Thursday, May 26, 2011

GymRat Tourney Hoop Junkies' Delight

If you're a basketball fan ... a real "gym rat," so to speak ... then there's no better place to be this Memorial Day weekend than in New York's Capital Region for the GymRat Challenge boys' AAU tournament.

The event is the largest of its kind in the east. This year an event record 240 teams with close to 2,700 players will be in town and, if past years are any indication, more than half those here will play at some level in college.

There are usually several dozen high-major prospects here annually, and this year looks no different. Beyond that, several hundred of this weekend's participants will wind up at the mkd-major level, and MAAC teams are stocked with GymRat alums.

Champions will be crowned in five age brackets: 13-under, 14-under, 15-under, 16-under and 17-under.

For Albany area fans, there are 14 local teams with about 150 Capital Region players represnting close to 40 high schools from the upstate New York area. In all, 11 states and Canada will send teams here.

The event has Emeka Okafer, a No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2004 NBA draft played here, as did Michael Beasley, the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft.

The GymRat has also had alums play key roles for the last two NCAA national championship teams. Cole Aldrich (the starting center on Kansas' national championship team) played here as did Shabazz Napier, a key player on this past season's UConn title team.

Also, this year's national player of the year Jimmer Fredette (Brigham Young) played here, as did Talor Battle (a 2,000-point career scorer at Penn State).

Much of Siena's current and past rosters includes players who have displayed their talent in the GymRat event, including current Saints Owen Wignot, Trenity Burdine. Your blogger also recalls other current or former MAAC standouts having been here, including Greg Nero of Fairfield, Tomas Vazquez-Simmons of Canisius, George Beamon of Mannhattan and Candon Rusin, formerly of Marist, just to drop a few names.

The tournament will be played Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and, then, on Sunday from 8 a.m. until Sunday evening. Championship games will be contested Sunday evening. About 26 hours of basketball will be contested, almost non-stop, over the two days.

Yes, indeed, a basketball junkie's paradise. In about 400 games will be played at five different sites in New York's Capital Region. Those are: the University at Albany, Skidmore College in Saratoga, Union College in Schenectady, Schenectady High School and the Saratoga Recreational Center.

Single-day admission is $10 and two-day admission is $15. Fans can see any game at any venue. Multiple games are contested simultaneously at each site.

Your blogger will be in attendance and taking notes, as will a "talent evaluation" staff that picks players for tournament all-star honors. That staff gets some input from the better players in attendance about their college interst, and, as one of the talent evaluators for the event, I'll have access to that material.

When the tournament concludes, this blog will have a lengthy report about the tournament with as much recruiting information that pertains to the MAAC that I can acquire, which will be plenty.

More information about this year's event, the playing schedule and past histories of previous years' tournaments (including all-star selections and much information about the better players here from past years) is all available on the tournament's website, which is:

So ... attend the event; and, if you can't attend, then keep following this forum for post-tournament information. early next week.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Off-Season Report: Transition at Canisius

Here's another in the series looking at conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 15-15 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: For a program that has been "down" moreso, maybe, than any other program in conference history a .500 record is progress. It marked the first time the Golden Griffins didn't finish with a sub-.500 overall record since the 2000-01 season, when it turned in a 20-11 mark. The proverbial bottom never really came, except for a 6-25 finish in 2007-08 when many of this season's players were freshmen. Otherwise Canisius has won at least nine games in every season of the last 10, with four 15-victory or better seasons. The past season was notable also because the Griffs finished sixth in the MAAC's regular-season standings, avoiding the play-in round of the conference's post-season tournament for the first time in 11 years. The relative success came without a signature star, but with plenty of balance. The five leading scorers averaged between 8.9 and 12.5 points per game. The team went legitimately seven deep, which is as good as most conference programs. And, the two top reserves made significant contributions.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A confluence of veteran players who had been together for the past four seasons, and their progress can be charted by the program's record during their time in Buffalo; 6-25 in 2007-08, followed by 11-20, 15-17 and this year's 15-15 record. That type of heavy veteran presence usually is accompanied by success. Whether a .500 record qualifies as a major success is debatable, but it's success here considering the nine preceding seasons. And, it came without a single contributor taller than the 6-foot-7 Tomas Vazuez-Simmons, a fifth senior who came off the bench this year and was the team's third-leading rebounder. The balanced attack was probably a plus, too.. The only non-senior starter was sophomore point guard Gaby Belardo, a transfer from South Florida, who had a nice first season in the MAAC (10.3 points, 3.9 assists0, including making several late-game, game-winning shots. He is the top returnee and looks like a future conference all-star.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The lack of height didn't matter much as the team used its overall athleticism to hold its own on the boards. It even led the conference in blocked shots and finished 37th nationally in that statistical category. But the lack of a signature "star" player probably did. The Griffs suffered six of their nine conference losses by nine or fewer points, a sure sign that it didn't have a go-to player down the stretch. The closest wasn't one of the seniors, but Belardo, who made three game-winning shots during the season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Program sales are likely to skyrocket next year as the program undertakes a personnel turnover that is probably unprecedented in conference history. Nine scholarship players are coming aboard, including three transfers who won't be eligible until the 2012-13 season. The backcourt should be among the better ones in the MAAC with the return of current sophomores Belardo, sharpshooter Alshwan Hymes (69 3-pointers) and Reggie Groves, who missed most of the 2009-10 season with a knee injury and showed signs of returning to full health this past season. After that, though, no returnee played more than seven minutes per game. It's hard to tell how good the incoming freshmen will be, although at least one new player, 6-1 guard Harold Washington, has previous collegiate experience having played at Cecil Community College. The best players joining the program look to be 6-10 center Freddie Asprilla, a transfer from Kansas State; 6-10 center Jordan Heath, a transfer from Robert Weslyan; and 6-3 guard Isaac Sosa, a transfer from Central Florida, but those three will merely be practice players having to sit out the year due to transfer rules. It means better days are ahead for the Griffs, but probably not until the 2012-13 season.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Canisius fans will need to enjoy watching team and individual development this coming season because the loss of the team's top three scorers and five of its top six players doesn't bode well for on-court success. The Griffs' appear destined to drop back below .500 and, likely, will return to the post-season tournament's play-in round. But that situation should be short-lived, provided the transfers turn out to be as good as expected two years from now and the heavy influx of freshmen progress throughout the coming year.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Another Transfer Should Benefit Loyola

