Brandon Venturini: Navy’s surprise star

Brandon Venturini. Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann / Navy Athletics
Brandon Venturini. Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann / Navy Athletics

With nearly 20 years of Division I head coaching experience under his belt, sniffing out talent has never been a problem for Ed DeChellis.

Usually the struggle for DeChellis, now in his fourth season at the helm for Annapolis, lies convincing talented players to come play for Navy, where in exchange for getting to play Division I basketball and four-years of free education from a great institution, they must commit to five years of active duty in the armed forces upon graduation – and all but give up on any dreams of playing professional hoops.

But in the case of Navy senior Brandon Venturini, the team’s second leading scorer, it was the exact opposite.

“I knew since about the sixth grade that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy,” says Venturini, who made the team out of an open walk-on tryout during DeChellis’ first year in the fall of 2011. “I didn’t know until my senior year of high school that I wanted to try to play basketball there and I didn’t know until the fall of my freshman year of college that I’d actually have a shot of being on the team.”

“It’s kind of funny,” says DeChellis. “Usually when we first start recruiting a kid, we have to sell them on what a great experience going to Annapolis is and how much a degree from here will be with them for their entire life. With a lot of talented high school players, they don’t want to have to commit to serving in the Navy on active duty. For Brandon, he was sold since he was a kid on Navy, he had to sell us on his abilities as a player.”

Now in his final season of college basketball, Venturini has become and indispensible part of DeChellis program as a tough, physical combo guard who stretches the floor from downtown and gets after it on defense and is currently averaging 12.7 points per game while shooting 37.4 percent from three. Much more importantly, he’s emerged as a team leader who helped keep the team above water when it was rocked by injuries earlier in the year.

“He’s definitely a vital part of our program,” says DeChellis. “He has a definite skill in that he can really shoot the basketball, and he has a willingness to dive into any role we’ve asked of him.”

Three years ago, Venturini was scrapping, scratching and clawing just to try and make the team.

“I wasn’t recruited here,” says Venturini, one of four seniors on the team. “They had an open tryout that was like a boot camp, and I went everyday. I practiced every day with the freshmen who were all recruited here.”

“It became apparent early on during tryouts that he had a definite skill that translates at the Division I level: the ability to shoot the basketball,” says DeChellis.

But when pressed, DeChellis and Venturini both admit that neither of them dreamt that Venturini would wind up playing the role he has for the team.

“I’ve seen a lot in my career, so I don’t want to say anything surprises me,” says DeChellis, “but, no, I didn’t think Brandon would wind up being a go-to scorer for us.”

“Not right away,” adds Venturini on whether he entertained daydreams of being a star. “I was just trying to make the team.”

Where it all began

Venturini grew up in Allendale, a middle-class community in Michigan that sits along the Grand River. By the time he was nearing the end of grade school, he knew exactly where he wanted to go to college and what he wanted to do.

“My brother actually was in the academy, he graduated in 2009,” says Venturini of his brother, Aaron, now a Naval helicopter pilot six years his senior. “I’m one of those younger brothers who wants to do everything their older brother does, so I’ve been wanting to come here since the sixth grade.”

At the time, Venturini, whose sister, Lauren, is a lieutenant in the Air Force and whose grandfather went to the Chilean Naval Academy, had no interest in, let alone dreams of, playing basketball.

“I liked soccer growing up,” he says. “That was my favorite sport, I played it all the time.”

At the end of middle school, Venturini started playing organized basketball. It was yet another case of the younger brother following the lead of his older brother and “hero.”

“I started playing for my middle school team. It was actually my brother who pushed me to play college basketball. He was the one who had me in the gym all the time, who was training me,” laughs Venturini.

It was that brotherly bond that led Venturini, who also earned All-Conference honors in golf as a high school senior, to decide to focus on basketball as his sport, and to go farther in the game than Aaron, who played junior varsity basketball at the Naval Academy, had.

“We kind of made a pact my junior year that I would be in the gym and in the weight room all the time with him and I would try to play college ball,” he says.

Still, Venturini admits that it wasn’t until after earned his third-straight all-conference honors and been named to the Western Michigan Dream Team as a senior, that he was truly sold on trying to play college ball.

“It wasn’t really until after my senior season of high school that I was sure I wanted to play college basketball.”

From there, Venturini enrolled for a post graduate year at the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS), where he had to try out and make the team, and spent the season in the shadows of players recruited by the Navy coaching staff.

During the season, Venturini approached the then coaching staff at Navy about trying out for the varsity.

“They told me that I’d have a spot on the JV team,” he says.

But during that offseason, Navy’s staff was let go and DeChellis was hired, opening the door – albeit just a crack — for Venturini to take a shot at the varsity.

Making the team

“We definitely needed bodies,” says DeChellis of his first season at Navy and the open tryouts. “Brandon came in and really impressed us with his ability to shoot the ball, but also his effort, the extra time he put in, and his commitment to being coached and soaking everything in.”

“I was a little freshman,” says Venturini. “I was just trying to do whatever it took to get someone to notice me.”

It worked.

“At the end of tryouts, the coaching staff told me when practice would be and that I’d better show up and keep bringing it,” he says.

His first phone call after making the team: “My brother and my family,” he says.

Growing with the game

Venturini’s career at Annapolis hasn’t exactly coincided with banner years for the program, which went 3-26 his first season, 8-23 his sophomore year and 9-21 last season. But according to DeChellis, the muscular 6-footer has been crucial to rebuilding the program.

“You need guys like Brandon who show up and put in hard work, push their teammates, and hold everyone accountable every single day.”

As a freshman, Venturini saw action in 26 games, averaging 11 minutes, 2.8 points and one rebound per contest. As a sophomore, he was one of just two player to start all 31 games, and ranked third on the team in scoring (8.8 points per game). Last year, his role time once again increased, as he started all 30 games (one of just two players to do so) and ranked second on the team in scoring (11.5 points per game) and sixth in the Patriot League in steals (1.5 steals per game).

“He’s a guy who has just grown every single season through hard work and doing things the right way,” says DeChellis.

Going out with a bang

Venturini’s final year was supposed to coincide with Navy turning the corner as a program, but in the early going, it looked like it would be a disaster, as the Midshippmen lost star senior Worth Smith early on to a knee injury, before losing two more players to knee injuries and another to a broken jaw.

“That was pretty rough because we were missing a lot of key players who had played a lot of minutes,” says Venturini of the stretch that saw Navy begin the season going 2-7.

According to DeChellis, Venturini was instrumental in keeping the team’s spirits up and moving in the right direction.

“We had to play a lot of young, impressionable kids a lot of minutes early,” says DeChellis. “And the fact that Brandon kept showing up made a big impression on them not to give up and to keep fighting.”

With Smith and several other reinforcements rejoining the fold, Navy has turned the season around, and currently sits at 8-13 on the season – just one win away from the best mark of Venturini’s career – and 4-5 in conference play.

But Venturini isn’t satisfied with simply helping to stem the tide and turn the program around.

