UMKC at CSUB Mens BBall_07

CSUB's Damiyne Durham (23) looks to pass as UMKC's Isaiah Ross defends during the first half of a Feb. 3 game at the Icardo Center.

Nick Ellis / For The Californian

Some players set their sights on individual records and awards. Some players start each season focused on a conference or NCAA championship. For Cal State Bakersfield guard Damiyne Durham, his public goals prior to the year were simpler.

“I want to become a better team player and I just want to get my teammates involved,” Durham said after signing autographs at CSUB’s Blue-Gold Scrimmage on Oct. 26. “I just want them to be more involved in the game around me because I’m always the center of attention when I’m on the court.”

He continued on about encouraging Rickey Holden to shoot more and how freshman Jarkel Joiner referred to Durham as “big brother.”

“I ain't never been in this position to lead like this,” Durham said.

It took about three months and a two-game suspension imposed by Roadrunners head coach Rod Barnes during conference play, but Durham is finally reaching his mark. He’s gone from a shoot-first bench player to one of the best defenders and hardest playing players on the team, Barnes said.

Durham had one career start to his name as of mid-January but will make his eighth start in a row when CSUB (11-15, 4-7 Western Athletic) hosts Utah Valley (19-8, 8-3) in the Icardo Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

“Damiyne has played really well, played his best basketball, to me, in a period of time that he’s played since he’s been here,” Barnes said.

Durham declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

The redshirt junior’s future with CSUB reached its tipping point just before the Jan. 11 game at home against Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Durham wasn’t in the the Icardo Center for that game or the next one as part of an indefinite suspension that ultimately lasted two games. He was barred from practicing with the team during a critical early stretch of Western Athletic Conference games.

“He’s got a chance to be a great player,” Barnes said of what he told Durham. “Me as a coach, I get frustrated when I’m not getting the best out of them, they're not moving forward, and I felt like that was happening. I felt like he’s been one of the guys that’s been here longer than anyone so if anyone can set the example for what our team’s supposed to do on and off the court, it should be him and because he wasn’t doing that that’s probably the reason why he got suspended.”

The process to get back with the team was step-by-step. Durham spoke with Barnes regularly. He worked on basketball privately with one of the coaches. On a team filled with young players and transfers, Durham had to turn into a leader.

He earned his way back into the team practices and made the trip with the Roadrunners to Missouri.

In his first game back at Missouri-Kansas City on Jan. 18, Durham grabbed six rebounds and tallied three assists. Against UMKC on Feb. 3, he totaled four steals. He scored a season-high 26 points at UTRGV on Feb. 10 as he continued a new role of guarding the opponent’s top scorer.

“A lot of times in the last couple years when he came off the bench, it was either was he making shots tonight or not,” redshirt senior point guard Brent Wrapp said. “But lately, it’s been his defense, driving to the hole, finishing dunks, getting rebounds, stuff like that. His all-around game has gotten a lot better and it’s been really good for us.”

Before the suspension, Durham was averaging 10.1 points and 22.2 minutes per game while shooting 32.9 percent. He got 2.4 rebounds per game.

In the eight games that he’s been back, Durham has scored 15.3 points in 28.6 minutes. He’s shot 43.7 percent and hauled in 3.6 rebounds per contest.

“You see a guy flying all over the court,” Barnes said after a Feb. 1 win over Chicago State. “You see a guy showing some leadership on the floor. You see him being an example being one of the hardest playing guys on the floor. … He was on the bench because he wouldn't make a commitment to defense, and he’s doing that now.”

There are still shots from Durham that Barnes questions — which Durham responds to with a smirk — but Durham has started passing up open 3-pointers for passes into the paint. He’s thriving in the starting role with just three regular season games left before the conference tournament in Las Vegas.

“Don’t just be into yourself when you’re on a team, especially being an upperclassman,” Durham said after his first home game back from suspension regarding what he learned from the ordeal. “Talk to the guys. They look up to me so I can’t just be into myself. … I’m just trying to bond and teach and learn with them, really.”

Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.

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