Thursday, May 27, 2010

GymRat AAU Event is a Recruiting Mecca

If you're a basketball fan ... a real "gym rat," so to speak ... then there's no better place to be this Memorial Day weekend than in New York's Capital Region for the GymRat Challenge boys' AAU tournament.

The event is the largest of its kind in the east with 212 teams and close to 2,400 players participating this year.

Champions will be crowned in three age brackets: 17-under, 16-under, 15-under.

The event has hosted some high-powered talent in past years: Emeka Okofer was here, as was Cole Aldric, Jimmer Fredette (Brigham Young), Talor Battle (Penn State), Brad Sheehan (Georgia Tech), etc. etc.

Much of Siena's roster, past/current/future, is made up of players who have been in this event in past years as has much of the MAAC (Greg Nero of Fairfield, Tomas Vazquez-Simmons of Canisius, George Beamon of Manhattan and Candon Rusin of Marist, just to drop a few names).

While there are several dozen high-major level recruits that will come out of the event, it's also very fertile territory for the mid-major teams like those from the MAAC.

When participating teams submit their rosters many list the colleges interested in their players. Dozens upon dozens who will be here list MAAC schools among those involved in their recruitments.

The tournament will be played Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and, then, on Sunday from 8 a.m. until Sunday evening. Championship games will be contested Sunday evening. About 26 hours of basketball will be contested, almost non-stop, over the two days.

Yes, indeed, a basketball junkie's paradise.

In all, 349 games will be played at three sites: Siena College, the University at Albany and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

A two-day admission fee of $15 allows spectators to see any game at any venue. Single-day admission is $10 and also allows fans to move from game to game and venue to venue. Multiple games are contested simultaneously. Siena, for instance, has seven courts in use at any time, and there is never a break in the action.

Your blogger will be in attendance and taking notes, as will a "talent evaluation" staff that picks players for tournament all-star honors. That staff gets some input from the better players in attendance about their college interst, and, as one of the talent evaluators for the event, I'll have access to that material.

When the tournament concludes, this blog will have a lengthy report about the tournament with as much recruiting information that pertains to the MAAC that I can acquire, which will be plenty.

More information about this year's event, the playing schedule and past histories of previous years' tournaments (including all-star selections and much information about the better players here from past years) is all available on the tournament's website, which is:

So ... attend the event; and, if you can't attend, then keep following this forum for post-tournament information.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

More Off-Season MAAC News To Come

The post below completes the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at men's and women's programs in the conference.

So, what's next?

There is always a full-plate of off-season happenings to discuss, and "Keepin' Track of the MAAC" is a year-round operation.

What's on the immediate horizon are major AAU tournaments in this blogger's backyard. The GymRat Challenge tournament featuring about 212 teams will take place in New York's Capital Region this Memorial Day weekend.

Your blogger will be there for two full days of basketball. There are always dozens of participants on the recruiting radar screens of MAAC teams, and we'll provide some sort of post-tournament rundown on some of those names.

Three weeks later, on June 19 and 20, there's a GymRat Challenge AAU event for girls and we'll do the same type post-tournament report on that.

After that we'll look at MAAC recruiting. May 19 was the final day for letters of intent to be signed during the late signing period, although there will be even later verbal commitments made between now and the end of the summer.

In subsequent weeks we'll provide a list and some background on all recruits committed too MAAC programs, both men's and women's.

Non-conference schedules are also being finalized, and we'll report those as they are completed.

Who knows what else will happen between now and the mid-October start of preseason practices?

Whatever it is, though, we'll keep an eye open for it and pass it along in this forum.

Hope you'll keep reading.

Women's Report: Marist Likely to Defend

Here's the latest, and final, installment in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC women's programs.

Up now ...

MARIST (15-3 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 26-8 overall)

