The Shippensburg University men’s basketball team rose to new heights last season, breaking the school record for wins with 27, winning its first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) title since 1991 and the program won its first NCAA Tournament game.
A lot of those feats can be put on the shoulders of SU’s tallest player.
Senior forward Dustin Sleva had an incredible junior season, in which he averaged 21.7 points and 11 rebounds per game. He was named the PSAC East Player of the Year, as well as a First-Team All-American. Sleva also scored a school-record 674 points last season.
But still, the senior has bigger goals this season, when it comes to his team.
“Every year we’ve improved on our rankings,” Sleva said. “This year we want to repeat our PSAC title and make a long run in the NCAA Tournament and maybe get lucky.”
Entering this season, Sleva comes in as SU’s first ever Preseason All-American selection, but the award, while an honor, is not something that Sleva puts a lot of stock in.
“It’s a really cool accomplishment,” Sleva said. “But, if I didn’t have my teammates around me to win games I’d be just another kid playing here. I owe that to my teammates. They give me the ball and we all share the rock.”
SU head coach Chris Fite expressed appreciation for his senior forward while mentioning his unselfishness as a leader of the team.
“I’m happy for him, he deserves all of the recognition he’s getting. He’s been a huge part of helping transform this program and he helped put Shippensburg basketball on the map,” Fite said.
Fite also mentioned the way that teams are going to focus on Sleva and try to make him a non-factor on the court — which is easier said than done.
“It’s going to be a challenge this year, because he is going to attract a lot of attention,” Fite said. “It’s going to provide some opportunities for the other guys and we will need them to step up and make team’s pay for trying to take him away.”
To better prepare himself, Sleva has put a lot of hard work in this summer playing in Spain with the men’s basketball team, while also playing against a core of talented players back home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to train for the grind of the PSAC.
“I try to approach each year with a different move, so I’ve been working on some driving and kicking, as well as the jump hook and 3-pointers,” Sleva said. “I’ve tried to work on my passing and my defense especially. I put a lot of work in this summer and we will have to see what the results are.”
Sleva’s uncanny ability to score the basketball from anywhere on the court led SU throughout the season, and Sleva, teamed up with the sharpshooting Justin McCarthur made for a lethal combination.
One of the things that Sleva has improved the most on since coming to SU is his rebounding, which was a challenge when he first arrived at SU. Sleva hit a huge growth spurt after high school, similar to the one that Anthony Davis hit entering Kentucky, that led to him having to change the way he plays the game, at his position.
Sleva grew from 5 foot 11 inches his senior year of high school, all the way to 6 foot 4 inches his freshman year of college. Sleva now stands at 6 foot 8 inches, and he noticeably bulked up, going from 220 pounds to 230 pounds this season.
The most underrated part of Sleva’s game is his passing, as he found the ability to draw the defense in the post, and outlet the ball to one of many great shooters around him, for easy baskets.
For Sleva, it’s all about being unselfish, and being a leader, even though every time he steps on the court he is one of — if not the best — player on the floor.
“He’s extremely unselfish like the rest of our guys,” Fite said. “He’d be the first one to deflect some of that recognition. He knows how important his teammates are and how talented the guys are around him. Dustin is as unselfish as they come and he shares the ball.”
While Sleva’s 2016-17 season goes down as one of the best in SU history, he only has room to improve this season. The sky is the limit for Sleva and the 2017-18 Raiders.