When he walked on to Canisius College's campus last year, Corey Herring was followed by a trail of hardship and misfortune that might have demoralized the average person.
At Baylor University, Herring was unknowingly caught in one of the more bizarre college basketball scandals in recent memory. He was a freshman at Baylor when one of his teammates was murdered and another charged with the brutal slaying. He later left Baylor to play for Canisius' Mike MacDonald, Herring's fifth coach in five years.
Herring, Street & Smith's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year, was expected to elevate the play of a Canisius team returning four starters. With Herring in the lineup, the Golden Griffins were considered among the league favorites.
Herring didn't shrink from the expectations, he embraced them. After a wobbly adjustment period, he recently has emerged as one of the few bright spots at Canisius. The former Bishop Timon-St. Jude product will be center stage tonight when the Griffs (5-16, 4-9 MAAC) meet longtime rival Niagara University (8-13, 5-8) in front of an expected sellout crowd at the Gallagher Center in Lewiston (7 p.m., Radio 710 and 1440 AM).
Herring, who has started 18 of 20 games, leads the team in scoring (14.4), averages 5.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists and shoots .466 from the field. For the last 12 games, the 6-foot-5 sky-walking junior is averaging 17.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
"I knew it would take some time to get acclimated," MacDonald said. "You see it all the time with transfers. You don't just blink your eyes and it goes. Mike Gansey wasn't killing at West Virginia at the beginning of [his first season there], it was at the end of the year and he was a lot better off."
No, the success didn't come automatically, but Herring's play of late is not unexpected, either.
"I work hard, so it's not like it's a surprise for me," he said. "I'm just blessed that I'm having good games and hopefully we can turn it around and win more games."
Losing streaks are nothing compared to what Herring endured at Baylor.
It started with the killing of teammate Patrick Dennehy in July 2003 and teammate Carlton Dotson confessing to the crime and later pleading guilty. A few weeks later, Baylor coach Dave Bliss resigned after the school's internal investigators confronted him with evidence that a player's tuition account had a pattern of late, unusual payments. The player was Herring, who says he had no knowledge of Bliss' involvement in tuition payments.
But Herring remembers Bliss in a different light.
Herring believes he was undervalued as a player at Timon-St. Jude and it wasn't until he took his game to The Winchendon School in Massachusetts that he began to receive notice from recruiters. Selecting Baylor gave Herring a chance to compete in the Big 12 Conference.
"Before any of those things happened, I looked at those guys as someone who gave me a chance to play big-time Division I basketball," Herring said. "I was grateful for the opportunity. Obviously, unfortunate things happened. I know [Bliss] did foul things, but he started me four games as a freshman. I wasn't necessarily ready, but he took a chance on me so I was grateful for that."
On Dennehy's murder Herring said, "It threw me for a loop. It was crazy. The whole situation was unfortunate."
After a detour that led to a brief stay at Robert Morris, Herring decided it was time to come home.
"I played in the Big 12 for two years, I was living out my dream," said Herring, who still carries a backpack with a Big 12 logo. "I worked hard and everything was taken from me and it's really unfortunate."
He transferred to Canisius, where after sitting out last season he was expected to be the missing piece to an already solid Griffs puzzle. Initially, the transition wasn't smooth.
"He didn't have a lot of trust in coaches," MacDonald said. "It was like someone who had gone through a divorce, he didn't have a lot of trust. He was wary of coaches in general. It's been a day- by-day thing, sometimes he's mad at me and I'm mad at him."
Herring was suspended for Canisius' win over Siena, which ended an ugly 0-5 start, for missing a team meal and gameday shootaround. Herring was studying late for a final exam and overslept, he says, but the perception was the Griffs played more like a cohesive unit minus Herring. In the Griffs' next game at Detroit, a 69-68 loss, Herring played only seven minutes but committed a backcourt violation with 11 seconds remaining and Canisius leading by one. Herring was later called for a foul on Brandon Cotton, who made the winning free throws. More criticism rained down on Herring.
"I'm a competitive person and if I get caught up in the moment, then that's just what it is," he said. "I didn't let it get to me, but other people kind of fed into it. I had worse things said about me. Bad attention is better than no attention."
Soon after, perhaps after gaining more trust in his coaches and teammates, Herring's game came together. MacDonald says the criticism of Herring was unfair and unwarranted. The only thing missing are wins.
"It's not over yet," Herring said. "We still have the (MAAC) tournament and we have to look forward to that."
After the Griffs' win over Marist when Herring popped home 28 points, MacDonald pulled him aside and said, "I'm glad you stuck with us, and that we stuck with you."
In an otherwise dismal, disappointing season, Herring is a positive force.
"The good thing is watching him develop," MacDonald said. "He's getting better and he's going to keep getting better."