Friday, August 28, 2009

Catching Up: Coyle is Out, Ruland is In

In case you missed it, there was some news regarding two very prominent former MAAC coaches over the summer.

On July 31 the New York Liberty of the WNBA fired former Loyola coach Patty Coyle. The team got off to a 6-11 start, and the move was made to replace Coyle with her assistant, former All-American Anne Donovan, who had previously coached three other WNBA teams. Donovan was also the coach of the 2008 Olympic team that won the gold medal in Beijiing.

Coyle's career included became Loyola's head coach in 1992, inheriting a team that had a 31-135 record over the prior six seasons, and turned that program around. During her time there the Greyhounds had a 100-77 record and won two conference titles (1993-94 and 1994-95), also earning an NCAA Tournament berth both years.

Coyle's record as coach of the WNBA's Literty was 81-90.

There were reports a year ago that several college programs with openings had interest in Coyle, but were unable to pry her loose from her contract with the WNBA team. The expectation is that she will eventually return to college coaching.

Meanwhile, former Iona coach Jeff Ruland, an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers last season, has returned to the college ranks as the new head coach of the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 18. Ruland signed a five-year contract with the school.

"Coach Ruland is the perfect choice at the perfect time," said school president Allen Sessoms, upon Ruland's hiring. "As we continue to strengthen and raise the profile of this institution, athletics is a serious component, and adding quality leadership like that of Jeff Ruland creates a strong foundation well into the future."

The school is examining the possibility of moving up to the Division I level from its current status as a Division II program.

Ruland has a strong recognition factor in the D.C. area, having played for that city's Washington Bullets' NBA franchise from 1981 through 1986.

Ruland became Iona's head coach in 1998, having previously served as an assistant under Tim Welch. In nine seasons there he compiled a 139-135 record, had three 20-win seasons (1999-00, 2000-01, 2005-06) and went to the NCAA tournament in all three of those seasons.

He was fired after his 2006-07 team finished 2-28.

Friday, August 21, 2009

An Early Women's Conference Preview

Women play basketball in the MAAC, too, and a pretty darned good brand of it.

A few posts back you'll find a very brief, very early preview of men's teams. So, it's only fair to do the same for women.

This blogger has seen every MAAC team at least twice, and in some cases more than twice, in each of the past two seasons.

Does that make me an expert? Not really, just a blogger with a somewhat informed opinion.

So, here's a look at one "informed opinion" about the coming season's MAAC season and how teams will finish. Remember ... it's for entertainment purposes only.

1. Marist

Big surprise, right? But, in recent years, Marist winning the MAAC is about as automatic as the sun rising in the east.

The Red Foxes were 16-2 in the regular season last year, and the surprise was that they lost twice after finishing 18-0 and 17-1 over the previous two seasons.

Julienne Viani is the only loss, albeit a significant one. But, very competent players like Erica Allenspach, Corielle Yard, Kristine Best and Elise Caron will all get more time at guard.

Senior forward Rachele Fitz is the best player in the league, by far, and she's supported up front by 6-3 center Marie Laterza, and 6-2 Brandy Gang. And, now, there's a 6-4 front-court player from Australia, Kate Oliva, joining the program.

2. Iona

Its top six players return, including 5-9 senior guard Thazina Cook (14.8 points, 6.7 rebounds last season). Junior Suzi Fregosi (4.9 assists last season) is ready to become one of the league's elite point guards. Kristina Ford, a 6-1 sophomore forward (10.8, 6.3) will be an all-league caliber player. Freshman Samantha Kopp, a 6-3 center, who this blogger saw play several times on the AAU circuit, will be a very good player.

3. Canisius

The NCAA record-holder for consecutive games with a three-pointer (453) will likely continue to thrive from the outside. A repeat of a program-best 24 victories overall last season probably won't happen, but the Golden Griffins won't fall too far. Two ke players, forward Marie Warner and guard Amanda Cavo, are gone but every other player of significance is back, led by energetic point guard Brittane Russell. The team made a summer trip to Italy, and 6-foot-0 senior forward Ellie Radke had 33 points in one of the games.

4. Siena

An 0-7 overall start had local media writing about whether Gina Castelli's job might be in jeopardy (it wasn't). And, then, Siena finished 9-9 in conference play, had a five-point lead in a home game with Marist in the closing minutes before faltering and showed signs of better things to come. Only 6-2 center Heather Stec, a second-team all-MAAC honoree, is gone. This year's Saints have size with 6-3 center Sarah Fullmer and 6-1 Serena Moore, shooting from 5-8 forward Allie Lindemann (68 3's last season), and an emerging guard standout in sophomore Christina Centano. A group of solid role players as well as a strong freshman class is also in place.

5. Rider

After a 10-20 overall record accounted for the program's most victories in a season since 1999-00, more wins should come this year. Six of the top seven players are back, including leading scorers 5-9 forward Tammy Meyers (14.2, 5.6) and 5-4 guard Amanda Sepulveda (12.3). Along the way a year ago, the Broncs beat Canisius and Fairfield, teams that were 2nd and 3rd in the regular-season standings. The last time Rider finished better than .500 overall was 1994-95, but that negative streak could end this season.

