Sure, Brett Hale has experienced growing pains as he was forced to adjust to college basketball on the fly.
But, by all accounts, Hale has acquitted himself well during his rookie season at Southeast Missouri State University.
It's a long way from Dexter High School -- at this time last year, Hale was starring for the Bearcats -- to the Division I level, but Southeast coach Gary Garner believes his freshman guard is making a smooth transition.
"For a freshman, Brett has played very well," said Garner. "He's been put into a really tough situation, especially early in the year.
"But Brett has handled everything really well, about as well as could be expected and probably better."
As the struggling Indians (2-11, 0-2 Ohio Valley Conference) prepare to host league foe Eastern Kentucky (3-10, 0-3) tonight, Hale is Southeast's fourth-leading scorer at nine points per game and is the squad's top free-throw shooter at a sizzling 89.3 percent. He has missed just three of his 28 attempts from the foul line.
"There is such a big difference from high school to here in quickness, strength, a lot of things," Hale said. "I've got a long way to go and a lot of things to work on, but I think I'm getting there."
Hale was expected to work into Southeast's rotation slowly during his first season, but circumstances forced him into the starting lineup opening night and he's started six games while playing an average of 29 minutes.
"I didn't really expect to contribute this much when I came in," he said.
Filling a key void
Hale did not expect to log so many early minutes at point guard but he was thrust into the role for the first semester while anticipated point man Kenny Johnson was ineligible.
"It wasn't really fair to do that to Brett because he wasn't even a point guard in high school, but we really had no choice," Garner said. "I know it affected his shooting, having to play so many minutes and handle the ball all the time, but he never once complained."
Said a smiling Hale when asked to recall his trials and tribulations at the point earlier this season, "I had never played point guard in my life. But I think it's helped me now that I'm back at the two spot, and it got me a lot of playing time, which is a positive."
One drawback about Hale having to log so many minutes at an unfamiliar position early in the season was, as Garner pointed out, that it affected his shooting.
At Dexter High School, where Hale was a two-time all-stater, the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder was known as one of Missouri's best long-range marksmen. He displayed that prowess by winning the 3-point contest during Southeast's Midnight Madness before the start of practice.
Garner has called Hale one of the best shooters he's coached. But Hale has hit just 14 of 46 3-point attempts (30.4 percent) and he is shooting only 39.8 percent from the field overall.
"I haven't shot it as well as I'd hoped to," he said. "There are so many quicker guys and you have to shoot quicker, plus I'm sure having to play the point so much early had something to do with it."
Hale's free-throw touch, however, has not deserted him.
"I shoot a lot of free throws in practice and after practice," he said. "I need to be automatic from the line."
A Hale family tradition
Hale's father Paul, also his coach in high school, played basketball at Southeast in the early 1970s and that was a major factor in Brett choosing to sign with the Indians.
"It's kind of a family tradition," he said. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here."
While Hale, who is third on the team in assists with 25, continues to get accustomed to the college game, he hasn't gotten used to this season's frustrations. Dexter went 48-6 over Hale's final two years.
"Losing all these games, it's been a lot different," he said. "You just have to stay positive all the time."
That, Hale admits, can be a tough chore for the entire team, but since the Indians have such a young squad -- there is only one senior on the roster -- he said he thinks the future is bright.
"The losing gets you down, but we have a lot of young guys and we have to look to the future," he said. "And we haven't given up on this year. We still have a chance to do something."
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