RECAP: Fairfield coach Joe Frager put Marist's 2009-10 accomplishments in proper perspective: "The rest of us would do anything to be 15-3 in the league." For Marist, though, 15-3 is almost below the program's lofty standards. It marked the first time since the 2003-04 season that the Red Foxes lost three league contests, which signifies the domination the team has held within the league. Since the start of the 2004-05 season Marist is 112-12 in regular-season MAAC play with six of those losses by three points or less. This past season's losses were to Niagara, to Fairfield (61-60) and a season-ending/meaningless setback at Manhattan. What Marist has become far transcends a single season. The program has been the conference's representative to the NCAA tournament for five straight seasons. Three years ago it advanced to that event's Sweet 16 round (winning two NCAA tournament games), the only program, either men's or women's, ever to get that far. It has been the conference's regular-season champion for seven straight years. Head coach Brian Giorgis' won-loss record over eight seasons is 194-63, a .755 winning percentage that is the 9th highest among all active coaches. The team's five non-league losses came against West Virginnia, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, St. Bonaventure and Georgetown. Local interest has never been higher. A per-game average of 2,141 came out for home games this past season, a figure that was better than all but one men's program (only the Siena men, who play home games in an arena, drew more fans for home games). Senior forward Rachele Fitz firmly established herself as arguably the best female player in league history. Junior guard Erica Allenspach was a first-team all-league performer, and sophomore guard Corielle Yard was a second-team choice who could easily have been on the first team.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Other than the three league losses, pretty much everything. Hard to find fault with a 26-win season. Fitz finished with 2,447 career points, just 20 shy of the conference's all-time record (former Loyola standout Patty Stoffey finished with 2,467), and 1,066 rebounds, the 6th-best total in MAAC history. Her career field-toal percentage (.582) is second-best all-time and her .846 free-throw percentage is fourth in league annals. She was to the Marist women's program what Rik Smits was to the men's program more than two decades ago. Allenspach, already a highly regarded player, became one of the league's elite performers. Yard, who flashed ability as a freshman, also became established as a a conference standout. The team went legitimately nine deep, and the depth was the best in the conference. Marist not only has talent, but intelligence. Its 13.5 turnovers per game was the sixth-best total nationally. It was all enough for another trip to the NCAA, an occurance that, by now, is almost taken for granted.

WHAT WENT WRONG: One has to look pretty hard to find deficiencies. One was rebounding as Marist played to an 0.9 rebound-per-game deficit. Two of the three league losses were puzzling. Niagara had a nice second-half turnaround, but it was still a setback to a team that finished with a .500 conference record. Manhattan, at 10-8, was only slightly better and neither of those teams were close to the Red Foxes in terms of overall talent. And, then, there was the NCAA tournament loss to Georgetown, 62-42. Marist just didn't have any answers for the Hoya's clear advantages in quickness and athleticism.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Were the three league losses the first signs that there are proverbial chinks in the program's armor? Possibly, but players like Yard and Allenspach could both be first-team all-stars next season and will likely help ensure the Red Foxes are still the MAAC's best team. Still, it's tough to lose key players year after year, and Fitz's departure will be the toughest of all. The program has lost league all-stars in the past, but, now, it's losing the conference's all-time top player. Lynzee Johnson, a tough sparkplug performer, is also gone. Kate Oliver, a 6-4 freshman, flashed some ability, but mostly with perimeter shooting. Unless she becomes stronger in the post, rebounding could be a greater issue this coming season, although Brandy Gang, a -2 sophomore, is likely to help out there as her role increases. Kristine Best, a 5-4 sophomore, is another emerging perimeter player. The program also has three recruits coming in, with 5-11 forward Emma O'Connor seemingly the most-likely of those to get into the playing group. Count on this, though: the team will continue to play intelligently and effectively. Giorgis has clearly established himself as the MAAC's top coach and his presence alone almost ensures success.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: First place. Allenspach and Yard will both contend for Player of the Year honors. But, those two are the only returnees who averaged more than 4.9 points per game. A key for Marist in recent years is that it has gotten strong offensive production from at least three players every year. It needs a third to step up next season. Seemingly, though there is enough otherwise returning to ensure the Red Foxes will continue their reign, particularly if another decent source of offensive production steps up. Marist might not be quite as dominant as some of its past teams, but the rest of the MAAC doesn't look like it has quite caught up yet.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Women's Report: Iona Has Much Back

Here's the latest installment in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC women's programs.

Up now ...

IONA (13-5 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 18-14 overall)

