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

Northeastern’s Mr. Energy Zach Stahl pushes Huskies back into first-place

Zach Stahl
Northeastern forward Zach Stahl. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Zach Stahl didn’t join coach Bill Coen in the post game presser of Northeastern’s 75-64 win over William & Mary on Wednesday but everyone in the area could hear the junior loud and clear.

Stahl was already back to the grind, loudly exhaling at a bench press just feet away from the conference.

“I usually do it after losses but I have a lot of energy right now,” the Minnesota-native said in a break between reps. “I don’t know why.”

Stahl was probably still revved after he had one of his best performances of the season in the Husky’s biggest game of the year. The forward has 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting to go along with four rebounds and three assists.

“He’s a big impact player,” said point guard TJ Williams, who had 14 points. “He makes plays that you don’t necessarily think he could make and he’s a big time player for us.”

With first place on the line, Northeastern (18-10, 10-5) came out selfless and assisted on 13 of its 22 field goals in the first half and led 37-23 at the break. Stahl was the primary beneficiary, leading the Huskies with 11 points.

“If I have a good game, it’s because my teammates are finding me and I’m open so the biggest thing I can do is play defense and just try and get rebounds,” Stahl said.

The forward showed he could do just that in the second half when he skied for a one-handed offensive rebound with 15:53 left in the game and the Huskies up 40-30. The forward may have gotten called for a foul on the play but it’s that intensity that caught the attention of William & Mary (16-10, 10-5) coach Tony Shaver.

“He’s terrific,” Shaver said. “I’ve always liked him. We always say before the game he can’t beat us and he beat us tonight.”

Shaver has one of the best offensive team’s in the league, including perennial point guard Marcus Thornton, who scored his 2000th career point in game. Stahl played a major role in holding the Tribe in check.

“On the defensive end he’s got an extremely high basketball IQ,” Coen said. “He can sniff out plays early and he’s got great communication skills so he can talk to his teammates in the back of the defense and let guys know who are in front of them and what’s going on.”

Stahl said he tries to bring consistent energy into every game but when the Huskies play a team they’ve recently lost to, like William & Mary, it provides an extra spark.

“You just get a little more mad when you play so that just works out for you in your favor,” he said.

That doesn’t mean he’s chucking up heat checks all game.

“He just gives you an additional ball maker and playmaker,” Coen said. “He gets great partner action with Scott [Eatherton] and our other big [Reggie Spencer]. He’s an inside-outside guy in terms of his skill set and I thought he did a great job spacing the floor.”

Eatherton and Spencer combined for 11 points.

Stahl put the exclamation point on his performance when he hit David Walker (21 points) with a perfect bounce pass, leading to an emphatic jam.

“If the [opposing] coaches want to try and stop me, that’s fine,” Stahl said.”It just leaves other players open.”

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

David Walker plays Ironman in Northeastern’s 79-68 win over Hofstra

Northeastern guard David Walker followed up a career-high 23 points in the season opener with 22 points in the Huskies upset win over Florida State. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Northeastern guard David Walker. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

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.”

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.”

Team managers: ego-less job can be critical to program

They attend every practice, every film session but never will suit up in a game jersey. The public mostly identifies them with water bottles and towels. Every college basketball program has a team manager and their efforts are rarely in the spotlight.

“On his best day, he’s behind the scenes and not noticed at all,” said Northeastern University basketball coach Bill Coen. “If he’s not noticed, he’s done everything right.”

The Huskies coach of nine years said it takes a particular type of individual to fulfill the covert backbone of a Division 1 basketball program. The college student must be selfless and their love of the game must outweigh any potential reward that might come down the line.

Coen has seen some blossom the opportunity into a professional career but the duties and benefits of the job wouldn’t exactly appeal to most.

“You have to be ego-less,” Coen said.