6. Saint Peter's

A 10-8 finish last year could easily be duplicated, or bettered this year. Only last year's leading scorer, Tania Kennedy, is gone, but the next seven are back. Quiana Porter, a 6-2 sophomore center, could help out as could incoming freshman forward Kaydine Bent, who averaged 15 points and 17 rebounds per game at Truman H.S. in the Bronx.

7. Fairfield

The first team to beat Marist last season, probably won't be as good as last year's 12-6 conference record, not after losing four seniors who combined for 1,059 points, 556 rebounds and 289 assists last season alone. Some good role players from a year ago need to step up. The best candidates are 6-footer Stephanie Geehan (8.7, 8.4), 6-1 Tara Flaherty (3.7, 2.7) and 5-6 Desiree Pina (8.7, 2-0). Laura Vetra, a 6-1 freshman center who is a native of Latvia and who played a year in Texas last season, should also help.

8. Manhattan

New coach John Olenowski, an assistant at Long Island University last season whose resume also includes a 330-39 record as a high school coach at Morris Catholic in Denville, N.J., has some good pieces back. Gone is 6-3 center Kelly Regan, but six of last year's top eight scorers return, led by emerging sophomore guard Alyssa Herrington (9.8, 2.6). There are also potential replacements for Regan in 6-1 sophomore forward Nadia Peters (1.2, 2.2), who has battled injuries thus far, and 6-3 junior center Alicia Marculitis (2.2, 1.2).

9. Loyola

Injuries decimated the Greyhounds (4-14 in MAAC play) a year ago, and graduation takes its best player, Sioban Prior. Back, though, are several solid players, led by 6-0 senior forward Kaitlin Grant (11.2, 8.1), and 5-11 senior guard/forward Erica DiClemente (9.2, 3.8), who missed several games with injuries last season.

10. Niagara

The Purple Eagles started 1-26 last season and, then, won two of their last four games, including a first-round MAAC tournament contest. This year could be more like the end of last season than the beginning. The team's top two scorers (Jennifer McNamee, 12.1, and Liz Flooks, 10.4) are back. in all, four players who had 20 or more starts last season return.

This observer's perception is that it will be a major shock if anyone other than Marist wins this year's title.

The next group appears to be Iona, Canisius, Siena, Rider and Saint Peter's.

But, any of the other four, Niagara, Manhattan, Fairfield and Loyola, could very easily in the upper half of the standings.

There does not appear to be a clear-cut last-place team, ensuring that games will be competitive on a nightly basis.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bids In, Four Cities Seek MAAC Event

MAAC officials officially released the list of venues bidding to host the conference's post-season basketball tournament for a three-year block beginning in 2012.

The four cities that submitted bids are Albany, N.Y. (Times Union Center); Bridgeport, Conn. (Arena at Harbor Yard); Newark, N.J. (Prudential Center) and Springfield, Mass. (MassMutual Center).

All of the bids will be examined by the MAAC Council of Presidents and the Committee on Athletic Administration in late October, and bids will be awarded this December.

The chosen facility will host the event, which includes tournament play for both men and women, in the years 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Times Union Center will host the 2010 Citizens Bank MAAC Basketball Championships on March 4-8, while the Arena at Harbor Yard will be the home for the event March 3-7, 2011.

It means that if one of the non-Albany cities secures the bid, the event will be somewhere other than the Empire State's capitol for a four-year stretch, the first time it will have been outside of Albany for more than a season since the venue there hosted for the first time in 1990.

The MAAC tournament set attendance records in Albany this past year when the total crowd figure for all games was 50,820. The next largest total turnout for the event was in 2000 when the figure was 50,087, again when the event was held in Albany.

This blogger asked this question in early March when league officials announced they were accepting bidding for a three-year stretch of hosting games: If the event is so wildly popular in Albany, why move it away from that community for such a considerable stretch of time?

Of course, there's more to it than pure attendance numbers. It has been many, many years since the conference relied heavily on finances derived from the event. Only a very small percentage of the league's operating budget comes from the tournament's revenue.

Instead, it's about what's best for the athletes and all 10 member institutions. It's about "exposure" for all 10 schools, and about the perception that all 10 have a "level" playing field, so to speak, in a competitive sense. After all, the Times Union Center is Siena's home court. And, it's about having the best environment for participants and fans.

It's not that Albany has done anything but provide all of that (except for a neutral court) for the event. But, sometimes, competition brings out something better when it comes to bidding for this type event. The feeling here is that Times Union Center administrators will be more creative than ever in putting together a package that will lure the event back to Albany for the three-year block under consideration.

But, that's just a very uneducated opinion. Even MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor isn't certain about what will happen. The decision will ultimately be made by administrators from the conference schools. Ensor will make a recommendation, but the league's Council of Presidents has, on occassion, made decisions counter to Ensor's recommendations on past issues.

It seems, though, that having strong turnouts for games is part of the event's atmosphere that the league strives to achieve, and Albany has certainly shown itself best at that.

One of the current bidders, the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., hosted the tournament in 2007 and the total attendance figure for that year was 23,561.