“There’s nothing I want more than to win a championship and get to the [NCAA] Tournament,” he says. “We only have so many guaranteed games left if we stay healthy. For me and Worth [Smith] and Kevin [Alter] and Earl [McLaurin], the four seniors, we’ve been thinking about that for a long time, and we’re trying to get everybody riled up and excited.”

Not bad for a kid who didn’t even know if he wanted to play basketball five years ago, let alone whether he’d even have a team to play for.

Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann / Navy Athletics
Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann / Navy Athletics

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v6

Don't look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics
Don’t look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics

We are now nearly halfway through the conference slate and how these teams will stack up in the Patriot League Tournament, and who will be cutting down championship game the nets and going dancing in March is as big a mystery as ever. The league lacks a truly dominant team – there are no Bucknells, Lehighs, or Holy Crosses of previous generations – but there is incredible parity, which means that every single night has made for incredibly entertaining basketball.

So here’s a look at how we see the teams stacking up right now in our latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings. Don’t blink, our rankings will probably change on Wednesday.

1. Bucknell (11-10, 6-2 in PL)
Results: W 81-75 vs Army; W 75-61 at Loyola (MD); W 92-77 at Boston University.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Colgate
Don’t look now but Bucknell is picking up speed like a runaway freight train and has won four in a row. After struggling to survive a tough non-conference schedule, the young Bison seem to have found their footing and adjusted to their roles on the court. Oh, and, yeah, there’s that Chris Hass guy who has been absolutely lighting up from all over the floor. With home games against a suddenly resurgent Lehigh squad and a Colgate team that sits tied with them in the standings, if Bucknell can make it through this week unscathed they will be sitting squarely in the Patriot League driver’s seat.

2. Colgate (9-12, 6-2 in PL)

Results: W 65-53 at Navy; L 65-64 at Army; W 59-58 at Loyola (MD)
This week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Bucknell
Playing Navy and Army back-to-back on the road is about as hard a stretch as any Patriot League team can go through. Sure, there are better teams in the league year-in and year-out, but the service academies play so incredibly hard and so incredibly physical, it can be an experience akin to running back to back marathons, so the fact that the Raiders dropped the second game of that stretch isn’t a big cause for alarm. Damon Sherman-Newsome remains a dynamic scorer from the guard position, Austin Tillotson makes the offense go at the point, and several role players have been plugging the gaps.

3. Army (13-6, 4-4 in PL)
Results: L 81-75 vs Bucknell; W 65-64 vs Colgate; W 68-66 at American.
This Week: Thursday vs Boston University; Saturday vs Loyola (Md)
Don’t look now, but Army may be getting it’s second wind, knocking off Patriot League contenders Colgate and American by one and two points, respectively, in consecutive games. With teams selling out to stop star Kyle Wilson, Army has needed another reliable scorer and they appear to have gotten it in forward Tanner Plomb, who has scored 44 points in his last two games and 80 points in his last four games.

4. American (11-8, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 62-59 vs Lehigh; W 78-76 at Lafayette; L 59-54 at Boston University; L 68-66 vs Army.
This week: Wednesday at Navy
The Eagles backcourt trio of seniors Jesse Reed, Pee Wee Gardner and John Schoof are leaving everything they have on the floor, ranking first, second, and third in the nation in minutes per game. That is astounding. And on most nights, that trio is good enough to carry the Eagles to a win. But to climb to the top of these rankings and become the Patriot League team to beat, American is going to need to at least get some consistency from the supporting cast, especially in the post.

5. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: W 69-64 vs Holy Cross; W 61-47 vs Navy; W 75-71 at Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell, Saturday vs Boston University
How in the world did we get here? Just yesterday the Mountain Hawks looked like they were dead in the water, unable to generate any offense outside of 6’11” center Tim Kempton. Well, Lehigh seems to have finally found another scorer in sophomore guard Austin Price, who has taken advantage of Kempton’s double-teams by scoring 40 points over the last three games – all wins.

6. Boston University (8-11, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
The Terriers have lost four of their last five, and yet, they haven’t looked THAT bad – and, perhaps equally important, it’s hard to say that anyone below them in these rankings has looked better. Junior shooting guard John Papale seems to finally be hitting his stride after spending much of the season adjusting to a completely new niche as a creator and facilitator on offense in addition to his traditional role as a long-range marksman, and sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has turned into a legitimate star. If BU could get consistent play from role players like forwards Nate Dieudonne, Justin Alston and Eric Fanning, they’d be in very good shape.

7. Holy Cross (8-10, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 69-64 at Lehigh; W 74-73 vs Lafayette; W 76-65 vs Navy.
This week: Thursday at Loyola (MD);
Rewind a few weeks, and Holy Cross was completely dead in the water. Rewind a few months, and the Crusaders looked like world beaters and the Patriot League team to beat. Now, the truth seems to fall somewhere in between the two extremes. The Crusaders do not score the ball efficiently, and their offense relies on creating turnovers with energy and pressure on defense, resulting in transition offense and, plain and simply, taking more shots than their opponents.

8. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 78-76 vs American; L 74-73 at Holy Cross; L 75-71 vs Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Navy
The Leopards have come up just short in three-straight close games, losing to a good American squad by two at home, a floundering Holy Cross squad by one on the road, and, toughest of all, bitter-rival Lehigh by four at home. The Leopards still boast arguably the Patriot League’s top offense, with inside, mid-range, and outside scoring options, but they are struggling mightily to come up with stops on defense.

9. Loyola-Maryland (7-12, 3-5 in PL)
Results: W 91-86 (OT) vs Boston University; L 75-61 vs Bucknell; L 59-58 at Colgate.
This Week: Thursday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at Army.
The Greyhounds are incredibly young and incredibly inexperienced, but they are growing and learning and have played Patriot League frontrunners (at least for now) Colgate very tough on the road, and also beat a very solid BU squad in overtime. They aren’t ready to compete right now, but they are looking closer and closer to returning to relevance in the very near future.

10. Navy (7-13, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 65-53 vs Colgate; L 61-47 at Lehigh; L 76-65 at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Worth Smith returned from injury as a man possessed, and Navy was suddenly playing inspired basketball. Then Smith went down with yet another in a laundry list of injuries and the Midshipmen sputtered. Smith has once again returned to the court, could another Navy resurgence be far off?

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Tanner Plomb, Jr., F, Army

Plomb scored 44 points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a pair wins over Colgate and American to help get the Black Knights back on track.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Brandon Alston, G, Lehigh

Alston scored 24 points and dished out eight assists in a pair of big wins for the Mountain Hawks.

OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

One man’s worth: Worth Smith’s story of perseverance, hard work and happiness

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Photo Courtesy of Navy Athletics / Phil Hoffmann

 

Worth Smith remembers the car ride. Blinding pain, like rusty knives stabbing him through the eyes and into his sinus cavity, while police lights flashed through the windows and his mother put the pedal to the floor, pushing the speedometer north of triple-digits.

“I was really scared — I didn’t really know what was going on. I was really young, and I knew I was probably going to have a really big brain surgery,” says Smith, an 11-year old at the time and now a high-flying, hard-hustling 6-foot-6 senior forward at the United States Naval Academy.

