Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball All-Dunkers team

Romello Walker. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Romello Walker. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

The regular season has wrapped up, the seedings are set, and the America East Playoffs start in just three days. That mean’s its time for the annual OBW America East men’s basketball awards, starting off with our All-Rim Wreckers Team honoring the top five in-game dunkers in the league. Sure, dunks only count for two points on the score board, but they can change the emotion and momentum in a game.

Plus, they’re damn fun to watch. So, without further ado:

OBW America East All-Rim Wreckers (Dunkers) Team
Devarick Houston, Sr., F, UMBC

The 6’7” human-pogo stick was dropping out of the rafters all season long for rim-rocking alley-oops.

Romello Walker, Fr., G/F, Binghamton
Walker might be the highest flier in the league, and was a terror when he got out on the fast break.

Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
At 6’8” 260, Warney simply tried to rip the rim off every time he touched the ball with an array of power slams.

Kerry Weldon, F, UMass Lowell
Weldon was the middle ground between the likes of Warney and Houston/Walker, a big time high-flier capable of acrobatics, but also capable of rattling the backboard.

Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
Generously listed at 6’1”, Wills was easily the most fearless dunker in the league, routinely driving the lane to throw down two-handed slams over far larger foes.

Cam Ward: Size doesn’t matter

Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)
Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)

Cam Ward still remembers how he felt when he was told he was too small to play Division-I basketball. It was nothing new — he only started playing basketball because his size hindered him from participating in another sport.

“My dad wanted me to wrestle when I was really young because he was a wrestler,” Ward says. “I was just way too little to wrestle, so I just picked up a basketball and kind of just went with it.”

So when Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith told Ward he would’ve made the lanky 6-foot-2, 155-pound sharpshooter an offer if only he was two inches taller, Ward handled it with class, but was understandably disappointed until another coach came along with a promise that his size wouldn’t matter.

“Basically when [Smith] said that I was kind of like, ‘Alright, I know it’s a business and stuff,’ but at the same time I was kind of disappointed,” Ward says. “I play hard, I would say, but it would come down to being two inches too small, and I took it kind of personal.

“The coach that really took a shot on me was Coach John Becker. He said size doesn’t matter, if you can play, you can play. That made me want to a come to a school like that, that really did want me here regardless of how tall I was. It made me want to buckle down and work hard for a coach like that.”

Now Ward is a freshman on a University of Vermont basketball team that is locked in as the number-two seed in the America East tournament and has developed into a key player with a massive potential that can only be limited by the sky.

“As his body fills out he’ll be able to handle to physicality a little bit better, especially in the non-conference, which is one of those things—he’s a really good America East guard, but he takes his lumps a little bit against the high-major teams and the more physically-mature guys and teams,” Becker says. “As he gets older he’ll be able to contribute in those games much better. I think he can be an all-league kid—he just has a knack, he has a feel, his competitiveness and his skill-level give him a chance to be a really, really good player here.”

***

Ward was born and raised in Marshall, Wisconsin, just a few miles outside of the basketball-rich city of Madison. He said growing up so close to the famed Wisconsin Badgers made him immediately want to immerse himself in the city’s basketball culture, which was an adjustment for his father, Dennis.

“He actually coached my older brother (Blake) to play basketball—he tried to teach us both to wrestle but we both decided to play basketball because we weren’t the biggest kids then,” Ward says. “He went from being a wrestling coach to a basketball coach, and he was learning the game just like we were but he was learning it at a faster pace to try to get us good at it. He took it hard, us not wrestling, but he’s over it now.”

Ward became a star shooter for Marshall High School and finished his high school career ranked sixth all-time in the state of Wisconsin with 2,384 points. Ward landed on Becker’s radar for his play with the local AAU team, the Wisconsin Playground Warriors. With Vermont graduating senior guards Sandro Carissimo and Candon Rusin, along with forward Brian Voelkel who ran the Catamounts’ offense, Becker was looking for help at the point guard position.

“What I liked about him was he was really skilled—he can shoot it, he can handle it, he just knew how to play,” Becker says. “We were graduating both our point guards so we needed guards. We had signed Ernie Duncan, and we needed at least one more. I knew the program he was playing with was really good and I liked his skillset.”

Unlike other coaches, Becker didn’t shy away from Ward due to his size because he had dealt with undersized players throughout his coaching career.

“Obviously, I knew that would be a challenge for him, but we’ve had a lot of kids that needed to get bigger when they got here. I knew he was a tough kid and as he got older he would fill out,” he says. “It was obviously something we had to look at as far as redshirting him or how we’re going to handle that, but I don’t get too concerned with that stuff. I’m more concerned with if the kid can play or not, so [his size] didn’t really factor into my decision [to recruit him].”

Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)
Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)

***

Along with Ward and Duncan, Becker brought in point guard Trae Bell-Haynes for a freshman class with three floor generals. Ward embraced the competition for playing time as soon as he arrived in Burlington.

“I knew they graduated six seniors so I knew they were going to bring in a ton of guards,” Ward says. “It is crowded (at the position) but it’s good because we’re all very good players and competition only makes us better. We all have the same goal, which is to make the tournament, so it all works out.”

In an unfortunate turn of events, Duncan, who earned the starting point guard spot, went down with a season-ending back injury after just four games. Ward said seeing his friend get injured hit him hard, but he knew he’d have to mature quickly so he can step up for the team. Ward credits his friendship with Bell-Haynes for helping to facilitate his learning curve.

“Ernie going down was awful news, we took it hard because it was one of our brothers going down and we knew how much he wanted to play,” Ward says. “[Trae and I] looked at it as an opportunity to use this experience to become better so that when Ernie comes back, we’ll have three point guards that not only can play, but are also experienced.

“In the summer [Trae and I] kind of hit it off right away. We decided to room together and he’s one of my best friends on the team,” he continues. “It’s good because we go back to the dorms after practice when we’re resting and we can talk about the team and things we can do better. We’re really good at talking things over, because sometimes there are things that you don’t want to go to the coaches with, so it’s good to have him there.”

Becker says he’s seen Ward make immense strides on the defensive end and believes he’s gotten better at balancing running the offense with picking his own spots to look to score. As Ward continues to get comfortable on the court, his personality has grown in the locker room as well.

“He’s got a lot of personalities. He is quiet, but he’s a real confident kid,” Becker says. “Him and Dre Wills are opposite as far as how outgoing they are, Dre being very outgoing, but they’re both really competitive guys and they’re at each other quite a bit. He’s a confident, competitive kid, and he doesn’t like to lose… [He and Dre] talk a lot, they’re always in each other’s face in the locker room or any kind of competitive thing we’re doing, they’re both really trying to win. I don’t hear what they’re saying all the time, but every time I look over they’re jawing back and forth in a good-natured way.

“Cam is really close with a lot of guys on the team, he seems to be one of those guys who people attract to. I don’t know what it is, but he seems pretty close with a lot of guys on the team.”

