America East 2015 New Year’s Resolutions  

Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

A new year brings a new conference tournament format that raises the stakes on what awaits the nine America East teams over the next nine weeks. Whoever keeps true to these resolutions the longest could very well be the last team standing come March 14.

America East 2015 New Year’s Resolutions

Albany: Better balance inside

Albany’s post game right now is the Sam Rowley show. He’s the only Great Dane in the top 20 in rebounding among conference players, and no other post player has more than four points or rebounds per game. John Puk was a great compliment to Rowley the last two years, both conference tournament championships for Albany. Now, UAlbany needs to find John Puk 2.0 or they will be muscled out of a three-peat.

Binghamton: Lay the groundwork for the future

Binghamton’s resolution won’t fully come to fruition for another year or two, but when it does, it could be something really special. This year’s team was supposed to be carried by Jordan Reed with the hope they might sneak into the top four of the conference and earn a 1st round tournament home game. When Reed left the team earlier this month, the already-young Bearcats got even younger. With just one senior and one junior left on the roster, neither of whom average more than eight minutes a game this season, the pressure falls on the 12 freshmen and sophomores to prove this team will be a legitimate contender down the road.

Hartford: Consistent shooting

It’s been said multiple times that Hartford’s A-game, with a heavy dose of ball movement and outside shooting, is better than anyone else’s A-game in the conference. The issue for them will be making sure that A-game shows up night in and night out. Poor shooting, especially from 3-point range, led to losses at the hands of Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut State, and Rider. Hartford’s A-game is why they were picked 2nd in the pre-season poll, and if they can get hot at the right time, could be what takes them to the top of the conference for the first time ever.

Maine: Better team defense

First year coach Bob Walsh has talent on the offensive side of the ball, as Shaun Lawton, Zarko Valjarevic, and Till Gloger are all top 20 scorers amongst America East teams in non-conference play. Where the Black Bears have been exposed repeatedly this season is the defensive side of the ball. Maine is last amongst AE teams in field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage defense, and points per game allowed, which at more than 81 a game, is among the worst in all of Division 1. The Black Bears currently force more than seven steals a game, 2nd among conference teams; there just needs to be better execution when those steals don’t happen.

UMass Lowell: Continue ignoring the skeptics

Few expected anything from UMass Lowell when they moved to the Division I level prior to last season; the River Hawks were a unanimous last place pick in the pre-season poll. All they did in response was finish 5th in the conference with an 8-8 record (NCAA transition rules held them out of the conference tournament.) Pat Duquette’s group was once again picked to finish last in the conference this season, but Jahad Thomas and Marco Banegas-Flores have both averaged double figures in scoring in non-conference play, as the team won six of its first eight games, including road wins over Fordham and former America East member Boston University. The will to win can take teams a long way, and this team’s will to win might give a lot of AE teams headaches come 2015.

New Hampshire: Maintain early season balance

On paper, New Hampshire has done nothing mind-blowing this year, but they’re 1st among conference teams in points per game and points allowed. Tanner Leissner, Daniel Dion and Jaleen Smith are all averaging double figures in scoring, leading a balanced attack where each of the 11 Wildcats averaging 10 or more minutes a game has contributed nicely. The Wildcats will have pre-season favorite Stony Brook on the road, followed by two-time defending champion UAlbany at home to open conference play. Both games will have a lot to say about whether the Wildcats’ early success was a fluke, or a potential sign of something special come March.

Stony Brook: (tie) Keep Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney healthy/ Get support from players not named Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney

The two preseason All-Conference selections, combined, have accounted for a sizeable percentage of the team’s statistics, top to bottom, in non-conference play. The rest of the Seawolves will have to provide their stars with consistent support if the pre-season number one pick is finally going to break through with a conference tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Kameron Mitchell and Rayshaun McGrew filled those support roles nicely with 22 combined points in the Seawolves’ upset of previously 13th ranked Washington.