The responsibility for rookie managers include rebounding balls at practice, preparing water and Powerbars, working out with a player whenever they want and preparing film of opposing teams. By the time the manager is a senior, or a head manager, they additionally must supervise the usually three younger managers and maybe, if they’re lucky, arrange travel for road trips.

This all must be juggled with missing classes due to those road trips, coming into the office early for work, all while remaining behind the scenes.

Most coaches would say the dirty work is just as important as any game-winning shot.

“A good manager can be almost as valuable as having another coach on your staff,” said UMass Lowell coach Pat Duquette. “They can have that much of an impact.”

While Coen was an assistant coach at Boston College and even now at Northeastern, some of Coen’s managers have proven the sacrifice can turn into a career in basketball.

Steve Scalzi, a 2006 BC graduate, was a head manager under Coen for four years while at BC. When Coen moved to Northeastern, Scalzi did with him as his director of basketball operations. Last year, Scalzi was hired by the NBA Development League’s (D-League) Tulsa 66ers, the affiliate of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

One of Coen’s first managers at Northeastern is his current director of basketball operations, Matt Holt. The 26-year-old Providence-native said he never minded the lack of fame that comes with the gritty job.

“That’s really not what it’s about,” Holt said. “I was just happy to be a part of such a great tradition at Northeastern and especially working for someone like coach Coen.”

Northeastern’s current head team manager, Danny Young, was inspired to sign up because his older brother served as manager at Ithaca College and went on to work for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Young, a 21-year-old senior at Northeastern, knows he wants to work in sports in the future but doesn’t know in what capacity yet. He’s just trying to enjoy what could be his last year as a member of the basketball program.

“Danny has done an outstanding job in that role,” Coen said. “He’s an extension of the staff, his commitment level is extreme and he takes every win and loss as personal, if not more personal, than any other staff or player.”

Young said the players have also accepted him and they regularly eat and study for classes off the court. They treat him like an equal, regardless of the lack of acknowledgement he receives.
“If I’m noticed, I’ve done something wrong,” Young said. “I’ll let the spotlight be on our guys. I know I have a small part in what we’ve accomplished and that’s plenty enough for me.”

Reggie Spencer inspires Northeastern

Northeastern forward Reggie Spencer. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Northeastern forward Reggie Spencer. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Even when Reggie Spencer isn’t playing, he still inspires the Huskies.

Northeastern lost to Detroit, 81-69, on Monday, the third-straight game Spencer was forced to miss because of a lower body injury. A somber feeling encompassed coach Bill Coen’s locker room after the overtime defeat.

But seeing the look on Reggie Spencer’s face was all the reassurance Coen needed.

“Reggie probably had the biggest disappointment in his eye because he felt he wasn’t able to help in that game,” Coen said after the Huskies blew out James Madison 82-59. “When I saw that look, I knew he was going to play tonight.”

The Tuscaloosa-native served his role as the engine to the Northeastern machine in his return back. Spencer had 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting off the bench, to go along with three rebounds and two assists.

Nineteen seconds after the senior forward checked into the game, he asserted himself in the post and converted on a layup. Just over a minute later, he hit a baseline jumper to push the Northeastern lead to 19-4.

A minute after that at the 11:33 mark of the first half, Spencer found a wide-open Devon Begley at the 3-point line, which the freshman converted to push the lead to 22-6. His performance even caught the attention of JMU coach, Matt Brady.

“Spencer is coming off the bench and he’s a guy who can get three or four baskets and that’s a big deal,” Brady said.

The co-captain and his Huskies were determined to end this one by halftime and they succeeded. They went into the half up 49-32. JMU never led in the game and Northeastern led by as much as 28.

“Just because after the injury, I learned you never know when it’s going to end so just have fun and take advantage every time you’re on the court,” Spencer said.

All but one Northeastern player scored a bucket in the blowout. T.J. Williams led the team with 17 points and four rebounds, David Walker added 15 points and four assists and Scott Eatherton had six points and seven assists.