Ward has scored in double figures in four out of his last six games, and he is averaging 22.8 minutes and shooting 57 percent from the field over that span. It has been a year of growth for Ward, a learning process he has embraced with open arms because of his desire to make sure Becker never regrets taking a shot on the lanky baby-faced kid from Wisconsin.

“Coach always stresses that it’s a process, and it’s really true because at the beginning of the year I was really struggling trying to find myself in the rotation and now I’ve kind of solidified myself in the rotation,” Ward says. “I’ve just been working hard every day in practice, making sure the coaches knew I was ready to go because if they trust in you then they’ll put you on the court during the game. It’s been paying off.”

Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)
Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)

America East men’s basketball roundup 2/17/15

The America East men’s basketball Tuesday night lineup saw a pair of preseason America East favorites who had been floundering, badly, heading into the home stretch grab a pair of much needed wins. Here’s a look at the action:

Stony Brook 59 Albany 56
The Seawolves needed this game. Badly. Really, really badly. Star center Jameel Warney scored 20 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and sent five shots packing, junior point guard Carson Puriefoy added 14 – albeit not particularly efficiently – and junior forward Rayshaun McGrew ripped down 14 rebounds for Stony Brook. But the difference maker for the Seawolves was seldom used red-shirt junior Scott King, who tied his season high by scoring 12 points – more points than he had scored in Stony Brook’s last eight games, combined – on 5-of-6 shooting.

“When coach [Pikiell] puts me into the game, he expects me to shoot the ball. When I made the first one, I got into a decent rhythm. I just tried to get some rebounds and bring energy off the bench,” said King of the performance.

Albany saw off shooting nights across the board, hitting just 20-of-58 shots (34.5 percent) from the floor. Sam Rowley and Ray Saunders scored 12 points a piece, Dallas Ennema added 11, and Evan Singletary added eight, but the quartet shot just 15 for 46 from the floor.

The loss snapped Albany’s 13 game winning streak and gave the Great Danes their first conference loss on the year to 12 wins, but it wasn’t particularly unexpected, as the team had won several close games as of late. That, coupled with the emotional homecoming of Peter Hooley after spending nearly a month back home in Australia, to be by his mother’s side before she passed away from colon cancer, perhaps made the Great Danes due for an off night.

On the other side, the Seawolves needed a win badly against a top-four team in the America East, and they needed to win a game exactly like this: By getting contributions from players not named “Jameel Warney.”

With three games left to play and a one-game lead over second place Vermont, the Great Danes remain in the driver’s seat for the regular season title and home court advantage in the conference playoffs, but the Catamounts have been playing arguably the best basketball in the league over the past two weeks and another slip up could see Albany take a drop in the standings.

Hartford 55 UMBC 52
This wasn’t so much a must-win as it was an absolutely, positively, no-bleeping-way can you lose game for the host Hawks, who nearly managed to find a way to fall on their home court to a crippled Retrievers squad.

Sophomore point guard Justin Graham scored 10 points, his fifth straight game in double figures and eighth in his last 11, after going the first 15 games of the season without reaching double-digits, and seniors Wes Cole and Corban Wroe came off the bench to combine for 24 points.

Hartford wasn’t particularly sharp from the floor, hitting 37.5 and 22.7 percent of their shots, but the Retrievers were even worse, hitting just 30.4 and 21.4 percent, respectively.

On another night against another team, you might be able to chalk the Hawks win up to gritty defense, but against a UMBC squad that is suiting up just eight serviceable bodies, only seven of them scholarship players and only a handful legit Division I talents, it’s hard to put much stock in the win from any angle – especially from a senior-laden Hartford squad that was supposed to be competing for an America East title but now sits in fifth place at 6-7 in league play.

For UMBC, this was yet another herculean effort for a team showing more grit, guts and heart than any other in the league. Power forward Cody Joyce scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds, senior forward Devarick Houston added 10 points, 10 boards, three steals and two blocks and freshman Malcolm Brent added 13 points.

OBW America East Player of the Night
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook

20 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, 9-of-18 shooting.

OBW America East Rookie of the Night:
Malcolm Brent, G, UMBC

13 points, 4-of-8 shooting, 2-of-5 three-point shooting, five rebounds

America East Standings
Team conference record (overall record)
1. Albany 12-1 (18-8)
2. Vermont 11-2 (16-10)
3. Stony Brook 9-4 (18-10)
4. New Hampshire 9-4 (16-10)
5. Hartford 6-7 (13-13)
6. UMass Lowell 5-8 (11-15)
7. Binghamton 3-10 (4-24)
8. Maine 2-10 (3-22)
9. UMBC 1-12 (3-23)

Brandon Hatton: Vermont’s young gunner

Brandon Hatton. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Brandon Hatton. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Small slivers of sunlight drift down through the foggy windows of the South Side Baptist Church, splashing across the hardwood floor of the small gym that sits on the third floor of the faded redbrick building.

Thwack, thwack, thwack.

The sound of well-worn leather slapping against the aging floorboards emanates from the shadows that lie well beyond the 3-point arch, echoing off of the far walls.

He is a small boy, five, maybe six — barely bigger than the old, slippery Spaulding he’s dribbling in the darkness.

Thwack, thwack, thwack.

He stops, running his hands across the cracked cover and disintegrating seams of the decaying ball, before letting fly.

The sound of rushing air slices through the silence of the stuffy gym, before exploding through the net — equal parts swish and boom.

***

Now a burly 6-foot-3-inch freshman shooting guard at the University of Vermont, Brandon Hatton has hit a lot of big shots in his still young career. He scored a school-record 3,045 points at Dixie Heights, in a varsity career that began in seventh grade and culminated with him being a finalist for Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball award.

But when asked to talk about his most vivid memory, and the defining moment of his career, Hatton’s thoughts drift back, past his breakout game against rival Stony Brook, past his first college points, past 108 wins and four All-State First Team awards in high school, to that tiny gym on top of his grandmother Faye Pernell’s church.

“It was a nice size church, but the gym was pretty small. I was the only one up there,” says Brandon Hatton, his voice equal parts Appalachia and excitement as he recounts the memories of refining his jump shot, with Pernell often serving as his rebounder.

“My grandma worked at a church and the church had a gym in it, so I was always there with my grandma and I was always in the gym,” he says. “I think that’s where my jump shot was born.”

That jump shot found the bottom of the net a Dixie Heights record 367 times from beyond the arc, and it’s why head coach John Becker fell in love with Hatton’s game.

“Some kids, they stand out to you physically, or athletically,” says Vermont head coach John Becker. “But with Brandon, when you walk into a gym, you can hear his game before you even see it — the sound his shot makes when it hits the net. That sound is something you don’t hear many times in your career.”

And it’s a sound that may become synonymous with a few Catamounts championships before all is said and done.

“Every great team needs a great shooter,” says Becker. “He’s obviously got a long way to go in his career, a lot of growth and refinement, but he has the tools to be that kind of a great shooter.”

