Awards — OBW CAA men’s basketball First Team All-Confernece

Marcus Thornton. Photo Credit: Wiliam & Mary Athletics
Marcus Thornton. Photo Credit: Wiliam & Mary Athletics

OBW CAA men’s basketball All-Conference First Team
Marcus Thornton, SR, G, William & Mary
If Thornton is in the conversation for best player in all of mid-major basketball, I think it’s safe to say he has earned a spot on this team. He wreaked havoc on opposing defenses, shattered the Tribe’s all-time scoring records and led his team to a shared regular-season championship. Thornton averaged 19.4 PPG on 46 percent shooting and 2.9 made 3-pointers a game.

Terry Tarpey, JR, F, William & Mary
The best defensive player in the CAA, Tarpey did a little bit of everything for the Tribe. He led the league in rebounding (8.4 per game), steals (1.8 per game), blocked shots (1.4 per game), was third in field goal percentage (54 percent), sixth in free throw percentage (81 percent), and seventh in assists (3.2 per game). Tarpey’s versatility was as impressive as Thornton’s dominance.

Scott Eatherton, SR, C, Northeastern
The best big man in the CAA, Eatherton remained the go-to guy for the Huskies even with the improvement in coach Bill Coen’s guards. The Huskies struggled last year when opposing teams double teamed Eatherton in the post, but the center added passing to his overall game (had a season-high seven assists against JMU). Eatherton averaged 14.7 PPG and 6.6 RPG.

Damion Lee, R-JR, G, Drexel
Nobody was better than Lee in January and early February. The red-shirt junior put the Dragons on his back in conference play and the weight was just too much for his body. A hand injury will keep Lee out of the conference tournament, but his 21.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG can’t be ignored.

Addison Spruill, SR, F, UNC-Wilmington
The heart of UNC-W, Spruill brought sheer grit to the Seahawks. His scoring (14.5 PPG) and rebounding (6.5 RPG) made him one of the toughest match-ups in the league. He also exemplified the toughness of UNC-W on the defensive end. Spruill might not be a threat from outside, but if he has momentum going towards the hoop, watch out.

OBW CAA men’s basketball Power Rankings v10

Scott Eatherton and his Northeastern Huskies are back on top of OBW's first CAA Power Rankings. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Scott Eatherton and his Northeastern Huskies are back on top of OBW’s first CAA Power Rankings. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

This is going to be quite the photo finish. With two games remaining in the regular season, not only are the one through four spots in the conference standings still up for grabs, but all four teams fighting for them remain locked in a four-way tie for first place. With a centralized conference tournament and championship game in Baltimore, this should be two weeks.

Sadly, arguably the league’s best player won’t have any say on how the CAA Tournament plays out, as Drexel guard Damion Lee suffered a broken hand last week, shelving him for the rest of the regular season.

Without further delay, here’s a look around the conference in the latest OBW CAA men’s basketball Power Rankings.

1. Northeastern (18-10, 11-5 in CAA)
Results: Win 75-64 vs William & Mary; W 83-73 (OT) vs Drexel
This week: Thursday at Elon; Saturday at College of Charleston
In the most telling game of the CAA season, the Huskies proved that when they control the backboards, they are without a doubt the best team in the CAA. In a 75-64 win against William & Mary, coach Bill Coen’s won the battle of the boards 24-15 and only trailed for the first 30 seconds of the game.

2. William & Mary (17-10, 11-5)
Results: L 75-64 at Northeastern; W 80-78 at Hofstra
This week: Wednesday vs Towson; Saturday vs Drexel
The Tribe was exposed for a lot of weaknesses this week. Their lack of depth in the frontcourt resulted in a loss to the Huskies and team’s continue to sag off Terry Tarpey at the free throw line, sending help defenders to deny the ball from Marcus Thornton. Tarpey made Hofstra pay by going 4-5 from beyond in a 80-78 win over Hofstra. But unless William & Mary can find a way to compete on the boards, we could see a surprising early exit in the tournament.

3. UNC Wilmington (16-11, 11-5)
Results: L 70-59 at Delaware; W 73-69 at Towson
This week: Wednesday vs James Madison; Saturday at Elon
How could you hold it against the Seahawks for losing to Delaware when the Blue Hens have also beaten the two teams above? After the 70-59 loss, Addision Spruill rejuvenated his team with a 26-point performance in a 73-69 win against Towson.

4. Hofstra (18-11, 9-7)
Results: W 87-82 at Towson; L 80-78 vs William & Mary
This week: Wednesday vs College of Charleston; Saturday at James Madison
What a fun time is must have been to watch Juan’ya Green and Marcus Thornton go head on as the tournament approaches. Both teams are very similar: deep backcourt, many skilled players and abysmal defense as of late.

5. James Madison (17-11. 11-5)
Results: W 82-78 vs Drexel; W 68-61 vs College of Charleston
This week: Wednesday at UNC-Wilmington; Saturday vs Hofstra
Is there any way Matt Brady can get a honorable mention for Coach of the Year? The guy loses one of the best players on his team due to disciplinary issues, is running on a bunch of freshman and sophomores and is still able to pull out 17 wins. The Dukes were able to withstand a 26-point performance from Damion Lee and beat Charleston 68-61.

6. Delaware (8-19, 7-9)
Results: W 70-59 vs UNC-Wilmington; L 83-75 (OT) vs Elon
This week: Thursday at Drexel; Saturday at Towson.
As hard as it is to believe, Delaware might be the most impressive team in the CAA. They look as if they couldn’t beat by little brother’s middle school team in non-conference play and now Kory Holden and Marvin King-Davis have the top teams in the CAA shaking in their sneakers. A win against the Seahawks this week keeps them at the top of the bottom of the pack.

