had a lot of stuff, but I just needed a little bigger coat.”

He had to sit out two semesters because of NCAA transfer rules, and Thursday was the final day of exams at Appalachian State.

Minter, who competed against Brevard with a brace covering his right knee, said earlier this week that he feels better than ever.

“Any player that has to sit out, it’s tough on them,” Fancher said. “It was the best thing for him with his injury. Players don’t like to sit — they want to be players — and it’s been a challenging experience. He has a chance to enjoy playing his last couple of years and end it on a positive note.”

Minter, who has 11/2 years of eligibility remaining, provides Fancher with a back-to-the-basket presence in the paint.

Appalachian State’s roster includes seven players who are at least 6-foot-7, and Minter is the only one who weighs more than 225 pounds.

Starting forwards Jeremy Clayton and Davis Bowne each stand 6-7 and weigh 215 pounds. D.J. Thompson (5-8, 170) averages a team-best 15.3 points, and five of the Mountaineers’ top six scorers are guards.

“(Minter) is as skilled as anybody in our league, and his biggest challenge will be getting in game shape,” Fancher said. “His skill level is what sets him apart. He’s got great hands and uses his body extremely well.

“That’s something we’ve been missing — a guy that really plays with his back to the goal. We can offer a big-time inside receiver and break defenses down with post feeds. He can catch and finish one-on-one over anybody at any level.”

Fancher scheduled the Brevard game with Minter’s return in mind.

Appalachian State (6-3) faces Southern Conference foe Georgia Southern on Saturday, and a trip to the San Juan Shootout will complete an eight-day stretch in which the Mountaineers play five games. They are scheduled to meet Virginia in the opening round of the three-day event.

ASU, which currently sits atop the North Division of the conference standings with a 2-0 record, will resume league play after it visits Virginia Commonwealth on Dec. 30.

“Donte understands that he’s coming to a team that’s already pretty decent,” Fancher said, “but he can make huge contributions for us.”

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Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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