***

Hatton was raised in Independence, Kentucky, a small but rapidly growing city, surrounded by rural countryside to the south, east and the west, and Cincinnati, Ohio, just 15 minutes north.

“It’s a lot more upbeat than people think,” says Hatton, who answers questions in a “yes sir, no sir,” manner synonymous with the south. “It’s kind of like Burlington: There’s a lot of people in small places. It’s a real good place to grow up. It’s a real good basketball background.”

The oldest of Scott Hatton and Kelli Pernell’s five children, Hatton dabbled in baseball and football — a sport for which his blocky build and square jaw would seem tailor-made — but basketball was always his true love.

“I was just always in the gym, it was always fun,” he says, adding, with a hint of mischief in his voice, “I always loved to shoot.”

Hatton’s parents installed a hoop at his house — a staple of life in the Bluegrass state — and instilled in him the work ethic that he says is the foundation of his career. But it was those days following his grandmother to church that he credits as the springboard to riding basketball beyond the borders of his hometown.

Brandon Hatton's jump shot was born in the South Side Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky.
Brandon Hatton’s jump shot was born in the South Side Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky.

“There’s something about being alone in a gym — when the lighting is dim — as a kid. You either love it or hate it, and I loved it, and I think that was key for my career,” he explains. “The part of the country where I’m from, everyone plays basketball, everyone has a jump shot, and you’re going to have to be willing to put in twice as much work as everyone else, to spend those early mornings and late nights in a gym by yourself. And right there in my grandma’s church is when I knew that was the life for me.”

***

 

OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

By the time Hatton was in the seventh grade, he was suiting up for Dixie Heights’ varsity squad and by the time he was in the eighth grade he was an All-District and All-Region selection.

As a freshman, Hatton’s jump shot catapulted him and Dixie to the Regional Championship. He earned Region MVP honors in the process.

“I definitely experienced a lot of success early on in my career,” says Hatton.

As a senior, Hatton became just the 31st player in the history of the state of Kentucky to reach the 3,000-point plateau, and graduated as the all-time leading scorer in Ninth District history. He chose to accept a scholarship from Vermont because of the bond he says he felt with Becker and his staff.

It was a bond that would be tested, and ultimately prove its merits, early on in his career.

Hatton arrived on campus in Burlington, and found himself struggling to adjust to the change in scenery and change in his role on his team.

“Last year in Kentucky we had a bad winter, but I’ve never seen anything like what I’ve seen this year,” he laughs.

Having literally started and starred on every single team he had ever played on, Hatton found himself as a face in the crowd of an overcrowded backcourt that included fellow stud freshmen Ernie Duncan, Trae Bell-Haynes and Cam Ward, along with entrenched shooter Kurt Steidl and breakout sophomore Dre Wills.

For the first time in his career, Hatton found himself suiting up with the scout team during practices and on the end of the bench in games.

“It was definitely a little bit discouraging at the time,” he says, “but everyone is going to face adversity in their career, and now I’m really glad that I had to fight for every minute because it definitely lit a fire in me.”

It was a fire that was slow to ignite, one that Becker was finally able to spark after Vermont knocked off Binghamton on Jan. 19. Hatton played just nine minutes in the game, snapping a streak of 11 straight contests in which he played double-digit minutes, and afterwards Becker sat him down for a heart to heart in his office.

“It was one of those talks with a kid that you have to have, but you know it can go one of two ways: Either they’re going to pout, and sulk and shut down, and their season and even their career could really kind of go off the rails, or it’s going to light a fire under him,” says Becker. “We talked for a long time. I told him that his season wasn’t over, that he was going to get opportunities and that it was up to him to seize them.”

***

These days, Hatton looks back on that talk in the same vein as his shooting sessions in the South Side Baptist: another defnining moment in his career.

“Coach just told me that every game is a different opportunity for everyone. And he told me to take advantage of my chances and just remember that the season’s not over,” says Hatton, who plans to major in Education and would like to become a teacher when his career ends.

One game later Hatton played a then season-high 24 minutes and scored nine points against New Hampshire. After three more games riding the bench, Hatton played 17 minutes in a blowout of Maine before sparking the Catamounts biggest win of the season, scoring a career-high 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting in 26 minutes and helping the Catamounts erase a 17-point second-half deficit and knock off Stony Brook on Long Island. One game later, Hatton played 24 minutes, scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting in a rout of UMass Lowell.

“When you’re in there, be aggressive and take advantage of what you’ve got,” says Hatton of the message Becker sent to him during their long talk. “That’s what I’m trying to do: seize the opportunities that I have and take advantage of what I have.”

Hatton realizes that nothing will be handed to him during his career, and that his minutes will likely continue to fluctuate throughout the rest of his freshman season. But he’s embraced it as a personal challenge.

“I’ve always been labeled as a shooter, but I feel like I have more to my game than just being able to shoot. I feel like I can go off the dribble,” he says. “But now I have to keep getting better, keep evolving and growing as a player and a person.”

And according to Becker, his young gunner has already done just that.

“The way he’s handled my criticisms and my demands, and not just handled them but responded, says a ton about what kind of a kid he is and what kind of potential he has,” says Becker. “And as long as he keeps on shooting, he’s going to help us win a heck of a lot of games before all is said and done.”

OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

OBW America East Power Rankings v12

hooley2

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the water is rising – or falling – to its own level in the America East and the conference’s playoff standings are beginning to take shape.

With just four regular season games remaining and a two game lead over Vermont, Albany remains firmly in the drivers seat to secure home court throughout the playoffs, with the Catamounts as the only team with a true chance of overtaking the Danes. New Hampshire has also insured itself of no worse than a fourth place finish, while Stony Brook has all but locked up another spot in the top for. And while the final order in the top four remains up for grabs, it’s a safe bet that the winner of the conference playoffs is going to come from that quartet of teams.

So without further ado, here’s a look around the league with our latest America East Power Rankings

1. Albany (18-7, 12-0 in AE)
Results: W 62-46 at Binghamton; W 65-59 at NJIT
This week: Tuesday vs Stony Brook, Friday vs Hartford
Albany’s winning streak is now at 13 games – the program’s Division I era record – 12 of them coming in America East play. But it was the non-conference win, Friday night at NJIT, that was perhaps the biggest – and certainly most emotional – of the team’s season, as star Peter Hooley made his return after an eight game absence, during which time he returned home to be by his mother’s side as she battled colon cancer, before laying her to rest after her passing. In Hooley’s absence, senior forward Sam Rowley established himself as the team’s go to scorer, and junior point guard Evan Singletary shouldered Hooley’s normal load as the team’s big shot extraordinaire. Hooley played limited minutes coming off the bench, but cracked double-figures while surpassing the 1,000 career point plateau. If Albany can get Hooley back to form, the Danes are easily the odds-on favorites to win the league playoffs and punch their ticket to the NCAAs.