The Sovereign Bank Arena hosted the event once, in 2003, and was scheduled to host this past season. But interest in the event there was so poor that the venue asked to be relieved of its hosting duties in 2009, which resulted in the tournament making an originally unschedued return to Albany ... and, to its record attendance figures.

Buffalo has hosted the event in its arena on four occassions, the last in 2005. But, interest there diminished each time and that facility did not submit a bid for the current open block of years.

Of the two interested facilities that have never previously hosted the event, Springfield's is by far the smallest. Its MassMutual Center has a maximum seating capacity of about 8,000 (probably less, considering the MAAC tournament's required courtside configuration). Last year's event alone had three session crowds considerably larger than that figure.

And, Springfield has no so-called "home team," ensuring large turnouts for its games. The closest MAAC program, Fairfield, is located 87 miles away. Siena is 88 miles away, Marist is 122 miles away, Iona 121 miles away, and every other MAAC school is significantly further removed from Springfield.

Newark's Prudential Center is a major-league facility with a basketball capacity of 18,500. Opened in 2007 and the home facility for the NHL's New Jersey Devils, it's a state-of-the-art venue.

But, will MAAC basketball be an attractive event there? The last time the MAAC held its post-season tournament in New York's Metropolitan area, 1989 at The Meadowlands, attendance was so poor that the conference moved the event to Albany the following year and has never since held it in an arena that didn't also host at least some regular-season MAAC games.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rider: Transfer Guard Should Step In


The Broncs have 58 victories over the past three seasons, a program record, and survived the graduation loss of now-NBA performer Jason Thompson after the 2007-08 season, finishing 12-6 in the conference and 19-13 overall in 2008-09.

The only loss of any significance from last year's team is Harris Mansell, who was the team's second-leading scorer (11.8 ppg.), but battled an elbow injury for most of the season and was never 100 percent.

Still, Mansell's graduation left a hole in the backcourt that appears to be filled nicely by an eligible transfer.

Eligible transfer

- Jhamar Youngblood, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound guard who transferred from Monmouth College. Youngblood was at Rider last year, so is now eligible. He is a strong off-guard with a good shot and is an above ball-handler for the position. Youngblood had considerable success at Monmouth, earning Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year honors for 2006-07 when he averaged 12.3 points and shot 52.5 percent from the field. As a sophomore, though, his shooting percentage dropped to 38.4 percent and he averaged 12.1 points. He should move into Mansell's role in the lineup.

Incoming freshmen

- Carl Johnson, a 6-0, 160-pound point guard from St. Thomas More Prep School in Connecticut. There, he averaged 18.7 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals per game. He is described as a player who runs a team. But, with Player of the Year candidate Ryan Thompson entrenched as the team's point guard for his senior season, where does that leave Johnson? Reserve minutes this year and, maybe, some time at the point to allow Thompson to move over to off-guard. Johnson is likely to be the program's point guard of the future.

- Jonathan Thompson, a 6-4, 19o-pound guard from Jones High School in Orlando Florda. He averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals there as a senior. A legit off-guard with good size and athleticism. Will provide depth this year, but has the potential to be a strong contributer in the future.

- Dera Nd-Ezuma, a 6-10, 215-pound center from Life Center in Columbus, N.J. Nd-Ezuma is a native of Nigeria who didn't begin playing basketball until several years ago. Reports indicate that he made major improvements last season and already is perceived as being able to affect games on the defensive end. Nd-Ezuma is a project right now, but athletic big men are rare at this level, and if Nd-Ezuma continues to improve he could have a future impact.

Loyola: Big Transfer Could Have Impact


The five players with the most starts a year ago are back, but last year's starting lineup changed almost on a game-by-game basis. And, it lacked a legitimate "big" man.

The Greyhounds were one of the youngest teams nationally last year, so the likelihood is that players grew into roles and playing time will be more defined. And, there is a legitimate center in place this year, too.

Eligible transfer

- Shane Walker, a 6-foot-10, 211-pound center transferred in from Maryland, was at Loyola last season ans is eligible this season. He's a legit big man. First, a word of warning: Big men transferring down to the MAAC aren't exactly sure things. Loyola fans will recall 6-10 Hassan Fofana, another transfer from Maryland who was basically a role player for the Greyhounds. But, Walker might be different. Those who have seen him play describe him as a "mobil" big man (Fofana didn't move well) with good inside skills, enough, maybe, to free up some openings for Loyola's strong perimeter cast. Walker, a native of Northampton, England, averaged 0.5 points and 1.0 rebounds and 5.3 minutes per game in 24 appearances at Maryland as a freshman. He has three years of eligibility remaining.

Incoming freshmen

- Julius Brooks, a 6-9, 215-pound forward from Page High School in Greensboro, N.C. He averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks per game as a senior. Reports are that he has a nice touch around the basket and is a strong shot-blocker. Likely to be a back-up this season, but head coach Jimmy Patsos is clearly unafraid to tinker with his playing group, so if Brooks earns it he'll play ahead of upper classmen.

- Robert Olson, a 6-4 guard from Georgetown Prep in Maryland. He averaged 13.5 points per game there last season. Reports indicate that he is an athletic guard who can also play small forward. Loyola has plenty at the three perimeter positions, so he'll be able to ease into the college game.