RECAP: Picked to finish second in the preseason poll, and that's where the Gaels finished. Mostly a successful season, the fifth straight winning overall record from a program that, prior to its current five-year run of success, might have been the worst the conference has ever seen. Prior to the 2005-06 season Iona had 23 consecutive losing seasons. But, that's a thing of the past and, these days, an 18-14 overall record is no longer out of the ordinary. The Gaels finished 13-5 in the MAAC, losing only to first-place Marist (twice), third-place Fairfield (twice) and Siena. Senior guard Thazina Cook was a first-team all-league player for the second straight year, playing through some minor knee issues to be among the league's elite. Senior center Anna McLean was among the conference's better "bigs" averaging 8.5 rebounds. Iona looked like a team capable of challenging Marist in the league tournament's championship game. Instead, it lost to Fairfield (for a third time) in the semifinal round. Its second-place regular-season finish, though, brought an automatic berth in the Women's NIT. There, the Gaels got a tough draw meeting Maryland and losing, 88-53, in the opening round. It was Iona's third trip to the WNIT in four seasons.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Cook was the requisite offensive weapon. McLean and 6-1 junior forward Kristina Ford (9.5 points, 5.6 rebounds) combined to be one of the conference's better post duos. Suzi Fregosi, a 5-6 jnior guard, emerged as one of the MAAC's top point guards and was 11th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. Freshman guard Diana Hubbard was named to the league's all-rookie team. Junior forward Anda Ivkovic was having her best all-around year until going down with a mid-season injury. The team was probably the deepest in the conference with 10 players averaging at least 12 minutes per game. Overall, Iona continued to establish itself as the MAAC's second-best program, behind only Marist, of recent vintage. It has a 60-30 record in league play over the past five seasons. Only Marist (83-7) has been better.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Primarily an inability to handle Fairfield, which earned a 72-59 regular-season victory over Iona on Feb. 19 which basically knocked the Gaels out of contention for the league title. And, then the Stags knocked Iona out of the conference tournament with a 61-57 victory in the semifinal round. Iona was 1-3 against Marist and Fairfield in the regular season and 12-2 against everyone else. Ivkovic, a talented offensive player, missed the final 10 games with a knee injury and Iona was absent a key weapon without her versatile skills. Her absence surely played a role in the team's 5-6 record in its last 11 games. Iona also had a 5-9 non-league record, but played one of the better non-conference schedules of any MAAC team, including losses to Arizona, Notre Dame, Arkansas, UConn and the WNIT loss to Maryland. Only the difficult non-league schedule stood between the team and a 20-victory season. The team also struggled from the field as McLean (at .509 percent shooting) was the only Gael to make more than .412 percent from the floor. Iona countered that, though, with an edge in rebounds and by committing fewer turnovers to get off 211 more shots than opponents on the season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: It has to find replacements for its two best players, Cook and McLean, and that won't be easy. But every other member of the 10-individual playing group does return. Ford will likely get even better in the post and Ivkovic, if fully healthy, will likely become the team's leading scorer and one of the conference's better players. Hubbard is likely to build on a strong freshman season. The program did have some height on the bench in sophomores 6-3 center Milica Paligoric (4.1, 2.7) and 6-0 Tomica Bacic (1.8, 2.2), and at least one, if not both, will need to make major strides for the Gaels to be as good as they were this past season. The team might also get an inside boost from incoming freshman 6-4 center Sabrina Jeridore.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Head coach Tony Bozzella's cast has turned over a few times since his arrival, but the winning goes on, indicative of his abilities as a coach. If Inkovic is recovered and makes the expected step from strong role player to a featured role offensively, and if one of the post players, whether it's returnees Paligoric or Bacic, or incoming freshman Jeridore, can be an effective post player, then don't expect the Gaels to slip much, if at all. Expect Iona to be in the mix for the regular-season title with the likelihood of a second- or third-place finish the most-realistic expectation.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Women's Report: Fairfield Won't Fall Far

Here's the latest installment in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC women's programs.

Up now ...

FAIRFIELD (11-7 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 20-14 overall)

RECAP: It took Fairfield a while to get things right but when it did, it did so in a big way. A 20-win season was a significant accomplishment for a team that lost four key starters from the previous year. And, then, it started this past season with a 10-12 overall record and a 4-7 mark in conference play. It would have been easy to figure 2009-10 wasn't going to be their year, and the Stags could have coasted home. Instead they won their last seven conference contests and nine in a row overall including victories in the first two rounds of the MAAC tournament before losing to Marist in the championship game. It was enough to earn a post-season berth in the Women's Basketball Invitational event where it won a first-round game over Towson before falling in the second round to Appalachian State. The season saw former role player 6-2 senior Stephanie Geehan produce a season that was worthy of Player of the Year consideration, former shooting guard Desiree Pina make a successful transition to point guard and freshman Katelyn Linney emerge as one of the conference's top rookies.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Geehan, content to defer to older teammates over her first three seasons, made a seamless transition to be the program's spotlight player. In doing so she set a conference record for single-season blocked shots (118), fifth-best nationally. Her 11.4 rebound-per game average also led the MAAC and ranked sixth nationally. She also became one of just 10 conference players to ever record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for her career. Pina became a nice second option, while also directing the offense and was just about indispensible, averaging 38.1 minutes per contest. Linney became an effective long-range weapon with 67 three-pointers on the season. Sophomore Taryn Johnson, an athletic forward, averaged 8.9 point, 6.9 rebounds and had 53 blocks and Tara Flaherty, a 6-2 senior forward, became an effective second presence in the post, particularly late in the season. The late-season nine-game winning streak included a victory over Marist and two over second-place finisher Iona. As a team the Stags set school records for most blocks and most made three-pointers in a season. Give at least a little credit to third-year head coach Joe Frager, who is among the conference's best.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The slow start, which wasn't helped by a knee injury to promising sophomore guard Sarah Paulus (3.8 points, 3.5 rebounds in four games). After that, the Stags became an "Iron Six," as its top six players scored 1,877 of its points and the rest of the roster contributed just 97. No other MAAC team did more with less. When Geehan struggled, which wasn't often, Fairfield became primarily an easier-to-defend perimeter team. Geehan got in early foul trouble in the conference tournament's championship game, and the Stags couldn't compete against Marist without her. Otherwise not much else went wrong, particularly in the second half of the season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Frager took a team that lost more than any conference team after the 2008-09 season and produced a second-straight 20-victory year in 2009-10. The program doesn't lose as much in terms of quanty, but it does lose one of its all-time best players in Geehan as well as Flaherty, its only other inside presence. It will be interesting to see if Fairfield can overcome significant losses yet again. The perimeter, though, will be as good as any team's, particularly with Johnson at small forward and Pina and Linney at the guard spots. If Paulus is healthy again, she'll be a nice addition. Junior Joelle Wawrocky, a 6-foot-0 guard, and 6-1 freshman forward Brittany McFarlane both look capable of stepping up next season. The program, though, needs to find some post players and depth and much of that could come from incoming freshmen post players 6-2 Katie Cizynski and 6-1 Brittany Obi-Talbot and 5-10 guard Alexys Vazquez.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: After surviving the loss of four starters and still finishing with 20 victories this past season, we know better now than to underestimate what Frager can get out of his players. The perimeter pieces are in place. If the incoming freshmen can provide some help in the post and, in the process, extend the team's playing rotation to seven or eight, it could be another good season for the Stags. They won't fall from the conference's upper half, and could realistically finish in in the top three.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Women's Report: Jaspers Getting Better