Within the next month or so we'll do a full recruiting update on every conference program. But, occasionally, an incoming player catches the eye of this blogger.

The most recent one is Jordan Latham, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward who played limited minutes at Xavier this past season and, recently, announced that he's transferring back to his home-area to attend Loyola.

Players returning home after not having success at a higher level have had hit-and-miss results at MAAC schools. But, Latham looks like the type who can be a "hit" for Loyola, a program that has considerable success with transfers in the past.

In fact, transfers have helped keep Loyola's program solid in recent years, moreso than any MAAC program. That's not to put any judgment on the team's proclivity for attracting transfers, just pointing out a trend.

But, it's a trend that began back in the late 1990's when Virginia transfer Mike Powell moved to the Baltimore school, and has continued under the direction of current coach Jimmy Patsos, who is entering his eighth year with the Greyhounds.

In fact, the school's top three players in terms of career scoring average, Andre Collins (from Maryland), Gerald Brown (Providence) and Powell have all been transfers. Another transfer, Jamal Barney, led the MAAC in scoring in the 2008-09 season, but personal problems caused him to leave the program at midseason in each of the last two years.

This past year's team, though, also relied on transfers. Center Shane Walker (Maryland) and forward Erik Etherly (Northeastern) were No. 1 and 2 in scoring and rebounding for the Greyhounds.

And, now, Latham, a highly touted Baltimore high school player prior to moving on to Xavier, comes aboard and will be eligible for the 2012-13 season.

Latham averaged 17 points and nine rebounds per game as a senior at Baltimore's City High School, and led that program to a state championship in each of his last two seasons there. He was rated the 20th-best power forward nationally during his senior high school season by one rating service, but was behind some established veterans at Xavier and only averaged 4.8 minutes of playing time this past season.

The transfer route has been used by several conference programs, almost always those from a metropolitan area, and the reason is easy to comprehend.

Larger cities like Baltimore and the New York metropolitan area produce considerably more high-major Division I performers than smaller areas (upstate New York, for instance). Almost always when a high-major player is disatisfied with a basketball situation he transfers back to a "home area" school.

And, no school has benefitted more from the opportunity derived from bringing in good transfers than Loyola.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Coaches Treasure Yankee Stadium Honor

Even Division I basketball coaches remain fans of other sports, and still get that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling at certain special sports situations.

Such was the visit of 10 coaches, including three from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, who took part in pre-game ceremonies at Yankee Stadium recently to honor their work with the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign.

John Dunne of Saint Peter's, Tommy Dempsey of Rider and Mitch Buonaguro of Siena were the conference coaches who attended, by invitation, the 15-minute ceremony just behind home plate, got to spend a few minutes with Yankee manager Joe Girardi and, then, watched the game from a luxury box.

Buonaguro has been particularly active with the charity that encourages coaches to help raise money and increase the awareness for the fight against the disease.

The opportunity for the Siena coach arose because of the work he does, including his participation in an annual "Basket Ball," dinner in the Albany, N.Y., area every year with proceeds directed to the American Cancer Society.

All coaches, as have just about anyone in any walk of life, have been directly affected by the disease in some form.

Buonaguro lost his mother to brain cancer 10 years ago.

“I went through how tough it was on her,” he said. “It affects everyone and I think we have all come together in the coaching fraternity to fight it.”

Dunne's mom is a two-time cancer survivor.

"She had breast cancer in 1984 and 1988 and went through years of chemo and radiation treatments," said Dunne. "I saw how tough that was for her, but she's a cancer survivor and she's still with us. But, it makes you realize that every one, in some way, is affected."

Dempsey said he lost a good friend, who was in his early 20's at the time, to cancer.

"When that happened I started to become a little more aware of what we can do to help," said the Rider coach. "Until it affects you on a personal level you probably don't pay as much attention to it as you need to. Losing my friend was an eye opening experience for me, and I try to do anything I can to help out."

Dempsey is part of a group at Rider that takes a full table at the annual "Jimmy V. Foundation" dinner to raise money for cancer research.

The Jimmy V Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million in the past 18 years, was instituted after Jim Valvano, who won a national championship at North Carolina State (and had also coached at Iona) came to be to honor his memory after he was claimed by cancer in the early 1980s.

Valvano's brother, Nick, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Jimmy V Foundation and is a Rider graduate and close friend of Dempsey.

Coaches who attended the Yankee game also took part in fund-raising activities the following day by working the phones to call hedge fund investors and businessmen to raise money for the fight against cancer. They also helped close the New York Stock Exchange last Thursday.

