NCAA declares 6’10” Hartford transfer Yasin Kolo eligible immediately

Hartford center Yasin Kolo. Courtesy of Hartford Athletics
Hartford center Yasin Kolo. Courtesy of Hartford Athletics

Hartford head coach John Gallagher received some welcome news at seemingly the 25th hour, as the NCAA has declared 6’10” 250-pound redshirt-sophomore Yasin Kolo, a transfer from Eastern Carolina, eligible immediately.

“We are happy the NCAA has approved the waiver for Yasin Kolo; he adds great depth and versatility to our team,” said Gallagher.

Thursday, Oct. 31 had already been a whirlwind for Gallagher. The fourth-year head spent his morning holding court at the Bridgeport Holliday Inn for the 2013 Connecticut 6 Tip-Off Breakfast, a meet-and-greet in advance of the state’s yearly mid-major hoops showcase, which pits Fairfield, Yale, Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut State, Quinnipiac and Hartford against one another. The Hawks will tip-off their season in the second game of the triple-header on Nov. 9, facing as off against Quinnipiac formidable frontline.

After the media swarm, Gallagher had booked it back to Chase Arena, for an intense practice. Practice had just gotten out and Gallagher was still sweating at 1:20 p.m. when Athletic Director Pat Meiser informed him that the NCAA had officially – finally – granted Kolo a waiver to play immediately.

With the season just nine-days away, and the Bobcats extremely physical frontcourt, headlined by Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame, awaiting them, the NCAA’s decision come just in time. Continue reading “NCAA declares 6’10” Hartford transfer Yasin Kolo eligible immediately”

OBW Ivy League season preview: looking back and looking ahead

With the way the 2012-13 Ivy League season ended—with Laruent Rivard hoisting three-pointers, with Siyani Chambers giddily dribbling out the clock, with Harvard celebrating its first-ever NCAA touranment victory—it’s easy to forget how it all began.

At this point last year, it looked the Ivy League title was Princeton’s to lose. After all, the Tigers returned the league’s best player (forward Ian Hummer) while Harvard had lost four of its top contributors (Oliver McNally and Keith Wright to graduation, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to suspension).

Some even thought Columbia—Columbia!—had a better shot at the title than Harvard. (OK, maybe that was just me.)

The point is, few predicted the Crimson could do it. I mean Harvard didn’t even have a point guard, save for some undersized freshman from Minnesota.

It turned out Siyani Chambers was good, really good. The rookie averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists per game. It was enough to land the freshman on the All Ivy First Team, a feat about as unlikely as a guy jumping from 3.3 to 16.2 points per game in a single season.

Oh wait, that happened too (Looking at you, Wesley Saunders).

The point is even when we think we know a lot about the Ivy League—and this year we think we know quite a bit—a whole lot can change between now and March.

So even though Harvard received all 17 first-place votes in the preseason media poll, let’s not forget that this is the Ivy League. Let’s not forget that Princeton returns four starters and seems incapable of losing to Harvard in its home gym. Let’s not forget that Yale brings back one of the league’s top frontcourts and always seems to hang around the top of the standings. Let’s not forget that Penn topped Harvard a year ago and enters this season with a healthy roster with even more talent.

So let’s hold off on writing the ending to the 2013-14 season. After all, this is the Ivy League.

OBW America East preseason predictions: Individual Awards

Now that you know how we rank the teams heading into the season, here’s a look at our predictions and projections for individual awards for the 2013-2014 season.

Stony Brook sophomore center Jameel Warney looks like the favorite for America East Player of the Year honors. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Stony Brook sophomore center Jameel Warney looks like the favorite for America East Player of the Year honors. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

OBW America East preseason Player of the Year
Jameel Warney, 6’8” 260, Soph., C, Stony Brook
Warney is a dying breed in the America East: A true big man with a game and temperament to match. Warney knows he is a center, relishes being a center and loves beating the daylights out of opponents on the low blocks (a 6’8” who thinks he is 6’3” he is not). Warney commands double and triple teams every trip down the floor and goes through swarms of defenders like they are made out of parchment paper around the hoop, shooting an insane 61 percent from the floor as a true freshman.

