Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Better Days Ahead For Mihalich As Hofstra Rebuilds

Old friend Joe Mihalich, who had more wins as a coach in the MAAC from his 15 years at Niagara than anyone in conference history, made an appearance at Albany's Times Union Center with his Hofstra team on Monday.

It was the same old sideline-animated, good-natured Mihalich who has now coached 35 games at the Albany facility over the years ... and, that's not counting his visits as an assistant coach at La Salle when that program was in the conference.

But, the team he surpervised on this trip to upstate New York was most definitely not a product of Mihalich's well-known desire for an uptempo style and high scores.

Hofstra lost, 67-59, to the Saints.

Fifty-nine points by a Mihalich team? That's not like what we're used to seeing, it was remarked to him.

"Yeah, maybe for a half," Mihalich said, smiling.

But, it's all part of a building process that Mihalich knows won't happen overnight, or even within a year's time.

Shortly after he was hired this past April by the school he asked to meet with his team.

"I got brought into a room," Mihalich said, "and there were four guys."

That's all that was left from the 2012-13 mess of a season that resulted in defections, dismissals and a 7-25 finish, the worst record in the program's 77-year history.

Three of the four returnees are among the top seven players this season. The fourth averages about 12 minutes per game, and that's pretty much it for players Mihlaihch says he can rely on right now. His point guard, Dion Nesmith, is playing through a knee issue and missed three games recently, although he came off the bench to play 33 minutes against Siena.

"It's a challenge," said Mihalich, Monday night. "I've basically only got eight guys ... this isn't the way we want to play, eventually, but it's what we have to do right now."

What Mihalich wants to do is establish an up-tempo, free-flowing offensive style like the one he had at Niagara over the years.

The Purple Eagles' offense traditionally came from high-scoring balance. A year ago, when Mihalich was at Niagara, current national scoring leader Antoine Mason, averaged 18.7 points per game, nearly 10 points lower than his current scoring rate, and three other teammates were among the MAAC's top 30 scorers.

Still, Mihalich has had to somehow put together a roster for this season. His playing group is comprised of the four returnees, two immediately-eligible transfers (who earned degrees at their previous schools) and two freshmen.

Even with that depleted a roster, Hofstra has been close to being better. Now 3-7 overall, four of its losses have been by nine points or less.

But, pieces are in place to think things might get better quickly.

It brings to mind the first season that current Siena coach Jimmy Patsos was at Loyola, brought that team for a game at the Times Union Center and was heckled by fans behind his bench in a lopsided loss by the Greyhounds.

At one point, Patsos responded to the hecklers by telling them to wait until he could bring in "his guys." And, when he did, Loyola got better quickly.

Mihalich could probably say the same thing, right now. But, he won't.

Still, he has some of the program's best players sitting on his bench via transfer rules who won't be eligible until next season.

Among those are Niagara transfers guard Juan'ya Green, who averaged 16.5 points and 4.9 assists per game in the MAAC last season; and forward Ameen Tanksley (11.3, 6.0 last season). It also includes guard Brian Bernardi, a transfer from SMU where he averaged 3.5 points per game as a freshman there.

Mihalich is also excited about 6-foot-10 recruit Andre Walker of Maryland, who signed during the November signing period.

"That's in the future," said Miahlich. "I'm not even thinking about that right now. I love the team we have right now, and that's all I'm worried about."

But the future does indeed look better for a program that finished just 7-25 last year, was forced to dismiss four players for a variety of infractions and, ultimately, fired previous head coach Mo Cassara.

Mihalich was brought in to clean things up and, eventually, win games.

The cleansing has begun. The wins won't be far behind.

And, 59-point productions will come by halftime rather than over the course of a full 40 minutes.

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