It was an event that has stayed with him ever since. And it’s why Smith was able to keep his composure when, in the first half of the first game of his senior season earlier, a Nov. 14 matchup against 18th ranked Michigan State, he went down with a knee injury and was told that his career might be over.

“Anything can happen at any time,” he says. “You don’t really know when anything is going to happen. You just have to go with it as it comes and whatever life gives you you have to make the best out of it.”

Upon feeling his knee buckle and then pop, Smith’s thoughts immediately raced back to the ride, bombing down North Carolina’s I-77. It was the culmination of three days of sheering pain for Smith, pain so bad that he spent a day at the Bojangles’ Shootout — at the time a premier prep tournament in the Charlotte area and Smith’s favorite event to attend as a child – with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled tight around his head and over his eyes to block out the light that felt like fire upon his eyes.

Over the next two days, the pain only grew worse. Smith’s mother, Sonja, took him to the hospital in their hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina, twice. Each time she was told that it was a normal sinus infection, and over the counter medication would do the trick.

On the third day, with Smith in unbearable pain, Sonja called a different hospital, the Carolinas Medical Center-Main, in Charlotte, where she was told that Smith needed to get to the emergency room immediately, sparking the frantic 100-plus mile per hour car ride, which spawned a high-speed police chase.

“It was definitely the most surreal experience of my life,” says Smith. “I was just kind of taking it as it came.”

When the pursuing police found out the circumstances behind the Smiths’ mad dash along the nearly 30 mile stretch of highway between their home and the hospital, the cruisers turned into a police escort.

At the hospital, Smith and his mother were informed, after an MRI, that he did, in fact have a sinus infection, only that the infection had caused an abscess on Smith’s brain. What followed was more tests, among them a spinal tap, and grim news that Smith would need to have emergency surgery on his brain to save his life – surgery that could also claim his life in the process.

“I was young, and I had never been scared like that before, and I prayed a lot – a lot,” says Smith.

Sonja was able to convince the doctors to wait through the night to see if Smith improved from another round of antibiotics, during which time he was visited by friends and family, and prayed some more.

In the morning, Smith’s condition had miraculously improved, and the doctors were able to perform a less invasive surgery than initially planned.

“The surgery I had on my head wasn’t as big as they thought it was going to be, they ended up drilling a hole in my eye and draining out the fluid,” says Smith, matter of factly.

Such a traumatic event can have a huge effect on a young child like Smith was at the time, and according to Smith, it is an event that has been with him ever since. Except that where many people would have lived the rest of their childhood – and the rest of their lives – in fear, Smith has done exactly the opposite.

“I’ve always had a real positive outlook on life,” he says of his life post-surgery. “You can’t really worry about the future. You have to live in the present and enjoy life.”

“Worth is a remarkable young man with a remarkable attitude and mindset to be able to deal with and overcome just about every single obstacle you can imagine in life,” says Navy head coach Ed DeChellis.

It’s an outlook on life that helped Smith overcome his parents’ divorce when he was in the eighth grade, and a laundry list of injuries that repeatedly interrupted his basketball career time and time again, starting in high school and continuing through his career at Annapolis.

“I’ve been blessed, really,” he says. “I’ve faced really bad situations, but I’ve come out a lot better than doctors thought I was going to be.”

And it’s an outlook that Smith credits with his decision to enroll at the Naval Academy despite having never before considered a career in the armed forces.

“I figured I would go to a normal college and play basketball,” he says. “When I first talked to the coach, I told him that the military wasn’t for me. But I kept talking to him, and the more people I talked to at the school, I learned about the opportunities that it has. I realized basketball isn’t everything, and if basketball doesn’t work out, you still have to make things happen in life and I figured that this would be a great place.”

Through his first three years at Annapolis, Smith overcame injuries time and time again to emerge as a dominant force in the post, joining NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson and former Navy star Sitapha Savane as just the third Midshipman to surpass at least 850 points, 400 rebounds, 80 blocks and 80 steals in their careers. Heading into his senior year, Smith seemed primed for a huge campaign to close out his career.

“He was playing the best ball of his career over the summer and into the preseason,” says DeChellis.

“I felt great and I had a mindset that I was going to end my career playing my best,” echoes Smith.

And when Navy opened its season hosting nationally ranked Michigan State, and Smith found himself staring up into the armpits of the Spartans towering front court, he did just that – through 14 minutes. Worth opened the game with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, to go with two rebounds, two steals and an assist. Then disaster struck, and Smith crumpled to the floor in pain with a dislocated knee cap.

Smith felt a lot of emotions build up as he writhed in pain.

“Everything really,” he says. “Worry – worried that I wouldn’t be able to play my senior year, that I was going to have to watch the whole year. I kind of figured my basketball career was over as a college basketball player. It’s a feeling of unknowingness. I love basketball, I want to keep playing, so when I realized my season and my career might be over, that really hurt. I just kept praying that I would hear good news from the doctor.”

And although the initial prognosis was not good, for yet another time in his young life, Smith was able to beat the odds and the diagnosis, returning to the floor two days before Christmas Eve.

“It feels great to be back on the court, especially when I thought that opportunity was taken away from me,” he says.

As has been his MO for his entire life, Smith came back hungrier and more dedicated than ever before, and has been a one-man energizer battery for Navy and a wrecking crew for opponents, averaging 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 55.4 percent from the floor and 45 percent from behind the arc.

“Sitting out all these games and watching, it really hammers home that your time in college basketball is limited,” Smith says. “That’s why I came back so aggressive; knowing that I don’t have all the time in the world like I had as a freshman.”

“He’s been outstanding,” says DeChellis. “Having him back on the floor has made us a completely different team.”

But according to DeChellis, as big as Smith’s impact has been on the court, he’s made a bigger impact in the locker room and in practice.

“He’s extremely calm, and very collected, and has an attitude that, no matter what, no matter how bad the situation, that we can overcome it and everything is going to be OK and it really rubs off on his teammates,” says DeChellis.

As seems to be par for the course, just when things were looking up, Smith suffered yet another setback, slightly fracturing a finger on his right hand against Colgate, and will now likely miss the next 7-10 days. But, as with every road block and bump in the road along the way, his outlook remains bright and Smith remains driven.

“[I just want] to just make sure that I make the most out of every single second I’m on the court,” he says, excitement in his voice. “Nothing is promised, nothing is guaranteed, and I want to make sure that I never take a play off or a second for granted.”

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Photo Courtesy of Navy Athletics / Phil Hoffmann

 

A thrilling night of Patriot League men’s basketball

Wednesday was one thrilling, chilling, and heart-palpitating rollercoaster ride for Patriot League men’s basketball, with four of the conference’s five games decided by four-points or less, including a come-from-behind overtime victory for Army, a buzzer-beating game-winning 3-pointer for American, and an exhilarating last-second comeback for Bucknell.

Here’s a quick look at the night’s action.

American 62 Lehigh 59

The Patriot League is truly a league where on any given night, anybody can play with anybody else in the conference, as evidenced by a downtrodden Lehigh squad giving defending conference champion American everything it could handle on the Eagles home court.