UMBC: Offensive execution

Replacing Rodney Elliott, who was declared out for the season with a shoulder injury earlier this month after playing in just one game, has not come easy for UMBC.  The Retrievers are last among America East teams in points per game, free throw percentage, and turnovers per game, as well as eighth in 3-point percentage. Elliott carried much of the load as a freshman last year, which brought even larger expectations for this season. Like Binghamton, Aki Thomas may want to start looking ahead to the future, prepping his young unit for a conference tournament title run a few years down the road.

Vermont:  Stay healthy

A healthy Vermont team is a scary thought for the rest of the conference. The scary thing for Vermont is that they’ve been unable to stay healthy early in the year. Ernie Duncan played in only four games before red-shirting due to a back injury, Zach McRoberts missed the first seven games due to injury, and Hector Harold missed games vs. Yale and St. Louis with foot problems. Vermont has finished either 1st or 2nd in the conference every year since 2008-2009, and will need a clean bill of health the rest of the season if they want a shot at doing that again this year.

 

Nate Fox shooting update

Former Maine and international star Nate Fox was shot to death in his driveway on Monday night, Dec. 22.
Former Maine and international star Nate Fox was shot to death in his driveway on Monday night, Dec. 22.

The Bloomingdale Police Department continues to vigorously investigate the fatal shooting of former University of Maine basketball star Nate Fox, who was gunned down in his driveway in a middle-class suburb a half an hour outside of Chicago on Dec. 22, but thus far has turned up no new leads in the case.

According to Bloomingdale Chief Frank Giammarese, the department has gathered evidence from the scene of the fatal shooting – Fox’s driveway — interviewed a “ton of people,” and has “several detectives” working the case.

“[We’re], following up on as many leads as possible,” said Giammarese, adding, “Everyone right now is a person of interest.”

Related: Teammates, opponents remember Nate Fox.

Related: Former Maine star Nate Fox shot to death at 37.

At 9:37 p.m. Monday night, Police responded to a 911 call to the 200 block of Tamarack Lane, Fox’s residence, where they found the 37-year-old suffering from at least one gunshot wound. Fox had previously been out driving his a maroon 2013 Jaguar XJ with an Illinois license plate and according to police was returning home from work. Fox was transported to Adventist Glen Oaks Medical Center in Glendale Heights, and died later that night.

According to the Bloomingdale Police, Fox lived at his residence with his girlfriend, and the police had never been called to the house before for any prior incidences.

The Bloomingdale Police Department along with the DuPage County Major Crimes Task Force are jointly investigating the shooting, and while they have stated that they “did find evidence at the scene, which is being evaluated,” according to Giammarese, neither unit has specificed what type of evidence was gathered, if shell casings were recovered at the scene, or any possible motive for the shooting.

“We’re not sure if this was a random act or if something led to this or if he was targeted. We’re trying to find the person or persons who did this,” said Giammarese, adding, “I do not think people are randomly out there shooting people.”

In the aftermath of his death, Fox, a 6-foot-9-inch 240-pound power forward who remains one of the greatest players in Maine basketball history, has been remembered and mourned by family, friends, and former teammates and opponents alike.

Giammarese called Fox’s death so close to the holidays especially “horrible,” and “heart wrenching” for his family.

The Bloomingdale Police Department is asking anyone with information on Fox or the shooting to call (630) 529-9868.

Remembering Nate Fox

Nate Fox passed away at the age of 37.
Nate Fox passed away at the age of 37.

On Monday night, Dec. 22, Nate Fox returned to his home in Bloomingdale, Illinois, after being out for a drive, stepped out of his car, and was shot in his driveway. He was one of the greatest players and hardest workers in the history of Maine basketball. He was rushed to an area hospital and passed away later on that night. He was 37 years old.

The police department of the middle-class suburb 25 miles west of Chicago where Fox lived have released few details as of now on the shooting, saying only that they were called to Fox’s house in the 200 block of Tamarack Lane around 9:35 p.m., and that Fox had been out driving a maroon 2013 Jaguar XJ, with Illinois license plate R554813, prior to the shooting.

(Details and story: Nate Fox shot to death at age 37).

One of the greatest players in Maine history, Fox began his career at Boston College before transferring to the University of Maine for the final two seasons of his career.

