Batista Quietly Carries Gonzaga Inside

Feb. 15, 2006

Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. - Although Adam Morrison gets all the attention, teammate J.P. Batista is quietly averaging almost a double-double for Gonzaga.

"The unsung guy is Batista," coach Mark Few said of the 6-foot-9, nearly 270-pound forward. "He keeps delivering and delivering and delivering every night out."

Batista is averaging 20 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, including 10 double-doubles and four games where he fell one rebound short, to complement Morrison's 28.8-point average.

The 24-year-old Batista, a senior from Olinda, Brazil, is completing his second and final season with the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (21-3) as the team's main offensive threat outside of Morrison.

A high school basketball star in his native country, Batista attended Western Nebraska Community College as a freshman, shooting 61 percent and averaging 14 points per game. He transferred to Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan., as a sophomore and averaged 20 points and 62 percent shooting for a team that finished second in the nation.

At Barton County he caught the eye of Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice and then Few, who flew to Kansas to see him in action.

"He was a good, big low post scorer in junior college," Few said. "There aren't many of those out there. Everybody is looking for them."

It came down to Kansas and Gonzaga for Batista, and the Bulldogs won because Kansas had Wayne Simeon returning while Gonzaga was losing Cory Violette to graduation, Few said.

Batista made an immediate impact last year, combining with Ronny Turiaf to give Gonzaga a potent front line. He played in 29 games, averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. He shot 60.5 percent from the field, displaying quick, soft hands and a lethal shot under the basket.

With Turiaf gone to the NBA, Batista has been required to provide nearly all the Bulldogs' inside muscle. He's also a consistent scoring machine when Morrison or the other Zags can't find the hoop.

"I was worried about how he would handle the low post when we started the season, but he went head-to-head with those bigs from Michigan State and Connecticut in Maui," Few said. "He scored some big baskets when other guys were not finding their shots."

Batista has scored in double digits in all but one game this season, when he had eight. He has averaged 10 rebounds per game since late December.

Through 24 games, Batista is making 60 percent of his field goals, even though most of his shots occur in the clogged space under the basket, and 83 percent of his free throws.

"He definitely did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to, all night," Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal said after Batista shot 13-for-14 for 27 points against the Waves.

He was 9-for-11 and made all four free throws for 23 points and nine rebounds against Washington State.

"We just had no answer for the big kid," WSU coach Dick Bennett said. "He doesn't miss once he touches the ball."

Against Stanford, Batista held opposing center Matt Haryasz to 11 points, seven below his average, while scoring 24 points.

Batista is one of a handful of players in the nation who rank in the Top 50 in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.

He is the only player besides Morrison to lead the Bulldogs in scoring for a game this season, doing it five times. How tough is that? Batista scored 32 against Portland on Monday, but finished second to Morrison's 33.

Batista, the youngest of three brothers, went back to Brazil last summer for three weeks, his first visit home in three years.

"It's great to see my family and home town," he said. "I purified my soul and myself and came back as new."

However, Batista has no plans to return to Brazil to live, and his pro hopes are getting a boost as the NBA scouts who come to every Gonzaga game to see Morrison are also taking a look at him.

"My plan is to play basketball until I can't walk no more," Batista said. "Life in Brazil is hard. Life here is more easier and safer. The NBA is my dream and ultimate goal. But only God knows what will happen when the season is done."



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