Fairfield: Incoming Guards Fill Need


The Stags are without two key guards from last season, point guard Jonathan Han (left the team at midseason) and off-guard Herbie Allen (graduation).

The clear need during recruiting season was to bring in guards, and coach Ed Cooley accomplished that.

The team also needs the return to health of several players, most noteably forwards Anthony Johnson (blood clots) and Greg Nero (back). But another incoming player, at least, provides a measure of insurance for that concern, too.

Eligible redshirt

- Shimreek Johnson, a 6-foot-7, 195-pound forward from Bishop Maginn H.S. in Albany, N.Y. Johnson was at Fairfield last season and redshirted, so he has four years of eligibility remaining. This blogger has seen Johnson play on multiple occassions, and was impressed with his athleticism, intensity and versatility. He's capable of working inside, but has above-average perimeter skills for his size, and shooting range out to 18-, 19-foot range. Probably will serve as an understudy to a deep front line this season, but will be a capable fill-in if the front-court injury bug returns.

Incoming freshmen

- Derek Needham, 5-11, 160-pound point guard from De La Salle Institute of the Chicago area. Statistics not available, but reports indicate that he is a scoring point guard who is athletic, quick and plays with a high-level of energy and effort. Those who have seen him have praise for his ability as a ball-handler with good court vision. Indications are that he will challenge for playing time very quickly.

- Colin Nickerson, a 6-2, 175-pound off-guard from Waukegan (Ill.) H.S. He averaged 19 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a senior. Reports are that he has a good outside shot out to the 3-point arc, as well as being a slasher and good finisher in transition. He is also likely to be in the mix for playing time almost immediately.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Siena: Fills Needs for Depth, Guards


What does a team that went to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and loses just one player of any significance (albeit, the conference's Player of the Year) need?

Considering that it already has a good replacement in place for departing MAAC PofY Kenny Hasbrouck, not much.

Clarence Jackson, the MAAC's Sixth Player Award winner a year ago, is a capable fill-in for Hasbrouck. Siena will be the likely unanimous choice in the coaches' preseason poll to win the regular-season title again and, if all goes well, could become the first MAAC team ever to advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 round. Expectations are as high for the Saints, not only in the Albany area but in the national media, as this blogger can remember for any MAAC program since the glory days of the Lionel Simmons-led La Salle teams 20 years ago.

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. These reports are about newcomers, and Siena has four new players. While none will start, all four could get into the playing group providing depth and gaining experience that should serve the program well as it develops players for beyond the coming season.

This blogger has seen all four incoming players either in AAU competition or on-campus pick-up games

Eligible transfer

-Kyle Griffin, a 6-3, 195-pound guard who transfers in from La Salle of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Griffin averaged 3.5 points per game through 15 games as a freshman in the 2007-08 season before suffering a knee injury. Subsequent surgery forced him to miss the entire 2008-09 season. He transferred at mid-season, so he's eligible to play after first-semester games and has two additional years after the 2009-10 season. Sources indicate he is capable of playing either guard spot, and he has a smooth long-range jumper out beyond the 20-foot range. Still recovering from his surgery early in the summer, but is expected to be ready to practice this fall.

Incoming freshmen

- O.D. Anosike a 6-8, 205-pound forward from St. Peter's High School for Boys in Staten Island. He averaged 17.8 points there as a senior. This blogger watched Anosike play several games in the 2008 GymRat Challenge AAU tournament. Here's the report on him from the all-star selection committee for that event: "Long, athletic slasher who is effective inside with a soft shooting touch. Nose for the ball. Oustanding rebounder who can handle the ball. Runs the floor exceptionally well and finishes everything." My personal observation was that Anosike plays extremely hard, goes after every rebound on both ends and has an effective mid-range jumper. He could play any of the three front-court positions, and could be the team's top front-court reserve.

- Denzel Yard, a 5-11, 165-pound guard from Franklin Learning Center in Philadelphia. He averaged 19.5 points, 7 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 4 steals per game there as a senior. Siena coach Fran McCaffery refers to Yard as a "stone-cold scorer." Yard is exceptionally quick, has a nice left-handed jumper and should be a nice fit for the program's uptempo style of play.

- Jonathan Breeden, a 6-1 guard from Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pa. Breeden is described as a pure point guard and plays like it. He gets into the lane with ease and can finish or dish out. He averaged 14.3 ppg. as a high school senior. Should get minutes from the start filling a role as a back-up point guard, something the Saints lacked last season.

Manhattan: Recruits Bring Needed Offense


The Jaspers weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut last season, averaging 64.4 points per game (sixth among the 10 MAAC teams). And, then, they unexpectedly lost their second-leading scorer, 6-3 guard Chris Smith (13.4 ppg.), who transferred to Louisville this past spring.

So, guess what Manhattan needs most from incoming players?

You're right if you guessed offensive production. And, head coach Barry Rohrssen made the right moves while recruiting to bring in some potential solutions.

