OBW CAA men’s basketball All-Conference Second Team Juan’ya Green, JR, G, Hofstra
Don’t be mistaken; Green was one of the more prolific scorers and facilitators in the CAA. If not for his team’s dreadfully inconsistent second half of the season, he would be a player-of-the-year candidate. Even during that period, Green continued to impress, recording four double doubles in conference play and eight total on the season. Now if he could just convince his team to play consistent defense…
Ron Curry, JR, G, James Madison
The clear leader of a young JMU team that shockingly ended the season as one of four regular-season CAA champs. Curry was a well-rounded guard who hurt teams with his shot as well as his passing ability. The junior was ninth in the CAA in scoring (13.8 PPG) and third in assists (4.4 RPG).
David Walker, JR, G, Northeastern
Gone is the shy rookie in the shadow of Jon Lee and Joel Smith. Walker was the best player for the Huskies at times this season, averaging 13.3 PPG, 3.5 APG and 3.3 RPG. He posted 20-plus points in seven games this season, two of which coming in big games against FSU and Hofstra. “SkyWalker” also may be the best dunker in the league.
Ameen Tanksley, JR, G, Hofstra
A nightmare for opposing defenses, Tanksley was one of the finer scorers in the league. The guard averaged 16.7 PPG but also had a knack for getting rebounds, averaging 5.6 RPG. The junior gave coaches headaches with his ability to draw contact and earn points at the line. Tanksley hit eight or more free throws in three games of the season, including a 14 of 15 performance against Towson.
Freddie Jackson, SR, G, UNC-Wilmington
A senior leader for the Seahawks, Jackson made first-year coach Kevin Keatts’ job a little easier with consistent effort on a nightly basis. What was more impressive than the guard’s 13.8 PPG was his effort on the boards (5.8 RPG).
OBW CAA men’s basketball All-Rookie Team
Kory Holden, PG, Delaware
Devon Saddler who? The future is bright for the Blue Hens with Holden at the helm, who showed his maturity by ranking second in the CAA in assists (5.0 per game). He also showed he can light up the score board – just ask the top teams in the CAA.
Elijah Bryant, G, Elon
Whether he’s running the one, two or three position, Bryant always seemed to control the Phoenix’s tempo with poise. He showed his all-around game in the last three games of the season, in wins against Delaware, Northeastern and UNC-W. Bryant scored in the double figures and pulled down at least eight rebounds in the wins.
Jordon Talley, G, UNC-W
Talley handled the pressure of being on a contending team beautifully and showed he wasn’t afraid to have the ball in late game situations. His most impressive performance came against fellow contender Northeastern, when he erupted for 21 points at Matthews Arena.
Rokas Gustys, C, Hofstra
The Lithuanian big man will bring toughness to the CAA for years to come. He struggled to adjust to the different hand-checking rules and got into foul trouble early in the season but came into his own towards the end of conference play. The big man’s defensive presence in the paint may just be just as important as their dynamic backcourt in the conference tournament.
Dmitri Thompson, F, Elon
The rookie showed signs of potential for a young Elon team. He came up big against top teams, recording 10 points against William & Mary and 12 points and five rebounds against Northeastern. Thompson averaged 6.1 PPG and 3.7 APG.
James Madison and Hofstra’s last game of the regular season will feature the longest standing rivalry between two CAA players.
It is a rivalry that originated in Lithuania, ran through China and now resides stateside.
It is a rivalry that began more than a half a decade ago but is now as intense as it has ever been.
And it will continue when Lithuanians Rokas Gustys, of the Pride, and Paulius Satkus enter the Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, VA, this weekend.
“I’m pretty sure he wants to destroy me once again this time,” Satkus said of his former teammate.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Satkus and Gustys grew up in different towns in their Eastern European nation and it was their mutual love for the game that brought the two together.
A teenage Gustys was playing for an academy in the town of Kaunas while Satkus was just six miles away, representing his hometown of Raudondvaris. They weren’t familiar initially but in Lithuania, where basketball reigns supreme, a game between neighboring communities is always battle.
In this case it just wasn’t a competitive battle, according to Gustys.
“We always beat that team,” Gustys says. “But two teams from the same city is a rivalry so it was kind of intense.”
Gustys’ Sabonis Basketball Academy may have been the powerhouse but both players soon began to stand out among their peers.
In 2012, both players were members of the Lithuanian club team, “Zalgiris Kaunas,” which placed second in the Euroleague International Nike Junior Tournament. They also happened to share a room in training camp for the team.