Six-foot-eleven sophomore center Tim Kempton was a monster for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds in 37 minutes of action, helping Lehigh claim a 37-24 advantage on the glass.

But it wasn’t enough.

American senior shooting guard Jesse Reed scored 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from behind the arc, setting the stage for senior point guard Pee Wee Gardner’s heroics. Gardner scored just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, but his final three made all the difference. With the game tied at 59 following Kempton’s short jumper with nine seconds remaining, the diminutive playmaker calmly pushed the ball the length of the floor, snuck around a screen from forward Charlie Jones at the top of the key and buried an NBA-range 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left.

Gardner’s heroics followed up another clutch performance Saturday when he scored five points in the final 13 seconds of regulation in an eventual double-overtime win at Colgate.

American moves to 3-2 in league play while Lehigh drops to 1-4.

Army 72 Holy Cross 70 (OT)
In a battle between two teams that began the season looking like league frontrunners only to fall hard and fast over the past month, Army got a much-needed win while Holy Cross suffered a heart-breaking – and possibly devastating – defeat.

Dylan Cox’ lay-up with two seconds left in overtime pushed Army past Holy Cross on the Crusaders’ home court in Worcester, Massachusetts. Junior forward Tanner Plomb scored a season-high 28 points, including 25 in regulation, and junior guard Kyle Wilson added 22.

“This was a great win for our program,” Cox said. “We definitely responded today, I thought our defense was great at times, we got the stops when we needed to and were able to come away with the win.”

Freshman forward Mitchell Hahn scored 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench, hitting 5-of-8 shots and 3-of-5 from long-range, and junior guard Cullen Hamilton scored 14 points off the bench. While the Crusaders’ bench played great, their starters struggled, with Malachi Alexander the only starter to crack double figures, scoring 10 points on 2-of-6 shooting. None of Holy Cross’ starting five shot even 40 percent from the floor.

“Obviously it’s a tough way for the game to end for us. I was proud of the way we fought and got back into the game and took the lead. I thought both teams were being very aggressive,“ said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown. “This is the third game for us in league play for us where we just come up one or two plays short. We’ve got to find a way to make one or two more winning plays – that’s the only way that winning is going to happen.”

Army led by 13 points with 14:38 remaining in the second half, but Holy Cross came roaring back to force overtime. Army led by four with just 34 seconds left in overtime, but big baskets from Hahn and Hamilton tied the game at 70 with 7 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Cox’ heroics.

Cox took the inbounds and pushed the ball the length of the floor – 94 feet – hitting a running lay-up with two seconds left for the win.

Army moves to 2-3 in league play, snapping a two-game conference losing streak, while Holy Cross falls to 1-4.

Bucknell 65 Navy 63

The Bison bounced back from an overtime loss against Holy Cross with a dramatic win over a Navy squad that had emerged as one of the surprises of the early conference slate.

Sophomore guard John Azzinaro scored 19 points in just 22 minutes, including a pair of late 3-pointers, shooting a blistering 6-of-7 from the field and an unconscious 5-of-5 from behind the arc. The diminutive point guard drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:17 left to tie the game at 61, and drilled another 3-pointer from the right corner with a little over 11 seconds left to grab the lead for good.

Navy won the rebounding battle 31-30, outshot the Bison from the floor (44.9 percent to 41.2 percent) and beat Bucknell at the free throw line (17-of-21 to 14-of-19), while also leading on the scoreboard for most of the game. But the Bison simply never quit.

“Navy out-played us for about 36-and-a-half minutes, but to our guys’ credit we didn’t panic,”said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen. “Obviously Johnny carried us down the stretch. We made a change in the starting lineup tonight, and he handled it like a champ.”

Freshman forward Nana Foulland had 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and senior guard Steve Kaspar added six assists off the bench for Bucknell. Navy was led by senior forward Worth Smith, who scored 14 points, and also got 12 points from center Edward Alade and 11 from guard Kendall Knorr.

Both teams now sit at 3-2 in league play.

Lafayette 69 Loyola (MD) 65
After Loyola gave them everything they could handle for the first 20 minutes of action, the Leopards made just enough plays in the second half to escape with a hard-fought win at home.

Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs hit five 3-pointers en route to 22 points, while senior forward Dan Trist and senior guard Joey Ptasinski added 13 points apiece. Lafayette hung on despite being out-rebounded 37-31, beaten at the line (Loyola hit 14-of-17 free throws to the Leopards’ 10-of-15) and played virtually even from the floor and behind the arc.

“My teammates did a great job of finding me,” said Hinrichs.

“Getting into league, it’s just so much different, everybody is well-prepared for you,” said Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon after the game.

Tyler Hubbard scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor, going 5-of-9 from downtown, freshman guard Andre Walker scored 17 off the bench, guard Eric Lester added 13, and freshman forward Cam Gregory ripped down 12 rebounds.

Colgate 62 Boston University 53
That one must have felt good for the Raiders, who snapped a 20-game losing streak against Boston University, while simultaneously grabbing sole possession of first place in league play.

Boston University came out of the gates like gangbusters, jumping all over the Raiders, 20-8, to open the game, but the Raiders responded, outplaying the Terriers from there on out.

Colgate senior shooting guard Damon Sherman-Newsome led all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-9 from downtown, while also pulling down seven rebounds. Guard Luke Roh added 13 points and forward Matt McMullen pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to help the Raiders score a 33-28 advantage on the glass.

Colgate held Boston University to 37.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from behind the arc, while shooting 47.8 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively.

The Terriers were led by Eric Fanning’s 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench, while freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely added 13 points and forward Nate Dieudonne added 10. Boston University’s leading scorer, Cedric Hankerson, who began the night averaging nearly 20 points per game, was held to just three on 1-of-8 shooting.

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v5

Damon Sherman Newsome and Colgate are atop the latest Patriot League Power Rankings.
Damon Sherman Newsome and Colgate are atop the latest Patriot League Power Rankings.

If nothing else, this is shaping up to be one entertaining, unpredictable, anyone-can-beat-anyone, anything-that-can-happen-will-happen season in the Patriot League, which seems devoid of a true favorite or “team to beat,” but stocked full of hungry, hard fighting squads. Two weeks ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a single solitary soul who would have told you that four games into conference play Boston University, Colgate and Navy would stand atop the standings with identical 3-1 conference records. You’d be equally hard pressed to find anyone brave enough to proclaim that the trio of non-conference favorites Lafayette, American and Army would stumble against the likes of Bucknell, Loyola, and Lehigh, respectively. And yet, here we are. So without further ado, here’s a look at the latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings, all but guaranteed to be in a state of flux at this same time next week.