Eligible Transfer

- Rico Pickett, a 6-foot-4 guard who transferred in from Miami Dade Community College. There, Pickett averaged 17.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. As a freshman, Pickett played at the University of Alabama, where he started 20 of 29 games and averaged 5.9 points and 3.3 rebounds. Pickett appears likely to get into the starting lineup almost immediately (coaches don't bring in junior college transfers to sit the bench), and provide height at the guard position and a well-established ability to score points. In terms of impact this season, Pickett will be among the top handful of players joining MAAC programs.

Incoming freshmen

- George Beamon, a 6-4 guard from Roslyn (Long Island) High School. Beamon could also get into the playing group relatively quickly because of his ability to score. He averaged 34 points per game as a senior at Roslyn, and 30.5 points per outing as a junior. He scored 56 points in a game last season and was over 40 in eight games overall.

- Kevin Laue, a 6-11 center from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. Laue has gotten considerable attention nationally because, due to a complication at birth, his left arm stops an inch below his elbow. But Laue appears to have significant potential as a player. Reports indicate that his "handicap" has no affect on his play, that he is a defensive presence in the lane and has a good shooting touch. He averaged 10 points and 5.5 rebounds per game at Fork Union last season and appears capable of developing into a solid contributor, at least.

Marist: Many Newcomers Create Optimism


After finishing in the MAAC's basement and, then, losing its best two players (forward Ryan Schneider and point guard David Devizin), Marist needs a lot of help.

The good news is that, potentially, a lot of help is coming.

It appears that incoming players might fill many of Marist needs. Still, expecting two transfers (one not eligible until the second semester), an eligible redshirt freshman and five true freshmen (whew!) to come in, find roles and fit into a team concept ... that's a lot to ask. Talk about a roster turnover. Eight players will be wearing Marist uniforms for the first time this season

But, Chuck Martin's dribble-drive offense puts an emphasis on individual skills so, theoretically, players with high skill levels can make an easier transition. At any rate, it should be both fun and interesting to see how things come together here.

Incoming transfers

- Casiem Drummond, 6-10, 275-pound center. He is a true, physically developed center, and those are rare at this level. Drummond transferred in from Villanova prior to last season's second semester so he's not eligible to play at Marist until after first-semester games are completed this season. At Villanova he struggled with injuries (most notably a stress fracture in an ankle early last season), and discipline problems. He was suspended for at least one game for violating team policy. He averaged 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the 2007-08 season as a sophomore, and that came against Big East opposition. Included was a nine-point, 17-rebound effort against North Carolina State.

- Daye Kaba, 6-3, 215-pound guard. Another transfer from a higher level, coming in from Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference. At a strong 215 pound he is, like Drummond, a physically ready performer that the MAAC doesn't regularly see. He is eligible immediately and has two remaining seasons to play. He was lightly used at BC, getting in nine games as a freshman (1.3 points, 0.3 rebounds) and only seven games for a total of 17 minutes as a sophomore. As a high school senior at our Savior New American School on Long Island he averaged 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He is a native of France who came to the U.S. in 2004. He will be one of the older players in the MAAC, having turned 23 this past August.

Incoming Freshmen

- Rob Johnson, a 6-7, 210-pound swingman from Centennial H.S. in Alpharetta, Ga., where he averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds last season. He is reportedly a skilled, versatile player who does his best work in perimeter positions (small forward/off-guard).

- Devin Price, a 6-1, guard from St. Bernard Catholic H.S. in Los Angeles where he averaged 16 points and eight assists. Reports indicate that he is a smart floor leader with athleticism. Likeley to be in the mix for playing time at point guard early on.

- Anell Alexis, a 6-6, 185-pound forward from St. Thomas Moore Prep School in Connecticut. Great hoops genes as the son of former Syracuse standout Wendell Alexis. Reports are that he is an athletic wing player who excellent shooting range who just needs to get a little stronger to become a significant contributor. Then again, his dad had a very nice career at Syracuse with a similarly slight build.

- Sam Prescott, a 6-3, 185-pound guard from Imhotep Charter School in Philadelphia (no statistics available). Prescott, a reserve on his high school team prior to moving to Imhotep broke out in a big way once there. He is reportedly extremely athletic and versatile. Of the freshmen, he appears the most likely to get time early.

- Candin Rusin, a 6-3 guard from Topsail H.S. in North Carolina. Rusin was a terrific scorer in high school, averaging 28.3 points per game at Twin Valley H.S. in Vermont as a junior before transferring to Topsai. As a senior there he averaged 21.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

Eligible Redshirt

- Dorvell Carter, a 6-6 swingman who graduated from Rice High School (11 points, 7 rebounds per game) in 2008. Carter was at Marist last season, but redshirted due to a knee injury. Reports indicate he is a versatile perimete player who could be in the playing group early on.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Niagara: Incoming Size Adds To Depth


With four starters, and several contributing reserves back for a team that finished 26-9 a year ago, the Purple Eagles don't need a lot of help for the coming season.

Still, recruiting brings some much-needed height to a program that graduated its only player (Benson Egemonye) over 6-foot-7 who was active this past season.

Niagara certainly has the "biggest" freshman class in terms of size with three players whose heights are 6-foot-11, 6-8 and 6-8 eligible to play for the coming season.

The three will provide some front-court depth and, probably, bring greater contributions down the road.