2. Vermont (16-10, 11-2 in AE)
Results: W 96-53 vs UMass Lowell; W 74-51 vs UMBC
This week: Wednesday at Binghamton
Don’t look now, but in the Great Danes’ shadows there is another America East team riding emotional to an inspiring winning steak. The Catamounts have now won five straight games, four of them since top-ranked recruit Josh Speidel suffered a traumatic head injury in a car accident. And while the Great Danes have been finding ways to win in the closing minutes and seconds, the Catamounts have been straight smacking people. Freshman point guard Trae Bell-Haynes has hit a bit of a wall down the stretch, but fellow frosh Cam Ward and Brandon Hatton have picked up the baton and carried on, while junior center Ethan O’Day is playing the best basketball of his career, scoring at will around the post. The Catamounts have officially joined the Great Danes in distancing themselves from the rest of the America East pack.

3. New Hampshire (16-10, 9-4 in AE)
Results: W 76-70 (OT) at Hartford; W 66-48 vs Binghamton
This week: Saturday at UMass Lowell
This is officially the best season the Wildcats have experienced in two decades. With a win over Binghamton Saturday, UNH assured itself winning seasons both in league play and overall for the first time since the 1994-1995 season. Three more wins and the Wildcats will surpass the 94-95 team’s win total in conference play and tie it’s overall number of wins (19). The secret sauce behind New Hampshire’s success: Toughness, energy and selfless play according to head coach Bill Herrion. Sophomore forward Jacoby Armstrong’s return to form, paired with freshman stud Tanner Leissner, gives the Wildcats one of the best front courts in the league, senior gunner Matt Miller remains the best shooter in the America East, and Herrion has revived his trademark defense – arguably the best in the league. The Wildcats remain unproven, and no one of the roster has experienced post season success, but make no mistake, this is a team no one wants to play in the post season.

4. Stony Brook (17-10, 8-4 in AE)
Results: W 73-61 at UMBC; W 80-52 vs Maine
This week: Tuesday at Albany; Saturday vs Binghamton
The Seawolves got two huge shots in the arm on Saturday in the form of a career-high 24 points from raw but talented red-shirt freshman wing Roland Nyama and 15 rebounds from junior forward Rayshaun McGrew. Whether those performances can translate against the top of the conference – as opposed to the dregs of the league – remains to be seen, but if Stony Brook is going to make a run at the first NCAA Tournament appearances in league history, they are going to need to get consistent play from their supporting cast. Junior center Jameel Warney is a horse, but against the crème of the America East crop, it has been proven that Warney can’t do it alone.

5. Hartford (12-13, 5-7 in AE)
Results L 76-70 (OT) vs New Hampshire; L 69-63 at UMass Lowell
This week: Tuesday vs UMBC; Friday at Albany
Hartford got a huge boost over the weekend with the return of star senior forward Mark Nwakamma, who went down two weeks ago against Vermont for what was originally feared would be a season-ending knee injury. Hartford needs Nwakamma on the court, demanding double teams and spacing the floor to open up the perimeter to their shooters. Unfortunately, even with Nwakamma on the court, the Hawks haven’t proven they can consistently knock down enough shots to be a real threat, as evidenced by Saturday’s loss against a UMass Lowell team playing without its top talent.

6. UMass Lowell (11-15, 5-8 in AE play)
Results: W 67-51 vs UMBC; L 69-59 at Albany
This week: Wednesday vs Maine; Saturday vs New Hampshire
The River Hawks continue to inspire as one of the league’s best stories (they would be the best if not for the inspiring seasons of Albany and Vermont). When do everything freshman star Jahad Thomas (who was running away with the Rookie of the Year award) went down with a torn ACL two weeks ago, the River Hawks season was supposed to be over. Instead, they’ve kept fighting, with freshmen Matt Harris and Brad Schaub stepping up their games, while seniors Kerry Weldon, Marco Banegas-Flores and Chad Holley are going out the way all seniors should: leaving everything on the floor. Lowell has now surpassed last season’s win total despite playing with far less overall talent and experience – a testament to head coach Pat Duquette’s abilities.

7. Binghamton (4-24, 3-10 in AE)
Results: L 62-46 vs Albany; L 66-48 at New Hampshire
This week: Wednesday vs Vermont; Saturday at Stony Brook
The tough season continues for the banged up Bearcats, who are back on the snide having lost four straight. Binghamton’s freshman class has shown ability across the board – from Romello Walker’s athleticism and energy, to Justin McFadden’s defensive ability, Willie Rodriguez’ toughness, Dusan Perovic’s scoring and Bobby Ahearn’s toughness – but they can’t avoid the injury and illness bug, and haven’t been able to field enough healthy – let alone experienced – bodies to compete day in and day out.

8. Maine (3-22, 2-10 in AE)
Results: L 80-52 at Stony Brook
This week: Wednesday at UMass Lowell; Saturday at UMBC
There’s a common trend among the bottom three in the league, and that is rebuilding programs who are lacking enough healthy bodies to compete for 40 minutes. Maine continues to fight the good fight under first year head coach Bob Walsh, but the team is battling against a culture of apathy engrained over the past decade, and injuries to key players. Freshman scoring guard Kevin Little has been electric for stretches, and freshman point guard Aaron Calixte is cool under pressure. That duo, combined with next year’s incoming class, should give Black Bear fans hope of a brighter tomorrow.

9. UMBC (3-22, 1-11 in AE)
Results: L 3-61 vs Stony Brook; L 74-51 at Vermont
This week: Tuesday at Hartford; Saturday vs Maine
You have to be impressed by the job head coach Aki Thomas, his staff, and his players have done when staring down the most daunting and insurmountable odds in the league. No team has shown more heart over the season than UMBC, which has somehow found the resolve to show up and fight with everything they have every day despite suiting up just eight bodies – only four or five of whom are really Division I quality players.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany

Rowley scored 36 points, ripped down 23 rebounds and dished out five assists in a pair of Great Danes wins, including a 20-point 15-rebound effort against Binghamton, to help Albany push its winning streak to 13 straight.

America East Rookie of the Week
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire

Stony Brook’s Roland Nyama had the best game of the week, going off for a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting in a route of Maine, but Leissner had the best week, scoring 30 points and pulling down 21 rebounds while playing a whopping 81 minutes in a pair of Wildcats wins, including a 14-point 15-rebound effort against Binghamton.

OBW America East Fab Five
Ethan O’Day, Jr., F, Vermont
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Kevin Little, G, Maine
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

America East men’s basketball roundup 2/14/15

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, every game is magnified for America East teams jockeying for position in the standings and seedings in the America East Playoffs — seedings that are more important than at any other time in recent history with the new, high-seed host format.

With just a handful of conference games left, Albany has distanced themselves from the pack at 12-0 in league play, and a regular season title and home court advantage throughout the playoffs would appear to be theirs to lose, with an 11-2 Vermont squad as the only other team with a realistic shot.