1. Colgate (6-11, 3-1 in PL)
Results: W 74-60 vs Holy Cross; L 71-69 (2OT) at American.
This week: Wednesday vs Boston University; Saturday at Navy.
Honestly, picking a “true” number one at this point is an exercise in futility with three 3-1 teams that all have shown strengths but also big weaknesses, and several seemingly more talented squads below them in the standings. With that said, the Raiders seem to “get” what they can and can’t do on the court, play within themselves, and have a very nice inside-outside game going with guard Damon Sherman-Newsome and center Ethan Jacobs. Guard Luke Roh and forward Matt McMullen –men without true positions – hit the glass hard and do all the little things, and point guard Austin Tillotson remains a dynamic game-changer.

2. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 79-69 at Bucknell; W 63-62 at Boston University.
This Week: Wednesday vs Loyola; Saturday vs American
The Leopards have looked uninspiring in losses to Navy and at Bucknell, but in fairness, point guard Nick Linder – the player who truly makes the Leopards go – was out with a separated shoulder and then readjusting to being back on the court. With Dan Trist in the paint, Seth Hinrichs knocking down mid-range jumpers and Joey Ptasinski draining threes, with Linder creating havoc off the dribble, this remains the most dangerous offense in the league.

3. Boston University (7-8, 3-1 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
If not for a blown coverage on a back door play with 2.1 seconds left, the Terriers would be standing at 4-0 in the Patriot League and atop the OBW Power Rankings. But here we are. Sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has come into his own as a true star, capable of scoring from everywhere on the floor while also helping to facilitate offense by shouldering a bit of the point guard duties. But Hankerson has been outstanding all year long. The true change for BU has been the emergence of Nate Dieudonne and Justin Alston around the rim and on the glass, along with inspired play of late from freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely, which has opened the floor for Hankerson and sharpshooter John Papale. Sophomore tranfer Eric Fanning remains a bit enigmatic, but he has given the Terriers a viable scoring option and slasher off the bench.

4. Navy (7-9, 3-1 in PL)
Results: L 70-64 vs Boston University; W 75-66 at Army.
This week: Wednesday vs BU; Saturday at Army.
What a story Navy is turning out to be. It’s probably cliché to use words and phrases like “perseverance,” “heart,” “effort,” “never give up,” with a service academy, but boy has Navy embodied them. The Midshipmen began the year decimated by injuries losing eight of their first 10 games against Division I foes, but Navy never stopped fighting, and with the return of star forward Worth Smith and several other key reserves, the Middies have won four of their last five, including a HUGE road win over archrival Army. Smith has quickly established himself as Navy’s best player, capable of willing his way to the rim and rebounds over far larger post players, while allowing guards Tilman Dunbar and Brandon Venturini to excel as role players.

5. American (9-7, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 56-53 (OT) at Loyola; W 71-69 (2OT) vs Loyola.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday at Lafayette
American can really, really defend, and their back court of wings Jesse Reed, John Schoof and Darius “Peewee” Gardner are as good – if not better than – any in the league. If the Eagles can get anything out of their front court, they are going to climb these rankings, because even now, getting almost nothing from the four and five spots, they can play with anyone in the league.

6. Bucknell (7-10, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L W 79-69 vs Lafayette; L 65-62 OT) at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs Navy; Saturday vs Army.
With double-digit wins over both American and Lafayette, we should probably have the Bison higher on these rankings – and ff they can survive the gauntlet of Navy and Army this week, they will definitely see their stock climb (at least in our eyes). I suppose right now it is simply a matter of still not quite believing in such a young squad that doesn’t “wow” you in any one particular area. On the flip side, the Bison also don’t seem to have any serious deficiencies. With junior guard Chris Hass emerging as the team’s go-to scorer, bruising freshman center Nana Foulland getting buckets, blocks and boards and freshman point guard J.C. Show also emerging as instant offense, this is a team that could still have a great deal of growth left in it this year, and a ceiling still a good ways higher than it’s ranking.

7. Army (10-5, 1-3 in PL)
Results: L 71-60 vs Lehigh; L 75-66 vs Navy.
This Week: Wednesday at Holy Cross; Saturday at Bucknell.
Wow. A few weeks ago when I spoke with Army head coach Zach Spiker, he opened the interview by saying “A proud peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow.” Right now those words are proving prophetic in the worst possible way. Spiker has continued to tell his players that they can not be satisfied or they would get tripped up, so the Black Knights’ free fall certainly isn’t due to coaching oversight or resting on their laurels. Army simply hasn’t been the same since star guard Kyle Wilson went down on Dec. 21 after taking a shot to the head against Maine. Wilson has returned to the court, and is back to his scoring ways, but the Black Knights just look… different, completely unable to get out and pressure the ball on defense and turn it into transition offense. This team might finally be feeling the loss of do-everything sophomore forward Tanner Omlid, arguably it’s best defender and most selfless player, lost for the season due to a leg injury.

8. Loyola-Maryland (6-9, 2-2 in PL)
Results: W 56-53 (OT) vs American; W 65-60 at Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Lafayette; Sunday vs Boston University.
After a really rough opening two months, the Greyhounds have strung together a pair of wins, including an overtime thriller against American, and looked very sharp in doing it. Tyler Hubbard continues to put up points from behind the arc, and 6’6” wing Eric Laster has proved to be a great back court compliment, but the Greyhounds biggest impact has been coming from junior Jarred Jones and freshman Cam Gregory who are combining for nearly 15 rebounds per game.

9. Holy Cross (6-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: L 74-60 at Colgate; W 65-62 (OT) vs Bucknell.
This week: Wednesday vs Army; Saturday at Lehigh.
The Crusaders finally ended their five-game losing streak with an overtime win at home against Bucknell, but it’s going to take a lot more if they are going to follow through on the preseason hype and early season expectations of competing for a league title. Head coach Milan Brown has shuffled the starting lineup, moving wing Eric Green, arguably the league’s top defender, and finesse-four Taylor Abt to the bench for 6’11” center Matt Husek and forward Malachi Alexander. That move allows forward Malcolm Miller to move from the middle of the paint to the wing, and use his length and athleticism to create mismatches, while also alleviating a bit of the Crusaders massive deficiency on the glass. Will it pay off long term? Stay tuned.

10. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: W 71-60 at Army; L 65-60 at Loyola.
This Week: Wednesday at American; Saturday vs Holy Cross.
Six-foot-eleven center Tim Kempton is an absolute beast on the low blocks, and freshman point guard Kharon Ross does a great job of feeding him the ball. Unfortunately, the Mountain Hawks have yet to find any sort of offense that does not revolve around doing anything other than that. With defenses focusing on stopping Kempton at all costs, Lehigh has struggled mightily.

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette

Trist scored 44 points and pulled down 16 rebounds while shooting 64.5 percent from the floor as Lafayette split a pair of games over the week, including a 24-point 11-rebound double-double in a big, last-second win at Boston University.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Kharon Ross, G, Lehigh

Ross registered 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists , while shooting an even 50 percent from the floor (9-of-18)in two games, including 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in a win at Army.

OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

Kevin Alter — the heart of a lion

Alter123114A
Courtesy of Phil Hoffmann

 

Simply put, Kevin Alter is short — really, really short. At a listed 5-foot-6 and 148 pounds, the native of Rumson, New Jersey, is dwarfed by the average, everyday American male (5’9” and 195.5 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). On the hardwood, Alter is a Lilliputian — quite possibly the smallest player in all of Division I basketball.