"It's a great thing to see so many coaches want to get involved," said Dunne. "Not all of us have the high profile of a Jim Boeheim (the Syracuse coach, who has long been one of the program's more-visible participants). We all don't have the same opportunities that he does to raise money.

"But even if we're not in that position, we understand that people in our own communities, fans of our programs, will follow our lead. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just raise awareness of the program and the need to contribute to the fight."

All three coaches expressed the enjoyment they felt at being included in the Yankee Stadium ceremony.

"Even though it took place just a few minutes before the game, a couple of Yankee players came by to shake our hands," said Dempsey. "And, when we were sitting in the luxury box for the game, Carmello Anthony and Lamar Odom spent some time with us."

"It was a personal treat for me, having grown up a Yankee fan," said Dunne. "My dad was killed in a work-related accident when I was still in college, and some of my best memories of him involved going to watch Yankee games together.

"I mean, I really enjoyed being there (as part of the ceremony), but I also had to smile a little because I know how much of a thrill it would have been for my dad to know that I was there, too."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Off-Season: A Look at Niagara Women

Here's another in the series looking at conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 0-18 in MAAC play, 1-29 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: The 0-18 conference record marked just the second time a MAAC team went through league play without a win since the expansion to an 18-game schedule in 1996 Iona also finished 0-18 in the 2002-03 season. Niagara's woes are easy to sum up: Not enough mature talent, not enough height and, by the end of the season, not enough bodies. Still, the Purple Eagles didn't give up. Against Rider, in a Feb. 18 game, Niagara pushed the contest into a third overtime before losing its best chance for a conference victory. The Purple Eagles, due to injuries and foul disqualifications, played the last two minutes with four players on the court. Junior point guard Grace Cunningham played the game's entire 55 minutes. Niagara did get one regular-season victory, a 52-51 decision over Penn of the Ivy League in its sixth game. After that, though, there came 24 straight losses.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Two years ago Niagara got off to a slow start before turning things around, a sign of team resiliency. This past season the Purple Eagles showed similar grit, but just couldn't duplicate the results. Those who saw Niagara play late in the season, though, attest that there was no `quit' in the team, that it was playing as hard in the final weeks as it had played at the season's start. But, the program had lost its top post players to graduation after 2009-10, and the primary replacement was up-and-down freshman Katie Gattuso who was eventually dismissed from the program (and she left school) with four games remaining. Otherwise the team's tallest player was 5-11. But, the experience of this past season should be invaluable. There is just one graduation loss, and the nine top returnees all played at least 14 minutes per game.. Freshmen Chanel Johnson, who had a 20-point/11-rebound performance against Iona in one game; and Shy Britton, who had a 16-point outburst against Saint Peter's, both look like promising young players who could make a nice step forward in the future.

WHAT WENT WRONG: It started early when standout sophomore point guard Kayla Stroman (12,0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.4 steals) suffered a severe foot injury and didn't play again after mid-December. A month later junior guard Ali Morris, who had taken over for Stroman, also suffered a season-ending injury. Then, Gattuso caused some problems and was eventually dismissed. Had everything gone right there still probably wasn't enough in place this season to seriously contend. But, Stroman's presence alone would have meant, maybe, a half-dozen more victories. Senior Liz Flooks was the team's top player, but the lack of consistent offense elsewhere meant she faced extra defensive attention every night.

WHAT'S AHEAD: There's no doubt that the team's continued spirited play despite its record bodes well for the program when more talent either comes aboard or develops. And, it looks like it's coming soon. Lauren Gatto, a 6-2 sophomore center who transferred to Niagara from the University of Chicago-Illinois (she averaged 3.8 points, 2.8 rebounds there as a freshman) becomes eligible for this coming season. Stroman should be back at full strength, and Johnson and Britton both have a year's experience. There are also plenty of quality role players returning, including Jess Flamm (5.5 points, 3.9 rebounds), Meghan Waterman (4th in the conference in steals), and Cunningham.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Don't expect Niagara to battle Marist for the MAAC's top spot, but the Purple Eagles could make the most positive progress next season of any conference team. Gatto should help solve some of the team's post problems, Stroman will help with ball control for a team that averaged more than 21 turnovers per contest. The maturation of the young players and the presence of quality role players and depth could mean the program could claw its way toward the .500 level this year, which would be a considerable improvement.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Off-Season: Siena Women's Future Bright