Here’s a look at sights, sounds and results from a huge Saturday of hoops with the America East men’s basketball roundup.

New Hampshire 66 Binghamton 48
The Wildcats were expected to roll over the Bearcats and they did just that, but make no mistake, this was a huge win for the players, the program, and head coach Bill Herrion. Now standing at 16-10 on the year and 9-4 in America East play, New Hampshire has officially clinched a winning record for the first time in Herrion’s tenure and the first time since the 1994-1995 season (There is no scenario where the Wildcats could lose more than four America East contests without a win, or five total games including a post-season birth without a victory, ensuring a winning season).

Freshman forward Tanner Leissner posted his fourth double-double of the season and third in the past five games he has played, scoring 14 points to go with a career-high 15 rebounds to pace four Wildcats in double-figures.

The undermanned Bearcats got 10 points apiece from sophomore guards Yoseph Yacob and Marlon Beck II and freshman forward Bobby Ahearn, but were held to just 27.8 percent from the floor (15-of-54) by the vaunted Wildcats defense.

UMass Lowell 69 Hartford 63
Valentine’s Day was a huge win for the host River Hawks and an outright bad loss for the visiting Hawks. Despite playing without the team’s offensive and defensive epicenter, freshman forward Jahad Thomas, lost for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, UMass Lowell continued to play with tremendous heart and effort, outworking and out-willing Hartford all night while executing a methodical game plan on both ends of the floor.

Led by senior forward Kerry Weldon’s 15 points – among them an emphatic dunk – eight different River Hawks scored, including 13 points off the bench from sharp-shooting freshman Matt Harris, nine points from reserve junior guard D.J. Mlachnik and eight points apiece from Brad Schaub, Marco Banegas-Flores and Chad Holley. Defensively the Rive Hawks held the bombs-away Hawks to just 24 percent from downtown (6-of-25) and 42.9 percent from the floor (24-of-56), while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent from downtown.

For Hartford, the loss – the team’s sixth in its last seven games – was another painful reminder of the team’s shortcomings in what was supposed to the “their year.” With six seniors on the roster – including star forward Mark Nwakamma, heart and soul guard/forward Corban Wroe, and fiery leader and point guard Yolonzo Moore II – Hartford was supposed to be built to compete for a title this season. But with the daunting task of a complete roster rebuild next year, the Hawks have not only failed to build on their momentum from the past two years – a pair of 17 win seasons in which they won 10 regular season America East games – but have now begun a serious back slide.

Stony Brook 80 Maine 52
Red-shirt freshman forward Roland Nyama exploded for a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, to go with five rebounds. Junior forward Rayshaun McGrew added a 15-rebound, 10-point double-double, junior center Jameel Warney posted a double-double of his own with 13 points and 11 rebounds and junior point guard Carson Puriefoy chipped in 12 points.

After disheartening losses to New Hampshire, in a game they never competed, and Vermont in a game they coughed up a massive second half lead on their home court, the Seawolves’ have benefitted from back-to-back basement dwellers, following up a 12-point win over UMBC with a massacre of Maine. The pair of beatings over a pair of massively undermanned and overmatched squads should go a long way in restoring the Seawolves’, but it’s hard to gauge how much of their recent play will translate against the top of the league (Stony Brook’s record currently stands at 1-4 against first place Albany, second place Vermont and third place New Hampshire).

Getting production from players not named “Jameel Warney” is a must if Stony Brook is going to make a run at the NCAAs, and while their supporting cast has proven they can dominate the have-nots of the league, they are going to need to show consistency against the America East “haves.”

For Maine, this was a game where the Black Bears – at the bottom of a ground up program build under first year head coach Bob Walsh — were simply and completely overmatched

Vermont 74 UMBC 51
The Catamounts have now won five straight games, including four emotional wins in honor of recruit Josh Speidel who was severely injured in a Feb. 1 car accident.

Junior forward Ethan O’Day continued his inspired play, matching his career-high with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with eight rebounds and three blocks in just 25 minutes, and Vermont shot a blistering 51.9 percent from the floor (28-of-54). Nine Catamounts broke into the scorers column and 10 played double-digit minutes as Vermont turned a six-point first half lead into a route.

Dre Wills continued to shine as the Catamounts do-everything star and lynchpin, scoring 10 points to go with four assists, two rebounds, a steal and a block.

For UMBC, the game one again highlighted the Retrievers horrific lack of depth following a litany of injuries and suspensions, but even more amazing their indomitable heart and hustle. Playing just seven players, one of them walk-on Ben Grace, the Retrievers gave Vermont everything the Catamounts could handle for a half, before running out of gas in the second half.

Nightly awards:
OBW America East Player of the Game

Ethan O’Day, Jr., F, Vermont
22 points, 9-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocks

OBW America East Rookie of the Game
Roland Nyama, F, Stony Brook : 24 points, 9-of-12 shooting, 6-of-8 3pt, five rebounds

Standings
Team – Conference Record (Overall Record)
1. Albany 12-0 (18-7)
2. Vermont 11-2 (16-10)
3. New Hampshire 9-4 (16-10)
4. Stony Brook 8-4 (17-10)
5. Hartford 5-7 (12-13)
6. UMass Lowell 508 (11-15)
7. Binghamton 3-10 (4-24)
8. Maine 2-10 (3-22)
9. UMBC 1-11 (3-22)

OBW America East Power Rankings v11

With no team having more than six conference games remaining, we are officially in the home stretch of the regular season, with the America East Playoffs bearing down on teams like a bespectacled Austin Ganly on a helpless defender in the open court. At this point, there is a clear separation between the top four in the league standings and everyone else, with that quartet looking like the only teams with a true shot at winning the whole thing and going dancing.

So without further delay, here’s a look at how the teams stack up with the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (16-7, 11-0 in AE)
Results: W 63-62 vs New Hampshire; W 69-59 vs UMass Lowell
This week: Tuesday at Binghamton; Friday at NJIT
What more can be said about the Great Danes at this point? Playing in the shadows of tragedyColon cancer that took the life of Great Dane’s star Peter Hooley’s mother, Sue, and has kept Hooley from the team for roughly three weeks – Albany has found a way to go on a remarkable run, opening the conference play by going a perfect 11-0. In Hooley’s absence, senior forward Sam Rowley has entrenched himself as a near unstoppable scorer in the low post, and JuCo transfer Evan Singletary has stepped into the spotlight as a star scoring point guard who will take – and make – the biggest shots of the game without conscience or remorse. The Great Danes have gotten enough from their role players – the bigs play physical, JuCo wing Ray Saunders locking down defenders – to continue to win, but they may be running a little bit on fumes as of late, eeking out a win at home over a Tanner Leissner-less UNH squad and being given a real game by a Jahad Thomas-less UMass Lowell. Hooley is expected to return following the Binghamton game and make no mistake this is the America East team to beat.