But when he walks into the locker room, sets foot on a practice court, or stands at the center of a huddle, he is a giant in a game played by giants. And if there was a measure for the size of a player’s heart, Alter’s might be the biggest in all of basketball.

“He’s got the heart of a lion,” raves Navy head coach Ed DeChellis. “Any time there’s any issue, any time anybody’s got a question, they go to Kevin Alter,” the coach continues, before emphasizing, “And when I need something done with the team, I go to Kevin Alter.”

DeChellis’ assessment is of a player who has averaged just 2.5 points, 0.5 assists and 8.2 minutes over his four-year career, and who is currently averaging a career low six minutes per game, might seem like a coach simply trying to play to the crowd. But DeChellis, a basketball lifer who has spent the past 18 years as a Division I coach, with previous stops at East Tennessee State and Penn State, and who just last year exclaimed after a loss, “I don’t think we could have beaten four nuns and a priest,” has never been one for coach speak or anything other than the blunt, honest truth.

“There’s nobody that I respect more than Kevin. He’s got a level of toughness about him that’s very special,” says DeChellis, speaking directly from his heart.

And those suiting up alongside Alter echo the high praise heaped upon the small reserve guard by his coach.

“Kevin might be tiny, but he has the biggest presence on the team – when he talks, everyone stops and listens,” echoes Alter’s fellow senior Worth Smith.

“I’ve never known someone who worked harder at anything in life than Kevin does every day, every practice,” says senior Brandon Venturini.

When you first meet Kevin Alter, you are blown away by two things: One, the dude really is short. The first time I walked past him in the lay-up lines at the Agganis Arena last season, I literally looked downward at him, and I check in at a whopping 5’8” ½”.

“I would say, in all honesty, I’m a confident 5-foot-6,” he laughs.

Confident is right.

As soon as Alter begins to talk to you, you instantly forget about his physical stature — his personality is so large that even even the most cavernous arenas can’t contain it.

Alter addresses every person as “Mr.” or “Ms.” and every answer he gives includes a “yes sir,” or “no sir.” Yet despite adhering to staunch military protocol, he exudes personality and laughs often when talking in an informal setting.

“I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me; it means a lot,” he says before a single question has been asked. Black and white words printed on a page cannot begin to do justice to the energy and enthusiasm that ooze from every word — the kind that are impossible to fake — and within five minutes of talking to him, you feel like he’s been your buddy for your entire life.

“He has that magnetism that draws everybody towards him,” says DeChellis.

According to DeChellis, Smith and Venturini, it’s that personality, that magnetism, that has made Alter a unanimous selection by his teammates as team captain, and the undisputed voice in the locker room. That, along with an unmatched work ethic.

“Unbelievable person; unbelievable work ethic,” says DeChellis. “It was unanimous,” the coach explains of Alter’s captaincy, “that’s the kind of person he is.

“He can be firm, he can be tough with the guys, but they all love him because he works so hard.”

For his part, Alter’s explanation of his work ethic is simple, and it revolves directly around his height.

“The one thing for me is I have to bring it every day. There are no days I can afford to take off just because of my size. I just have to bring it every day and play as hard as I can every second I’m out there,” he says. “I think it’s really been a blessing for me, because no minutes are guaranteed for me so I have to come in and play hard.”

But why basketball? With his quick feet, great hands, toughness and “separation speed” as DeChellis calls it, one could easily see Alter excelling as a second baseman or small-college wide receiver.

According to Alter, the answers lie in his childhood back home in Jersey.

Alter123114B
Courtesy of Phil Hoffmann

 

“I grew up in Rumson, New Jersey, down by the Jersey Shore – home of Bruce Springsteen as we like to say,” he says, unable to contain yet another laugh.

“Two great parents and one older brother and they had a huge influence on how I try to carry myself and hold myself accountable,” he says.

According to Alter, he played both baseball and football, along with basketball, as a kid, but he chose basketball in high school for two reasons: He loved the game, and everyone told him he should play another sport.

“I treated it as a challenge,” he says. “A lot of guys would be saying, ‘Why are you sticking with basketball? You should be playing baseball,’ but in a lot of ways I took that as a challenge and would play with a chip on my shoulder.”

After spending his first two seasons on the sub-varsity at Rumson-Fair Haven High, Alter finally made the varsity squad as a junior, and played his best basketball down the stretch as a senior, earning first-team all-conference and all-state honors and setting his high school’s all-time record for career 3-pointers, while leading R-FH to the first conference tournament final in school history. In the championship game, Alter scored 24 of his team’s 35 points on the night.

Alter’s ability to shoot the ball from long range, and his work ethic, earned him an offer to play at Navy, something he had wanted to do for some time.

“My high school coach made a huge influence on my career and my life and why I came to Annapolis: He always preached honesty and accountability and hard work. When I came down here on my visit it was a no-brainer, just in terms of the standards the school holds and the leadership qualities and traits that are bestowed upon the midshipmen here,” he says.

The opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, William Alter, a member of the Annapolis Class of 1954, also played a large role in his decision.

“I really admired him and respected him and he definitely had a big influence on it as well.”

Alter started the first game of his college career, becoming just the third Navy freshman to ever start the season opener at point guard. It was also the last time he ever started a game for the Midshipmen.

“It definitely was a challenge at first, going from playing a lot my last years in high school,” he says of his spot playing time throughout his career. “But the way I saw it and the way I’ve tried to play is to do whatever it takes to help our team win.”

And according to DeChellis, no matter what the stats say, Alter has been a difference maker for the Midshipmen.

“He works really, really hard. On the floor, before practice, after practice,” DeChellis says. “He has some limitations, but if we need to make a shot at the end of games he’s as good as there is. He’s won some games for us, he’s brought us back in some games. He’s got great separation speed, he can get away from defenders and he can knock it down from behind the arc.”

Alter played just 10 minutes total in the Midshipmen’s first two games of the Patriot League season, with a lone assist as his only statistic from the pair of wins. And in their third league contest, a 70-64 loss against Boston University on Jan. 7, Alter spent all 40 minutes watching from the sidelines.

But ask Alter about his experiences and he’ll tell you that he’s having the time of his life and loving every second of it.

“Whether I’m playing five minutes, 20 minutes, or no minutes — if I’m not playing — I’ll be the best cheerleader I can be rooting my guys on,” he says.

An outstanding student, Alter has been named to the Superintendent’s List four times and to the Commandant’s List six times. He will graduate with a degree in economics in the spring.

“He’s a kid who can literally do anything he wants in life once he sets his heart on it,” says DeChellis.

So what will Alter do with the rest of his life once his career is over?

“Just found out in November on Service Selection night. I was fortunate enough to get my selection: I chose United States Marine Corps,” he says, his energy hitting yet another decibel level.

“He’s going to make one heck of an officer and I’m glad he’s on our side,” says DeChellis proudly, but with a hint of sadness in his voice at the prospects of a future that will not include Alter by his side.