Even without a jump-shot, Warney was truly unstoppable last season, and should only get better with a year of college hoops under his belt. With the graduation of Tommy Brenton, Warney’s rebounding numbers should go through the roof. The 260-pounder also makes a sizeable impact deterring shots and clogging the lane on the defensive end and is also a very adept passer out of the double (or triple) team in the post. An 18/10/2/2 season is certainly within his reach as a sophomore.

OBW preseason America East Defensive Player of the Year
Brian Voelkel, 6’6” 230, Sr., F, Vermont
Voelkel might not wow you with his athleticism, but his instincts, use of angles, hoops IQ, physicality and toughness are off the charts. Voelkel draws the nightly assignment of defending the best opposing scorer regardless of position. The ultimate warrior, he is also the league’s ultimate intimidator who can take opponents out of their game by getting inside their head.

OBW preseason America East Rookie of the Year
David Kadiri, 6’9” 200 F/C, UMBC
Kadiri is very raw offensively, and will be playing behind upperclassmen in the front court to begin the season. However, his physical gifts — tremendous wingspan at somewhere around 6’9”, great athleticism and timing and instincts that can’t be taught – give him all the tools to be a game-changing shot-blocker. More than that, in a league filled with center’s who think they are shooting guards, Kadiri relishes the role of rebounding, blocking shots, dunking on heads and hurting feelings in the low blocks.

OBW preseason America East All-Conference First Team Continue reading “OBW America East preseason predictions: Individual Awards”

OBW America East preseason predictions: #1 Vermont

Vermont point guard Sandro Carissimo . OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Vermont point guard Sandro Carissimo . OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Projected starting lineup:
G – Sandro Carissimo, Sr., 6’2” 170
G – Candon Rusin, R-Sr., 6’4” 190
F – Brian Voelkel, Sr., 6’6” 230
F – Clancy Rugg, Sr., 6’8” 195
F – Luke Apfeld, R-Sr., 6’7” 215

Overview:
So here we are: The top of the mountain, the cream of the crop, the team to beat, the Alpha dog – or in this case, Alpha Catamount. By process of elimination (or, perhaps, discrimination, depending on who you listen to), we’re left with Vermont as the One-Bid Wonders’ preseason favorite to win the America East.

If you only listen to certain media mouthpieces, or read certain publications, you may be shocked and chagrined – mortified and stupefied – to learn that Vermont has been entrenched as the premier basketball program in the America East for more than a decade – the league’s very best.

It’s not even remotely close.

For the past 11 years, Vermont has flat out dominated the America East. Over that time, the Catamounts have punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament five times — as many times as the other eight current members of the conference combined.

Vermont head coach John Becker and his staff of assistants Kyle Cieplicki, Chris Markwood and Matt O’Brien have established themselves as some of the league’s very best. Plain and simple, they recruit good kids, who excel on the court and in the classroom, leave everything they have on the hardwood and execute.

And all they do is win. And they do so with a pittance of a recruiting budget, a high-school gym and without the hype machine powering much of college basketball (they don’t even have a full-time men’s basketball media contact. International recruiting budget? Sure, if by international you mean beyond Brattleboro).

In his first season, Becker – who eschews the “look at me now” era of modern coaching and sideline antics, opting instead to quietly get the job done – led the Catamounts to the NCAA Tournament, bludgeoning a previously bullet-proof Stony Brook squad on the Seawolves own campus. In front of more than 4,000 partisan fans, Becker was unflappable and his roster and staff followed suit.