Here's the latest installment of the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at conference women's programs.

Up now ...

MANHATTAN (10-8 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 15-15 overall)

RECAP: The program hasn't had a winning overall record since a 20-10 mark in 2002-03, and underwent an off-season coaching change to bring in John Olenowski, who had done nothing but win an extraordinary amount of games as a high school coach and head coach, in the 1980's at Pace University. Most recently an assistant at Long Island University, Olenowski almost got the Jaspers back on the positive side of the won-loss ledger with a 15-14 regular-season mark that slipped back to .500 (15-15 overall) when they lost to Niagara in the first round of the MAAC tournament. Otherwise things were fairly satisfying, an encouraging first step, for a young team that was 10-20 overall the previous year. Included was a midseason stretch when it won six times in eight MAAC games. The season also saw 6-foot-0 sophomore forward Lindsey Loutsenhiser emerge as one of the better players in the conference, senior point guard Michelle Pacheco revitalize her career that slipped considerably the previous season and allowed a host of younger players to get valuable and positive playing experience.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Pacheco, who fell out of favor and lost her starting job as a junior, flourished under Olenowski in her senior seasons, finished fourth in the conference in scoring, first in assists, second in steals and was a first-team all-MAAC selection. Loutsenhiser, a sophomore, finished third in scoring, 10th in rebounding and second in field-goal percentage. She was a second-team all-star selection who probably should have been on the first team. Nadia Peters, a 6-1 sophomore forward, was a nice inside presence and her 1.6 blocks-per-game average was second-best in the conference. The team won games by taking care of the ball. Its' positive 3.4 turnover ratio was the best in the MAAC as it turned it over 100 fewer times than opponents. Those extra possessions showed up on the scoreboard where Manhattan averaged 62.3 points per game, third-best in the conference. There was the 6 wins in 8-game mid-season stretch including a pair over third-place Fairfield. At the end of the season Manhattan knocked off Manhattan, 65-62, one of Marist's three regular-season losses and Pacheco had 28 points in that contest.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A very evident rebounding disadvantage (Manhattan's 32.9 rebound-per-game average was last in the conference, and it got beat by an average of six per game) left the team with very little margin of error. And, then, it lost its best outside-shooting threat when sophomore guard Alyssa Harrington, one of the conference's top marksmen, suffered a mid-season injury and missed the final 16 games. To that point she was leading all conference players with 37 three-pointers. Manhattan had four other players hit at least 20 3-pointers during the year, but the loss of Harrington made the team a little easier to defend. Loutsenhiser, whose best work came on the perimeter, was also the team's leading rebounder (6.5 per contest). An overabundance of young players (10 of the 13 team members were freshmen or sophomores) almost ensured the best work was in the future. There was also a lack of depth. After Harrington's loss, the team pretty much only relied on seven players. The season ended on a down note, the 66-54 tournament loss to Niagara which the Jaspers had beaten in both regular-season contests. It should give the team some off-season incentive.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More improvement should be coming particularly if the program can find a replacement for Pacheco, its standout point guard. That could come from incoming freshman Jazmine Jarvis, a 2,000-point scorer on the high school level. If Jarvis, or anyone else, steps up to run the team effectively then the Jaspers could reasonably approach the 20-victory level this coming season. Loutsenhiser is the requisite "star" player a team needs to compete for the conference's upper level, and Harrington's return should allow her to be a second offensive force. Peters should get better and provide a little more inside, and junior guard Abby Wentworth (9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds) is another solid starter who does a little bit of everything. Toni-Ann Lawrence, a 5-11 freshman forward, averaged 2.9 rebounds in limited playing time this past season and could add some needed inside help. Among the recruits is 6-3 center Brandone Roberts.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: If a point guard steps up, and some rebounding help emerges ... both likely to happen ... Manhattan should do no worse than this year's fourth-place finish and could compete for the top three spots. Anything more than that does depend on filling the point-guard/rebounding needs, but finishing in one of the top three spots is certainly a possibility. Competing for the regular-season crown isn't out of the question, either.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Women's Report: Niagara's Run Continues