Photographs courtesy of Phil Hoffmann.

If you enjoyed this story visit our features section for more compelling pieces on the inspiring players who suit up out of the limelight in the shadows of mid-major basketball.

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v4

Welcome back Worth Smith indeed.
Welcome back Worth Smith indeed.

The final buzzer sounded on opening night of Patriot League play a few hours before the New Year’s Eve ball dropped, and we were all left stumbling around trying to pick up the pieces of what we had previously thought about the league’s hierarchy. Out of the five games played between the PL’s 10 teams, the argument could be made that the underdog, on paper, in each of the five grudge matches came out on top.

Boston University snapped out of its seemingly season-long funk to knock off a Holy Cross team that was supposed to be competing for a title; defending conference champion American was beaten soundly by a Bucknell squad still finding its way; Colgate went on the road to knock off a Lehigh squad that was looking like it could be a contender; a Navy team that looked dead in the water (no pun intended) just weeks earlier annihilated Loyola; and in the heavyweight headliner of the night, Lafayette went in to Army’s house and stomped the Black Knights.

So now what are we supposed to do with our previous perceptions and predictions? Crumple them up and throw them away.

Now two games into the conference slate – the “real season” so to speak – here is our best guesstimate of how the team’s stack up in the latest edition of the OBW Patriot League Power Rankings.

1. Lafayette (9-4, 1-1 in PL)
Results: L 96-69 at #10 Kansas; W 76-71 vs NJIT; W 92-78 at Army (PL); L 69-65 vs Navy (PL).
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell; Saturday at BU.
So, yeah, we’re not totally comfortable with Lafayette atop our Patriot League Power Rankings, mainly because of the loss on their home court to Navy, but we’d be even less comfortable with any other team from the PL at the top. The loss to Navy certainly wasn’t good, but the Midshipmen are playing absolutely inspired ball right now and chances are, everyone in the PL is going to lose at least one game they should win… wait, check that, every team in the PL HAS lost at least one game they should have won with the exception of BU and Navy.

As for the Leopards, they are really scoring the ball from everyone on the court, with Aussie banger Dan Trist scoring in the post at a tremendous clip, Trist’s frontcourt mate Seth Hinrichs owning the mid-range game, and shooting guard Joey Ptasinski playing the role of the sniper from Saving Private Ryan from behind the arc. And it all starts with point guard Nick Lindner creating havoc off the dribble before zipping a perfect pass to the open man.

Right now, this team is as complete a squad as it gets in the Patriot League.

2. Army (10-3, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 72-69 (OT) vs Maine; W 93-48 vs Coast Guard (Div. III); L 92-78 vs Lafayette (PL); W 77-53 vs Loyola.
This Week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Navy.
The Black Knights engine, for the most part, is made up of many interchangeable parts that are all constantly revving in overdrive, withg head coach Zach Spiker subbing in a new wave of players every whistle to play a breakneck fast-break game on offense, and apply pressure on defense. Army is selfless, relentless, incredibly hard working, gets after it on the glass and shares the ball tremendously. However, for all their depth, it has become glaringly apparent that there is one part of the team’s sleek sports car that simply can not be replaced: Junior shooting guard Kyle Wilson. Wilson went down early against Maine with what was feared to be a concussion and didn’t return, and the Black Knights nearly flew off the racetrack. Wilson, an awkward looking but completely unguardable scorer as a 6’5” 2-guard, returned against Lafayette, but was clearly not himself. He looked much more comfortable against Loyola, going off for his usual, effortless 20-plus, but it is apparent just how important he is to the Black Knights: With him, they could win it all. Without him, Army is a scrappy squad that will fight with everything it has, but will struggle to finish in the top half of the league. Right now, they’ve got Wilson and that is a problem for the rest of the league.

With that said, anything less than a 2-0 week from Army this week and the Black Knights are definitely going to drop in our next rankings.

3. American (8-6, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 46-45 vs Mount Saint Mary’s; L 59-47 at Stony Brook; L 57-47 at Bucknell; W 53-49 vs Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday at Loyola; Saturday vs Colgate.
According to Kenpom, we should have American second, slightly above Army. We think of Kenpom as a bible of sorts when it comes to the game of basketball, but we also just can’t shake what we’ve seen from the Eagles, who rank fourth in the entire country in points allowed per game (52.9) and fourth from last in the nation in points scored (52.4). Simply put: despite having two wings in John Schoof and Jesse Reed who can score with the best of them, and a straw-that-stirrs-the-drink point guard in Darius Gardner, the Eagles play super, super slow. When they are going good, they are deliberate, get stops, work the clock and score at the other end. When they are not, their paper-thin front court gets dominated. We think their Kenpom rankings are slightly inflated by their style of play that is going to keep them close in just about any game against anyone, but think their frontcourt woes could hurt them against some of the Patriot League’s bigmen. We’ll see how we feel next week.

4. Boston University (6-7, 2-0 in PL)
Results: L 78-62 at Dayton; W 69-46 vs Wentworth (Div. III); W 75-72 (OT) at Holy Cross (PL); W 75-56 vs Lehigh (PL).
This Week: Wednesday at Navy; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Say what? The Terriers spent all of the non-conference slate towards the bottom of these rankings. Last week the Terriers were struggling to put away a Division III team at home, two games later their fourth in a very competitive Patriot League after. Serious? Yeah, seriously. That’s what happens when you open up league play going 2-0 and also begin to develop a true offense with low post options, slashes to the hoop, and the ability to open up and then knock down shots from the perimeter. The emergence of Eric Fanning as a scorer off the bench, and flashes from fellow first year transfer Blaise Mbargorba in the post give the Terriers two completely new dimensions. If both can keep raising their respective games, BU is going to be good.

5. Navy (6-8, 2-0 in PL)
Results: W 61-56 vs Towson; W 70-47 vs Loyola (PL); W 69-65 vs Lafayette (PL).
This week: Wednesday vs BU; Saturday at Army.
Say double what?!?! What-what?!?! Navy fifth in the league? Navy that opened the season losing four in a row and went 1-7 in its first eight games against Division I opponents? Yeah, Navy, right here, fifth. With Wednesday’s battle of undefeateds against BU, and Saturday’s showdown with archrival Army, a good week will send the Midshipmen’s stock soaring. No team was hit harder by the injury bug – more like the injury bout of the Black Plague – than Navy. The return of Worth Smith, along with several other key reserves, has completely changed the Midshipmen’s game, with Smith playing like an absolute manimal in the post, scoring at will and ripping down boards. Smith’s return has allowed his fellow senior Brandon Venturini to move into the role of Robin to Smith’s Batman, and the strong, tough-as-nails guard has provided scoring, playmaking, selfless leadership, and a sheer will to win. This could be a great story in the making.