A massive 6-foot-9-inch 240-pound power forward, Fox starred in both basketball and football at Plainfield Central High School in Plainfield, Illinois, where he was later inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, and received Division I athletic scholarships in both sports.

Fox chose basketball and began his career at Boston College, but transferred to Maine for the 1997-1998 school year. After sitting out his first season at Maine as a transfer, Capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor, Fox possessed a rare-combination of brute strength and raw physicality and power moves, a silky-soft touch out to the three point arc, and a constantly revving motor and high-major athleticism. In his two seasons wearing the Black Bears blue and white, Fox scored 1,036 points and ripped down 454 rebounds, leading the team in both categories in each season.

In two years at Maine, Fox scored 1,036 points and ripped down 454 rebounds, leading the team in both categories in each season, while helping to carry the Black Bears to a 24-7 record and second place finish as a senior. As a senior during the 1999-2000 season, Fox teamed with center Julian Dunkley, point guard Andy Bedard and shooting guard Huggy Dye to lead arguably the best Black Bears squad in school history to a 24-7 overall record (tied for best in the conference) and a second place finish with a 15-3 record in league play. Fox put together the best season of his career and, given the strength of the league, one of the greatest in Maine history, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 58.3 percent from the floor, ranking first in the league in field goal percentage, third in scoring and fifth in rebounding.

For current America East fans, the best description of Fox’s game would be Stony Brook center Jameel Warney, only two-to-three inches taller, with the ability to drill 3-pointers, handle the ball in transition, and get to the rim off the bounce. In other words, he was an unbelievable talent. According to former teammates and opponents, he was also a tremendously hard worker and a universally well loved person during his playing days.

“He was a matchup nightmare,” said Austin Ganly, who competed against Fox for two years while playing for the University of New Hampshire.

"He was a matchup nightmare," said Austin Ganly (left) of Fox.
“He was a matchup nightmare,” said Austin Ganly (left) of Fox.

Several of those who competed with and against Fox took time to remember him on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“It’s so surreal,” said former University of Maine forward Jamar Croom, who played behind Fox for two seasons. “I was dumbfounded by the news. I feel horribly for his family. Nate was a kind person and a very funny guy in addition to being a great athlete. He was a hard worker. He along with Andy Bedard were gym rats. He’d be up at the crack of dawn in the gym working on his game or would be at the fitness center doing strength training. He was a good guy and it’s a huge loss.”

Fox competed at some of the highest levels of European professional basketball until the age of 35.
Fox competed at some of the highest levels of European professional basketball until the age of 35.

“I’m sick to my stomach,” said former Maine Black Bear Freddy Petkus. Petkus arrived on campus two years after Fox graduated with a degree in Communications (’00), but according to Petkus, Fox served as a surrogate big brother to several generations of Black Bears who followed him.

“[He was] a great guy,” said Petkus.

“I just saw the news about Nate. Man, that one hurt,” said former Maine point guard Derrick Jackson, who was a freshman when Fox was a senior.

“Man he was my big brother especially on the court. As a freshman he showed me the ropes and never let anyone push me around. He would at least give up a foul or two a game putting a shoulder into someone for me. He was a good dude, a loyal dude, that looked out for all of us,” added Jackson.

“Our condolences to Fox’s family,” said Gary Gaines, whose late son Trevor Gaines went head-to-head with Fox in the low post for two years while playing at the University of Vermont. “Our thoughts go out to the family who lost a loved one. He will be missed.”

“So heatbroken hearing of death of Plainfield Central star and friend Nate Fox .. Rest In Peace Buddy!!! You will be missed. Love ya bro!!!!,” wrote Mark Gregory, a friend of Fox’ from Illinois.

“Tragic loss of Nate Fox from this world. He was a good man and will not be forgotten,” added Lee Dicklitch, the vice president of operations and fan experience at Indy Fuel.