2. Vermont (914-10, 9-2 in AE)
Results: W 68-49 vs Maine; W 57-48 at Stony Brook
This week: Wednesday vs UMass Lowell; Saturday vs UMBC
The Catamounts became the latest America East team to be reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, basketball is just a game, and there are things in life so much bigger than wins and losses, when top Vermont recruit Josh Speidel was critically injured in a car accident on Feb. 1. Since the accident, which left Speidel in critical but stable condition recovering in an Indiana hospital, Vermont has played inspired basketball in their future teammate’s honor, destroying Maine at home, before roaring back from a 17-point halftime deficit to KO Stony Brook on the road. According to head coach John Becker, “it seems like it’s a different group of 5-6 guys every night who step up and play their best basketball,” and against Stony Brook, three of the biggest heroes proved to be star center Ethan O’Day, reserve freshman shooter Brandon Hatton, and all guts no glory freshman Josh McRoberts. The one constant throughout the season for Vermont has been shooting guard/flying tank Dre Wills, arguably the league’s Defensive Player of the Year who does literally everything every night out for the Catamounts. While Vermont needs to get consistent play from their front court offensively, the Catamounts remain powered by frenetic back court defense.

3. New Hampshire (14-10, 7-4 in AE)
Results: L 63-62 at Albany; W 80-46 vs UMBC
This week: Tuesday at Hartford; Saturday vs Binghamton
The Wildcats are officially no joke, and a team whose sum is far greater than any individual part, as proven by their last second, one-point road loss at Albany despite playing without their best all around player (and far and away best scorer) freshman forward Tanner Leissner. While the Wildcats have gotten back to head coach Bill Herrion’s bread and butter – ferocious team defense for 94 feet – they have a completely new look and new attitude from any previous team Herrion’s nine-year tenure, capable of scoring around the hoop courtesy of Leissner and Jacoby Armstrong, in the mid-range (Leissner), and from downtown thanks to Matt Miller and Daniel Dion. They can also create off the dribble behind Dion and Jaleen Smith and finish the fast break with authority with players like Ronnel Jordan. And, considering various nagging injuries that have bothered them for much of the year, they still haven’t hit their ceiling.

4. Stony Brook (15-10, 6-4 in AE)
Results: L 57-48 vs Vermont
This Week: Wednesday at UMBC; Saturday vs Maine
Following a loss to Vermont that would be impossible to call anything other than bad after coughing up a 17-point second half lead (OK, some stronger language than bad might be appropriate) Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell was steadfast in his resolve that he feels the best is yet to come for the team. Me, I’m pretty darn concerned about Stony Brook, which has now lost two straight and currently sits at 1-4 against the three teams above them in the standings. Center Jameel Warney remains an automatic double-double and the most dominant player in the league, but he simply can not win games alone against the top of the league and he’s getting almost nothing from his supporting cast. Furthermore, as was the case in each of the past two seasons, Warney appears to be hitting a bit of a wall, as a season’s-worth of double and triple teams may be catching up to him again.

5. Hartford (12-11, 5-5 in AE)
Results W 62-61 at Binghamton
This week: Tuesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday at UMass Lowell
Plain and simple, Hartford is a bad team without Mark Nwakamma, a reality the Hawks were forced to face for the better part of the last two games after a knee injury to the team’s star senior forward and offensive epicenter. The good news: Nwakamma will hopefully return to the lineup Tuesday night. The bad news: While the Hawks are markedly better with Nwakamma in the lineup, they haven’t exactly been a good team with him either. Roughly three-quarters of the way through the season, playing a rotation that features six seniors, at this point Hartford is what it is: A team that can get hot from behind the arc and beat anyone, but seems unlikely to be able to sustain that type of white-hot shooting for any consistent period of time – certainly not three straight games in March, which is a prerequiste to punch through to the NCAAs. The odds of Hartford undergoing a metamorphosis into a complete basketball team at this late juncture are pretty slim.

6. UMass Lowell (10-14, 4-7 in AE play)
Results: W 67-51 vs UMBC; L 69-59 at Albany
This week: Wednesday at Vermont; Saturday vs Hartford
The River Hawks lost red-shirt freshman Jahad Thomas for the remainder of the season two weeks ago at Binghamton to a torn ACL – his second in as many years. To call Thomas’ loss a huge blow to the River Hawks is a massive understatement: The 6’2” 235 pound battering ram had emerged as the America East’s version of Charles Barkley (or the reincarnation of former America East star Darryl Proctor). Without Thomas, Lowell will struggle to find consistent scoring. But the River Hawks defend like crazy, play with discipline, and execute their offense, and in the bottom half of the AE that will still win you some games.

7. Binghamton (4-22, 3-8 in AE)
Results: L 62-61 vs Hartford; L 67-64 at Maine
This Week: Tuesday at Albany; Saturday at New Hampshire
Binghamton is still struggling to execute consistently, as evident by their loss against previously hapless Maine. But the Bearcats are playing a lot of very young but very talented players a lot of minutes, and sooner than later the experience they are gaining is going to start turning into wins.

8. Maine (3-21, 2-9 in AE)
Results: L 68-59 at Vermont; W 67-64 vs Binghamton
This week: Saturday at Stony Brook
After competing for the first half against the likes of New Hampshire, Albany and Vermont only to get annihilated after the intermission, the Black Bears found a way to stem the second half tide and score a much needed win over the visiting Bearcats. Head coach Bob Walsh inherited a completely bare cupboard, and a team with a decade-old culture where subpar effort, surrendering easily, and accepting losing. Breaking such ingrained habits isn’t easy, and Walsh more than has his work cut out for him, but Maine is taking steps in the right direction, and it likely is no coincidence that Walsh’s two recruits – explosive scoring guard Kevin Little and heady, steady point guard Aaron Calixte – appear to be the team’s two best players.

9. UMBC (3-20, 1-9 in AE)
Results: L 67-51 at UMass Lowell; L 80-46 at New Hampshire
This week: Wednesday vs Stony Brook; Saturday at Vermont
Head coach Aki Thomas, his coaching staff, and what’s left of his team, because they are all working harder than perhaps any other team I have ever seen and they have so little tangible to show for it. At this point, the Retrievers’ plight has been well told: Down to seven healthy bodies, only five of them scholarship players, after a rash of injuries, suspensions and other misfortunes, UMBC is completely gassed at this point, yet they keep finding the courage and resolve everyday to dig down deep and fight. It sounds corny, but the fact that Thomas has his team playing so hard is a huge victory in its own right.

OBW America East Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week
Kevin Little, Fr., G, Maine
In two games, Little played 79 of 80 available minutes for the Black Bears, scoring 38 points to go with nine rebounds while shouldering a massive load for Maine, all while playing on what is rumored to be a badly injured lower leg/foot. The fearless freshman gunner drilled what would prove to be the game winner for the Black Bears with 41 seconds remaining against Binghamton on Saturday, and spent the entire week playing with veteran confidence and swagger. This kid is going to be good.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
**Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Tanner Leissner, Fr., F, New Hampshire
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past four games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

**UMass Lowell red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas has been, according to raw numbers and advanced statistics, easily one of the five best players in the America East all season long, ranking second in points and fifth in rebounds, and scoring at an insanely effective clip despite constant double and triple teams. However, Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and thus will likely fall out of First Team All-Conference contention due to sheer games played.