Despite losing their top two scorers from the 2012 NCAA team, in his second year at the helm, Becker led the Catamounts to a second place finish, second-straight 20-win season, and a second-straight championship game. Vermont’s offense – inconsistent for much of the year – fired blanks in the championship game and the Catamounts suffered a last second loss on their home court to Albany, but Vermont returns their entire roster from last season with the exception of one-year transfer Trey Blue and looks primed to emerge at the top of the America East.

Like his predecessor before him, Mike Lonergan, Becker loves the flex-offense, which relies on screens, ball movement and ball reversals. He emphasizes patience and puts a premium on taking good shots as opposed to volume shooting.

Roster:

The Catamounts are extremely deep, experienced and athletic. With six seniors – two of them fifth-year players – two fourth-year juniors, five players who know what it takes to run the America East gauntlet and make the NCAA’s and 12 players who know what it feels like to come up just short of their dreams, Vermont is battle tested, hungry and motivated to get back to the Big Dance.

Becker runs the flex-offense to perfection and seems to be one of the rare America East coaches who loves to run his offense inside-out, pounding the ball into the low-post and dominating the trenches around the hoop to open up the perimeter. And he has the roster to do it.

Brian Voelkel is the engine – along with the heart and soul, the lifeblood, the toughness and the sheer, stubborn, refusal to lose — that makes the Catamounts go.

Perhaps no player in the league looks more out of place – and outright awkward – on the court than Voelkel. Listed at 6’6” and 210 pounds (and likely closer to 6’5” 250), Voelkel is built like a Rhinoceros and runs like a penguin. He isn’t going to wow you with any run-and-jump athleticism. To say his jump shot isn’t pretty or textbook is a massive understatement (to even call his one-hand, chest-heave devoid of any upward lift a “jump” shot at all is questionable).

What Voelkel is, is 77 inches of hustle and muscle, with an motor constantly running on overdrive and an Albert Einstein-like basketball IQ and a preternatural ability to rip rebounds away from a swarm of opponents, drop no-look dimes to cutting teammates, defend the bejesus out of the ball, and generally frustrate and scare the daylights out of opponents.

Voelkel is a straight ‘baller, pure and simple; capable of literally dominating a game without scoring a basket (as evident by the 2012 Championship game).

The league’s premier enforcer, intimidator, rebounder, and glue-guy, Voelkel runs the Catamounts offense as a point-forward while anchoring Vermont’s defense and generally leading the league in floor-burn, hustle-plays and hurt feelings.

While Voelkel still looks to pass first, second and third on offense, he does have the ability to create his own shot and if left unguarded will knock down the occasional three. Defensively, Voelkel uses tremendous angles, physical strength and instincts to bottle up and smother both more athletic players on the perimeter and taller players on the blocks.

Voelkel is neck-and-neck with Jameel Warney as the preseason favorite for Player of the Year honors.

While Voelkel will run the offense and ensure his teammates get the ball in a position to score, he will need someone – or several someones – to finish off his dishes. Continue reading “OBW America East preseason predictions: #1 Vermont”

Heaven is a playground — San Diego: I played a game, but I learned a lot about life.

I played a game but I learned about life.
I played a game but I learned about life.

Pandas, Mexicans, Bill Walton, fans who leave in the 5th inning, the largest annual gathering of Captain Janeway enthusiasts in the universe.

If not for a fortuitous meeting in front of a mechanical bull, that’s all Peanut Butter Pie would have known about San Diego.

Life’s funny; one minute you’re talking to an Army mechanic about the best floozy dens in the Gaslamp and then you wake up to the realization that you have been living in Seaport Village for 10 months. A man can get lost in the year round perfect weather, beautiful women, and half priced Tuesday tacos.

Of course, it’s not all tanning oil, free clinics and Maalox.

Tourists travel to places like New York, San Francisco Paris and Tokyo because they want to feel the pulse of the city. Metropolises like these are literally alive; they have distinct personalities, an intrinsic uniqueness. Tourists only come to San Diego for a few reasons; the weather, and events like Comicon or places like the Zoo.