According to an obituary published today, Fox is “survived by his loving parents Roy and Marilyn (nee Langley) Fox; two brothers Matthew J. (Rhonda) Fox and Nicholas J. (Jennifer) Fox; niece and nephew Braden and Adalyn and step-niece Kirsten and step-nephew Alex; his girlfriend Carlie Fraley; an aunt Sheri Hale, two uncles Rick (Kathy) Fox and Kenneth Allan (Janice) Langley. His cousins Ben (Katie) Fox, Josh Fox, Kara Hale, Kali Fox, Caroline “Carrie” Langley. Many, many, many devoted friends also survive.”

Fox’s funeral services will be held at the Carlson-Holmquist-Sayles Funeral Home, 2320 Black Road, on Monday, December 29 at 11 a.m. Interment will be at Woodlawn Memorial Park, and visitation will be Sunday from 2-7 p.m.

Fox played for 12 seasons at some of the highest levels of international professional basketball after graduating from the University of Maine with a degree in communications in 2000, winning a championship in the top league in Belgium during his final season of professional ball. On Christmas Day, many from the international basketball community also remembered Fox.

“Nate Fox will always be remembered,” wrote Miles Schmidt-Scheuber, a correspondant and radio commentator covering professional basketball in Germany, where Fox competed in the prestigious Bundesliga for many years.

The Bloomingdale Police Department is asking anyone with information on Fox or the shooting to call (630) 529-9868.

09.09.18foxa

Former Maine star Nate Fox shot and killed at age 37

Former Maine star power forward Nate Fox enjoyed a terrific 12 year career playing professional basketball. He suffered gun shot wounds at his home Monday night and passed away later.
Former Maine star power forward Nate Fox enjoyed a terrific 12 year career playing professional basketball. He suffered gun shot wounds at his home Monday night and passed away later.

Nate Fox, one of the greatest basketball players in University of Maine history, was shot in driveway in Bloomingdale Illinois on Monday night and passed away later at an area hospital later on that evening.

According to a release from the Bloomingdale PD, police were called to Fox’s townhouse on the 200 block of Tamarack Drive, where they found Fox suffering from gunshot wounds. According to police, Fox had previously been out driving his maroon 2013 Jaguar XJ, and was hit at least twice by gunshots. Fox was reportedly taken to Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Glendale Heights, where he later passed away. He was 37 years old.

A massive 6-foot-9-inch 240-pound power forward, Fox starred in both basketball and football at Plainfield Central High School in Plainfield, Illinois, and received Division I athletic scholarships in both sports.

Fox chose basketball and began his career at Boston College, but transferred to Maine for the 1997-1998 school year. After sitting out his first season at Maine as a transfer, Capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor, Fox possessed a rare-combination of brute strength and raw physicality and power moves, a silky-soft touch out to the three point arc, and a constantly revving motor and high-major athleticism. In his two seasons wearing the Black Bears blue and white, Fox scored 1,036 points and ripped down 454 rebounds, leading the team in both categories in each season.

As a senior during the 1999-2000 season, Fox teamed with center Julian Dunkley, point guard Andy Bedard and shooting guard Huggy Dye to lead arguably the best Black Bears squad in school history to a 24-7 overall record (tied for best in the conference) and a second place finish with a 15-3 record in league play. Fox put together the best season of his career and, given the strength of the league, one of the greatest in Maine history, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 58.3 percent from the floor, ranking first in the league in field goal percentage, third in scoring and fifth in rebounding.

Unfortunately Bedard suffered a season-ending injury before the America East Tournament, and the Black Bears were upset by Delaware in the semifinals.

After college, Fox enjoyed a tremendous career playing professionally overseas, After playing his first two seasons in Portugal – considered a lower-level starter league – Fox made the leap to the German Bundesliga, one of the top leagues in the world, signing with the Bayer Giants. Fox would spend most of the rest of his career – parts of 10 seasons – playing at some of the highest levels of European basketball, with stints in the top leagues in Israel, Belgium, the Baltic Basketball League, and France (the prestigious Pro A league).

Fox played professionally until the age of 35, retiring after the 2011-2012 season. According to several former teammates at Maine, he was universally well liked on campus.

Bloomingdale Police Chief Frank Giammarese and the department have thus far declined to specify what may have led to the shooting.