7. Towson (12-17. 5-11)
Results: L 87-82 vs Hofstra; L 73-69 vs UNC-Wilmington
This week: Wednesday at William & Mary
Granted they had a tough week in terms of competition, the Tigers still showed they’re the team players can expect to record a 20+ on. Add Addison Spriull and Damion Lee to that list.

8. Charleston (8-21, 3-13)
Results: W 77-63 vs Elon; L 68-61 at James Madison
This week: Wednesday at Hofstra; Saturday vs Northeastern
Sam Perkins’ Canyon Barry feature must of revved up the senior after a 22-point performance against the also lowly Elon. Joe Chealey also chipped in 16.

9. Elon (12-17, 4-12)
Results: L 77-63 at College of Charleston; W 83-75 at Delaware
This week: Thursday vs Northeastern; Saturday vs UNC-Wilmington
Good move by the Elon coaching staff inserting Elijah Bryant into the starting lineup. At this point, the point of this season is to get him as much on-court experience as possible.

10. Drexel (10-17, 8-8)
Results: L 82-78 at James Madison; L 83-73 (OT) at Northeastern
This week: Thursday vs Delaware; Saturday at William & Mary
In two losses this week, the Dragons were actually impressive, giving both James Madison and Northeastern competitive games. But Damion Lee is out for the year, meaning all chances just went out the door.

OBW CAA Player of the Week
Terry Tarpey, Jr., G/F, William & Mary
Tarpey scored 38 points, pulled down 13 rebounds, dished out six assists, swiped four steals and blocked a pair of shots in two games.

OBW CAA Rookie of the Week
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Bryant had 30 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists over two games for the Phoenix.

OBW CAA Fab Five
Juan’ya Green, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Damion Lee, Jr., G, Delaware
Ameen Tanksley, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Terry Tarpey, Jr., G, William & Mary
Marcus Thornton, Sr., G, William & Mary

OBW CAA Frosh Five
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Rokas Gustys, F, Hofstra
Kory Holden, G, Delaware
Mike Morsell, F, Towson
Jordan Talley, G, UNC Wilmington

OBW CAA Power Rankings v9

Addison Spruill and the Seahawks are making a run at the CAA conference title.
Addison Spruill and the Seahawks are making a run at the CAA conference title.

It’s been far, far too long since our last CAA Power Rankings, and quite a bit has changed towards the top of the conference since then, with Northeastern and Hofstra – two teams that appeared to have distanced themselves from the pack during the non-conference – coming back down to earth. With just two weeks remaining before the CAA Tournament, no clear-cut favorite has emerged and there are still six teams with a legitimate chance to win the regular season title – albeit it may take a few generous bounces of the ball for some of them.

With that said, we’re hoping back up on the horse with our latest edition of the OBW CAA Power Rankings – here’s a look at how the league is shaping up heading into the home stretch.

1. William & Mary (16-9, 10-4 in CAA)
Results: W 77-58 vs Elon; L 73-70 vs Delaware
This week: Wednesday at Northeastern; Sunday at Hofstra.
When the Tribe have played the crème of the CAA crop, they have taken care of business, and currently stand at 6-0 against the next three teams below them in the CAA Standings and OBW Power Rankings. But they have shown the ability to look past lesser opponents, as evidenced by their loss to Delaware. Offensively, it doesn’t get any better in the CAA than William & Mary, which ranks eighth in the entire nation in field goal percentage (49.3 percent) and 39th in scoring (73.9 points per game). Marcus Thornton remains the team’s unquestioned star, but Omar Prewitt, Daniel Dixon and Terry Tarpey give the Tribe a four-headed monster in the back court and on the wings. For all it’s back court star power, outside of Thornton, junior center Sean Sheldon may be the team’s most important player, as the 6’9” 245 pounder’s grit and guts allow the Tribe to play four guards against the physical and imposing CAA front courts.

2. UNC-Wilmington (15-10, 10-4 in CAA)
Results: W 58-45 vs College of Charleston; W 66-61 vs Northeastern
This week: Thursday at Delaware; Saturday at Towson
The Seahawks have been playing with a chip on their shoulders and a serious mean streak all year long under first year head coach Kevin Keatts, and have been perhaps the biggest surprise of the CAA this year. Addison Spruill, a 6’5” 230 pound ball of hustle and muscle has done a bit of everything, playing the two through four positions, while guards Freddy Jackson, Craig Ponder and Jordan Talley have all exploded at different points throughout the year. Like the Tribe, UNCW does much of its damage playing four-guards and spreading the court, with athletic 6’9” Cedrick Williams and 7’1” center C.J. Gettys doing the dirty work to hold off opposing front courts.

3. Northeastern (17-10, 9-5 in CAA)
Results: W 79-68 at Hofstra; L 66-61 at UNC-Wilmington
This week: Wednesday vs William & Mary; Saturday vs Drexel
After looking like world beaters during the non-conference season, the Huskies have been a bit Jekyll and Hyde during the CAA slate. Northeastern’s biggest strength – that it doesn’t rely on any one player to shoulder most of its load – may also be it’s biggest weakness – the Huskies still don’t have a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency go to scorer. Scott Eatherton remains the team’s best talent and has begun to turn it on down the stretch, but with teams continuing to sellout to stop the bruising center, the Huskies need other players to step up their games. Senior forward Reggie Spencer, who has been injured for most of the year but who plays as hard as anyone on the roster, and explosive but enigmatic shooting guard David Walker could be the keys to the season.