They got to know each other’s games well in the various competitions, which included games in China.
“He was always a physical guy,” Satkus says. “Someone you would love to have on your team but not so much to play against.”
“He’s more of a power forward, a pick-and-pop guy,” Gustys says. “I’m more of a banger. I really like contact. I’m not saying he doesn’t like a physical game… he’s Eastern European and we always like a physical game.”
But soon, both Eastern European players would take that physicality to different parts of the world. After the year of international ball, Satkus traveled to London to play for Barkey Abbey Academy before joining James Madison University in 2014.
While Satkus improved in Britain, Gustys joined the American powerhouse of prep schools, Oak Hill Academy.
In his first year with the team, he led Carmelo Anthony’s alma mater to a 41-4 record and a No. 4 ranking on USA Today’s Top 25 ranking. After another dominant year in 2013, he earned a spot on Hofstra – and a reunion with his old teammate.
DIFFERENT SETTING, DIFFERENT SYLE, SAME BATTLE
Even though James Madison beat Hofstra 69-63 earlier this season and Gustys only played nine minutes, Satkus was reminded just how good the CAA rookie can be.
“He just reminded me how physical and how aggressive he is,” the sophomore forward said. “He was always much better than me, much stronger than me so if I can’t win against him one-on-one, I’ll take a team win anytime.”
Gustys had also noticed development in certain aspects of his fellow Lithuanian’s game.
“He can make 3-pointers now,” Gustys says. “I like to shoot everything around the rim. I try to dunk more. I’ve never seen him dunk – I don’t think he can jump that high.”
Gustys said it was difficult to adjust that aggressive game to an American style that prohibits hand checking at the start of the season.
“From day one when I was playing in Europe, coach always told us to play physical and hard and crash the boards,” Gustys says. “…Here we have to be more careful to not get the fouls.”
Every once and a while, the rookie says he comes across a physical match-up, specifically when defending Charleston’s Adjehi Baru. But for the most part, he said the wars in the paint in Lithuania don’t even compare to the more finesse style of the States.
Satkus disagrees. He says basketball in the West is much tougher than the team-oriented style of Lithuanian play.
“Rokas plays physically no matter where he is but with my game, I would say the United States and England is more physical for me,” Satkus says. “Everyone is stronger and bigger and tries to use that more than people back home.”
The different opinions reflect the difference in their games and personalities. Regardless of those differences, they have found common ground in their shared culture.
In the days around that game in January, Gustys and Satkus found time to hang out in New York City and meet the founder of a Facebook page that unites Lithuanian athletes in the US.
They both consider themselves good friends off the court and share mutual respect.
It’s that respect that continues to feed their rivalry.
“Off the court it’s friends uniting,” Satkus says. “On the court, as you realize, it’s the only way it could be for Rokas.
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
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 contender Hofstra went into Drexel’s home on Sunday afternoon and all but tore the Daskalakis Athletic Center down to its foundation, dismantling the Dragons 81-57 in a game that was never in doubt.
And it was Kone who was swinging the proverbial sledgehammer, going 10-of-10 from the floor en route to a career-high 23-points, to go along with six rebounds and two blocks to move the Pride into a tie with their vanquished foes for fifth place in the CAA at 8-6, two games back from first place.
Kone’s performance, which included high-flying slams and an array of low post moves, was the most made field goals without a miss for a Hofstra player since 1998-1999 season and quite possibly longer (credit for cluing us in belongs to Hofstra’s super fan).
Northeastern’s David Walker has been the team’s “Ironman” for the past two years as he is on pace for his second straight season of over 1,100 minutes played. The junior guard’s grit and toughness was on full display on Thursday when he didn’t sit for a second in the Huskies’ 79-68 road win over Hofstra.
Walker played all 40 minutes and stuffed the stat-sheet with 20 points, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Northeastern ((17-9, 9-4) needed his performance to stay in second place in the ultra-competitive CAA in which six teams have seven or more conference wins.
“I’m kinda tired,” Walker admitted after the game with a smile of satisfaction. “I have to expect that sometimes, I think T.J. (Williams) got in foul trouble early so coach needed me to step up. I just played as hard as I could for all 40 minutes.”
Senior center Scott Eatherton put up a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds with two blocks and junior Quincy Ford added 15 points and five rebounds as the Huskies shot 56 percent from the field, including 65 percent (13-for-20) in the second half.
“We were just aggressive as a team,” Walker said. “I have to thank my teammates for finding me and I have to thank them for making the shots when I pass it to them, so all the credit to my teammates.”