“We are following up on all potential leads. We are working tirelessly to find out who is responsible for this,” said Giammarese, who offered his condolences to Fox’s family.
“Our thoughts go out to the family who lost a loved one.”

The Bloomingdale Police Department is asking anyone with information on Fox or the shooting to call (630) 529-9868.

For Maine coach Bob Walsh getting better isn’t good enough

Maine head coach Bob Walsh has his squad fighting harder than at any time in recent history. He isn't satisfied. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Maine head coach Bob Walsh has his squad fighting harder than at any time in recent history. He isn’t satisfied. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

For Maine coach Bob Walsh, simply taking steps in the right direction is not good enough. For Walsh, being better than before is not good enough. And for Walsh being good is not good enough.

“If we want to be a championship program, which that’s where we want to be headed, we’ve still got to understand that what we’re doing isn’t good enough,” said Walsh, whose squad currently sits at 1-9, but has shown more heart, hustle, hard work, and camaraderie than at any time during the previous five years.

“The challenge for us as a staff is I don’t want our guys – I don’t want our players, I don’t want our program, I don’t want our school, I don’t want our fans – to be comfortable or accepting of average, or mediocrity, or sub-par,” explained Walsh, who became a Division I head coach for the first time when he was hired by Maine over the summer, after a storied and decorated career at Division III Rhode Island College.

Over the past decade, Black Bears basketball, which Dr. John Giannini had gotten to the conference championship game twice before leaving for La Salle after the end of the 2003-2004 season – the doorstep of the NCAA Tournament berth that has eluded the program for the entirety of it’s history — has been a sinking ship — slowly at first, before striking an ice berg and plummeting to the bottom of the ocean floor last year.

As Maine fell apart at the seams as one season bled into the next, the Black Bears seemed to spend most of their energy fighting one another as opposed to their opponents, and capitulated quickly at the first sign of adversity on the court.

Then there was the atrocious 2-3 zone defense, more putrid and porous than a piece of three month old Swiss cheese, that saw the Black Bears rank in the bottom three in the conference in scoring defense in four of the past six seasons.

Which is why to observers and fans of Maine hoops, despite the 1-9 record, reasons for optimism abound. Despite an absolute dearth of depth and overall depth (this is almost certainly the least talented, top to bottom, team to suit up in Orono since 2009, and quite possibly since some time in the 1970s), Maine has been showing up and competing every night, gutting out an overtime victory against Wagner, giving Boston College everything it could handle for 40 minutes and playing a very strong Army squad as an equal for 45 – games the more talented Black Bears not only would have lost during previous seasons, but would have lost in ugly, embarrassing fashion.

“I do think our group is together: I do think our group is committed to each other,” said Walsh. “That’s part of the challenge: There’s certainly a lot of positives that we feel like we want to feel good about and we want to build on, but we don’t want our mentality to be, ‘Hey, we fought really hard, we came up short, and that’s good enough,’ because it’s not.

Maine has shown real, tangible improvement on the court, executing Walsh’s complex offensive sets and showing not only a renewed commitment to defense, but over the past two games (last minute losses to BC and Army) the ability to come up with big stops. Senior guard Zarko Valjarevic has been knocking down shots, center Till Gloger has become an automatic scorer around the block, and equally as big, the Black Bears are now running plays and making a commitment to getting the ball to the low post. Maine’s four guards – playmaking point guards Aaron Calixte and Troy Reid-Knight, and scoring combo guards Shaun Lawton and Kevin Little – are playing off each other, as opposed to previous seasons when Maine’s back court seemed to be beefing daily over who would dominate the ball.

“There are certainly positive signs that we can take a lot away from,” said Walsh.

But while Walsh has seen the progress over the first 10 games, and takes pride in it, he does not want his team to simply strive towards the low-bar set by the previous regime.

“I can’t really compare it to the last year, eight years, 10 years, 14 years, and I don’t want to. We’ve made it clear with our guys: We’re trying to build it from scratch, we’re not trying to rebuild it or fix it,” he explained. “I think our program is comfortable with sort of a mediocre, average, below-average approach and we have to get uncomfortable with that.