4. James Madison (16-11, 9-5 in CAA)
Results: W 67-54 at Delaware; W 86-75 at Elon
This week: Wednesday vs Drexel; Saturday vs College of Charleston
Conventional wisdom was that James Madison was going to be a year away from making another run at the NCAAs – thinking that seemed to be reinforced when Andre Nation was dismissed from the team earlier this year. However, prognosticators likely didn’t see sophomore center Yohanny Dalembert’s rapid growth; the Haitian earthquake survivor has blossomed into a go-to scorer in the post, game changer on the glass and true rim protector on defense. When Dalembert is combined with dynamic point guard Ron Curry and gunner Kackson Kent, the Dukes have a diverse offense capable of scoring in the post, off the dribble, and from behind the arc.

5. Hofstra (17-10, 8-6 in CAA)
Results: L 79-68 vs Northeastern; W 81-57 at Drexel
This week: Wednesday at Towson; Sunday vs William & Mary
Not that long ago, behind a quartet of dynamic guards, Hofstra was the team to beat in the CAA. Then mid-January struck, the Pride couldn’t get stops on D, and dropped five out of six, including four losses at home, prompting head coach Joe Mihalich to joke, “we’re going to just play all of our games on the road,” recently. The Pride have since righted the ship, winning three out of four (although one has to wonder how much of it was favorable scheduling. Guards Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanskley, Brian Bernadri and Dion Nesmith can all light it up from anywhere on the floor, but Hofstra needs them to step up their defensive game, and start getting constent low post production from the likes of Moussa Kone and Rokas Gustys. Kone’s monster game – 23 points on 10-of-10 shooting – was a big step in the right direction.

6. Drexel (10-15, 8-6 in CAA)
Results: W 53-49 vs Towson; L81-57 vs Hofstra
This week: Wednesday at James Madison; Saturday at Northeastern.
Three and a half weeks ago and head coach Bruiser Flint’s squad was sinking like a stone. Fast forward and, up until a beating at the hands of Hofstra, they were one of the hottest teams in the CAA, winners of six straight – including games over Northeastern and UNC Wilmington. Guard Damion Lee remains a one-man scoring binge and a front runner for conference Player of the Year honors, but the Dragons fortunes changed when power forward Rodney Williams returned to the lineup from an injury, giving Drexel a presence on the glass and around the rim.

7. Towson (12-15, 5-9 in CAA)
Results: L 53-49 at Drexel; W 53-50 at College of Charleston
This week: Wednesday vs Hofstra; Saturday vs UNC Wilmington
The Tigers have lost three out of their last four, but all three have been by single digits, two of them to contenders Northeastern and James Madison and the third to a red-hot Drexel squad. Towson has struggled with consistency, but when forwards John Davis and Timajh Parker-Rivera are getting after it on the glass and Four McGlynn is knocking down shots, they can play with anyone.

8. Delaware (7-18, 6-8 in CAA)
Results: L 67-54 vs James Madison; W 73-70 at William & Mary
This week; Thursday vs UNC Wilmington; Saturday vs Elon
The Blue Hens are the hardest team to figure out in the CAA. After winning one – count it, one – game during the entire non-conference slate, they’ve gone 6-8 in the CAA, where they managed to lose to lowly Elon by a dozen points, but somehow swept William & Mary and split with Northeastern. Senior Kyle Anderson and freshman Kory Holden can score from behind the arc, but Delaware’s front court – led by Marvin King-Davis and Maurice Jeffers – remain the keys to the team.

9. College of Charleston (7-20, 2-12 in CAA)
Results: L 58-45 at UNC Wilmington; L 53-50 at Towson
This week: Wednesday vs Elon; Saturday at James Madison
It’s year one of a program rebuild for first year head coach Earl Grant, but the Cougars can still put on a show when they are hitting their shots, with sophomore back court duo Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey capable of lighting it up on any given night.

10. Elon (11-16, 3-11 in CAA)
Results: L 77-58 at William & Mary; L 86-75 vs James Madison
This week: Wednesday at College of Charleston; Saturday at Delaware
The Phoenix have lost six in a row and 10 out of their last 11. Elon fans have reason to be excited with talented underclassmen Elijah Bryant (freshman) and Luke Eddy (sophomore) lighting it up from the back court, but their front court remains an Achilles heel.

OBW CAA Player of the Week
Scott Eatherton, R-Sr., C, Northeastern

There were a lot of big performances and several deserving candidates for the week – among them, Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green’s 31 points, 16 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in two games; and William & Mary’s Omar Prewitt’s 44 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals in two games — but Eatherton’s 47 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks and three assists stood out them most.

OBW Co-CAA Rookies of the Week
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon

Byrant scored 33 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and dished out nine assists.

Jordan Talley, G, UNC Wilmington
Talley scored 32 points, pulled down eight rebounds, dished out five assists and added a pair of steals in two big wins.

OBW CAA Fab Five
Juan’ya Green, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Damion Lee, Jr., G, Delaware
Ameen Tanksley, R-Jr., G, Hofstra
Terry Tarpey, Jr., G, William & Mary
Marcus Thornton, Sr., G, William & Mary

OBW CAA Frosh Five
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Rokas Gustys, F, Hofstra
Kory Holden, G, Delaware
Mike Morsell, F, Towson
Jordan Talley, G, UNC Wilmington

CAA coaches talk Dean Smith’s legacy, impact

It sounds so cliché: Dean Smith left an impact on everyone who ever picked up a basketball during his lifetime. It is a phrase — in one incarnate or another — that has flooded the airwaves, taken over television screens and been displayed across print articles every day since the legendary coach passed away at the age of 83 on Feb. 7.