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Kevin Little, G, Maine
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

#JoshStrong — John Becker, Josh Speidel and never taking a moment of life for granted

Vermont head coach. Photo by Shane Bufano
Vermont head coach. Photo by Shane Bufano

John Becker’s phone vibrated on Feb. 1 and a familiar Indiana number — one that he had answered hundreds of times before — flashed across the screen, shattering the silence of Super Bowl Sunday.

By the time the Vermont men’s basketball head coach hung up the phone, his carefree evening relaxing with family and friends – perhaps the only one he would have the opportunity to enjoy for the entire season – was gone. The tranquility of the night vanishing like a distant dream disappearing deep into his subconscious.

He’s been trying to pick up the pieces and find his footing ever since. He doesn’t know if he ever completely will.

“It’s been, honestly, one of the more emotional weeks that I’ve been through,” said Becker, still noticeably exhausted a day after the Catamounts pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in recent team history, rallying from a 17-point second half deficit to shock Stony Brook 57-48 on Long Island.

“The game Saturday was really emotional. I’m just really happy and proud of our guys, just the way they’ve been able to respond,” said Becker in a demure, drained tone impossible to fake and completely uncharacteristic for the normally energetic coach.

The emotional week Becker was speaking of began with that phone call, halfway through the second half of the Super Bowl, telling him that Josh Speidel, a 6-foot-8-inch star senior forward at Indiana’s Columbus North High School and one of Becker’s top recruits for the next season, was in critical condition, suffering from a traumatic head injury following a car crash.

At that point Speidel hadn’t played a single minute for the Catamounts, endured a single practice or been chewed out once by Vermont’s demanding head coach. Speidel hadn’t even set foot on campus as a player. It didn’t matter to Becker: A member of his family, a kid he already looked at as a surrogate son, was now fighting for his life.

“I treat this as a family and a lot of the kids that I choose to recruit, I recruit their family and I get to know them. It’s a big part of who I really target to be a part of our program,” explained Becker. “Josh is a kid that I’ve recruited since he was 16 years old. I’ve gotten to know his family very well. And to hear that he was in critical condition, and they didn’t know if he was going to make it…” he said, trailing off.

“It’s really hard. It was a phone call I hope and pray I never, ever get again.”

The week since then has been a nauseating blur for Becker, who tried to fly out to be at Speidel’s bedside and comfort his family immediately after receiving the phone call, only to have the Burlington airport closed due to a snowstorm. He then had to break the news to his coaching staff and his team.

“That was probably the hardest meeting we’ve ever had as a staff and then as a team,” he said. “You don’t know how young kids are going to take it, but the staff, a bunch of adults, we took it really hard,” he said.

Unable to get to Speidel, Becker, his staff and his team combated the feelings of helplessness by filming a video for their injured future teammate. Then came a long, somber moment in the locker room before they Catamounts took the floor against Maine a day later.

Taking the court wearing warmups emblazoned with “Josh Strong” — a Twitter hashtag that has spread across Indiana in support of Speidel – the Catamounts promptly pummeled the Black Bears, 68-49.

“The kid hasn’t even been on campus yet but the way our players have responded and our staff, he’s already part of our program,” said Becker.

After the win, Becker flew to Indiana where he spent two days by the side of Speidel, who has been in a medically induced coma ever since the accident following emergency surgery to reduce pressure on his brain, and his family.

“When I went out there, there was a lot of tears and a lot of hugs,” said Becker of his time with the Speidel’s.

Becker returned to Vermont with a broken heart, but what he also said is a much greater appreciation for life.

“It’s really put things in perspective for me,” he said trailing of again. “It isn’t right that it seems to take a tragedy to make you realize everything you are blessed to have and how fleeting things in life are.”

And he also returned with a new mindset as a coach.

“You’re wins and losses are important as far as keeping your job, but in the grand scheme of things they aren’t what’s important,” he said. “You spend a lot of time [with your players]. You’re demanding on them and you probably don’t show them that you love them enough. Now you take a step back and you just appreciate the opportunities we have to do what we do, to play a game and coach a game we love and do it together. That’s what it’s all about.”

According to Becker, Speidel was on his players minds and hearts – and on the team’s white board – when they regrouped in the locker room at Stony Brook’s Island Federal Credit Union Arena trailing their hosts 29-15. The deficit would balloon to 17 with 14:30 left, before Vermont responded with a 28-8 run to rip the game away.

“The frustration we experienced in the first half and the incredible comeback and perseverance that our guys showed, playing almost perfect basketball the last 14 and a half minutes, that was pretty amazing and emotional,” said Becker.

The emotion was apparent after the final buzzer, when Vermont assistant Kyle Cieplicki struggled to hold back tears during the post game interview on Vermont’s radio broadcast,

“It’s for the Speidl’s, it’s for Josh,” said Cieplicki. “It was amazing. They did a great job in the first half but we wanted to be Josh Strong all night, and we were and if they’re listening, we’re thinking about you guys. Josh, we love you, we’re praying for you and this win’s all for you; it’s all about you guys.

“Josh’s mom texted myself and coach before the game, a couple hours, just saying ‘Go UVM and play Josh Strong,’ and that’s all I could think about,” said Cieplicki, again stopping to regain his composure. “We never stopped fighting, just like him.”

Speidel is currently listed in critical but stable condition and still has a very long road ahead of him. He still hasn’t regained consciousness and there is no timetable for when – or if – he will ever be able to return to the floor.

“Right now I’m in contact with the parents everyday and it’s really just, right now, about Josh waking up,” said Becker. “That’s all I’m concerned about right now. So that’s just what I think about a lot, and just keep hoping it happens soon. We’re not looking any farther than him waking up and then we’ll take the next step from there.”

According to Becker, none of that matters to him right now, all that matters is that Speidel and his family know they will always be a part of Becker’s family.

“I’ve told the parents, he’s got a scholarship to the University of Vermont and he’s part of our basketball program whether he can ever play basketball again or not,” Becker continued. “ Whatever he’s able to do, and obviously we’re holding out hope for the best, but he’s a part of this team and this family no matter what.”

And according to Becker, while he is hoping and praying that Speidel’s health and life are able to return to the way they were before the car accident, he is making a point to make sure his never does.

“I don’t ever want to lose the insight I’ve gained from this experience, I don’t ever want to take another day with my family, day with my kids, day with my players for granted again,” he said.

Editor’s Note: A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help Speidel’s family cover the extensive medical expenses from his care. Those wishing to donate can do so here.