Incoming Freshman

- Andre "Scooter" Gillette, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound center/forward. Gillette averaged 11.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game at Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia last season. Philly sources who have seen him play describe him as an athletic post player who runs the floor extremely well and is an above-average shot-blocker. Of Niagara's three incoming players, he seems to be the most advanced, and is likely to quickly be in the team's playing group.

Eligible Redshirts

- Luuk Kortekaas, a 6-11, 200-pound center from Tiel, Netherlands. Kortekaas, right now, is a tall project. He has played for age-level national Dutch teams and reports indicate that he possesses an above-average jumper out to three-point range. He redshirted last season in an attempt to build up physically.

- Eric Williams, a 6-8, 225-pound forward from Champlain-St. Lambert School in Montreal. He will probably be the oldest "freshman" in the MAAC this season, turning 22 in December. He redshirted last year while recovering from knee surgery. He is described as being a tough, physical inside player with a nice touch on his mid-range jumper.

Canisius: Two Frosh Join Veteran Group


Short and sweet on this program's incoming players.

Not much was needed. The Golden Griffins have their top nine players returning, so if they are to get better than a .500 record in conference play for the first time since an 11-7 mark in the 1998-99 season ... well, this is the year.

That said, it appears that some decent newcomers have come aboard which might help some this year and contribute more in future years.

Incoming freshmen

- Rob Gagliardi, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard from Pickering High School in Ajax, Ontario. Althought the Griffs appear set at the position with returnees, sources indicate that Gagliardi will contend for time in the playing group. He has been a member of Team Canada's age-level teams for several years and has played against strong international competition. He has also excelled in AAU events where, according to one report, showed the ability to shoot out to the 23-foot range. Said to be a legitimate scorer.

- Alshwan Hymes, a 6-2, 180-pound guard from Jamesville-DeWitt High School (Syracuse area), who helped lead his team to the New York State's tournament's Class A championship in each of the past two seasons. Hymes, said to be a hard-nosed competitor with an above-average long-range shot, averaged 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 rebounds as a high school senior.

Hymes and Gagliardi will likely ensure that the Griffs' backcourt is in good hands beyond the coming season, as will another newcomer, Gabby Belardo, another 6-2 guard. Belardo, a native of Puerto Rico, is a transfer from South Florida and will not be eligible until the 2010-11 season. He will then have three years of eligibility.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saint Peter's: Belin Should Make Impact

Saint Peter’s

Incoming freshmen:

- Steven Samuels, 6-4 guard from Windsor (Ct. H.S.), averaged 16 points, 7.5 assists per game as a senior, and was named the Hartford Courant’s Player of the Year in that area.

- Yvon Raymond, 6-3 guard, NiaPrep of Newark, N.J., averaged 12.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 steals.

- Jeron Belin, 6-6 forward from Monroe Community College. Averaged 14.3 points, 6.1 rebounds. Two years of eligibility. Sources indicate he will be an “impact” player in the MAAC and likely move into the Peacocks’ starting lineup, replacing Hakeem Gooding, who graduated in May and opted not to complete his final year of athletic eligibility. This blogger believes the combination of ability and team needs could mean he will make the biggest contribution of any incoming MAAC player this season.

Eligible Redshirts

- Darius Conley, RS-Fr., F, 6-7, 235, Newport News, VA/Warwick. Four years of eligibility after sitting out as a freshman last season. Body size indicates he could be a bruiser inside, but also has ability to hit a mid-range jumper. Strength, though, is his ability to play with his back to the basket. Could contend for playing time right away.

- Jamin Shumate, 6-7, 230pound forward. Also sat out as a freshman last season. Another low-post player with a soft touch around the basket but with toughness and rebounding ability, according to St. Peter’s sources who have seen him practice. Should also contend for playing time. He and Conley should provide some depth inside that the program lacked last season.

With Shumate, Conley, Belin joining Bacon, Saint Peter's should be able to compete better in the paint this season.

Iona's Big Group: 4 Frosh, 2 Redshirts

College basketball’s season is still three weeks away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin anticipating how a favored team might fall into place for 2009-10.

This blogger has compiled a list of players joining MAAC programs, whether they be freshmen, red-shirted players becoming eligible this season, and transfers from other programs who are eligible now or will be in the second semester. In some cases, this blogger either has seen the players in question or has elicited some opinion/expertise from other sources and will pass along those insights.

I’ll be posting a team-by-team look at newcomers, in no particular order. If your team’s list isn’t up when you read this, check back soon. I’ll list the players’ pertinent stats, if they’re available. And, as always, thanks for reading.

First up ... Iona

Incoming freshmen

- Mike McFadden, 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward from Technology High School of Newark, N.J. He averaged 19 points, 12.5 rebounds last season. Sources indicate he might be ready to be in the playing group almost from the start of the season.

- Chris Pelcher, 6-10 center from Albany (N.Y.) Academy. This blogger has seen Pelcher play multiple times. He has a college-ready physique, can bang inside yet hit mid-range jumpers. Fairly mobile for his size. He could also be in the playing group early, and be a solid contributor throughout his time with the Gaels.