Yet with each passing hour — and the thousands of new stories, told by players and coaches from every level of the game that continue to roll in — it is obvious that Smith transcended the tired sports clichés about the impact a coach can leave on everyone he comes in contact with and turned them into the gospel truth.

Even in the Colonial Athletic Association — a conference akin to a single grain of sand sitting at the bottom of the great wide Atlantic Ocean that is the ACC, the conference Smith called home patrolling the sidelines for the University of North Carolina for nearly four decades — Smith’s lasting legacy was paramount.

On Tuesday morning, all 10 CAA head coaches took time out of their weekly teleconference to talk about the impact Smith had left on them, and all — ranging from William & Mary head coach Tony Schaver, who played for four years as a walk-on under Smith, to James Madison’s Matt Brady, who only knew Smith as a fan from afar — were touching and unique.

“Other than my father, there has never been a male figure who has influenced me more than Dean has. Today, I look at it much more as a person than as a coach,” said Shaver, who played for Smith from 1972-1976. “He was such a great coach and such a great teacher. He was an incredible teacher of the game of basketball and how to live your life.“

“I never met coach Smith,” said Brady, “[But] he’s had such a tremendous impact not only on his program and the players he’s touched, but on everybody who aspired to be a basketball coach.”

Smith’s Hall of Fame career at North Carolina literally revolutionized the game, with the coach implementing systems and schemes that remain a part of the college landscape, while simultaneously continuing to evolve his system to suit the strengths of his roster every season.

“He taught us so much about basketball,” said UNC Wilmington head coach Kevin Keatts. “When you look at it, I would say he’s a trendsetter. There’s not a program that you play in any conference that’s not running the Carolina back screens, the backdoors and everything else.”

With 879 career wins, 17 ACC regular-season titles, 13 ACC tournament championships, 11 Final Fours and two National Championships (1982 and 1993), Smith’s career will always be know for his gaudy numbers. But to Towson head coach Pat Skerry, Smith will forever be linked to a different kind of numbers, as the coach analyzed advanced statistics long before the term “sabermetrics” had ever been coined.

“It’s impressive that he was kind of ahead of the game with the analytics and the advanced stats,” said Skerry.

But for all of the coaches who had the opportunity to meet him, even in passing, the biggest impact Smith left had nothing to do with Xs and Os, but how he was as a man.

“As everyone keeps saying, it was the human side of him. The basketball side of him speaks for itself,” said Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich, who got to know Smith when he was working as an assistant at Dematha Catholic High School in Maryland in the late 70s and early 80s.

“A few years later when I was an assistant at La Salle I had just had twins, and I didn’t think he knew about it and he came up to me and asked all about them… he was an amazing person,” Mihalich remembered.

“I think his biggest thing was the way he maintained relationships with everybody and was always looking to help,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen.

Coen coached against Smith’s Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament as a University of Rhode Island assistant.

“I think at the 16-minute mark we were up 11-10 and Dean Smith called a timeout and we thought we were doing pretty well, and by halftime we were down by about 40,” laughed Coen.

Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint first met Smith when he was a young kid, all of 10 or maybe 11 years old, in Philadelphia. His father was helping the legendary coach recruit a local player.

“He sent me a poster of the Carolina team that lost in the Final Four. Every player signed it… At 10 years old that’s huge,” said Flint, noticeable pride in his voice all these years later. “Once I got in coaching, those guys actually talked about when they met me when I was 10 years old. [Smith] would say, ‘I remember you,’ and ask me how my dad was… that always put a special place in my heart about Dean Smith.”

But it was Smith’s former player, Shaver, on whom Smith left the biggest impact.

“There’s probably two percent of things that I’ve done in my career that is not exactly like the way he did them,” said Shaver. “He treated everybody fairly. He cared about everybody that was in his program, and I think the loyalty that he built because of that was the most impressive thing about his time at North Carolina.

“How he cared about people, and how he took a stand about what he thought was right. That goes from the Civil Rights movement right down to how he coached.”

For every CAA coach, from his surrogate son in Shaver to those who had never met him, Smith left behind an impossible void to fully fill, and an indelible impact that will never go away.

“When I woke up on Sunday to hear that he passed, it was such a said day because of all the players and people he touched,” said Keatts. “We’re going to miss him.”

“But,” said Coen, “his legacy will live on.”

Damion Lee’s fire is still burning bright

Damion Lee. Photo Credit: Rich Schmitt / Drexel Athletics
Damion Lee. Photo Credit: Rich Schmitt / Drexel Athletics

Damion Lee knew he was being overlooked at the start of the season, but he understood why.

Praise doesn’t come with losing, and Drexel was doing a whole lot of losing. The Dragons were 2-11 through the first 13 games of the season, one of the losses coming against the Division II University of Sciences.

Flash forward to now, and Drexel is back in the mix, only three games out of first place in the CAA, and Lee is showing the world why he was selected to be on the preseason All-Conference First Team.

The reigning CAA Player of the Week has scored a combined 86 points in the Dragons’ (7-14, 5-5) current three-game winning streak, which has included wins over Northeastern and UNC-Wilmington.