“Since Scott’s a focal point on offense, a lot of teams collapse on him so when he finds people it just makes everything easier,” Spencer said.

The all-around effort by Northeastern was enough to enough to convince Brady, who won the CAA championship in 2011, that the Huskies have what it takes.

“They have experience, they have toughness, they have passing, which is excellent,” Brady said. “If they finish with the one, two or three seed I think they could definitely do it.

“I think there’s a few teams that can do it but I’ve thought from the beginning that this team has the most grit and I always like the way Billy’s teams play.”

Quincy Ford’s versatility expanding for Northeastern

Quincy Ford has gone through many changes since his freshman year, whether it be his health, his position or his coaching staff.

But Saturday’s 69-67 win against the College of Charleston brought a sense of familiarity.

Ford has gone from a posting power forward to a lethal perimeter shooter, but he is developing the defensive skills of a center. The Florida native had two emphatic blocks – the only blocks recorded for Northeastern (13-5, 5-1).

“I’m blocking shots, getting steals – that’s been a tremendous addition to my game,” Ford said. “Coach Coen, he likes me to do everything, whatever the situation is, just to step up and be a playmaker.”

Ford’s overall stat line (10 points, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal) was part of an all-around impressive Northeastern performance.

Ford, David Walker (14 points), T.J. Williams (12 points), Scott Eatherton (11 points) and Zach Stahl (11 points) were all in double figures as the Huskies shot 53 percent on the day.

But for Ford, the game was another step in recovering from back surgery that medically red-shirted him last season.

“Every game has been an improvement of my game as everyone has seen, and I’m just getting comfortable getting that flow back,” Ford said. “I’m starting to get more comfortable getting my flow back so I know it’s a process, I know there’s still a process to be made.”

Nostalgia set in when Ford had a steal with 7:39 to go in the game and turned it into a fast break jam to make it 57-45.

“That took me back to freshman year when I used to get a lot of those,” Ford said.

The Huskies withstood a late rally by the Cougars and won by just two but Ford again saw a glimpse of the past at the game’s end, when a Charleston coach embraced him.

“He’s funny,” Ford said of Antonio Reynolds-Dean, who was an assistant coach under Bill Coen just last year. “It was good to see him, I’m kind of sad that he left but things happen and it was just good to see him.”

T.J. Williams, Northeastern, win battle of point guards against Hofstra

Northeastern point guard T.J. Williams posted a double-double to help the Huskies down Hofstra in a battle of CAA favorites. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Northeastern point guard T.J. Williams posted a double-double to help the Huskies down Hofstra in a battle of CAA favorites. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green may be a CAA Player of the Year candidate, but Northeastern’s T.J. Williams controlled the backboard – and ultimately the game – in the Husky’s 91-83 win in Wednesday’s Colonial heavyweight match.

Williams matched Green’s double double of 21 points (4-7 shooting_ and 11 assists with 16 points (7-11), 11 rebounds and six assists for his first career double double.

“Our fans really made a difference in the game,” the point guard said. “Their enthusiasm got us going and just as well we fed off of one another. Coach Coen and the coaching staff were there to help us along the way also.”

With all due respect to the Northeastern fans and coaching staff, Williams was the biggest difference in the game, especially since senior captain Reggie Spencer sat out of the game with a lower body injury.

The Huskies have had early success this season because their frontcourt of Scott Eatherton, Reggie Spencer and Zach Stahl dominates. The rebound battle would be even more important going up against a speedy Hofstra team that averages 79.4 point per game.

Stahl and Eatherton combined for 11 of the Huskies 37 rebounds. Did Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich expect TJ to be able to match their combined total?

“Yeah, oh yeah, it’s a good team,” Mihalich said. “…TJ Williams was Player of the Week one time wasn’t he?

“…No surprise at all those guys being that good.”

Williams didn’t seem surprised of Hofstra’s point guard’s abilities either.

