For the first time in a long time, Vermont has been able to do something they didn’t do often last season, and it’s thanks to the last freshman they signed to their squad.
Head coach John Becker has known since the team’s trip to Canada in August that 6’2″ point guard Trae Bell-Haynes is going to contribute to this season’s team. The Toronto native has shown quickness to get by defenders and score with ease since the beginning of the season.
“His speed in the open court has been one of our best offensive weapons,” Becker said. “He’s really given us a transition game and we haven’t been able to have a transition much the last couple of years and he’s really reenergized that part of our game.”
Bell-Haynes averages 10 ppg and has fueled the Catamounts transition game, which has helped them average 68.6 ppg — good for second in the America East on the young season.
The 6’2″ freshman said that every time he tries to get out in transition, he notices that sophomore Dre Wills is not far behind. It has been the aggressive play of Bell-Haynes and Wills, who have combined for 28 steals, that fuel Vermont’s transition offense.
With the Catamounts losing freshman Ernie Duncan for the season, Bell-Haynes has stepped in from first guard off the bench to starting point guard, within a few weeks of the season. The change has hardly phased him and his style of playing has led to plenty of opportunities.
“There’s a bit more expected of me, especially now that Ernie is gone my minutes have went up each game,” Bell-Haynes said. “I just have make less mistakes and mature a lot quicker now.”
The challenge for the freshman will be to cut down on his turnovers. He has given away a team-high 26 through 10 games.
“They’re just stressing taking care of the ball and being more conservative instead of just taking that chance,” Bell-Haynes said on what the coaches have challenged him to do. “Just making sure that whenever I’m making a play, I’m sure of it because at the end of the day, it’s better to keep the ball to make the safe pass than try and making the home run play and having a turnover going the other way.”
The challenge of replacing Duncan has been put upon Bell-Haynes and his roommate Cam Ward, but they have combined to competently fill in and then some.
“We kind of just play off of each other, and its like an unspoken agreement on a lot of certain plays we know what to do when another has the ball,” Bell-Haynes said when he is in the game with Ward. “From the leadership part of it we know that even though we’re younger guys, at the end of the day we’re still point guards and an extension of the coach.”
Bell-Haynes leads the team in free throws made (36) and that is a byproduct of how much he attacks the basket. He draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, good enough to be in the top 100 of all individual players in that category according to KenPom. Even when the Catamounts were struggling to score late against Wagner, Bell-Haynes’ sank a floater in the lane to push a three-point lead to five and give them enough distance with free throws.
“He makes a lot of plays and his decision making is getting better,” Becker said. “He’s been really good and a lot of stuff has been thrown at him.”
Certainly much more will be thrown to Bell-Haynes by the time conference play commences, but his handling of it has shown that Vermont will be an America East contender.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.