I’m not hating. The Zoo is phenomenal — hands down the best I have ever been to — but these things hardly breathe life into the city, or give it an intangible authenticity.

A place whose reputation is predicated on its tourist traps is bound to have that So Cal strip mall feel. Inorganic is the word I would use. I mean we are talking about a downtown that actually has a chain dive bar — if it has a corporate structure and shareholders it aint a dive bar.

Things have a tendency to feel watered down. Little Italy for example, it looks pretty and all, but please go to the North End in Boston or Little Italy in New York and then talk to me about real Pizza. The best Chinese around is PF Changs (white people serving Chinese food is a bad sign) and don’t get me started on the lack of bakeries, sub shops and delis. On top of that, there is very little in the way of neighborhood culture Sans Hillcrest (the Gay neighborhood). Continue reading “Heaven is a playground — San Diego: I played a game, but I learned a lot about life.”

Crimson Madness

The final buzzer had sounded and most of the fans had already left Lavietes Pavilion. But a group remained, waiting outside the Harvard locker room for a chance to score some autographs from a team fresh off its first NCAA tournament win in program history.

One boy in the crowd wore a jersey that looked awfully familiar. It was the Crimson one with the No. 4 on the back—the one that’s been popping up in the stands at Harvard games ever since Cambridge caught a case of Linsanity.
Only this one didn’t have “Lin” on the back. The kid had taped over that part. Instead, he had scribbled a new name on the back: “Zena.”

And if Friday night’s intrasquad scrimmage at Lavietes Pavilion was any indication, you might just start seeing a few more of those in the coming years.

Harvard returns four starters from last year’s team that topped third-seeded New Mexico in the NCAA tournament, including First Team All Ivy selections Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. Harvard has also added Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey to the mix, two guys that have already taken home All-Ivy honors in the past.
But on Friday night, Edosomwan stole the show.

Making his first appearance in his No. 4 Harvard uniform (the first player to wear No. 4 since Lin ’10) the highly touted rookie led all scorers with 16 points in one half of action.

“My teammates did a good job of giving me the ball in open spots,” said Edosomwan, who added a game-high five rebounds and shot six of nine from the field in 12 minutes off the bench.

Edosomwan did most of his damage around the basket, but the forward also knocked down a jumper from the free throw line and put the ball on the deck for two points on another occasion.

“Going into the game I was like, ‘OK, there’s one thing I can control: I can control how hard I play,’” said Edosomwan who said his head was “spinning” when he first checked into the game. “My teammates do a good job of just keeping me grounded. Continue reading “Crimson Madness”

OBW America East preseason predictions: #2 Stony Brook

Stony Brook sophomore center Jameel Warney looks like the favorite for America East Player of the Year honors. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Stony Brook sophomore center Jameel Warney looks like the favorite for America East Player of the Year honors. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Projected Starting Lineup:
G – Anthony Jackson, Sr., 6’ 185
G – Dave Coley, Sr., 6’2” 190
F – Ahmad Walker, R-Fr., 6’4″ 190
F – Eric McAlister, R-Sr., 6’8” 230
C – Jameel Warney, Soph., 6’8” 260

Overview:
At some point, no matter what is blasted from the megaphones of marketing departments, or hyped by media mouthpieces, a team has to go out and win the big game.

Make no mistake, Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell – along with his staff of assistant coaches Jay Young, Lamar Chapman and Dan Rickard and director of basketball operations Ricky Lucas (the latter two both former Seawolves players) – have done a magnificent job transforming Stony Brook from one of the worst programs in the country to an America East power.

Seawolves Athletic Director Jim Fiore likes to say that Pikiell inherited the Titanic and built the Intrepid, and he has a point: When he was hired in 2005, Pikiell took over a team that had decrepit facilities, an absolute lack of culture or character to build upon, and a Division III-caliber revolving-door roster that had been stripped of scholarships due to an abysmal APR and graduation rate.