Hofstra (16-10, 7-6) was led by Juan’ya Green’s 18 points and 10 assists. Rokas Gustys and Malik Nichols played well off the bench with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Pride never had a lead in Thursday’s game.
“They were tougher than us when they had to be,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “Walker was the toughest guy on the floor. You can talk about Eatherton all you want — he’s terrific — but Walker, we have no answers for him because he gave it to us twice now. It was all about his toughness, he was just tougher than all of our guys.”
Hofstra made runs in the second half, but Northeastern had answers for each of them. The backbreaker came with under four minutes left when the Pride cut the lead to 62-58. The Huskies came up with a defensive stop and then milked the shot-clock on offense until Ford knocked down a three-pointer off an inside-out pass from Eatherton to put the game out of reach for good.
“That’s something we’ve been struggling with these past couple of games—when teams make runs, we kind of have trouble stopping them,” Eatherton said. “So this was a good step for us, we really handled them whenever they got on a run. We were pretty mentally-tough tonight.”
Walker was the key to the Huskies staving off any runs down the stretch with his strong perimeter defense and poise on offense.
“Davey’s so essential to what we do,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “He’s got a great basketball-IQ, he’s always poised under pressure. When he plays well, we play well because he makes good shots for us but he also gets a lot of people involved and he’s a tremendous passer.”
Walker’s poise and toughness this season hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“He’s been doing great this year, he’s always looking for teammates, it’s always get the ball to teammates first,” Eatherton said. “Sometimes we could use him to be more aggressive, but he was able to balance both tonight.”
Still, as Northeastern chases a CAA championship, contributions are needed from the entire team, so it doesn’t look like anyone feels sorry for Walker’s lack of rest.
“He’s used to it, last year he played even more minutes than he’s playing this year,” Eatherton said with a smile. “He’ll be alright.”
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.”
Pride (n.)- a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, or the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated.
Throughout the first three years of his college career, Hofstra center Moussa Kone had his pride tested time and time again. From suffering through back-to-back-to-back losing seasons to seeing multiple teammates stray down a horribly wrong path, to dealing with a change in the team’s coaching regime, Kone has just about seen it all.
But through all the adversity, Kone stayed the course. Now in his senior year and the only four-year member of the program, he is seeing his patience rewarded as Hofstra has grown to become one of the top teams in the CAA.
“It’s been a long time coming, that’s all I can really say,” Kone says. “I’ve been patient for the past three years and for me to finally be on a great team with great players and a great coaching staff, and to be able to see where the program is going to excel in the future, it’s a great feeling.”
“It’s funny, I think it’s new to him,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich says of Kone experiencing a successful season for the first time. “I think he’s enjoying it, I think he’s excited about it and all those things. But I think it’s new to him and it’s wonderful to see him experience this, he deserves this, he deserves success because he’s such a great guy and he works so hard. I’m glad he’s experiencing some success and I’m glad he’s a big part of why we’re doing so well.”
Finally, Kone’s pride in the Pride has been restored.
Kone was born in Harlem, New York, and raised in the Bronx, where he attended Frederick Douglass Academy III. He started playing organized basketball at the age of 14, admittedly a late start, and realized his potential.
“Basketball was just a sport I played, it wasn’t something I took very seriously. I had a coach that saw I had a little potential with my skill-set and athleticism, so I just took it to the next level,” he says. “I was just a raw talent. Like I said, I was athletic; I was able to run, I could block shots, that’s all I pretty much did. My coach told me I could really be good and he taught me the basics. That’s what made me look forward to playing more.”
When he chose to commit to Hofstra, Kone had no idea he would be part of a rebuilding process.
“I pretty much thought it was gonna be a great place for me to play,” Kone recalls. “I never thought that the situation that happened was gonna happen to me at the time when I signed. I just thought we were gonna be able to be a great team and stuff like that, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way.”
Through his first three seasons with Hofstra, Kone was part of teams that went 10-22, 7-25 and 10-23, respectively. Despite his frustration, he did his best to remain positive and fought against any thoughts of transferring.
“It was very tough on me, nobody wants to be on a losing team,” Kone says. “It’s kind of sad when you’re on a team that’s giving losing efforts every season. I just thought, ‘My time will come,’ and I just stuck it out.
“I’m a real positive guy, I just stayed positive,” he continues. “Of course at the time, you just feel like you want to give up and just move on and go to another area where you could be in a position to play better and win more games as a team. I just felt like it would get better, that’s what I kept telling myself. After every game we lose, I would feel like the team would get better. After every season I would feel like next year is a different year and next year could be a great year.”