- Rashard McGill, 6-5 small forward, Massanutten Military Academy, a prep school in Woodstock, Va. There he averaged 17.8 points and had a one-game high of 46. As a senior at East Gadsden High School in Havana, Fla., in the 2007-08 season he averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds.

- Ben Mockford, a 6-2 guard from England who played prep school in the U.S. last year at Oak Hill Academy. Mockford played for England’s Under-20 team in this summer’s European Men’s Championship tournament. He saw action in five games, averaging 12.6 points per outing and hit 13-of-36 shots from three-point range.

Eligible Redshirts:

- Keon Williams, a 6-6, 220-pound forward who sat out last season with an Achilles injury. As a senior at Hackensack, N.J., H.S. he averaged 22 points and 14.1 rebounds in the 2007-08 season.

- Kyle Smith, a 6-4 guard who played one game last year, scoring six points in 17 minutes. After that, an ankle injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. As a high school senior at Don Bosco H.S., he averaged 13.6 points and 4.3 assists.

Coming Up ... Who's New in the MAAC

Over the next few days we'll feature newcomers, whether they be incoming freshmen eligible transfors or redshirts, joining MAAC men's programs for the coming season.

But first, some words of caution, kind of like the advisory on your car's rear-view that says "objects are closer than they appear."

Same with incoming players ... the view now isn't always accurate. Some might be closer to being ready to contribute than would appear based on statistics and reputations. Or, they might not be as ready to play yet as past performances might indicate.

Bottom line ... you don't know until everything shakes out through preseason workouts, practices and, even, some early games. So, great high school/prep school stats don't necessarily translate to college results. The fact that a player might be transferring in from a major-college program doesn't automatically ensure the individual's success either. And, sometimes, recruits who aren't highly rated emerge as standouts in college.

As a newspaper "beat" reporter covering Siena basketball for more than two decades, I'll relate two quick illustrative stories.

1) In the 1986-87 season Siena was recruiting a slender, 5-foot-10 point guard from New Jersey. For most of the season Siena was the only Division I program recruiting the player, and much of that interest came because then-coach Mike Deane had playground battles in his younger days against the recruit's father, and had an insider's knowledge of the recruit.

By late in the recruiting season, only a handful of other D-I programs got involved and the player ultimately came to Siena without much outside fanfare.

Early in his first season Siena was preparing for a game at Syracuse, a program featuring future NBA players Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas.

The Siena player, then a freshman, was asked what it would be like to match up with Douglas, a point guard who would play in the NBA for more than a decade.

His response: "You should be asking Sherman Douglas if he's worried about matching up with me."

That comment was more fact than brag.

The Siena player was Marc Brown, who scored 20 points in that meeting with Douglas and quite clearly was not out of his element in that evironment. It was a sign of things to come.

Brown went on to score 2,284 career points and accumulate 786 career assists. Eighteen years after his college career ended he remains Siena's leader in those two statistics.

2) During the 1989-90 season, Siena was recruiting another slender, small point guard.

Siena's coach Deane envisioned the player as Brown's replacement at point guard. Not many others held the player in such high regard. Only a handful of small Division I programs were interested.

Only one other MAAC school, Canisius, was interested but it wanted the player to redshirt for a season. The player opted to join Siena, which wanted him to play as soon as he arrived.

The player, Doremus Bennerman, not only became Brown's understudy during his first season but the two were often on the court together.

Bennerman took over at the point full time as a sophomore and finished with 2,109 career points (second all-time at Siena behind Brown) and 577 career assists (third all-time at Siena).

Stories like those abound throughout the MAAC, not just at Siena.

The point is that while the reports written here on incoming players at MAAC programs will include some insights/background/opinions ... all of that probably doesn't mean much and it certainly won't be definitive.

Predicting how incoming players will contribute to their new programs is an inexact science, at best. So, the "reports" to come are mostly for entertainment purposes only.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions. Just don't count on them being accurate.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

At Siena ... The Rich Get Richer

Siena, earlier this week, received its first verbal commitment from a player who will join the program for the 2010-11 season.

From extensive personal observation, this is a case of the proverbial rich getting richer.

Siena, the MAAC champion in the past two seasons, will lose an outstanding senior group after the coming season. But the first verbal commitment, from 6-foot-6 swingman Trenity Burdine, appears to be a strong first step in replacing the current seniors.

Burdine is entering his senior year at Reading (Pa.) High School, and is a close friend of current Siena standout Alex Franklin (who also calls Reading, Pa., home). Franklin, according to sources, strongly extolled Siena's virtues to Burdine in recent weeks.

Burdine plays for the York (Pa.) Ballers on the spring/summer AAU circuit, and his team made a Memorial Day Weekend stop in the area appearing in the GymRat Challenge Tournament at Siena.

This blogger got to watch Burdine play several games, and helped compile the "report" for members of that event's all-star team. Here it is:

"Trenity Burdine (6-6 SF/SG) York Ballers: Very skilled player with good handle and passing ability in half court and transition. Great range on jumper and showed ability to shoot off the bounce. His length disrupts defenses and be a factor on the glass. Interest from Siena among several other mid-major D-I programs."