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC women's programs.

Up now ...

NIAGARA (9-9 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 13-18 overall)

RECAP: Through nearly half its season Niagara looked like the worst team in the league, which wasn't a surprise. The Purple Eagles needed to win their final regular-season game of 2008-09 to avoid becoming the fourth team in conference history to go through a league schedule without a win. It finished 1-17 in MAAC play and 3-28 overall. And, it followed that with a 3-12 overall record to start the 2009-10 season. And, then, Niagara wasn't the conference's worst team any more. Just ask Marist, the regular-season champion, which suffered a 69-59 defeat at Niagara on Jan. 31. That was the second of a mid-season five-game winning streak. Some lineup adjustments and a renewed dedication to doing the so-called little things, i.e. boxing out, getting on the floor for loose balls, etc., that add up to victories also added up to a remarkable mid-season turnaround from what looked to be another disasterous season. Instead, it turned out to be a very satisfying season, one that earned third-year coach Kendra Faustin the conference's Coach of the Year award and created considerable optimism for what's ahead. The 9-9 conference record was the program's first .500 league season since 2004-05. It won a decisive first-round MAAC tournament game with a 66-54 victory over Manhattan before it lost to tournament-winner Marist, 69-47, in the semifinal round.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The mid-season rededication turned the season around. After the 3-12 start it would have been understandable if the team merely opted to play out the string. That it didn't had to be as satisfying as the 10-6 won-loss record down the stretch, including victories over league champion Marist and third-place Fairfield. The turnaround came with a lineup adjustment that moved lightly used resevere 6-1 senior center Jaclyn Konieczka into the starting five. Her rebounding and defense provided aspects of play that were lacking for a team that had been getting overwhelmed in the post until then. Although Konieczka only averaged 5.8 points and 4.8 rebounds, she had a career high 21 points in the "signature" victory over Marist. Freshman point guard Kayla Stroman also provided play beyond her years while running the team. Another guard, sophomore Ali Morris, was named the conference's 6th Player of the Year winner and junior forward Liz Flooks, one of the MAAC's top outside shooters, was a second-team all-conference pick. As a team Niagara committed 73 fewer turnovers than its opponents.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Rebounding was a problem all season as Niagara was outrebounded by a per-game average of 7.5. Through its first 12 games it operated at a deficit of 11.4 rebounds per game, after that only a minus 4.1. Tough to win games giving up all those extra possessions, but the Purple Eagles did other things well, including putting a value on its own possessions and it had 73 fewer turnovers than opponents. Its second-leading scorer, Jennifer McNamee, suffered a mid-season injury and didn't play after Jan. 31. Four of its top eight players were freshmen or sophomores, although that overall inexperience became less of a factor as the season progressed. Mostly, it was a tale of two seasons. The first 15 games were miserable ad the final 16 were far more than program followers expected.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Potentially more post problems as the team's top two rebounders, 6-1 Rachele Folino (5.7 per game) and Konieczka are both gone. it leaves Flooks, mostly a perimeter performer; and the 5-5 Stoman as the two leading returning rebounders. Otherwise, there is much to be optimistic about. Flooks will be among the conference's better scorers this coming season, Stroman has a year's experience running the team. Morris will likely play a bigger role after a nice sophomore season. Another sophomore, 5-10 forward Meghan Watermann might have been the league's top defensive stopper this past season. And, 5-11 freshman forward Jessica Flamm showed signs of being a nice contributor. But, there's still the rebounding problem, and that might have to be solved by incoming freshmen. The best is athletic 5-11 forward Shy Britton. And, there are two-6-1 players joining the program, Jazmine Frost and Kaitlin Gattuso, whose dad is the associate head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: There won't be any need for a mid-season turnaround. If the team can continue to embrace the need to do the dirty-work duties that produced this past season's strong second-half results, then it should be winning games right away. There are five very good perimter players returning. The only question concerns finding some inside players, even if those only provide rebounds and inside defense. If that comes, Niagara should finish in the upper half of the league standings.