Here's another in the series looking at conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play, 14-16 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: The Saints were picked to finish eighth in the coaches' preseason poll and, then, turned in a season of surprises finishing in fourth in the regular-season and giving Marist its best game in the post-season tournament. It might even have been a little surprising for Siena, too, as it started with a 1-8 record against non-conference opponents before going 13-8 after that, including victories in 5 of its last 7 contests. The conference record was the once-dominant program's first better-than-.500 performance since the 1993-94 season, and it appears that result is a sign of a team on the verge of returning to its glory days rather than a one-year anomaly. Individually, senior center Serena Moore made her mark as one of the better players the conference has seen, leading the MAAC in scoring and rebounding and finishing second in Player of the Year balloting to Marist's Erica Allenspach in a voting that could have gone either way. Moore also became just the 13th player in MAAC history to finish with career totals of more than 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 100 blocks. Overall, a better-than-expected season that included a relatively close conference tournament semifinal-round game against Marist when the Saints were within three points early in the second half before the Red Foxes wound up winning by 15.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The huge season by Moore, who became the conference's best post player by far. Her consistently productive presence inside also helped open things up for two emerging perimeter players, juniors Maja Geryling (10.0 points per game) and Christina Centeno (9.5 points). The team also got a boost when senior "glue" player point guard Missy Ramsey recovered enough from a knee injury to get into the starting lineup and the team's other senior, Cathy Cockrum provided tough play and defensive intensity inside. The team also exhibited considerable resiliency after a 1-8 start. It began with a holiday tournament victory over Fordham of the Atlantic 10 in a non-league meeting and carried into MAAC play. The Saints had their best success against fifth-place finisher Fairfield, beating the Stags twice during the regular season and, then, again in the quarterfinals of the league tournament by a 36-33 score in which Siena scored an amazingly low seven points in the first half. Siena often struggled to produce points, but thrived with a defense that wound up 12th nationally for fewest points allowed per game.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The slow start kept the team from a winning record overall, and Marist's continued domination ended Siena's season in the post-season tournament's semifinal round. The team went through its share of injuries, too, as four of the five starters played through a variety of physical woes, top inside reserve Lily Grenci suffered a severe ankle sprain and missed eight late-season games and highly-touted freshmen forward Kate Zarotney and guard Kanika Cummings were hindered all season while recovering with pre-Siena injury situations. Still, hard to find too much to fault when the season far surpassed early expectations.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Finding a reasonable replacement for Moore will be the key. Other personnel losses are role players, and there appears to be a slew of young talent ready to step in. The problem, though, is just that: the talent will mostly be young. Next year's team will only have two seniors (Gerlyng and Centeno) and one junior (Grenci). Otherwise ... six sophomores and four freshmen. But, that bodes well for the program's future. Five of the six sophomores-to-be gained considerable experience this past season and all five will be expected to play key roles in the future. Stewart looks like a more-than-capable replacement at the point, Zarotney and Clara Sole-Anglada both showed reasons, as first-year players, to get into the playing group in the post and Cummings and Mullings are both explosive, athletic perimeter players. And, Grenci has proven to be an effective inside player when healthy and could make a major step up. Couple that with another very strong incoming group of four recruits and there are even better days ahead for Siena.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: For at least one more season, it will still be Marist's league and everyone else is playing for second place. But like this past season, when at least four teams, including Siena, were pretty well bunched behind Marist, there doesn't appear to be a sure-thing runner-up to the Red Foxes. If the current freshmen step up as expected, and one of two of the incoming recruits contribute, then Siena will have a strong playing group and likely be able to at least approximate this past season's success. Expect an even bigger step forward in following years as the young players continue to mature. Siena's talented youth brigade certainly merits designation as a team ready to step up when (if?) Marist ever takes a step backwards.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MAAC Coaches Honored for Cancer Fight

A very nice, and a well-deserved honor for three conference coaches who are among 10 regional coaches who will be recognized for their affiliation with the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign during pregame ceremonies at Yankee Stadium tonight prior to the Yanks' game against the Kansas City Royals.

Siena's Mitch Buonaguro, Saint Peter's John Dunne and Rider's Tommy Dempsey are the MAAC coaches will will be recognized at the ceremony.

Coaches vs. Cancer is a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) that empowers basketball coaches, their teams, and local communities to make a difference in the fight against cancer.

The other coaches who will be recognized are Jim Boeheim (Syracuse University), Mo Cassara (Hofstra University), Matt Doherty (Southern Methodist University), Mitch Henderson (Princeton University), Steve Lavin (St. John’s University), Mike Lonergan (George Washington University) and Mike Rice (Rutgers University).

Again, quite an honor that three MAAC coaches will be recognized for their above-and-beyond work to help support the fight against cancer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Off-Season Report: A Look at Siena Men

Here's another in the series looking at conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 13-18 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: Truly a season of ups and downs in every sense. It started with much optimism, particularly after an early non-league victory over Georgia Tech followed by a conference win over Iona. But, there wasn't much after that. Injuries were a factor. Clarence Jackson, a preseason all-MAAC pick, missed nine games and played hurt otherwise. Four of the team's top six players missed at least three games each. Expectations are always elevated for Siena, often overly optimistically, and that was definitely the case this past season. The record was pretty much what could have been expected for a program that lost three of its all-time players after the 2009-10 campaign, which resulted in a third-straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Usually the loss of three players (Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin and Ronald Moore0 of that caliber is followed by a bottom-falling-out season. But, an exceptional senior season by center Ryan Rossiter almost single-handedly ensured that didn't happen. All things considered, 13-18 was about right for the Saints. There would have been a few more victories if health issues weren't so prevalent, but they were