Observers (this one included) compare Burdine to another current Siena player, senior Edwin Ubiles. The body size and skill set is similar. Burdine isn't quite the player Ubiles is, but Ubiles, is also four years older. It's not hard to envision that Burdine could make contributions at Siena similar to Ubiles'.

Of course, that's a very tall order. But Burdine's skills and style of play create the impression that he's capable of that.

"I just love Siena basketball," Burdine told Pete Iorizzo of the Albany Times Union. "Coach Fran (McCaffery) told me I was one of his main guys."

This blogger had heard that Burdine was one of Siena's two primary targets among players appearing at the GymRat Challenge event. The other is 6-foot-7, 250-pound power forward Dominic Morris, who played for The RAIDERS, a Philadelphia-based AAU team.

In the next few days, I'll submit a list of players, along with some insight, who will join conference programs for the coming season ... either as a freshman or as a transfer. But, this commitment came up, and with considerable first-hand viewing of Burdine ... just thought I'd pass along some thoughts.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Very Brief Look To the 2009-10 Season

OK, a brief bit of cross-advertising here.

This blogger, for the past decade, has also produced the MAAC men's basketball preview for what is now The Sporting News' College Basketball Annual issue. I had been writing the preview for Street & Smith, but that publication merged with The Sporting News a couple of years ago.

Anyway, as much as I would like to publish that preview in this forum ... The Sporting News doesn't allow that.

Still, that agreement doesn't prohibit me from making some observations.

My predicted order of finish, with some comments ...

1) Siena. Four starters back, joined by last season's Sixth Man of the Year award winner. Big surprise, right?
2) Niagara. Four starters back from a team that beat Siena by 15 points in a game during the final weekend of regular-season play.
3) Rider. Four starters back, too, including arguably the conference's best player in Ryan Thompson.
4) Saint Peter's. Probably a little bit of a surprise here. But, yours truly rates John Dunne very high as a coach. Ryan Bacon is emerging as one of the league's best big men and Jaron Belin, a 6-6 forward coming in from Monroe Community College, will be an impact newcomer.
5) Fairfield. I love how hard the Stags play under Ed Cooley. Only lingering injuries will keep the Stags from being competitive.
6) Iona. Five returnees who all saw some time in last season's starting lineups, two solid red-shirt freshmen become eligible and four touted freshmen ... if it all comes together, Gaels could be better than this.
7) Loyola. Standout perimeter players joined by 6-10 Maryland transfer Shane Walker. And, no Jimmy Patsos team will ever be anything less than competitive.
8) Canisius. All five starters back, along with a touted freshman (Rob Gagliardi). The Golden Griffins could easily do better than this.
9) Manhattan. Only one double-figure scorer (Darryl Crawford) is back. But, the Jaspars always seem to overachieve under Barry Rohrssen.
10) Marist. Its best two players have graduated. But, a Villanova transfer (6-10 Casiem Drummond) who is eligible after the first semester; an ACC transfer (guard Daye Kaba, formerly at Boston College) who is eligible immediately, and some promising freshmen create optimism.

In talking to coaches around the league this offseason, the universal theme is that there won't be any easy nights on this year's schedule, and that's my perspective, too.

Any of the bottom five teams could easily finisher higher than predicted here, and that's rarely the case. In most seasons, there has almost always been a program or two that could be counted on to struggle. But, that doesn't seem to be the case this year.

For an expanded MAAC preview ... I hope you'll rush to your local newsstand to purchase The Sporting News College Basketball Annual. It's not there yet, but will be at some point in early to mid September.

Yours truly will be taking a brief hiatus to visit an old friend in central New York's wine country.
Bully Hill, anyone?
The MAAC blog will resume by Aug. 7.

NEXT UP: I'll be taking a look at incoming players, transfers and recruits.

Again, thanks for reading.

An Early, and Welcomed, Return to Hoops

Welcome back to "Keepin' Track of the MAAC."

This is an early, unexpected but much-welcomed return to blogging about MAAC basketball happenings.

The MAAC has graciously offered the opportunity to blog about hoops year round. And, considering that yours truly is a year-round hoops junkie ... the chance to do that is just too good to pass up.

What goes on in the off-season?

Plenty, from recruiting, to scheduling, to comings and goings (players and coaches) ... just about everything and anything. It's also a good chance to opine, reminisce, whatever.

So, hopefully, this will be an internet destination for all you Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball fans. And, I know, there are plenty of you out there.

This begins my 21st season of being connected with the MAAC, first as a newspaper "beat reporter" and, now, as a blogger. My experience has taught me there is a a large audience for MAAC-related content, an audience that far surpasses that of almost any other mid-major basketball conference.

Why is that? My educated guesses are that the conference programs are well-established and have fan bases that have developed over long periods of time, that the league brings in a high-level of athletes, that the league schedule is always competitive, that fans can get greater access to players and coaches at this level than at the higher levels, that MAAC athletes are students first ... in essence that the league epitomizes what college sports is meant to be.

And, as fans, we are the beneficiaries. We appreciate it.

Now, I hope, the faithful readers of this space will be the year-round beneficiaries of opinions, insights, news and anything else this blogger can find of interest to write about concerning both men's and women's basketball.

Thanks for reading.