Women's Report: Loyola Should Get Better

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at conference women's programs.

Up now ...

LOYOLA (9-9 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 14-16 overall)

RECAP: A mixed bag of a season that took one downward turn when junior point guard Candice Walker was lost to a torn plantar fasciia after just four games, and the Greyhounds didn't have a capable replacement to handle the ball. Not long afterwards assistant coach Alisha Mosley was hospitalized after feeling ill for several weeks. She had double pneumonia, a loss of kidney functions, inflammation in the back of her brain and nearly lost her life. After 43 days in a medically induced coma, she began her recovery and, in late February, was moved from intensive care to a rehab situation. Reports about her recovery have been positive. On the court, sophomore guard Miriam McKenzie had as strong a break-out season as any conference player, finishing second in the league in scoring (16.7 ppg.) and sixth in rebounding (7.6). She also took on much of the ball-handling duties in Walker's absence and led the team with 85 assists, but committed 132 turnovers. Junior guard Erica DiClemente had a nice season, as did senior forward Kaitlin Grant. Freshman guard Katie Sheehin played well enough to earn all-Rookie Team honors. Loyola opened the season strong (4-1 in MAAC play), went through a long dry spell (8 losses in 10 games) and, then, finished wll with three straight victories before falling to Fairfield in the first round of the conference tournament.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: McKenzie's breakout. An athletic-do-everything player, she figures to be among the MAAC's better players for the next two seasons and is a likely Player of the Year candidate over that time. She was the youngest player to earn first-team all-MAAC honors this past season. Clemente, a 5-11 guard, averaged 14 points per game in her last seven games. Sheehin averaged 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in her last nine games. Meredith Tolley, a 6-foot-0 forward, established herself as one of the better long-range shooters in the MAAC, connecting on 43 during the season. The team opened the season with a nice victory over Iona, then suffered a 3-point loss to Fairfield and followed that with victories over Rider, Saint Peter's and Manhattan. After that, though, it suffered through a 2-8 stretch before winning its last three regular-season games.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Things bottomed out for the middle portion of the season during that 2-8 stretch in conference play. The loss of Walker, the team's only effective ball-handler, ensured a promising season wouldn't be any better than its .500 conference finish. Things never work well when the team's primary ball-handler (McKenzie) commits 47 turnovers move than assists. Besides the loss of Walker, there wasn't enough height. Walker, a 6-o forward, was the only true post player, although McKenzie wound up as the team's leading rebounder from the guard spot. Mosley's situation, obviously, was an emotional issue for the program.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Grant graduates leaving a significant post-position situation for the program to plug. Freshman 6-0 forward Alyssa Sutherland (2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds) could help out there next year, as could 6-1 incoming freshman Nneka Offadilo, who will be the program's tallest player. Otherwise the team has more than its share of good periter players in McKenzie, DiClemente, Sheehin, Tolley and Devon Carey. But it also needs to develop some depth. Only seven players appeared in its MAAC tournament game. Walker's expected return at the point should help significantly.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Walker's return to full health should improve things. The perimeter group is deep and talented, among the better groups in the conference. McKenzie is the "signature" player that a program needs to compete for the conference's upper division. Coach Joe Logan is certainly among the better program directors in the conference, and is likely to employ a style of play that will mask the inside deficiency. Loyola was tied for fifth in the final regular-season standings last year, and should reach that level, at a minimum, this year. If it can rebound well enough it could finish in the top three or four spots.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

MAAC to Run Hall of Fame Tip-Off Event

The MAAC's own post-season tournament, which moves to Springfield, Mass., at the end of the 2011-12 season, won't be the only event the league will host at that community's MassMutual Center.

It was announced today (May 12) that the conference will be involved with the latest version of The Basketball hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament that will be held at the MassMutual Center this November 20 and 21, a Saturday and Sunday.

Eight teams will participate in two brackets of four teams over two day in an NCAA exempt tournament. Rider will be the MAAC's representative in the event.

In addition to the two brackets that will play in Springfield, each of the participating schools will play against each other in two additional games to be hosted on campus by Bradley University, New Mexico State University, University of Massachusetts, and University of Southern California.

In games scheduled for Saturday November 20th at the MassMutual Center in Springfield - Bradley University will match up with the University of Southern California and New Mexico State University will play the University of Massachusetts. The winners and losers of the Saturday games will play on Sunday in the consolation and championship games.

