Coach Keith Dambrot feared that forward Demetrius Treadwell suffered a concussion the night before, but the Zips junior forward showed up early for an interview 14 or so hours after the University of Akron lost just its second conference game of the season.
It was a game last Friday against archrival Kent State that UA would have had a better shot at winning without the imbroglio that surrounded the Zips in the prior 36 hours.
Circumstances forced UA to play without starting point guard Alex Abreu. His arrest on two felony drug charges shocked the team’s fan base and dinged his teammates’ chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s been kind of emotional. Obviously we’re in transition time right now. We’re a different team without [Abreu], so we’re trying to find ourselves,” Treadwell said as he lounged in a booth at an on-campus restaurant early in the afternoon Saturday.
The selection of words is interesting for Treadwell. There might be no better individual, considering his short journey to UA, to help his teammates find themselves and find their identity after losing one of their leaders. To say he traveled an unconventional route to the success he now enjoys on the court would be an understatement.
Very few people are gifted with Division I basketball talent, said Tedd Kwasniak, who was an assistant coach at Euclid High School when he saw Treadwell for the first time.
Kwasniak has coached more than a few Cleveland-area legends during his career at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School and as an assistant at Euclid.
“God only gave so many people this kind of talent. But the D-I guys, you can tell,” he said during a recent lunch meeting.
Treadwell, wearing glasses held together by tape, probably led many to assume he was a geek. But on the court, there were no doubts about the ability of the 6-foot-7 kid. People knew him from AAU teams and from rec and church leagues, said his mother, Pam Treadwell. Even Euclid basketball coach, Andy Suttell, knew who he was, according to reports.
That’s because basketball came easy to Treadwell, Kwasniak said.
“Of all the kids I coached, he may have had the best basketball IQ of anyone I’ve coached as far as having what I call moxie — just understanding the game,” he said. “It was just unbelievable the feel he had for the game.”
But the academic life didn’t exactly appeal to Treadwell, whom friends anointed “Tree” in high school.
He called it boredom. He didn’t feel challenged. He wouldn’t do homework and still scored high on tests.
His mother said that when he received timeouts as punishment as a child, he would sit in the corner reading the dictionary.
“She put me on punishment a lot, so that’s all I could do is read a dictionary,” Treadwell said. “It’s paid off because I have a pretty good vocabulary.”
Neither of his parents, Pam Treadwell and father Brian Coats, who were 15 and 16 when Tree was born, give him a pass on past behavior.
He wasn’t a saint, but Tree wasn’t a big sinner either.
“It was really just being a knucklehead,” Coats said of his son. “It was more so that he didn’t want to do right. He had his mind made up that he wasn’t going to do right. It was a constant battle with her [he lived with his mother]. He didn’t want to go to class. He didn’t want to do nothing. He wanted to sit around and be a bum.”
Treadwell is frank when talking about that time in his life.
“I was immature,” he said. “I had problems taking orders and following orders. I hated school back then; I didn’t understand the importance of education.
“I didn’t care enough.”
A new path
A stint in Life Skills Center of Cleveland, an alternative school for those who need to make up high school credits quickly, took him away from the Euclid Public Schools for a year. His mother never thought he belonged there, and his father said that Treadwell realized that he didn’t either. It helped to flip him somewhat.
Kwasniak aided his return to Euclid High School for his senior year where he played his lone year of organized basketball. Treadwell still questioned authority, his mentor said. Suttell and Kwasniak had to play good cop, bad cop with him.
He put up freakish numbers: 22.9 points, 16.6 rebounds, 5.0 blocks, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game. And he started to get some looks from colleges. UA, Kent State, Cleveland State and Duquesne were among those interested. Even Bob Huggins, coach of West Virginia, had interest, but Treadwell’s grades from prior years continued to weigh on him.
Treadwell passed on earning the necessary credits to graduate, earning a GED diploma instead, and Kwasniak suggested that UA was the best place for him, primarily because Dambrot had the mental strength to handle him.
“I know those guys,” Kwasniak said of the UA coaching staff. “They’re going to look after you. They’re going to give you every opportunity to succeed.”
A familiar pattern emerged when he hit the court with the Zips for the first time last season. The transition wasn’t a smooth one. And anyone who knows Dambrot realizes he’s no shrinking violet, even when confronted by a 6-foot-7, 225-pound power forward about a foot taller than he.
“Oh my god, no,” senior center Zeke Marshall said when asked if Treadwell fit in easily. “He had a problem with authority. He had a problem listening to people at times.
“It changed more and more when things started happening, and Keith started having his back. He started listening.”
Dambrot said some guidance was needed.
“It was whether we can [instill] discipline in him. It’s whether we can get him to be a conformist rather than a non-conformist,” he said.
Despite a minor run-in with the police after coming to the aid of a friend, Treadwell’s first year on the court was productive. He averaged 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds. This season the numbers are better, scoring 11.2 points and grabbing 7.7 rebounds per game. That represents a significant leap in production.
Ask him why, and he lists all the people who deserve some credit: Dambrot, Kwasniak, assistant coach Rick McFadden, his grandparents and parents.
He should give himself some credit, too.
From the snarling, tenacious ferocity he uses to get through games, very few would expect a thoughtful, considerate and intelligent young man that comes to light during conversations off the court.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with anger,” he said of his on-court demeanor. “It just has to do with my will to win; my heart. It’s never over in my opinion. We’re always in it — even when we’re down 30 with two minutes to go I still feel we’re in the game. I just feel I have to be accountable when I’m on the court.”
That intellect helped him to mature. He chose what appears to be the right path in life when he could have easily walked another road. He has taken influences in life, such as his father’s incarceration at a young age, and learned from them.
“Looking at his mistakes and understanding that I don’t want to go down that road and have to deal with anything he’s dealt with,” he said. “I just want to do the right thing and set a good example for my [six] little brothers.”
Path to leadership
The right road eventually might be paved with riches by playing some form of pro basketball. His ultimate goal is to play in the NBA, one that Marshall said is within reach for him. Though Treadwell lost a year of eligibility because of his academic status upon arriving at UA, he’s on target to get it back. He plans to be at UA all four years.
But he’s focused on the here and now and said that he wants to accomplish things that haven’t been done before with the UA basketball program and dares to utter the words “national championship.”
It would be unwise to doubt his sincerity and his ability to help the Zips follow their goal to “think bigger.”
Marshall said Treadwell is there now.
“As long as he shows more consistency on the court, he’s the leader,” Marshall said. “He’s almost the one who leads us now.”
The Zips play in a Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal game Friday, and they will likely need more than one leader with Abreu gone.
Treadwell isn’t worried about the Zips’ recent misfortunes, including two losses in the past three games.
“It’s just a bump in the road,” he said. “It’s just an obstacle we have to overcome and we will overcome it.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.