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Most of it can be attributed to Rossiter, who became the first player to lead the MAAC in scoring and rebounding in the same season since Lionel Simmons did it in the 1989-90 season. Rossiter also finished second nationally in rebounding (13.2), and became just one of eight MAAC players ever to record more than 1,000 rebounds, finishing third all-time on that statistical list. There were also the early victories over Georgia Tech and Iona, signs that the team still was capable of something better than mediocrity when all went right, but that just didn't happen often enough. Sophomore O.D. Anosiki (8.9 points, 6.8 rebounds) developed into one of the MAAC's better post players and freshman point guard Rakeem Brookins (9.0 points, 4.1 assists) moved into the starting lineup in Siena's fourth game and looked like a quality successor in the program's long line of floor generals. Siena also finished relatively strongly, winning three times in a four-game stretch before getting eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with the graduation losses from the previous season, a rare loss of quality personnel in one year, coupled with the move of five-year head coach Fran McCaffery to Iowa. That top assistant Mitch Buonaguro took over the program, though, theoretically helped ease some of the transition. But, McCaffery did the program no favors, leaving the program berift of quality players other than Rossiter and Jackson (had he been healthy). Much of that, though, wasn't entirely his fault. The team's starting lineup was, basically, etched in stone over his last three years making bringing in recruits difficult. The result was this past season's junior and sophomore classes were comprised entirely of role players. And, then, Jackson's injury handicapped the team more and made double- and triple-team attention for Rossiter a nightly occurrence without Jackson's outside threat. The next-best player was Brookins, a freshman who spent much of the season trying to figure out how to play the point in college. It was easy to see that a continuation of the program's recent success wasn't going to happen. Still, the conference's largest fan following wasn't happy, and there was strong anti-Buonaguro sentiment from very early in the season. Patience is clearly not a virtue among some Siena fans, but it needs to be, probably for the coming year, too. Buonaguro is a basketball lifer, a well-respected practitioner of his profession who deserves the support of his own program's followers, at least until results come in predicated on players he recruited for the program.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Can't imagine things will be much better this coming season, but there is reason for optimism beyond that. Four recruits, two highly regarded front-courters, an intelligent 6-5 long-range shooter (Rob Poole) and a slashing guard (6-2 DaVonte Beard) combine as an incoming class that will likely be the foundation of the program's resurgence as they mature. Still, very few freshmen become immediate impact players. Saint fans should sit back, enjoy the growth of its young players and, then, understand that the team will improve as the youngsters advance in their respective careers. The cupboard, though, isn't entirely empty. Anosike remains a potent presence inside, Brookins has a year's experience, Kyle Downey (knee problems) could be a nice role player if he's healthy and Owen Wignot (hand injury) could be a nice contributor as a senior. Junior Davis Martens, a mobile 6-9 forward, flashed some signs last year as did 6-5 freshman Trenity Burdine. There remains enough in place for some more quality victories, but probably not enough of them.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: The ceiling is probably a .500 record. If Siena gets that, and avoids a play-in round position for the conference's post-season tournament it should be considered a successful season. If a couple of the freshmen are ready earlier than expected, though, it might be a little better than that.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Off-Season Report: Niagara Men To Surge

Here's another in a series looking at conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 5-13 in MAAC play, 9-23 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: A rare down season for the Purple Eagles, just the second losing overall record in Joe Mihalich's 13 years as head coach. But, that was pretty much to be expected for a program that suffered plenty of quality personnel losses from the previous year. The one significant returnee was senior guard Anthony Nelson, mostly a role player in the past who emerged as a legitimate mid-major level star in his final college season. He single-handedly ensured the proverbial bottom didn't fall out for the program. Without him, Niagara's victory total wouldn't have needed one hand to count. The team had plenty of other talent, but most of it was far too young. Nelson was the only senior contributor. After him seven of the team's next-best scorers were freshmen or sophomores, which is never a good recipe for success. Still, Niagara seemed to be coming together as the season went on and won five of its last seven regular-season contests, including conference victories over fifth-place finisher Loyola and sixth-place Canisius. And, then, it threw in an absolute clunker with a disappointing 73-61 loss to Marist in the play-in round of the MAAC's post-season tournament.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Most of it had to do with Nelson, who became the first player in the 30-year history of the MAAC to finish with career totals of better than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 600 assists and 200 steals. Nelson was also college basketball's "King of Thieves," leading all Division I players with his 3.4 steal-per-game average. The late-season surge was also a positive, indicative of the program's strong returning foundation. Mid-major level college basketball rarely has the consistent success (11 winning seasons of the previous 12) that Mihalich has built at Niagara, so the team's "down" season could hardly be unexpected, nor was it a total disappointment. Supporters of the program got to watch a year of development, and much of it was positive. Start with freshman swingman Antoine Mason, who averaged 16.7 points through three games before a season-ending injury. Fellow first-year players Marvin Jordan (11.8 points), 6-3 guard Malcolm Lemmons (5.9) and 6-5 Skylor Jones (5.2) all provided considerable hope for the future.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Too many top players (Bilal Benn, Tyrone Lewis, Rob Garrison) leaving after the 2009-10 seasons. The result was one veteran returnee (Nelson) and his band of youngsters. And, the growing pains were obvious. After a 2-2 overall start Niagara won just two of its next 20 games with losing streaks of five, six and seven games. Always known for its high-powered offense, Niagara struggled to score for the first time in recent memory, averaging just 61.4 points per game. In fact, it only broke 70 points six times all season, way down from a per-game average of 76.1 just two seasons ago. The team's core of young players either wasn't ready in terms of talent, experience or physical stature. Mason was clearly the most-ready of the young players, and he was lost for the season after three strong games. But, that will change soon. Then, there was this personal observation: Nelson, despite his standout senior season, continued to be overlooked. Arguably the league's most-indispensable performer ... and, unquestionably its most versatile ... he was relegated to a second-team all-MAAC selection in the vote of league coaches. How an individual who led the nation in steals, and established career numbers for versatility never previously reached in the conference's 30-year history, did not get first-team honors is beyond the scope of this hoopscribe's belief.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Should be a return to good days up on Monteagle Ridge. Replacing Nelson won't be easy, but the program has its next eight best players returning, and there's a little of everything. The team struggled inside for much of the season, but 6-8 sophomore Eric Williams came on as the season progressed. He, sophomore Scooter Gillette (if he can add a little muscle to his slender frame), 6-5 junior Kashief Edwards (12.4 points, 6.6 rebounds) and incoming 6-6 forward Ali Langford (21.6 points, 12.8 rebounds per game at at Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, Calif.) should serve the squad well inside. Mason provides additional toughness from the backcourt and Jordan was one of the league's better rookies this past season. There are other solid performers in the program as well, and Mihalich will easily be able to go nine or 10 deep next season which is likely to mean a return to the all-out pressure defense, offensive up-tempo he has always preferred.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Clearly better days are ahead. The hope is that Nelson's unrivaled work ethic and team-first mentality rubbed off on his younger teammates. The likelihood is that the team will have a nice run for the foreseeable future. The upcoming season might be one year too early to expect Niagara to contend for the top spot ... that's likely to be contested between Iona and Fairfield ... but the Purple Eagles should be right there battling for position near the top behind the top two.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Off-Season Report: Jasper Women Solid