“When you’re losing, I know people don’t talk about you,” says Lee. “They say you’re shooting too many shots in a game, and I’m just trying to do everything that I can for us to win.

“The accolades come and go. Of course it would be nice to win a couple of awards, but I know that comes with winning.”

After red-shirting last season with a knee injury, Lee came back to a Drexel team featuring five new faces: four freshman and a UCLA transfer.

Things didn’t get better when Drexel guard Major Canady sustained a season-ending injury before the season, forcing Lee, a traditional scorer, to suddenly act as a floor general.

Lee said he’s shifted his mindset back to the aggressive one that won him CAA Rookie of the Year honors three years ago.

“Knowing that I’m a good player and being confident about that, whenever it’s time to make a basket or make a play [I] take advantage of it,” says Lee.

And he’s seen the hungry mentality transfer to his young teammates.

“People now are starting to pick up confidence and gain their confidence from practice and getting in the gym,” says Lee.

The Baltimore native specifically singled out Massachusetts-native Sammy Mojica, who has scored in double figures in each of Drexel’s last three games.

“He’s a great energy player, does the hustle plays, dives on the floor, loose balls, rebounds, everything,” says Lee. “I think that’s something we missed in the beginning of the season, someone to do those hustle plays.”

When the hustle plays, the scoring and the wins weren’t there, Lee said he knew opponents were counting him, and Drexel, out.

But it seems the Dragons haven’t lost their fire.

“Some teams try to think that just cause we have four or five wins that they can just walk in and win,” says Lee. “We’re just like any other team. We got to put our shoes on the same way, we both got a jump ball and then whoever has the most points is going to win the game.”

Drexel’s Rodney Williams is shaking off the rust

Drexel sophomore Rodney Williams. Photo Credit: Drexel Athletics
Drexel sophomore Rodney Williams. Photo Credit: Drexel Athletics

When he took the floor at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 28, Rodney Williams was still removing the rust and shaking off the cobwebs from his springy legs. One game later, he was rocking rims and rattling backboards on Drexel’s home court.

“The biggest thing goes back to Northeastern,” said Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint, of Williams’ first game back after missing eight straight games due to a leg injury, a contest in which the senior struggled from the floor, shooting 2-of-8 en route to four points, four rebounds and three fouls in 26 minutes off the bench.

What the stat line didn’t show was the impact the 6’7” forward made in the Dragons 65-60 come from behind win over Preseason CAA favorite Huskies.

“Even though [Williams] didn’t have a lot of points or a lot of rebounds, because here’s a guy who knows where to be, knows where to go, and it takes a lot of pressure off of the younger guys.”

Despite being just a sophomore, on a roster that includes eight underclassmen and no four-year seniors (seniors Freddie Wilson and Sooren Derboghosian each transferred into the program), Williams has emerged as one of the teams “veterans” – a titled earned by surviving a trial of fire last season being thrown into CAA low-post battles every night.

“He played last year. He was a guy that played a lot of minutes,” said Flint of Williams, who earned CAA All-Rookie honors last season, averaging 5.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 20.8 minutes in 30 games, earning 18 starts. “Once we got into league play, [he] pretty much started.”

Williams was expected to step up and shoulder a far bigger load as a sophomore for the young and inexperienced Dragons, and played 30 or more minutes in eight of Drexel’s first 11 games, including a 14-point, two block effort on 6-of-9 shooting in 31 minutes in a 72-70 loss at USC.

But a lower leg injury sidelined Williams for the first eight games of CAA play, a stretch in which the Dragons started off 1-4, before winning two of their next three. Williams started off slow in his return against Northeastern and struggled from the field, but according to Flint, his intangibles and leadership were key components to the comeback.

“He ‘get’s it,’” said Flint of Williams. “[He] just has a better understanding of what we’re trying to do.”

One game later, Williams played a far larger role in the Dragons 85-76 win over a UNC Wilmington squad challenging for the CAA title – Drexel’s second straight win against the top of the conference and a win that pulled them to .500 in league play. Williams finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes, including a high-flying alley-oop slam dunk, and proved to be a handful for UNC Wilmington’s frontcourt all night.

“When you have those types of injuries, the biggest thing is conditioning. And because of the leg injury, conditioning is the thing that really lacks,” explained flind.

“When he starts to feel a bit better from a conditioning standpoint, he can do what he did on Saturday: Score some points, rebound, finish some plays.”

And according to Flint, if the Dragons are going to continue to build momentum and turn their season around, Williams will be a key component.

“He’s definitely big, he knows everything we’re about and gives us a presence on the court and in the locker room we need.”

Sooren Derboghosian: Have game, will travel (a very long way)

Sooren Derboghosian. Courtesy photo / Drexel Athletics
Sooren Derboghosian. Courtesy photo / Drexel Athletics

Drexel’s Sooren Derboghosian may very well be the most seasoned traveler in all of college basketball.

From growing up in Iran to playing in competitions in New Zealand and India, basketball has allowed Derboghosian to travel to 21 different nations.

The experiences have given him a perspective beyond his 24 years and he’s never needed it more. In his first season with Drexel,the graduate student has only played eight games and is healing from surgery. The Dragons (5-14, 3-5) sit towards the bottom of the CAA standings in seventh place.

While his focus is on the season at hand, Derboghosian is also thinking bigger. He hopes to open America’s door to Iranian basketball and increase awareness of the sport’s growing popularity in the Middle East.

“I would like to help my basketball players back home and other Middle Eastern countries,” says Derboghosian. “To bring them to the States and let them have the chance that I had.”