The other bracket of four teams and the complete schedule of campus site games will be announced at a later date as well as the remaining four schools, television information and ticket information.2010

The MAAC will serve as the event's sponsoring conference, serve in various operational roles and provide an annual participant in the field of teams.

"The MAAC membership in looking to grow its relationship with the Basketball Hall of Fame, the MassMutual Center and the City of Springfield was eager to extend its expertise and provide staffing for The Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament as the event's sponsor," said Rich Ensor, the MAAC commissioner. "The MAAC prides itself on its record of hosting league and NCAA Championships, and exempt events in venues throughout the country and looks forward to great college hoops next November in the city that prides itself as the birthplace of basketball."

Women's Report: Siena's Pieces in Place

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking at MAAC women's programs.

Up now ...

SIENA (8-10 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 11-17 overall)

RECAP: Another slightly less-than-satisfying season, but the team remains on the verge of being better than respectable. Although it hasn't been above .500 in conference play since 2003-04, it has had a 48-60 MAAC record over that time. Not bad, just not real good. This past season was a little of both. The Saints knocked off the conference's second-best team, Iona, in regular-season play and lost a one-point game to the league's third-best team, Fairfield, when the Stags' Stephanie Geehan sank a three-pointer at the buzzer. Siena also lost an overtime game at Niagara. Victories in those two close losses and Siena would have finished in fourth, rather than seventh place. A variety of injuries also played a role in holding down the Saints. An 0-6 start in non-conference play against a series of higher-level opponents was followed by a 11-12 afterwards. Mostly, though, the season was what the results indicated: some very good nights and some lesser ones. On the whole, a lot of inconsistent play.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The apex was a 75-67 overtime victory over tough Iona late in the season when Siena trailed by 18, 27-9, late in the first half and, then, rallied for a victory against its largest deficit in a winning effort in nine years. The win was predicated on a 12-assist/4-turnover effort after the half, something the Saints didn't get enough of as it had 3.9 turnovers per game more than opponents for the season. A 45-25 victory over Rider in the first-round of the MAAC tournament was a positive, too, as Broncs' point total was the fewest by a Siena opponent in the Saints' Division I history. Siena also had a big victory over a solid Loyola team (59-33) in mid-season. Junior forward Serena Moore (13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds) emerged as one of the league's best front-court players and will likely be a Player of the Year candidate next season. Freshman Lily Grenci, who battled foot problems all year, had two big games with 14-point efforts against the league's top two teams, Marist and Iona. Senior guard Allie Lindemann had 68 3-pointers, the second-highest total in the conference. A variety of other players had moments, just not enough of them. A commitment to defense after the 0-6 start paid some dividends. The first victory of the season, a 65-61 overtime effort against the University at Albany, was the 300th win of coach Gina Castelli's career. Only two other coaches (Mike Granelli and Dianne Nolan) have recorded more victories as MAAC coaches.

WHAT WENT WRONG: In Siena's glory days (over a five-year span from 1997-98 through 2001-02 it won 16 MAAC games four times ... only Marist has matched that sort of streak), it won because it had the most overall talent. It hasn't had a "signature" player since those days, and last year was no exception. Injuries played a role. Senior Sarah Fullmer, a 6-3 center, suffered a concussion, missed four games and, then, played tentatively (5.3 points per game) over the final seven games of the year. Grinci, a 5-11 forward, broke a foot in preseason, didn't come back until the end of December and didn't get in playing condition for another month. She had two big-time efforts, portending a bright future, and, then, was hindered by her foot woes again at season's end. There were far too many turnovers, 18.1 per game. Overall team quickness, or lack thereof, also caused problems. Opponents made 8.8 steals per game against Siena, while Siena only averaged 5.7 steals per contest. A touted recruit, Carly Cooper, expected to provide backcourt help, left the program before ever playing a game.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Despite the loss of three starters (point guard Merrick Volpe, Fullmer and Lindemann), better days are likely ahead. Five recruits are signed (and, a sixth might be coming), including point guard Ciara Stewart, who will likely get plenty of playing time. Two other guards and two post players are among the recruiting class and the group is expected to help increase team speed and athleticism. The flip side is that it's rare that freshmen make a significant impact. Still, Moore will be among the league's best players next season, Grenci is an emerging talent with all-league caliber potential and sophomore guard Christina Centano is a gritty, versatile perimeter performer who should have a step-up season. Several other solid role players also return.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Siena should be solid again, and may be better if any of the freshmen, particularly the point guard, are ready to contribute. The team should be deeper and more athletic than last season, but less-experienced as well. There are enough good veteran players in place, though, to at least ensure a middle-of-the-pack finish. If any of the freshmen add anything of significance, then, it could be better. Expect anywhere from fourth-to-seventh in the standings with the promise of better things ahead as the strong incoming recruiting group develops.