During that seven-win season, Kone had to watch as six of his teammates were arrested for off-the-court incidents. Hofstra chose to fire then-head coach Mo Cassara after the season. Understandably, it hit Kone hard.
“It’s tough on college kids when the coach you were recruited by gets fired. He was a coach that I understood a lot and he recruited me, so I had a lot of confidence in him,” he says. “When he lost his job I was kind of upset, but I understood that that this was a business and organizations have to do whatever they can to get better.”
Kone was one of just four players left over from the previous regime when Mihalich became the Pride’s head coach. As soon as the two met with each other, Mihalich was immediately impressed with not only the type of player Kone was, but also the type of person he is.
“Right away, he makes a wonderful impression on you, and he doesn’t have to try to do it—he’s a great guy. Right away you can tell he’s a great guy,” Mihalich says. “Right away you can see that he loves Hofstra, he loved being here and he wanted to win. He understood the change, he welcomed the change and he wanted to do well—he wanted the basketball team to do well. He was willing to, even though it’s a tough thing to do, he was willing to go through [the rebuilding process].”
The respect was mutual.
“He just explained his style of play, which is pretty much my style of play,” Kone recalls of his first meeting with Mihalich. “Running and gunning, being a transition team, running a lot of screen-and-rolls; so once he showed me his resume and told me how he’d like the system to be ran, I felt like that was a great system for me to be in. That’s why I figured it would be a good [start over], for me to stay and for us to become a better team.
“I don’t think a lot of coaches would do that; being hired and having a new system they want to play, they’d probably just want to start over. But he had faith in me, so we just worked on whatever we had to do for me to end my college career right.”
In Mihalich’s first year with the team, Hofstra’s roster was filled with transfers who had to sit out the season due to NCAA regulations. So it was one more year of rebuilding for Kone, who accepted the challenge.
“I think he did know it was going to be (a process),” Mihalich says. “He never felt sorry for himself, he never moped, he just played as hard as he could all the time and he had a good year last year. Now our goal for him is to make this the best year of his life.”
Hofstra is currently 14-7 and 5-3 in the CAA, good for fourth in the conference. Still, the experience of being on three losing teams allows Kone to remain humble throughout the team’s current success.
“So far so good; we’ve won more games than I’ve won in a season in the past, but we just want to keep going and take it one game at a time. That’s what we’ve been saying from day one,” he says. “Things have been going good for us, we had a great start in the CAA, we’re beating teams that I haven’t ever beaten before in the past three years that I’ve been here, so that’s a great feeling. We just look forward to keeping it that way and continuing to get on a good streak.”
Kone has excelled in his role as the Pride’s rim protector and recently became just the fifth player in program history to surpass 100 blocks for his career, currently totaling 104 rejections. On offense he boasts a polished low-post game, sprints the floor like a gazelle and skies for crowd-pleasing, rim-rocking dunks that make the rafters at the Mack Sports Complex quake from impact reverberation.
As one of the team captains, Kone is Hofstra’s vocal leader who imparts the lessons he’s learned to the younger players.
“He’s a wonderful, wonderful guy,” Mihalich says. “He’s one of those people who’s liked and respected. I’ve been asked the question before ‘Do you like this guy?’ and I remember somebody saying, ‘Do I like him or do I respect him?’ It made me realize that those two things aren’t always the same… But for him they are—he’s liked and respected by everybody.”
As Kone’s college career nears its end, his coaches and teammates take immense pride in their pursuit of a CAA championship to help him end his career on a high note. His impact on Hofstra will be felt for years not only for his contributions on the court, but for the person he is off of it.
“For me, I feel sad that I was only able to be his coach for two years,” Mihalich says. “He’s the kind of guy you want to coach, so to just be around him for two years makes me feel sad. We’ll miss everything about him on the court, but we’ll miss him even more off the court.”
For Kone, his pride comes from all of the trials and tribulations he faced in his first three years, knowing he became a better player and person because of it. His pride has remained unwavering, not only because he sports the blue and gold colors of the Pride, but because he chose to remain a student and a man of Hofstra.
“I committed here for a reason, not only for the basketball or the coaching staff or the basketball system. I also made it here for the beautiful campus. I’ve done my research in the past about the program on all those great players and all those great teams that we’ve had,” Kone says. “Playing for Hofstra was something I really wanted to do as soon as they started recruiting me. That’s pretty much really why I stayed, because I love the program so much.”
ALL PHOTOS CREDITED TO ZACK LANE/HOFSTRA 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.”