Where it all began

Derboghosian is always surprised at the questions people ask him about his home. He is from, what he described as, a large Christian Armenian community in Tehran. And while the idea of Armenian Christians living in the Islamic Republic of Iran may surprise many, Iran and Armenia – which neighbor each other – have had contact for thousands of years, and Iran actually provided a safe haven for the Diaspora of the Armenian Genocide after World War I. Today, the Iranian government officially recognizes the Armenia Christian community.

If the history of how Derboghosian and his family came to live in Iran doesn’t surprise the common American already, consider that he also has been playing basketball since he was 5 years old.

The sport is actually thriving in the Middle Eastern nation, according to Derboghosian.

“People do play basketball and basketball is actually really famous, especially in my country,” says Derboghosian. “It’s actually the second sport after soccer.”

Derboghosian mostly followed the Iranian national team but fell in love with the game the way much of the international world did – by watching the greatest play.

“On the weekends when I didn’t have school, I would sit and watch NBA basketball and during my time, Jordan was the best player,” says Derboghosian.

Success came early for young baller. While attending Sahakian high school in Tehran, the big man was already getting exposure on Iran’s youth national teams. In 2007, the Iranian helped bring his nation the West Junior Asian Cup title. The next year, he not only won the Junior Asian Cup title but also helped Iran’s U-18 team win the FIBA Asian Cup Championship in front of his friends and family in Tehran.

In 2009, a year before he began his quest to play for his dream school UCLA, Derboghosian was invited to Auckland, New Zealand to play in the U-19 World Cup.

The center competed against prospects from Nigeria and a Team USA team that featured Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and Seth Curry. He distinctly remembers being matched up with former University of Georgia forward Howard Thompkins.

“It was a huge game for us playing against talented NBA future guys,” Derboghosian says. “…It was a great experience for me. It was competitive.”

The long road to UCLA

At age 18, Derboghosian was one of select few from Iran’s international squads to participate in Basketball Without Borders, a program designed to promote basketball throughout the world. With Basketball Without Borders, he traveled to India to learn from long-time coaches, participated in an “all-star game” between international players and engaged in the community.

“You would go through workouts in the morning, have meetings with the coaches and then talk about NBA life and what it takes to make it to the league,” Derboghosian says. “It was a great experience.”

Derboghosian always dreamed of playing for UCLA, and after his summer abroad, he set out to make that dream a reality, moving to the US. But to get to UCLA, he had to make a long layover first — two seasons playing at Glendale Community College in California, before successfully walking on to the Bruins. As a junior walk-on in 2012-2013, Deboghosian appeared in just four games, averaging 0.5 points and 0.3 rebounds, and didn’t see the floor as a senior.

Despite the amount of playing time he received, Derboghosian appreciated his two years at UCLA. Just like basketball, UCLA’s history of sports and academics is well known in the Iranian community, according to Derboghosian.

“Of course you know about the history,” says Derboghosian. “I mean I got a degree from there and that will sit with me forever.”

The 6-10 center made the only field goal of his Bruins career on a jump shot against Cal State Northridge. But he did earn the Faculty Athletic Representative Award, given to a player with the highest academic achievement.

He also had fulfilled his parent’s dream of seeing one of their children graduate from the prestigious university.

“It was a very great moment for me to see my parents,” Derboghosian says. “It was good to see them and it was great for them to see me graduate.”

Veteran perspective

Many college athletes would have seen the glass half empty after tasting their lifelong dream, as Derbogosian did by making the team at UCLA, only to spend their time watching their career from the sidelines. But according to Derboghosian, he has nothing to regret. Now, as he recovers from yet another injury, a torn meniscus, he reflects on those times.

“We went to China this past summer,” says Derboghosian. “For some of my teammates it was their first time traveling outside of the States so especially during the trip I talked about my experience going overseas.”

Even when he is not playing, the MBA graduate student still provides wisdom for a Drexel team that includes four freshman. In the midst of a tough stretch for Drexel, Derboghosian provides his teammates with a bigger picture perspective.

“It is a long road,” says Derboghosian. “We still have [games] left. It’s been tough but I would say that we go to practice to get better everyday and try to win.”

Whatever Derboghosian decides to do, whether it is playing ball or playing diplomat, his mindset supersedes that of your typical college student.

Just like his traveling, his perspective is worldly.

“Training all over in these countries and then playing here it has given me more perspective or more openness to myself and then open to others,” Derboghosian says.

Dr. John Giannini takes a trip down (America East) memory lane

Giannini
La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini. Courtesy photo / La Salle Athletics

La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini has experienced the brightest lights of March Madness, leading his Explorers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2013. But Giannini still vividly remembers his time in the America East, where he cut his teeth as a Division I head coach leading the University of Maine from 1996 to 2004.

And what Giannini has to say about the America East might surprise fans of both high-major and mid-major basketball alike.

“The America East, when I was there, was a really, really strong league. And it was a recruiting league, where you really kind of had to land a couple of extremely good players to win it,” he said, contrasting it against his current Atlantic-10 where, “We were at the point where if you got an Andy Bedard and a Nate Fox, or a Huggy Dye and a Julian Dunkley, you were pretty talented. Frankly the most talented teams in that league won and didn’t get knocked off that much,” said Giannini, referencing Maine’s stars from the late 90s and early 2000s.

