First, a very Happy New Year not only to those who read this small slice of the internet, but heartfelt best wishes to all.
It's not only a new year, but a new decade, as well. Before we discard the "aughts" entirely, though, let's have an appreciation for what transpired in the past 10 years.
Very simply, we'll do that by chosing a "Keepin' Track of the MAAC's All-Star Team of the Decade."
And, it is very simple. In identifying potential candidates, it was amazingly easy to come up with a clear-cut top five ... two front-court players and three perimeter players. Pretty much the same, too, in chosing a top coach for the past 10 years.
In selecting the team, the only criteria was that players played a minimum of a full season in the just-concluded decade. But, that never came into play. All five selectees played at least three full seasons in the conference during the time period.
As a note to indicate a measure of insight ... this blogger has covered the conference for all of the past decade and has seen every player that has come through the MAAC during that time a minimum of 12-to-15 times.
So, without additional formalities, here's one man's top-player list from the past 10 years in no particular order:
- Keydren "Kiki" Clark, Saint Peter's (played from 2002-2006)
The 5-8 guard arguably possessed the best inch-for-inch talent ever seen in the conference. He ranks No. 2 all-time in conference scoring (3,058 career points) and led the country in scoring during his sophomore and junior seasons. He tops the MAAC career list for three-pointers (435), is third in career steals (265) and 14th in career assists (501).
Juan Mendez, Niagara (2001-05)
The 6-7 forward might have been the best in-the-paint player of the decade. Doing most of his work close to the basket, Mendez is fourth all-time in MAAC career scoring (2,210) and rebounding (1,053). He is also 9th all time in career field-goal percentage (53.1), and was the key figure in the program's trips to the NIT in his junior season and the NCAA tournament in his senior season.
Luis Flores, Manhattan (2001-04)
The 6-2 guard was the epitomy of smooth on the court, rarely wasting a movement. A transfer from Rutgers after his freshman year, he became the decade's only two-time winner of the MAAC's Player of the Year award (2002-03, 2003-04). And, despite playing just three seasons for the Jaspers he still was proficient enough to score 2,046 points (8th all-time on the conference career list). His 88.0 percent work from the foul line tops all MAAC players.
Jason Thompson, Rider (2005-08)
He showed up at Rider as a 6-7 forward, but quickly sprouted a few more inches to become a 6-10 force both in the paint and beyond. He is 9th on the MAAC's career scoring list (2,040), 2nd in career rebounding (1,171) and 13th in career field-goal percentage (52.6). He was an NBA lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings after his Rider career, and has been an effective pro well on his way to, potentially, the best NBA career by a conference product.
Jared Jordan, Marist (2003-07)
Few improved their game as much over a conference career as this 6-2 point guard whose shooting rage as a freshmen was, basically, a layup. Jordan, though, eventually became an offensive weapon with his own shot (his 1,538 points is 48th on the conference career list), but his greatest contribution was making others better. His 813 assists tops all MAAC players, and his 2.52 assist-to-turnover ratio is No. 2 on the conference list. Unquestionably the league's top point guard of the decade.
Coach Joe Mihalich, Niagara
Mihalich became the Purple Eagles' head coach prior to the 1998-99 season, making him the conference's only program director to be in place for the entirety of the just-completed decade. And, for good reason. Including games of the current season, he has a 190-121 record in the '00's (a .611 winning percentage). His team's had just one sub-.500 record over that time. His teams have been to two NCAA tournaments and two NIT's in the past six years. Siena's Fran McCaffery has a higher winning percentage (.662), but is only midway through his fifth season with the Saints and has done most of his winning with the same core of players. Mihalich has had success with multiple core groups.
COMING ATTRACTION: We'll also pick an all-star team of the decade for women's teams.