Ethan O’Day wins battle of the giants in Vermont’s 57-48 comeback win over Stony Brook

Vermont center Ethan O'Day. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Vermont center Ethan O’Day. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Three years ago, Ethan O’Day flew under the radar as a talented but raw recruit for Vermont while Jameel Warney drew heavy attention as a highly-touted recruit for Stony Brook who could be one of the best players the America East had seen in a long time. Warney turned out to be everything he was advertised to be, winning conference Rookie of the Year, followed by the conference Player of the Year award last year, while O’Day took his licks as he developed his game.

Now, O’Day is a bona fide star for the Catamounts, and if there were any doubts to his status he put them to rest when he carried Vermont to a 57-48 road win over Stony Brook after trailing by 17 points in the second half. O’Day scored a game-high 17 points, including a four-minute stretch late in the game where he scored eight straight to lead the Catamounts’ ferocious comeback.

“When Ethan O’Day stays on the floor, he’s the best big in the league,” Vermont head coach John Becker said. “That’s as good as I’ve seen him. He had inside, outside, right, left, any way you want it. It’s great to see and it’s great when he’s confident, because he is a talented kid and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone.”

With Warney playing with three fouls in the second half O’Day went right at him, driving right into his chest for hook shots and layups and then stepping out for a 19-foot jumper on a pick-and-pop.

“I was struggling offensively early even in the first half, I wasn’t getting the ball where I wanted it,” said O’Day, who also finished with nine rebounds. “Then teammates started to get the ball in good places in the second half, spaced the floor around me and worked off me well. It just seemed like the floor opened up for me. Once I got a few shots to go, I just got more confident and just kept going right at him.”

Vermont improved to 14-10 and 9-2 in the conference while Stony Brook fell to 15-10, 6-4. Brandon Hatton added 12 points off the bench for the Catamounts, including a late three-pointer from the corner that sealed the game. Carson Puriefoy led the Seawolves with 15 points and four assists and Warney added 14 points and 15 rebounds, but was held to 6-of-18 shooting from the floor.

Since last season when he poured in 16 points in the second half in a loss to the Seawolves, it seems as if O’Day plays with an extra edge when he plays against Warney. In his past four games against Stony Brook, O’Day has averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds with Vermont holding a 3-1 edge over its conference-rival.

“I feel like we always go at each other, we kind of counter each other,” O’Day said of his play against Warney. “He’s so big and I try to front him, and we play great team-defense against him. He always seems to get his, he’s such a great rebounder, he’s tough to box out. But I think he got in foul trouble late there, and my teammates just found me in the right spots and I was able to use my quickness against him.”

The ever-humble O’Day might downplay it, but it’s evident there’s a true rivalry between him and Warney.

“He can drive, he can shoot, but the one time he delivered and I didn’t,” Warney said. “Hats off to him, because he’s a good player, but we’ll get better and we’ll be in that moment again and we’ll see who will be successful.”

Every great player needs a true rival for his “legacy,” and Warney has found that in O’Day as the two will be forever linked together until they graduate at the end of next year. O’Day’s Catamounts have held the edge against Warney’s Seawolves over the past two years, but whenever the two teams meet the bigmen will go at each other in the America East’s latest installment in the clash of low-post titans.

And the way O’Day and Warney ferociously battle each other, it’s the fans and media pundits who are the true beneficiaries as they get to watch the closest thing to the America East of the past, when giants roamed the floor.

Vermont men’s basketball makes #JoshStrong video for injured recruit Josh Speidel

Vermont men’s basketball players and coaches sent thoughts, prayers and well wishes to seriously injured Catamount commit Josh Speidel in a touching video on Monday evening.

“We just wanted to let you know that we’re been thinking of you, we know that you’ve made great strides already in the first day,” said Vermont assistant coach Kyle Cieplicki in the video. “We’ve all been thinking about you in the program and in the town and in the community.”

“I just wanted to let you know you’re in our thoughts and prayers,” said Vermont head coach John Becker in the video. “You’re in our thoughts and prayers.”

According to multiple articles, Speidel’s family has been overwhelmed by the support they have already received from both their hometown community, as well as that of the Indiana basketball community at large, as well as that of Vermont basketball. Becker was originally set to travel to Indiana to visit the Speidel and his family immediately after the accident, but a snow storm grounded all flights. He is now scheduled to travel Wednesday.

On Twitter, the hasthag #JoshStrong has already started to trend. A GoFundMe campaign has already been started to help Speidel’s family with the medical costs they will be facing. In it’s first day, the campaign raised more than $2,500 for Speidel’s medical expenses. Anyone wishing to help can find out more information here.

Regarded as one of the top high school seniors in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana, Speidel was seriously injured in a car accident on Sunday night, when the Honda driven by the 6-foot-8-inch standout for Columbus North High School, was struck by another vehicle on U.S. 31 near Bear Lane in Taylorsville, about 40 minutes south of Indianapolis.

According to a preliminary investigation, a car driven by 42-year-old Janell Foley had just exited off of Interstate 65 and was traveling southbound when Speidel’s Honda entered the road way and was struck on the driver’s side by an SUV. According to authorities and published reports, first responders had to use the Jaws of Life to cut the Honda’s door and the roof off to remove Speidel from the car.

Speidel was transported by ambulance first to Columbus Regional Hospital, before being transferred to the ICU at IU Health Methodist Hospital, where he was treated for a traumatic head injury. According to reports, doctors performed a procedure to remove pressure from Speidel’s brain.

Speidel arrived at the hospital in critical condition, but according to his family, a hospital spokesperson, and multiple reports, he is now in “critical but stable” condition, and the pressure on his brain has stayed within normal levels following the surgery.

“”His vitals look good, it’s just waiting for his eyes to open and for him to wake up and we’re hoping that’s in the next 24-48 hours. This is a critical time,” said Josh’s father, Dave, in an interview with Indiana news station WTHR.

“The greatest feeling is telling your bro you are there with him & he moves his hand! Now let’s just open those eyes of yours. ‪#joshstrong” Tweeted Speidel’s sister, Micayla, shortly after 11:30 a.m. Monday.

According to Speidel’s mother, Lisa, Speidel, in an interview with The Republic, Speidel is breathing on his own and the pressure on his brain has remained at normal level following surgery. According to the article, Speidel miraculously did not suffer any internal injuries in the accident, which required the Jaws of Life to extract him from his car, but has a skull fracture on his left side and a fractured right jaw.

“The concern is the pressure remaining within a normal level. They have started to take him off the medicine that has been helping him to sleep,” said Lisa Speidel in an interview with The Republic Monday. “He is starting to move on his own, his arms and legs, and he shifted his shoulder on his own.”

Speidel had been averaging 25.6 points and 9.3 rebounds for a 14-3 Columbus North squad, and was widely considered one of the best players in the state of Indiana.

Foley, the driver of the other vehicle, was treated at the scene of the accident and released, her two children, who were passengers in the car, were not injured. An 18-year old passenger in Speidel’s car was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.