When Giannini was first hired as the head coach of Maine, the America East was in the end of a Golden Era of sorts, with Malik Rose having just led Drexel to three straight NCAA Tournaments, culminating in an upset over fifth-seeded Memphis, and heading off to a long career in the NBA. In Rose’s absence, several other young stars were stepping onto center stage, with Boston University, led by forward’s Tunji Awojobi and Joey Beard, grabbing the next league championship, followed by a pair of Delaware titles in 1998 and 1999.

“I often tell the old America East guys that Tunji Awojobi and Joey Beard would be one of the top 5-10 inside combinations in Division I right now, they were that talented,” said Giannini.

Awojobi finished his career as one of five Division I players to register career totals of 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 300 blocked shots. He joined a select group composed of Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown), Pervis Ellison (Louisville), Derrick Coleman (Syracuse), and David Robinson (Navy). Beard, a 6’10” top-100 high school recruit who signed with Duke out of high school, transferred to Boston University where he starred for two seasons. Both Beard and Awojobi would go on to play more than a decade apiece in professiona ball.

The torch was then passed from Boston University on to a young coach named Jay Wright, who was leading a resurgent Hofstra squad led by guards Speedy Claxton and Norman Richards. Wright of course would go on to coach Villanova to repeated NCAA Tournaments, including a 2010 run to the Final Four, and Claxton and Richards would go on to play in the NBA, but all three got their starts by leading Hofstra to the NCAA Tournament’s in 2000 and 2001.

Giannini’s Maine teams finished in the top four most years, including a program record 24 wins in 1999-2000 when they were perhaps a broken wrist to star point guard Andy Bedard away from going to the NCAAs,

“Jay Wright and I often debate how our Hofstra and Maine teams would have done against his Final Four and our (La Salle’s) Sweet 16 teams,” said Giannini. “Jay had two NBA players in Norm Richardson and Speedy Claxton. Then you throw in Mike Brey’s great teams at Delaware, Bill Herrion had great teams at Drexel, Dennis Wolff had great teams at Boston University. So you had five borderline high-major teams in the America East at that time.”

In sharp contrast to today’s America East, where on any night seemingly any team can beat any other, according to Giannini, parity was a word that did not exist in the league back in the day.

“At that time, the league was remarkably strong,” Giannini said. “I remember one year that Maine, Hofstra, Boston University, Delaware and Drexel were like a combined 48-2 against the rest of the league.”

Now looking to guide La Salle back to the NCAA Tournament, Giannini’s focus remains on the here and now, but every once in a while he still enjoys looking back on the league where he got his start.

“I really wish I could arrange that matchup between my guys at Maine and my guys at La Salle,” he says. “It would be a hell of a game.”

OBW CAA Power Rankings v8

The Pride remain atop the OBW CAA Power Rankings. Courtesy photo / Hofstra Athletics
The Pride remain atop the OBW CAA Power Rankings. Courtesy photo / Hofstra Athletics

This is really shaping up to be one heck of a CAA season, at least for the league’s top-tier programs. Hofstra continues to pace the pack, powered by it’s trio of star guards and the return of bruising freshman forward Rokas Gustys, but Northeastern, William & Mary and even UNC-Wilmington have all shown that they have the fire power to play with anyone in the league. With huge Wednesday showdowns at Northeastern between the Huskies and the Hofstra Pride, and at UNC-Wilmington where the Seahawks host William & Mary, this week will tell a lot about how the cream of the CAA crop match up.

Here’s a look at how we see the league stacking up in our latest OBW CAA Power Rankings.

1. Hofstra (13-4, 4-0 in CAA)
Results: W 71-66 at College of Charleston; W 79-61 at Elon.
This week: Wednesday vs Northeastern; Saturday vs UNC-Wilmington.
There’s only two teams who stand a chance against the Pride’s offensive force and that’s Northeastern and William & Mary. The Cougars tried to make Juan’ya Green earn his points from the line but he went 13-14, while Ameen Tanksley hit four 3-pointers. Tanksley then lit the Phoenix for 25 points, after Elon had just upset William & Mary. The Pride have scoring threats throughout its starting line-up and its bench in Dion Nesmith.

2. Northeastern (11-5, 3-1 in CAA)
Results: W 65-59 at James Madison; W 52-49 at Towson.
This week: Wednesday vs Hofstra; Saturday vs College Charleston.
When in doubt, give the ball to Scott. After UNC-Wilmington shocked the Huskies on their home court, Eatherton posted 13 point and 13 rebounds against the Dukes and then followed it up with a perfect shooting night against Towson (21 points on 10-10 shooting). It’s a little troublesome that Northeastern allowed the Tigers to rally late in the game but Wednesday marks the true test for the Huskies.

3. William & Mary (9-6, 3-1 in CAA)
Results: L 85-79 at Elon; W 81-73 vs James Madison.
This week: Wednesday vs UNC-Wilmington; Saturday at Towson.
What a week for Terry Tarpey. Before posting the first triple-double in William & Mary history (18 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) against the Dukes, the junior guard recorded 22 points and 13 rebounds against Elon. If the Tribe could have stopped rookie Elijah Bryant, they would still be undefeated in the CAA.

4. UNC-Wilmington (8-7, 3-1 in CAA)
Results: W 74-73 vs Delaware; W 62-57 vs Drexel.
This week: Wednesday vs William & Mary; Saturday vs Hofstra.
The Seahawks may not hold the No. 4 spot for two long after all. After an outstanding effort against the Huskies, UNC-Wilmington nearly dropped one to a Kory Holden-led Blue Hens, the last-place team in the CAA. Freshman Jordon Talley, a key part of the Seahawks’ defense and offense was held to just 2 points in that game. When he plays well, UNC-W is on par with Northeastern and William & Mary – but good luck heavily relying on a freshman all season.

