Thursday, April 22, 2010

Off-Season Report: Jaspers Solid, At Best

Here's another in the "10 teams in 10 days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC men's teams.

Up, now ...

MANHATTAN (4-14 in MAAC play last season, 11-20 overall).

RECAP: The Jaspers might have been the best 9th place finisher the conference has seen in some time. Of its 20 overall losses, 13 were by single digits and six were by three points or less. It had an all-league quality backcourt in junior Rico Pickett, the league's leading scorer, and do-everything senior Darryl Crawford. What the Jaspers didn't have, though, was much offense from anywhere other than the perimeter. It was a good big man away from winning games, instead of losing by close margins. Overall, opponents only outscored Manhattan by an average of two points per contest.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Bringing in Pickett, who started his career at Alabama, moved on to a junior college for his second season and, then, stepped into an offensively challenged lineup to provide an offensive spark. Crawford was also his typical versatile self, finishing as the team leader in rebounds, assists and second in scoring. Brandon Adams was an effective defender and rebounder inside. Coach Barry Rohrssen, who has a strong reputation as a terrific recruiter of New York metropolitan players, will be back after flirting with an opportunity to move to St. John's as an assistant coach.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Let's start with the non-basketball antics. Crawford was a first-class (no-class?) trash talker, but he's not even in Pickett's league. In a MAAC tournament game loss to Siena, Pickett accentuated some early game pushing and shoving with Siena when he picked off a Siena pass, had a clear path to the basket and detoured toward the Saints' bench to stick his tongue out at Siena's coaches and bench players. Issues in that game, precipitated by Manhattan players, became so bad that now-gone Siena coach Fran McCaffery refused to allow his team to participate in the post-game handshake line. Clearly, Rohrssen has more to worry about in his progam than just basketball ... like on-court decorum. Players don't have to be polite on the court, but they should exhibit good sportsmanship. The team also lacked size and overall talent inside, aspects of the game often difficult to find at this level. There were also more than a few signs of selfish play, particularly on Pickett's part. Rohrssen regularly had this to say about the team-oriented style of play that he wanted from his team: "It's harder to guard five players than to guard one." Too bad the Jaspers didn't always listen.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Pickett, who did declare for the NBA draft (but did not retain an agent) will almost certainly return for his senior season, so the team will have an offensive force, although it remains to be seen if that makes the team better. Sophomore-to-be George Beamon, a 6-foot-4 swingman, had 13 points in a MAAC tournament play-in round victory over Loyola and looks capable of stepping into a significantly bigger role. Laurence Jolicoeur, a 6-9 center, and Andrew Gabriel, a 6-6 forward, will both be back. Both have been providing solid, hard-nosed play over the previous three seasons but neither ranks among the better front-court players in the conference. Mohamed Koita, another 6-4 swingman, became eligible in the second semester and scored 36 points in his first six games and, then, only three points in the last five games he played. Two guards have already signed for next year, 6-2 point guard Mike Alvarado and 6-0 shooting guard Kidani Brutus of Carl Albert State (Okla.) Junior College where he averaged 8.7 points per contest last season.

WHAT'S AHEAD FOR 2010-11: Expect more hard play and close games. It appears that Rohrssen can coach. Despite talent limitations, his teams have overachieved in each of his four seasons. But, his ability to recruit hasn't paid dividends here yet. Other than Pickett, whose presence in the program thus far has been the proverbial "mixed bag," Rohrssen has yet to bring in an all-league caliber player. A little more teamwork, and keeping the "personalities" in check is needed, too. The Jaspers will be competitive again, but will still finish near the bottom of the standings without an infusion of superior talent late in the recruiting process.

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