“He’s definitely a good player also,” Williams said. “Going in to the game, the game plan was No. 1 stop him in transition before he gets a head of steam. He’s a really good playmaker so we wanted to stop him and tame him as much as we could from getting to the paint and creating for others.”

The responsibility of guarding the perennial scorer could have resulted in Williams soley focusing on the defensive end. Instead, he had one of his best all-around games of his career.

“I just try to focus on the next play. You know just like ‘One play at a time, one play at a time,’” Williams said. “To be able to transition from making a mistake, a turn over, to getting back to defense…It’s really just transitioning into one play into another.”

Williams wasn’t alone in the effort. David Walker led the team in scoring with 22 points and hit a 3-pointer late in the second half that ignited an 11-0 run. Scott Eatherton had 21 points and Zach Stahl had 14 points and seven rebounds.

But Coen said his sophomorepoint guard has bested the tear he went on towards the end of his rookie campaign.

“He’s got a better understanding of what the coaching staff wants,” Coen said. “He’s got a better understanding of time and score, he’s got a better understanding of his own capabilities, his teammates capabilities and he’s more confident in terms of what he can accomplish on the court.”

For more on T.J. Williams and the years of hard work and training that he shared with his father to reach Northeastern, read here.

Sacrifice now — T.J. Williams, and the father who helped spur his success

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The sun has barely been up in Texas and T.J. Williams is already at work – but not on a basketball court. That comes later, when most of his peers are just getting out of bed.

Williams wakes up at 6:30 am to bike down to the Villages of Hidden Lake. He needs ample time to circle the lake twice, a 3-and-a-half mile distance.

On a good day, the future Northeastern point guard will then ride the hills, pumping on his pedals until he feels his calves burn.

Then it’s time to hit the court. Williams will be early for his team’s morning practice and the last to leave practice after school but he likes it that way.

It’s all he’s known since the third grade.

“You always want to be the first person in the gym and the last person to leave the gym,” says Williams, looking back on the training regiment of his childhood. “I know that I would always be the last one to leave.”

When all of his teammates have left, one person joins Williams in the gym. Tim Williams can’t always make it with work but he has been his son’s most consistent coach.

When Williams got his first letter of interest from a college – in eighth grade – his father kept him humble by making him practice twice as hard.

“When I realized he was going to be pretty good, I started working him out every weekend and I would take him to the gym after I got work,” Tim says.

Every day wasn’t easy for the father and son but even when his son lashed out, Tim knew his son would one day understand.

He knew that his son had the potential to be a starting point guard at a Division I school.

SACRIFICE NOW

Tim Williams’ passion has always been basketball but the Louisiana native got his college opportunity on the baseball diamond. After playing at Houston-Tillotson, Tim spent about five years playing in professional softball tournaments.

He still thinks that with the right mentor, his path could have led to a parquet court.

“Had I had somebody to push me, to give me that extra push, there’s no telling where I could have been,” Tim says. “Since I didn’t have that, I wanted to make sure I didn’t shortchange my son.”

Tim saw the signs of potential when his son was assigned to play with fourth graders as a third grader. From there on most vacations were spent traveling as far as San Diego – anything to get Williams into the best basketball camps possible. Weekends were spent in 24-hour fitness.

“Everyday was not a good day between T.J. and myself,” Tim reflects. “There was days he didn’t want to go and he didn’t understand why I was pushing him so hard.”

When Williams’ middle school friends invited him to sleep-overs, he had to decline because he risked missing a morning workout.

“It was very hard,” says Williams. “I didn’t understand some of the things that I was doing was going to get me to where I would want to be later on in life.

“…I was living the basketball life at a young age and it felt like a job to me almost but I didn’t really realize it at the time.”

One might think the pressure would relent when Williams got a letter of interest from Texas A&M in the eighth grade. But Tim knew the letters would stop coming for his undersized son if he let up.

In fact, high school meant it was time for Williams to clamp down more – even if it meant distancing himself from childhood friends.