Here's the latest in a series examining conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 13-5 in MAAC play, 24-10 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: The best season by the Jaspers since 2002-03 when it won the conference crown and advanced to the NCAA tournament. This year its overall victory total was second-best of all MAAC teams (only Marist's 31 victories accounted for more), and its 13-5 league mark was good for third place overall. That much was not expected prior to the season from a team that looked to be in transition. Abby Wentworth, the only senior starter, was learning to play the point guard position after playing off the ball previously. And, the other top seven players included four seniors, two sophomores and a freshman. But it didn't take long for Wentworth to adjust to the new position and she became one of the top two or three players in the conference. Monica Roeder, a 6-0 freshman provided some long-range shooting as the team's second-leading scorer (9.7 points per game) and 6-0 junior Lindsey Loutsenhiser became an inside force by midseason after a relatively slow start to average 9.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. As a team Manhattan started 8-5 overall and 0-2 in league play. After that it was 16-5 overall and 13-3 against MAAC foes. Its only conference losses were two each to league champion Marist, second-place finisher Loyola and one to fourth-place finisher Siena. It was all good enough to get Manhattan its first post-season tournament berth since 2003, a trip to the Women's Basketball Invitational. There it won its first two games before its season ended against UAB.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty. Wentworth made a remarkably smooth adjustment to playing the point, although she did play the position in high school, and seemingly made every clutch play the Jaspers needed throughout the season. She finished second in scoring among all MAAC players, first in assists, second in steals and first in minutes played. Roeder scored 20 points in her first college game, hitting 6-of-7 from 3-point territory. She cooled off a little after that, but finished with 62 3-pointers. Loutsenhiser didn't start in the team's first nine games, but when she moved into the starting lineup she provided a much-needed dose of post play and the on-court improvement of the team was noticeable. Nadia Peters, a 6-1 junior, was also an effective front-court player (6.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 1.2 blocks per game). Overall Manhattan held opponents to 50.9 points per game, the 5th best total nationally.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Hard to nit-pick things from a team that exceeded expectations. Still, a 3.5 rebound-per-game disadvantage was a minor detriment. The Jaspers made up for it with an efficient offense that slowed things down and took care of the ball. Defensively opponents committed 173 more turnovers than Manhattan. The Jaspers' success came despite its relative youth. The experience should pay future dividends, but it also likely kept Manhattan from being even better this season. Wentworth was the team's only double-figure scorer, and the team was definitely offensively challenged at times.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Everyone but Wentworth returns from the eight-member playing group, so that leaves just one gap, albeit a very significant one. After the Jaspers were eliminated in the conference's post-season tournament, second-year head coach John Olonowski was asked how much Wentworth meant to his team this season. "She meant everything," said Olonowski. And, that was not stretching the point. She might have been the conference's most-indispensable player, and her MAAC-highest 36.7 minutes of playing time per game was indicative of that. How to replace her? Maybe 5-10 sophomore guard Maggie Blair, who averaged 1.4 assists per game as a reserve this season, or maybe incoming freshman Sheba Hall, a 5-5 point guard from Philadelphia's Lower Merion High School. Otherwise, the team is set everywhere else. The entire roster will benefit from a year's experience and Roeder, Loutseniser and Alyssa Herrington all should improve offensively, and Peters, Loutsenhiser and athletic sophomore forward Toni-Ann Lawrence comprise one of the better returning front-court groups.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Manhattan's success will be predicated on one thing: finding an adequate replacement at point guard for Wentworth. But, Olonowski entered this past season without a point guard, too, and got a terrific season out of Wentworth when she moved there. Otherwise, things should be good for Manhattan. The early expectation is an upper-division finish, potentially as high as second or third place.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tobin Anderson Hired as Siena Assistant

What was likely the most-followed search for an assistant coach in conference history Siena program director Mitch Buonaguro announced earlier this week that he decided on Tobin Anderson, who will give up his position as head coach at Division III Hamilton College, to join the Saints' staff.

This hoopscribe rarely blogs about conference transactions involving assistant coaches, but the Siena search brought more candidates, including more candidates who had previously been Division I head coaches, than any in my memory.

The search went on for nearly six weeks and was noteable because Buonaguro had indicated he was looking for candidates with previous experience as a head coach.

The search brought at least 70 applicants and some former Division I head coaches including some very familiar within the Siena community.

Most noteable among those was Mike Deane, who had actually been a successful Siena head coach from 1986 through 1984. Deane took Siena to its first NCAA tournament and to two NITs. He left Siena to coach at Marquette, then at Lamar and then at Wagner.

Deane was fired at Wagner after the 2009-10 season and has been living in Amsterdam, N.Y., about 30 miles west of Siena's campus, since then

Other candidates included former Siena assistants Matt Kilcullen and Brian Nash and recently fired Colgate coach Emmett Davis.

