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Photo courtesy Gardner-Webb Athletics

Laquincy Rideau does it all for Gardner-Webb

Laquincy Rideau had little trouble filling his freshman highlight reel with momentum-swinging steals, slick passes and acrobatic finishes. Too bad that same flare for excitement caused the defensive lapses and reckless turnovers to pile up.

Most nights, the Gardner-Webb guard found himself on the bench in crunch time. Coach Tim Craft simply couldn’t afford to trust him.

“It was kind of hard,” Rideau said. “I knew what I was capable of doing, but I just had to sit back and wait my turn.”

With time to learn, Rideau has figured out how to fit his unique skill set into Craft’s system.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs depend on the 6-1, 205-pound sophomore to fill the stat sheet every time out. He’s averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.2 steals, entering a Big South matchup with Winthrop Saturday on ASN.

Rideau has the ball in his hands in all of the most important moments now. And Craft wouldn’t have it any other way.

“He’s become more and more disciplined and more and more reliable,” Craft said. “He still has all the positive plays, but he’s cut back on a lot of those negative plays that really hurt you.”

Rideau’s rise is hardly a surprise. The Florida native looked like a steal before he ever arrived on Gardner-Webb’s rural North Carolina campus.

Rideau dropped off many recruiting boards heading into his senior year because of concerns he wouldn’t qualify academically. Craft’s staff stayed interested as he powered Blanche Ely High School on an undefeated run to a state championship and a top-five national ranking. The Gardner-Webb coach loved his size (“He’s built like a brick wall!”) and toughness.

Along the way, Rideau landed the ACT score he needed to meet NCAA standards. The news allowed him to abandon plans to attend junior college close to home to focus on his D-I dream. Even then, he only had two scholarship offers.

Gardner-Webb beat out St. Peter’s in April 2015 — and just in time. He made his pledge to Craft the day before heading to New York for the prestigious Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament, where he promptly posted 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists in a loss to powerhouse Findlay Prep (Nev.).

Rideau opted to stick with the Bulldogs, even after a few late suitors, including St. John’s and Rutgers, came calling.

“They showed they believe that I’m capable of playing high-level basketball,” Rideau said. “A lot of people don’t get this opportunity, so I’m just thankful.”

Rideau arrived on campus with the sturdy frame, talent and experience to make an immediate impact in the Big South. He quickly realized how much he had left to learn, though.

Rideau spent last season behind senior Harold McBride on the depth chart. Defense was the main reason he averaged just 15.8 minutes per game. His physical style made it difficult to avoid foul trouble, and Craft had enough depth to pull him out and correct mistakes.

At Blanche Ely, Rideau was the captain of a high-pressure, trapping defense that often rewarded risk-taking. With the Bulldogs, he had to learn how to play pack-line man-to-man where one wrong move can throw everybody out of whack.

On offense, Rideau straddled the line between unstoppable and out of control. He too often got caught barreling into the lane without a plan and baited into charges. His 45% foul shooting offered another reason to keep him on the bench in tight games.

“It’s just kind of been an everyday thing,” Craft said. “It’s been really neat to watch him develop and just mature as a young man to be the kind of teammate and leader we need him to be.”

Gardner-Webb had to heap more responsibility on Rideau this time around with four guards graduating. He’s learned to slow the game down and made the leap to become perhaps the most complete player in the Big South. His steady production has helped the new-look Bulldogs stay in the top half of the conference standings.

Rideau ranks 10th in the Big South in scoring and 13th in rebounding, plus he leads everybody in assists and steals. He’s bumped up his field goal (46%), 3-point (43%) and free throw (58%) shooting. His defense has taken longer to perfect, but Craft has trusted him more lately to shadow the opponent’s top guard.

“My approach is totally different,” Rideau said. “Now that I know I have a bigger role, I know I have to come with more competitiveness and be ready to play every night.”

Rideau’s stat-stuffing reached a new level in a win over Presbyterian last month when he posted 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a school-record 10 steals with only one turnover.

It was a performance equal parts electric and efficient. From start to finish.

Eric Detweiler is a freelance writer based in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter at @EDetweiler.

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