LaRon Dendy is making up for lost time.
After watching from the sidelines last year, the 6-foot-9, 230-pounder is right in the middle — literally — of Middle Tennessee’s superb start to the 2011-12 campaign.
Dendy has averaged 14.4 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds as the Blue Raiders jumped out to a 4-0 mark — their best start since the 1994-95 season. They were finally defeated on Sunday, 87-84 in double overtime against Belmont in the championship of the EA Sports Maui Invitational Regional Games in Murfreesboro.
Dendy kept Middle Tennessee in the game, scoring a team-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting while picking up six rebounds. He also made a game-tying shot with 39 seconds left in the first overtime to force an extra five minutes.
“LaRon has a great motor. He has shown some really good leadership,” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. “He has really matured in the year that he redshirted. I think he is going to continue to get better.”
Dendy, a fifth-year senior, is at his third college but already is making the biggest impact of his career. He spent two years at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, where he averaged more than eight points and five rebounds before a stress fracture cut short his sophomore season.
He then transferred to Iowa State but that stay only lasted a season when head coach Greg McDermott took the same job at Creighton, taking many of the Cyclones assistants with him.
“There was nothing but like two players left, including me,” said Dendy, who averaged 7.3 points as Iowa State’s top reserve in 2009-10. “So I figured I can’t stay there. Last year, they finished like last in the [Big 12] so I was like, ‘Let me get out of here.’”
So Dendy’s former Indian Hills teammate, guard James Washington, suggested he join him at MTSU. He arrived on campus last year but sat out due to NCAA transfer rules. He managed to keep busy when not in class. “I feel like last year was my year off because I was always in the gym, working, working, working,” he said. “Now that I am on the team, I am ready to go.”
He has proved that, especially last week against traditional power UCLA.
With MTSU (4-1) still short a couple post players due to injuries to Jason Jones and Torin Walker, Dendy held his own down in the paint. He recorded his first double-double at the Division I level, with 16 points and 13 rebounds in an 86-66 victory.
“He established us early in that game by being powerful around the rim and rebounding,” Davis said. “I think it gave our other guys confidence that we belong in this game and that we have a great chance to win.”
Dendy is one of seven newcomers for MTSU, which was picked to finish second in the Sun Belt East.
That the Blue Raiders are off to such a quick start despite so many new faces doesn’t surprise Dendy. He says the team bonded from a preseason trip to Canada, that included four games and provided 18 extra practices.
“We all got to know each other,” Dendy said. “We came back and continued with practices. That is the main reason [for the fast start]. All of the guys, we want to win. We’re like family.”