Kilcullen, a Siena assistant under John Griffin in the early 1980s, went on to be a head coach at Jackson, Western Kentucky and Norh Florida, was fired at North Florida after the 2008-09 season but has remained there as an assistant athletic director; Nash, a Siena assistant for one season under Louis Orr (2000-01), had been the head coach at St. Francis (N.Y.) for five seasons before abruptly resigning from that position after the 2009-10 season. And, Davis has been the head coach at Colgate for the past 13 years.

Clearly, though, Buonaguro felt more confortable with Anderson, who had a 118-63 won-loss record at Hamilton College.

"I'm really excited with the hire," Buonaguro said. "Tobin brings extraordinary experience to the job. I have known him for the last 20 years, and admired his knowledge and work ethic. He's a first class person and coach. I'm confident he will help us bring Siena basketball back to the top of the MAAC."

At Hamilton, Anderson's teams won its Liberty League regular-season title in 2006, 2007 and 2009, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 in 2006 after claiming the Tournament Championship.

"I'm obviously very excited to be a part of a program with the tradition Siena has," Anderson said. "I'm really looking forward to working for Mitch. He's a great guy - a person I really respect and trust. I can't wait to get started and help build upon the success this program has had."

Prior to his time at Hamilton, Anderson served as head coach at Clarkson University in Potsdam from 1999-2004. He enjoyed the best five-year record in the history of Clarkson basketball (67-66), leading the program to its first three postseason bids. His 2002 team enjoyed the biggest win-percentage improvement in all of Division III, and the 2004 squad won the Liberty League and advanced to the ECAC Semifinals.

Tobin got his start in coaching as an assistant coach at Clarkson in 1996-97 and at LeMoyne College from 1997-99. He has been very active in the Five-Star and Hoop Group Elite summer camp programs, serving as an instructor and guest lecturer for the past 13 years.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Off-Season Report: Jasper Men Moving Up

Here's another in the series examining conference programs.

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2010-11 RECORD: 3-15 in conference play, 6-25 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: Much happened on and off the court, dating as far back as preseason, so let's begin there. What looked like a preseason of promise took on a three-pronged hit that began when incoming players Robert Colonette, a 6-7 junior forward and junior college transfer from ASA Institute in Brooklyn; and, 6-6 freshman forward Torgrim Sommerfeldt suffered season-ending injuries without either playing a game. Colonette was an impressive post performer in preseason drills, while Sommerfeldt, originally recruited by Wake Forest, was expected to have an offensive impact with his long-range shooting skills. And, then, 6-8 Alabama transfer Demetrius Jemison, missed the first semester due to a paperwork snafu. If that wasn't enough, two of the team's top four players were freshmen (point guard Mike Alvarado and 6-6 forward Rhamel Brown), and another was a JC transfer (Kidani Brutus). It created chemistry issues, and more of those came when Jemison eventually joined the team at midseason. Still, there were some positive signs. Sophomore George Beamon (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds per game) looked like a future MAAC scoring champion, Alvarado looked like he'll become an impact point guard and Brown was an effective post player (7.1 rebounds). Jemison was also effective (10.4, 8.6), but he was a grad student and the semester of play completed his college eligibility. Improvement was noticeable as the season progressed as the Jaspers were within nine points or less in seven of their last nine losses, including a hard-fought 68-66 overtime loss to Siena in the play-in round of the conference tournament. But, things didn't end there. All-time nice guy coach Barry Rohrssen was fired and there were several published reports that indicated there wasn't unanimous agreement among school administrators about the move. Rohrssen was replaced by Louisville assistant Steve Masiello, the school's second choice for the position (LIU head coach Jim Ferry turned down an offer). And, then, three of the four recruits who had signed to play under Rohrssen have opted to rescind that commitment.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Strong play by Jemison, after he became eligible; a standout sophomore season by Beamon, who became one of the conference's better players on the offensive end of the court; the year-long development of freshmen Alvarado and Brown, both of whom should take another step forward this coming season. Some late-season improvement that, theortically, should carry into the coming year, although a transition to a new coach raises minor questions about that. Even though Ferry turned down an offer, Masiello, by all accounts, should be a good hire. It's always tough to tell about assistants moving into the lead chair, which was Rohrssen's situation, too. But Masiello has a reputation as a great recruiter and hard worker. But, for that matter, so did Rohrssen. But even as Rohrssen was fighting to retain his job in the final weeks of the season the program was showing improvement and there was much optimism for the future.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The preseason losses of Colonette and Sommerfeldt, along with Jemison's delayed eligibility, created some holes in the ship that couldn't be plugged. When Jemison moved into the starting lineup, it meant the only starter with Division I experience prior to the 2010-11 season was Beamon, who came off the bench the previous year. Had Colonette and Sommerfeldt been healthy ... it might have meant at least a few more victories, at least, for the Jaspers. A 12- or 13-win season and we're probably talking about Rohrssen retaining his job. But, Rohrssen's departure cost the program its top three signed recruits, including 6-10 forward Edison Avila and 6-4 guard Zach Lamb, the brother of UConn standout Jeremy Lamb. The season did start with two victories (over NJIT and Penn), but that was followed by 15 straight losses. Still, there was considerable resiliency and Manhattan was 4-10 after that with four of the losses by one or two p0ints.

