(Catonsville, MD) – When UMBC’s season came to an end in heartbreaking but heart-warming fashion in the America East Tournament, the real work began for head coach Aki Thomas and his staff: rebuilding his roster from the rubble of a devastated and dilapidated program.
Thomas’ burdensome load may have been lightened, slightly, by jettisoning weight in the form of early departures of four returning players; sophomores Will Wise, Nate Basalyga, Jarrel Lane and Jordan Wejnert have all left the team.
In his first season at the helm, after being named the interim head coach two days before the start of practice, Thomas injected life into a program that had barely been clinging to life support. Two days before the start of the conference tournament, Thomas was official named the head coach – dropping the interim tag – and rewarded with a contract extension.
Two days later, the same Retrievers squad that had spent the last three seasons giving up by the first media timeout, out-worked, out-hustled and out-fought third-seeded Hartford to pull off a 69-62 upset in the Quarterfinal. A day later, running on heart, the sixth-seeded Retrievers showed more grit and guts in their 85-72 semifinal loss to Vermont than they had during their previous three seasons combined.
The final horn of the semifinals marked the end of the careers of seniors Ryan Cook – the team’s heart and soul, leading scorer, best player and hardest worker all rolled into in one –Brian Neller – a long-range sniper who, along with Cook, comprised the teams lone true shooters – and forward Adrian Satchell – who enjoyed a renaissance in his one-season under Thomas.
Now Thomas and assistant coaches (and former UMBC players) Jay Greene and John Zito were faced with the daunting task of trying to overhaul an undermanned – and drastically under talented – roster. (more…)