In Pikiell’s first year at the helm, Stony Brook went 4-24 on the season and 2-14 in league play. Stony Brook finished each of Pikiell’s first three seasons in dead-last place, with single-digit win totals and a loss in the America East Tournament play-in game.

They haven’t won fewer than 14 games in any season since.

In 2008, Pikiell landed a game-changing class in freshmen Tommy Brenton, Brian Dougher, Dallis Joyner and Danny Carter, along with JuCo transfer Muhammad El-Amin. That class included two future Player of the Year winners (Brenton and El-Amin), three First Team All-Conference selections (Brenton, El-Amin and Dougher) and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (Brenton). All five players would go on to play professional basketball at one level or another.

Over the last four seasons, the Seawolves have won three-regular season titles outright (2010, 2012, 2013), winning 21 or more games over Division-I opponents each time. Over the past two-seasons, the Seawolves have gone a combined 28-4 during regular-season America East play. Pikiell hasn’t simply turned Stony Brook into a great defensive team by league standards: The Seawolves have been one of the best defenses in the nation and in league history. Stony Brook hasn’t simply smothered opposing offenses; they’ve suffocated them. Stony Brook didn’t simply run the America East gauntlet; they ran roughshod over it.

During that time, Pikiell, his staff, players and athletic department, have brought a level of media attention to an America East program, and the conference as a whole – due to the on-court product, terrific marketing and media outreach and a presence in a major media hub in NYC – that the league has not seen in some time.

Last season, the Seawolves made the turn from dominant team to outright juggernaut, as their offense – revolving around the immovable object and unstoppable force that was freshman center Jameel Warney and the quarterbacking of point-forward Brenton – became nearly as formidable as their defense. Stony Brook went 10 deep and was the longest, most physical and most athletic team in the league, dominating the glass at both ends while beating the daylights out of opponents around the hoop.

The Seawolves were no longer simply winning games; they were destroyed America East opponents. In their 16 conference games, the Seawolves scoring margin of +14.2 points per game was nearly double that of the second-highest scoring margin in the conference (Vermont’s +7.2 ppg).

Then they ran into fifth-place and fourth-seed Albany in the America East Tournament, played on Albany’s home floor. What followed was an agonizing 61-59 losses on a last-second bucket by Great Danes point guard Mike Black. And just like that, the Seawolves season of destiny, in which the program’s first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament had seemed all but a guarantee, went up in smoke.

Stony Brook rebounded to thrash UMass on the road in the first round of the NIT Tournament and gave Iowa everything it could handle before falling in the second, but it was little consolation for the greatest team in school history.

Even before the dust had settled from Stony Brook’s shocker at the hands of Albany, fans and media members alike decried that, due to the predetermined host-school format of the America East Tournament, the top-seed Stony Brook wound losing what was, in essence, a road game to a lower seed.

In was, in fact, decidedly unfair and unjust that the best America East team, statistically, since Vermont circa 2005 was forced to play a road game in the conference tournament.

But basketball, like life, is not fair and to dismiss four years of Seawolves’ post-season futility as the result of an unfair format is simply inaccurate.

Truth be told, the 2013 semifinal against Albany could have been played on the moon and Stony Brook still should have walked away with a win. As much as a hostile crowd didn’t help, the first, second and third biggest factor in Stony Brook’s collapse was that the Seawolves came out flat, and for roughly 35 minutes appeared to be sleep-walking through the motions. Continue reading “OBW America East preseason predictions: #2 Stony Brook”

OBW America East preseason predictions: #3 Albany

Albany forward Sam Rowley could make a leap as a junior. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany forward Sam Rowley could make a leap as a junior. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Projected Starting Lineup:
G – Anthony Odunsi, Jr., 6’4” 210
G – Peter Hooley, R-Soph., 6’4” 200
F – Gary Johnson, Sr., 6’6” 205
F – Sam Rowley, Jr., 6’6” 230
C – John Puk, R-Sr., 6’10” 235

Overview:
What a wild roller coaster ride the Will Brown experience has been for the past 12 years. Brown’s story has been well told, but suffice to say, he inherited the job as the interim head coach in 2001 after beginning the season as a first-year assistant when the rest of the staff quit. In his first recruiting class he landed two game-changing players in Jamar Wilson and Levi Levine. Brown bailed water to barely keep the program afloat over the next two years, before turning the corner in 2004-2005 and bulldozing the league en route to the NCAA Tournament in 2006 after knocking off three-time defending champion Vermont.