WHAT'S AHEAD: If Rohrssen's recruiting class all honored their initial commitments, the coming season might have been the start of a significant resurgence for the program for years to come. Even without them, though, the coming season should be marked by considerable improvement as returning starters Beamon, Brutus, Brown and Alvarado all return as quality players with an additional year of experience. If Colonette and Sommerfeldt are healthy and contribute as expected, that's six quality players and Manhattan will certainly be poised to at least contend for the upper half of the MAAC standings. But, depth will be a factor and, as of early May, Masiello had yet to secure a single recruit. That, though, will change and any quality newcomer could sneak into the playing group and solve the depth concern. The problem, though, is that right now, with only one incoming new player (6-7 forward Ryan McCoy of Montgomery, N.J., H.S.). Two months from now the expectation is that Masiello will have added a couple more quality pieces. But, that hasn't happened yet.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Provided Colonette and Sommerfeldt are healthy and can contribute as expected, there's reason for optimism. Any team with a solid inside player (Brown), a standout point guard (Alvarado) and a gifted scorer (Beamon) has a nice recipe for success. Now, it's just a matter of assembling the supporting pieces, and the inside presence of Colonette could be another nice piece. If all goes well the Jaspers could easily get up to fourth or fifth place. But, that's no certainty yet.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Off-Season Report: Marist Women Roll On

Here's another in the off-season series examing conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 18-0 in the MAAC, 31-3 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: Start with the second perfect season (Marist in 2007-08 was the other) since the MAAC went to an 18-game league schedule in 1996-97. Along the way there was only one game the Red Foxes did not win by double digits, that a two-point victory over Fairfield. Add to that MAAC tournament wins by 28, 15 and 18 points, followed by a first-round NCAA tournament victory over Iowa State and, then, an 11-point lead with 15:40 left and a six-point edge with 5:27 remaining against Duke, a No. 1 seed in its bracket, before the Blue Devils got past an obvious tired Marist, 71-66. Marist played most of that game with its top player, senior guard Erica Allenspach, on the bench after she suffered a severely sprained ankle early in the first half. In her absence, junior guard Corielle Yard turned in an heroic effort with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Overall the team led the nation in fewest turnovers and finished ranked 21st nationally in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll. Between its Duel in the Desert early-season tourament victory (wins over Louisville, Nebraska and Houston) and its NCAA tournament resuts Marist left little doubt it could play at the sport's highest level. And as the director of a team that didn't truly have a singular "star" player, Brian Giorgis proved once again he is among the best coaches not only at a mid-major program but at any program at any level.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Team play and quality depth marked this year's success. Giorgis often said he didn't know exactly what he had, but that he had plenty of it. The team legitimately went nine or 10 deep every game. Allenspach's style was understated, but coaches recognized her contributions and named her the MAAC's Player of the Year. And, then, she showed exactly why she earned that honor with arguably the best stretch of play in the history of the conference tournament. On the offensive end she was 24-of-33 shooting from the floor, including 12-of-15 from 3-point territory to average 23.7 points over the three games. Even the best players would have difficulty making that high percentage of shots taking uncontested shots in practice. But, Allenspach was far from alone. A group of solid, above-average ... but not great ... players fit together in uncommon fashion. Surprisingly, Allenspach and junior guard Corielle Yarde were the team's top two rebounders from their backcourt positions. Kate Oliver, a 6-4 forward, became more of an offensive force and 6-2 forward Brandy Gang also emerged after being primarily a role player in the past. And senior Elise Caron, also a reserve in past years, moved into the starting lineup as the team's point guard and top perimeter defender and directed the flow of the game at both ends. And, considerable strong play came from a strong freshman class.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Try to find something. If you want to nit-pick, a 45-40 early season loss to St. Bonaventure was a little surprising. Otherwise, the only disappointment was the loss of Allenspach in the NCAA tournament game against Duke and, then, having the Red Foxes running on fumes late in that contest as Duke rallied from a game-long deficit. Had Allenspach not sprained her ankle and Marist had that one extra quality peformer ... well, who knows? The off-season, though, wasn't kind to Marist. Oliver, who looked ready to emerge as one of the conference's top players over the next two years, instead transferred to Washington State where, according to published reports, she believes her height and skill set will be more of a factor.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The loss of three strong starters, one of them a transfer which has never happened before for the Red Foxes, is likely to create some optimism around the league. The preseason sentiment will surely be: This is the year Marist comes back to the pack. Of course, that was the sentiment a year ago after all-timer Rachele Fitz graduated, too, and we all saw how that turned out. The very strong likelihood is that Marist will be very good again. Maybe not as good as another perfect conference record, but there is plenty returning. Start with Yarde, the athletic guard whose NCAA performance against Duke stamped her as a preseason favorite for the coming year's Player of the Year honors. Also back is Gang, an effective 6-2 forward. And Marist adds a very significant piece in KIristina Danella, a 6-1 forward entering her junior season after transferring from UMass where she averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in Atlantic 10-level compeition in the 2009-10 season. The point guard spot is likely to fall back into th ehands of senior-to-be Kristine Best, who was the team's starter two years ago. Marist's next four best returnees are current freshmen 5-10 guards Leanne Ockenden (4.1 points per game, and 36 three pointers), and Casey Dulin (3.5 points) and 6-0 forward Emma O'Connor (3.3 points) and 6-2 current sophomore Kelsey Beynnon (3.1 points). Not hard to envision some from that group emerging into legitimate standouts. About the only aspect remotely resembling a weakness is is post play, but the MAAC doesn't abound in strong post players so that shouldn't be much of a problem for the Red Foxes.

2011-12 PREDICTION: This shouldn't be any surprise: Another first-place finish, maybe not quite so dominant as this past season, but another great season.