Sunday, January 12, 2014

English Latest On List of Iona Backcourt Standouts

As Siena coach Jimmy Patsos passed by Iona's sophomore standout A.J. English in the hallway of Albany's Times Union Center after the Gaels' 87-78 victory over the Saints Sunday afternoon, he had a few words for English.

"I was at Maryland (as an assistant coach) when your father played, and he was a heckuva player," said Patsos.

Indeed he was. The elder A.J. English played at the Division II level at Virginia Union (about 120 miles south of Maryland) where he scored 2,396 career points and averaged 33.4 points per game as a senior. He was later a second-round NBA draft pick and played two seasons in the NBA, averaging 9.9 points per contest.

Iona's version of A.J. English, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, appears to be a case of the apple not falling far from the tree.

He scored a career-high 31 points against the Saints on Sunday, pushing his seasonal scoring average to 18.2 ppg.

And, he came up big when the Gaels' needed him most, scoring 12 of his points in the game's final nine minutes after Siena had taken a 66-62 lead.

The offensive explosion might be somewhat a surprise after a freshman year in which he only averaged 7.0 ppg.

English, though, looked like a rising star before suffering a broken right wrist after the Gaels' first 17 games.

He sat out the rest of the year and couldn't return to the court for almost seven months. He still has a small pin in place in his wrist, and claims the injury still isn't fully healed.

"If I bang it on something it will swell, and there are times it will still swell up," he said, after Sunday's game. "I've been told I probably won't be 100 percent with it for at least another year."

Hard to envision, though, English being more prolific than he is now ... even at 100 percent.

He has been particularly effective of late, averaging 25.3 points over the Gaels' last four games.

And, that production comes from an individual who not only is also his team's primary ball-handler but has one of the MAAC's best long-range shooters alongside of him in Iona's backcourt, senior guard Sean Armand, who had 19 vs. Siena and averages a team-best 19.1 ppg.

Armand, who has 1,403 career points through Sunday's game, is the latest in a long line of superlative backcourt performers at the New Rochelle, N.Y., school.

It's a backcourt tradition that began back in the mid-1950's with Richie Guerin, who had a lengthy NBA career and was recently selected for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Other standout guards at the school included Steve Burtt Sr., Kevin Hamilton, Glenn Vickers, Sean Green, Steve Burtt Jr., Scott Machado and Lamont "Momo" Jones, among others.

Armand, a senior, is carrying that torch this season, but the line appears likely to continue in the future through English.

Armand, after Sunday's contest, was asked about English's shooting ability.

"Second best shooter on the team, to me," he said. "He showed us a lot before he was hurt last year and he's been terrific this year. He's up next when I'm gone."

English appears a perfect fit to a fast-paced Iona attack that looks to get down court and find open looks before opposing defenses can set up.

But, his game is about far more than shooting. He entered Sunday's contest with a team-high 58 assists.

"I played point guard in high school and on the AAU circuit, so when they asked me to do that this year it wasn't like I've never done it before," he said.

English was also a big scorer at the high school level and initially leaned toward attending Marquette. Instead, he opted for a year of prep school before joining Iona.

Despite his strong play of late, English claims he's far from a finish product.

"I can get a lot better," he said. "There are a lot of things I can work on. You always have to work to get better ... you have to be dedicated. Even Michael Jordan was always working to try to make some aspect of his game better."

He is already gaining recognition as one of the better guards in the MAAC this season.

If he gets better?

Then, he'll be the latest in that lengthy succession of superlative backcourt performers to have played at Iona.

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