A year later, the Danes went dancing again, going right into the Catamounts’ den and taking out Vermont in Vermont and the America East torch had seemingly been passed.

Then it all went so very, very wrong.

Brown started over-recruiting – reaching for players who looked the part of high-major talent, instead of the glue-guys and junk yard dogs that he’d built the program with. Albany turned into a revolving door of untapped talent that never panned out and the Great Danes dropped to third in 2008, seventh in 2009 and bottomed out in the basement at dead last in 2010.

As the losses mounted and the Danes tumbled in the standings, the rumblings grew louder and louder that Brown, the man who had built the Great Danes, was in jeopardy of losing his job.

Albany rebounded, finishing fourth in the conference at 9-7 in league play both years as Brown began to recruit some of the toughness he had built the program on, but they never seemed to be a real threat, and were routinely thrashed by the likes of Vermont, Stony Brook and Boston University. Following the 2011-2012 season, top-scorers Gerardo Suero and Logan Aronhalt left the program. Brown, who was staring down a two-year extension – given to him at the 11th hour – seemed to be standing on the precipice.

Then Albany came roaring out of the gates in 2012. The raw-talent was less than it had been the year before, but the TEAM was better. Senior point guard Mike Black and senior shooting guard Jacob Iati formed the highest scoring back court duo in the conference during non-conference play. With Black slashing to the hoop and collapsing defenses, before either finishing acrobatically, kicking to Iati for a dagger three, or dumping it to a big man for a hoop, Albany knocked off BCS program Washington at Washington and looked like the team to beat heading into league play.

Then Albany came back down to earth. Black and Iati began to wear down, and Albany finished in fifth place, once again at 9-7 in conference. The Danes were swept during the regular season by the big three of Stony Brook, Vermont and BU. Now, fans and administrators were viewing Brown as the coach who couldn’t win the big game or beat a good team.

But the old master still had some tricks up his sleeve. Continue reading “OBW America East preseason predictions: #3 Albany”

OBW America East preseason predictions: #4 Hartford

Projected starting lineup:

Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

G – Yolonzo Moore II, Jr., 6’2” 175
G – Evan Cooper, Soph, 6’ 180
G – Corban Wroe, Jr., 6’2” 195
F – Nate Sikma, Jr., 6’7” 235
F – Mark Nwakamma, Jr. 6’6” 235

Overview:
Head coach John Gallagher’s brash and exuberant demeanor on the sidelines and in press conferences might not make him friends among basketball traditionalists or rival coaches. But it has motivated his players to give more of themselves – in effort, energy and intensity – in practices and in games, and fostered more camaraderie and loyalty than perhaps any other team in the league.

Two years ago, in Gallagher’s second season at Hartford’s helm, the incredibly young and inexperienced Hawks opened the season losing their first 13 games. Most teams would have checked out and quit, but Gallagher kept fighting for his team and in return they kept fighting for him. It paid off, as the Hawks caught fire down the stretch, advancing all the way to the America East semifinals – a double-overtime thriller in which they came up just short against eventual tournament champion Vermont.

That 2011-2012 season was a trial by fire for the freshman class, which included Mark Nwakamma, Nate Sikma, Yolonzo Moore II, Corban Wroe and Jamie Schneck. The trio suffered losses and faced adversity in a way they never had before. But they grew from it, forming the foundation to build a program on.