6. Colgate (5-10, 2-0 in PL)
Results: L 78-43 at Syracuse; L 69-64 at Columbia; W 68-61 at Lehigh; W 68-62 vs Bucknell.
This week: Wednesday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at American.
It’s pretty crazy to think that two games into league play Colgate joins BU and Navy as the league’s only remaining undefeated teams. Point guard Austin Tillotson makes the Raiders go as both a dynamic playmaker (4.9 assists per game, 2.4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) while also serving as a dynamic scorer. Tillotson’s partner in backcourt crime is senior Damon Sherman-Newsome, a 6’5” strong guard who scores from all over. Both Tillotson and Sherman-Newsome are shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor from the guard positions, and the Raiders big men are rebounding the ball and clogging the lane, a very good combination.

7. Bucknell (6-9, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 88-65 vs Case Western Reserve (Div. III); L 60-53 at Wake Forest; L 73-71 vs Siena; W 57-47 vs American (PL); L 68-62 at Colgate (PL).
This Week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Holy Cross.
The Bison have found their go-to scorer and star in junior wing Chris Haas, who can score from all over the floor and isn’t afraid to take the big shot. They’ve also finally found a second option in bruising freshman big man Nana Foulland, who is finishing with ferocious authority around the rim. Questions still remain about point guard play and ability to consistently defend, but if a few more young players continue to mature, Bucknell could make a move towards the top of the league this year.

8. Lehigh (6-7, 0-2 in PL)
Results: L 80-65 at Quinnipiac; W 84-81 (3OT) at Arizona State; W 58-55 at UMBC; L 68-61 vs Colgate; L 75-56 at Boston University.
This Week: Wednesday at Army; Saturday vs Loyola.
Six-foot-10-inch sophomore center Tim Kempton remains a serious problem for opponents on the blocks, and an almost automatic double-double as long as he stays out of foul trouble. The problem is that teams are now selling out to stop Kempton – doubling and tripling him whenever he touches the ball – and thus far Lehigh hasn’t found a way to make them consistently pay for it. Freshman point guard Kahron Ross has been fantastic, averaging 5.5 assists and a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But a huge percentage of Ross’ assists come on feeds to Kempton, and Lehigh needs some other reliable scorers.

9. Holy Cross (5-7)
Results: This week: L 67-48 at Canisius; L 58-39 at Pitt; L 75-72 (OT) vs Boston University (PL); L 53-49 at American (PL).
This week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Bucknell.
This season is quickly running off the rails and turning in to a total train wreck in Worcester. The good news is that it’s still early in the Patriot League slate and the better news is that the Crusader’s talent and athleticism are really, really good. The bad news is that they have now lost four in a row and six of their last seven games and are playing at a very underwhelming energy level – energy being a key component for a team that doesn’t have a true low-post option and needs to win by pushing the ball on offense and pressuring it in the back court on D. This is a HUGE week for Holy Cross, one which could very well determine how the rest of their season will go.

10. Loyola-Maryland (4-9, 0-2 in PL)
Results: L 74-65 vs Mount Saint Mary’s; L 68-42 vs Saint Joseph’s; L 67-52 vs Stony Brook; W 61-59 vs Fairfield (OT); L 70-47 at Navy (PL); L 77-53 vs Army.
This Week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday at Lehigh.
The Greyhounds are young and rebuilding, and these growing pains are to be expected. The good news is that they haven’t quit on the season and are still playing hard. The better news is that they have some very talented young players and a great leader in redshirt junior Tyler Hubbard. Who has blossomed into a legitimate scoring threat every night. The bad news is that right now, they are just being outclassed by the rest of the league.

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Worth Smith, Sr., F, Navy

It’s been quite the comeback for Smith, who returned to action after missing all but the first half of the season opener. Smith averaged 19 points and 8.5 rebounds and was THE big reason that Navy took the Patriot League by storm, racing out to a 2-0 start to the conference slate.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell.

Foulland averaged 13.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in Bucknell’s first two Patriot League contests. Foulland scored nine points on 4-of-9 shooting to go with five rebounds in a big 57-47 win over American, and followed it up with a career-high 17 points hitting 7-of-11 shots in a loss at Colgate.

Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Seth Hinrichs, Sr., F, Lafayette
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

Navy basketball gets knocked down by injuries, hopes to get back up

Navy's Worth Smith has given the Midshipmen a boost after returning from a knee injury. US Presswire photo by Mark L. Baer
Navy’s Worth Smith has given the Midshipmen a boost after returning from a knee injury. US Presswire photo by Mark L. Baer

It has certainly not been the season Navy basketball head coach Ed DeChellis imagined back when his Midshipmen tipped off their season on Nov. 14 by giving 18th ranked Michigan State everything it could handle. The Mids showed tremendous promise in their 64-59 loss, and it looked like this might be the season they make it out of the Patriot League basement.

Maybe the Mids can still make their move towards the top of the conference, but the journey there will have been anything but a straight line or a smooth ride.

Starting with their season opener, the team has been racked by injuries, while simultaneously playing a schedule full of power conference heavy hitters.

“It’s been a tough schedule, we’ve had a lot of guys hurt and I’m not sure where we’re at,” said DeChellis.

Before the season even began, the Mids lost one of their projected starters, junior guard Kendal Knorr, to a knee injury. Then during the Michigan State game, they lost one of their best players in senior forward Worth Smith to a knee injury. They also lost sophomore wing Michael Brown to a broken jaw and sophomore guard Tim Abruzzo to a torn ACL.

Losing Knorr and Smith pretty much left senior guard Brandon Venturini on the floor as the only proven player capable of consistently producing early on. And the Midshipmen’s 0-4 start and 2-7 continuation was a reflection of being forced to play so many young players against some very strong opponents.

“We’ve played a lot of young kids, and I guess that’s good for the long-term, because they get some experience, but it hasn’t really transferred to the wins and losses,” said DeChellis. “We played a brutal schedule, non-conference, especially really early. We really ran into the buzz saw early with Michigan State, Notre Dame, Providence, Northeastern.”

Navy was able to pick up its first win by scraping past Binghamton, before downing Division III Harrisburg. After losing three straight following their first two wins, the Midshipmen have won two of their last three, knocking off VMI, losing to UMES, and then downing Towson 61-56 for their best win of the year. Against the Tigers, the Mids received reinforcements in the form of the return of Knorr, Smith and Brown, and will enter conference play with a 4-9 record.

Amidst all of the losses and roster shuffling during the non-conference, DeChellis was able to uncover a solid small forward in freshman Shawn Anderson.

“Shawn Anderson has been very solid for us at the three spot. That’s been nice to see. All of the other freshman have had their moments where they pitched in, but he’s probably been the most consistent of the young guys who have had to play.”

Unfortunately, the injury bug has now hit Anderson, and he has missed several days due to a concussion.

And although DeChellis’ team continues to get knocked down by things out of his control, he remains positive.

“I don’t know where we’re at because the guys that played for us last year, we hoped would play substantial minutes for us this year, have not played,” said DeChellis. “But I like what we did last week, had everyone back against Towson, and able to win a game at home.”

It still remains to be seen what this year’s Navy team can really do at full, or close to full, strength. But after the slate of losing seasons and injuries, the only way to go for DeChellis and his team is up.

“I think we’ll become better as the conference season goes on, once those guys are back and more comfortable,” said DeChellis.