“There are going to be some people that you’re going to be dealing with and if you’re going to reach the next level, you’re going to have to distance yourself from them,” Tim told his son in high school. “There are things that they’re doing and you’re doing that aren’t the same.

“Your common going and their common going is not the same.”

Soon, T.J. Williams was waking up in the morning to workout by himself. He implemented the hills and the bike riding into the workouts without his father.

Williams’ peak physical condition led to success on the court.

After an injury-plagued junior year, Williams averaged 17 points per game on 48-percent shooting and led Pflugerville to a district championship.

But college is a whole different ball game.

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UNCOMMON GROWTH

Northeastern Coach Bill Coen says there are three sides to a basketball player’s transition from high school to college; the new home, the added mental load and the higher level of weight training and conditioning.

Williams was more than ready on the latter of the three. After starting high school at 5-foot-6, the point guard entered Northeastern at 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds.

“He got his body up on his own by going to the gym and lifting weights so that when he stepped on to Northeastern’s campus, he didn’t look like the same T.J.,” Tim says.

It didn’t take long for Williams to make his presence known in his freshman campaign. After scoring 10 points in a nationally televised 63-56 win against basketball power Georgetown, the guard was promoted to the starting lineup.

“His entire freshman campaign built to his last six weeks where he really, in that point in time, got comfortable with himself, got comfortable with his teammates, got comfortable with the system and got comfortable with the level,” says Coen.

Williams ended the year with averages of 6.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, sufficient enough to earn him a spot on the CAA All-Rookie Team.

The award was a sign that his childhood training — that would make many high school athletes shudder — was for good reason.

When the 2014 season ended, Williams was faced with a decision: go home to see his hometown friends or stay on-campus to workout with the team.

He knew the jump from freshman to sophomore year is crucial for a basketball player. But the lure of seeing your family and high school friends could change any 20-year-old’s mind. As always, his father pushed him to take his training up a notch.

“Some of those same people you went to high school with, they won’t even be a part of your life once you grow up,” Tim says referring to their talk in the summer. “You’re going to lose people along the way. I don’t need you to come home this summer. Stay up there, get an education and work on your game and that’s going to benefit you more.”

It has clearly paid dividends.

Williams has started his sophomore campaign on another level, leading the team in assists (3.4) and steals (1.0).

While most of his high school friends were partying on New Year’s Eve, Williams scored a career-high 20 points and had six assists and six rebounds against Richmond.

The performance was enough to get him CAA Player of the Week honors.

“There’s been some great point guards out there from J.J. Barea to Chaisson Allen to Jon Lee and those guys, all different styles, but they all took command of the game,” Coen says of the torch that has been passed down from recent Northeastern point guards. “I think TJ is just taking that edge where when you watch the game, you begin to notice him more.”

Coen and Williams credit part of his growth to the summer workouts. His effort in the off-season even caught the attention of an “old” Northeastern star.

“The way he makes plays for his teammates and gets them shots and he doesn’t give up on the defensive end as well,” says former Husky Joel Smith, now with the Mexican team Ultimas Noticias. “He’s got a big heart for the game and just goes after it.”

But Williams also credits his father’s constant pressure and guidance.

“I can look back and say that’s why I did that because this is why I’m here — I put in all that extra time,” Williams says.

Like any father, Tim is extremely proud of his son’s early success but it didn’t take a Player of the Week award to make that happen. He could sense his son’s growth when T.J. called him in the summer and told him thank you.

“The thing that I’m most proud of is that even when he didn’t believe what I was putting him through was for a reason, I’m most proud of that I had an opportunity for him to tell me he understands,” Tim says of his son. “Everything I was trying to tell him, he understands.”

According to Tim, the extra time on the court was never about the game.

“He’s playing basketball and that’s important right now,” Tim says. “But I want him to be a good person that’s playing basketball rather than a person who’s playing basketball that’s not a good person.”

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Photographs by Sam Perkins

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