Last year, the Hawks made the jump from upset-minded underdog towards the top of the conference. They still played incredibly hard, but now they had a burgeoning star and the ability to ignite from behind the arc.

Now, they’re looking to make the leap to the top of the conference.

In theory, Gallagher’s scheme of relying on ball movement and pounding the ball in to Mark Nwakamma on the blocks to open up “naked three’s” on the perimeter to account for the team’s offensive output is sound. The Hawks sacrifice offensive rebounds and second chance points to be able to get back on defense and not get beat in transition.

But, in reality, the Hawks roster has yet to prove it has the shooters needed to sustain an offense that revolves almost solely around volume shooting from behind the arc. Furthermore, they have yet to show any “break glass in case of emergency” plan for when the three’s aren’t falling and/or Nwakamma isn’t on the floor due to fouls. Both of these issues proved to be their undoing in the post season last season, with heavy underdog UMBC taking it to the Hawks around the hoop while Hartford was unable to find water despite falling out of a boat from behind the arc.

Hartford is either going to need their shooters to take the leap from catching lightening in a bottle to consistent (Gallagher’s hope), or adjust to a system that uses their tremendous ball movement to generate offense going towards the basket instead of on the perimeter.

Either way, they need Nwakamma to stay on the floor. Continue reading “OBW America East preseason predictions: #4 Hartford”

OBW America East preseason predictions: #5 UMBC

Malik Garner. OBW photo / Sam Perkins
Malik Garner. OBW photo / Sam Perkins

Projected starting lineup:

G – Quinton Jones, Sr., 6’ 185
G – Bryan Harris, R-Fr., 6’2” 180
F – Malik Garner, Soph., 6’6” 220
F – Devarick Houston, Jr., 6’7” 190
C – Brett Roseboro, R-Sr., 6’10” 240

Overview:
UMBC won seven Division I games last year. At season’s end, they graduated their two best players – one of them, Ryan Cook, who stood out as the best player of the 2013 America East Tournament. Over the offseason, UMBC had four players transfer out of the program.

In two years, they may be the conference favorite.

So drastic has been the change sweeping through Catonsville, spearheaded by head coach Aki Thomas, along with assistants and former UMBC Retrievers Jay Greene and John Zito. Last year the coaching staff motivated a previously downtrodden roster of cast-offs, walk-ons and Division III level players to bulldoze heavily favored Hartford in the America East Tournament quarterfinals. UMBC then gave Vermont everything it could handle before falling valiantly in the final minutes of the semis.

The Retrievers rocketed to the top of the league in 2008, winning the America East going away to punch the program’s first ticket to the NCAA’s. In 2009, Greene and Darryl Proctor suited up one more time to carry UMBC back to the championship game. But over the next three years, the Retrievers nose-dived, as then head coach Randy Monroe ran players out of the program at a staggering rate while flying the team into the ground.

Last fall, Monroe was terminated after eight years at the helm. Thomas, his former assistant, was promoted to interim head coach. The overwhelming assumption at the start of the season was the Thomas was a dead man walking and would be summarily dismissed at seasons end.

But then he did the impossible: Thomas motivated a previously mentally and physically beaten roster to believe in itself again. As the season went on, UMBC began to gel and compete. Then they began to win, setting the stage for their inspired run to the semifinals.

Despite spending most of the season recruiting under the interim tag – a hanging guillotine – Thomas and his staff landed every single one of their targeted recruits over the offseason, revamping their roster with talent from the DC-Metro beltway.

Roster:

It may sound crazy, but from purely a talent perspective, there may not be another team in the league with as deep and as diverse a roster as the Retrievers. There certainly isn’t a team with a longer or more athletic one.

UMBC has the potential to run out more than a half-dozen different, legitimate, lineups depending on the situation. They can go big, small, athletic, spread the floor on offense or create anarchy on defense. Continue reading “OBW America East preseason predictions: #5 UMBC”