5. Elon (10-7, 2-2 in CAA)
Results: W 85-79 vs.William & Mary; L 79-61 vs Hofstra.
This week: Wednesday vs College of Charleston; Saturday at Hofstra.
Elon stood no chance against the Pride but had their most convincing win of the year against William & Mary. Elijah Bryant continued to impress with 25 points and Tanner Sampson had 20 points on 6-14 shooting – all makes and attempts from behind the line. Sampson lives and dies behind the arc and its becoming more of a problem for the Phoenix. When he only makes two 3-pointers Elon loses big (i.e. Saturday’s game against Drexel).

6. James Madison (9-8, 2-2 in CAA)
Results: L 65-59 vs. Northeastern; L 81-73 vs. William & Mary
This week: Thursday at Drexel; Saturday vs Elon
You can’t win games if you can’t play two halves of solid basketball. The Dukes closed the first half on a 21-9 run against the Huskies but allowed Northeastern to go on a 13-3 run and a 13-0 run in the second. If the Dukes can’t finish games, Drexel could have a chance to steal one from JMU.

7. Towson (8-9, 1-3 in CAA)
Results: L 55-41 vs. Drexel; L 52-49 vs. Northeastern
This week: Wednesday at Delaware; Saturday vs. William & Mary.
Towson has lost eight of its last nine, including a defeat to a completely downtrodden Delaware squad, and the trend isn’t going to stop anytime soon. This is what happens when you schedule Goucher in non-conference play.

8. Drexel (3-12, 1-3 in CAA)
Results: W 55-41 at Towson; L 64-57 at UNC-W.
This week: Thursday vs. JMU; Saturday at Delaware.
The Dragons’ loss against UNC-Wilmington encapsulated their season. Damion Lee scores a career-high 32 and no other player scores above eight.

9. Delaware (2-13, 1-3 in CAA)
Results: L 74-73 OT @ UNC-W; W 64-58 @ Charleston
This week: Wednesday vs. Towson; Saturday vs. Drexel.
The Kory Holden-led Blue Hens may very well send the Tigers and the Dragons home with losses this week. Delaware is playing with a spark after taking the Seahawks to overtime and taking their first CAA victory over the Cougars.

10. College of Charleston (5-12, 0-4 in CAA)
Results: L 71-66 vs Hofstra; L 64-58 vs Delaware.
This week: Wednesday at Elon; Saturday at Northeastern.
A loss against Delaware marked the Cougars’ ninth straight. With Elon and Northeastern coming up, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cougars claim the longest losing streak in the CAA.

OBW CAA Player of the Week
Terry Tarpey, G, JR, William & Mary

The Connecticut-native showed the nation there’s more to the Tribe than just Marcus Thornton. Thornton hit 3-pointers against JMU but Tarpey did a little bit of everything and made program history with a triple double.

OBW CAA Rookie of the Week
Kory Holden, G, FR, Delaware

Elijah Bryant made this one hard, but Holden has provided a spark for the Blue Hens that needs to be recognized. The rookie scores 25 and pulls down seven rebounds in a overtime win against UNC-W and then follows it with 14 points for the Blue Hens first win against the Cougars. I said a couple weeks ago that Bryant should just get the award now. I stand corrected.

OBW CAA Fab Five
Scott Eatherton, C, Northeastern
Juan’ya Green, G, Hofstra
Ameen Tanksley, G, Hofstra
Marcus Thornton, G, William & Mary
Terry Tarpey, G, William & Mary

OBW CAA Frosh Five
Kory Holden, G, Delaware
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Rokas Gustys, G, Hofstra
Donovan Gilmore, F, Charleston
Hari Hall, G, James Madison

Towson basketball falls to hapless Drexel 55-41

Special to One-Bid Wonders from So Much Sports Baltimore.

By Ryan Winner

Towson basketball just couldn’t score as they were downed the Drexel Dragons, 55-41. Towson shot just 37.2-percent on the night and hit only 2-of-11 shots from downtown, falling to 8-8 on the season while Drexel moves to 3-11.

Making matters worse, Drexel continuously drove to the basket throughout the entire game and managed to draw foul after foul. The Dragons went 18-for-24 from the free throw line, compared to the Tigers who attempted just 13 free throws all night, making seven.

Drexel star guard Damion Lee finished with 16 points and was 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. He also made two 3-pointers and led the team with seven rebounds as well.

“Lee is as good as anyone in the conference. He’s a guy that can play at the next level,” Towson coach Pat Skerry said.

Towson guard Four McGlynn, who leads the team in scoring this year, struggled mightily in the game and went just 1-for-9 from the floor and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. He only also only got to the line for two free throws and sunk just one.

“[McGlynn] has missed some shots and he’s letting it affect some other parts of his game,” Skerry said. “He had four turnovers tonight.”

Despite being one of Towson’s top ball handlers McGlynn was only averaging two turnovers per game heading into the contest. He also failed to register an assists.

Only Walt Foster and John Davis reached double-digits for Towson and led the team with 10 each. Foster displayed good post moves against Drexel and has put together his two best performances of the season the past two games.

With 2:50 remaining in the game, Drexel only led by five but Towson couldn’t put the ball in the basket. Drexel used this opportunity to build their lead on free throws as the Tigers were forced to preserve time by intentionally fouling. Drexel went on an 11-0 run before Mike Morsell hit a meaningless shot at the end of the game.