“I don’t want to settle in to, ‘Wow, that was good: we went on the road against a good team and we almost won.’ That’s not good enough. And that mentality is something I don’t want anyone around our program to accept.”

According to Walsh, his biggest goal for the rest of the season – and the biggest area of improvement he is looking for – is in the team’s mentality; not just it’s ability to grasp his complex system, but his players’ willingness to start believing in themselves.

“We’re still not there yet consistently, and it shows up in the way we practice, the way we prepare. We made some mental mistakes [against Army] and in an overtime game every one of those could be the one that cost you the game,” he explained. “I do think we still have to get over that hurdle, mentally.”

But Walsh need look no further than his own experiences building a program at Rhode Island College to find encouragement.

“My second year, we went to Iona and won at Iona in an exhibition game,” he said. “And we had made a lot of progress my first year, I don’t think we kind of got there, we went into the second year still trying to get there, and that game was kind of a seminal moment.”

Maine guard Kevin Little could give Black Bears big boost

Maine freshman Kevin Little gives the Black Bears a skill set that they didn't have before: The ability to create instant offense. Courtesy Photo / Maine Athletics
Maine freshman Kevin Little gives the Black Bears a skill set that they didn’t have before: The ability to create instant offense. Courtesy Photo / Maine Athletics

Everyone knew Maine head coach Bob Walsh’s first season at the helm in Orono was going to be an uphill battle while he tried to raise the Titanic that was Black Bears basketball while simultaneously changing the culture of the program.

But on Sunday, in an incredibly hard-fought 72-69 overtime road loss to a very strong Army squad, Walsh and his team got a shot in the arm in the form of freshman Kevin Little, who returned to the lineup after missing the previous five games with a high ankle sprain.

“He brings an energy and a natural ability on the offensive end that can really help us,” said Walsh of the slight 6-foot combo guard, who scored nine points in 25 minutes, drilling both 3-pointers he took on the day while still shaking a month’s worth of rust off his legs.

A native of Wyandanch, New York, a hamlet in Suffolk County that has been well trod by every immigrant group to come through Ellis Island, Little split his high school days between St. John the Baptist in West Islip, New York and Our Savior New American in Centerreach, New York, before prepping at Coastal Academy.

One of the first two recruits of Walsh’s Division I head coaching career, along with Aaron Calixte, according to Walsh – as well as several other mid-major coaches — Little has the ability to create offense, both for himself and his teammates, from anywhere on the floor by pulling up from three, getting by his defender off the dribble, getting to the rim, and finding the open man.

“He can create a play, make a shot, for himself or his teammate and that’s something that can really help us.”

This season, the Black Bears desperately need bodies, but Little does far more than fill that general role. While bruising big man Till Gloger can score from anywhere around the rim, he needs someone to get him the ball. While Calixte can create openings and opportunities for teammates off the bounce, he usually needs someone else to find the bottom of the net. Senior gunner Zarko Valjarevic can light it up from anywhere on the court, but he’s the one man on the Black Bears’ roster wearing an “X” all game long with defenses game planning around stopping him.

In other words, Maine needs another player who can create offense and knock down shots. According to Walsh, that is exactly who Little is.

“He brings natural offensive ability, an ability to score, an ability to score, an ability to create for himself and create for his teammates. “

Little’s best game of the season came on Nov. 23 against Valparaiso when he scored a career-high 15 points in 25 minutes, drilling 3-of-4 treys while pulling down four rebounds and swiping five assists.

According to Walsh, Little’s ceiling is significantly higher than anything he has shown up until now, as he has been hobbled since the summer by his ankle.

“He’s hardly practiced, he was hurt in the preseason, he’s probably missed 75-80 percent of our practices.”

Walsh is optimistic that Little can make an impact this season, and a much bigger one down the road, saying, “I think he can be really, really good at this level, and he gives us something that maybe no one else on our roster has in terms of his skill set.”

But he also cautioned that due to all the time that he missed, Little may be playing catch-up for the next few weeks.

“What he needs is practice time.“