Women's Report: Peahens Need More Help

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking at MAAC women's programs.

Up now ...

SAINT PETER'S (7-11 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 11-19 overall)

RECAP: Not the best of seasons from a program that, a little more than a decade ago, was as dominant in the conference as Marist is now. The Peahens have had just one above .500 overall record since the 2001-02 season (19-12 in 2007-2008), and weren't close to that this past season. They played a gritty, hard-nosed style and pounded the boards (their 5.1 rebound-per-game edge over opponents topped the MAAC), and the offensive rebound was often their best offense. But, there just wasn't enough offense. A 54.2 point-per-game average was second from the bottom of MAAC teams. There weren't even a lot of close calls. Saint Peter's lost eight of its 11 conference games by double figures, and never managed to win more than two straight games. Its eighth-place regular-season finish was a far cry from the glory days of this program that still holds a 330-153 won-loss record against MAAC opponents. And, then, it dropped its first-round tournament game with a 67-57 setback against Canisius.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The emergence of a strong inside game. Sophomore 6-2 center Quiana Parker averaged 6.6 rebounds per game and became more of a force as the season progressed. She averaged 6.7 points and 10.2 rebounds over the season's last nine games. She and junior Charlene Riddick (9.1 points, 6.5 rebounds per contest), a 6-0 forward, should combine for one of the conference's better front-court duos next season. Senior guard Natasha Morris (12.2 points, 3.5 rebounds) had a nice season and was a third-team all-MAAC selection. Few teams played harder on a nightly basis, and opponents knew they were going to get banged around physically by the Peahens. That intense style of play, particularly a dedication to rebounding, probably lifted the team to a better record than its talent level indicated.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with 600 turnovers, exactly 20 per game and far too many to win on most nights. Only last-place Rider (20.3 TOs per contest) had more. The Peahens didn't share the ball well, either. Their 9.4 assist-per-game average was the worst of all conference teams. Sophomore small forward Jynae Judson averaged 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but had an abysmal 160 turnovers against a team-high 74 assists. Judson did average 13.3 points in the team's last three games, but her offense work was more than negated by her turnover proclivity. Judson was the team's primary ball-handler because the Peahens didn't have a true point guard, and won't solve their turnover problems without finding one. That it wasn't close in almost all of its conference losses wasn't a good sign. In truth, there just wasn't a lot of talent here this past season and the team's record indicated that it played above its means.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Two starters (Morris and Alena Ali) are gone, and there don't appear to be any replacements on what was an 11-player roster this past season ready to emerge. Unless the program brings in a ball-handler, Judson will likely handle much of that duty again and she'll need to cut her turnover totals in half, a tall order. Porter and Riddick provide some optimism, along with Adenike Oyesila, a capable 6-0 reserve this past season. Any success next season will have to come from overpowering opponents inside and pounding the boards, which is the one thing the team was good at this past season. Still, the glory days of a 15-3 conference record and a 25-6 overall mark from the 2001-02 season, the last time the program was dominant, are distant memories and don't appear to be on the immediate horizon.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: If the Peahens continue to play with the enthusiasm and intensity of this past season, they won't be abysmal. Still, there are no recruits reported yet (although they might be forthcoming). Without at least a couple impact players joining the program, the upcoming season might not even approach last season's results. It should be interesting to see the progress of the front court players, particularly Porter. But, a finish near the bottom of the standings is the likely result.

Canisius Inks Parrotta for Two More Years

There's nothing worse for a college basketball program to have its coach go into a "lame duck" season, i.e. enter a season on the last year of his contract. And, now, Canisius coach Tom Parrotta won't face that situation.

Parrotta signed a two-year contract extension (no financial terms revealed) that will keep him as the Golden Griffins’ head coach through the 2012-13 season.

“Under Tom’s leadership, the men’s basketball program at Canisius has made steady progress and he has done a great job of recruiting and developing the young men in our program,” athletic director Bill Maher said in a press statement released by the school. “The growth and improvement of the student-athletes in our program has been outstanding and has positioned us very well for future success. I look forward to continuing to work with Tom and his staff as they lead our program toward the ultimate goal, winning a MAAC men’s basketball championship and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament.”

Parrotta helped guide Canisius to a 15-17 overall record and an 8-10 mark in MAAC play in 2009-10, with the eight leagues wins standing as the most for the program since 2004-05. Since taking over the program prior to the 2006-07 campaign, Parrotta has guided the Griffs to a MAAC Tournament win in each of the last four seasons, a claim only conference rivals Siena and Rider can boast. The 15-win season in 2009-10 marked just the 13th time in the last 50 years that the team had 15 victories over Division I programs in the same campaign, and the Griffs’ 7-5 record at home was the program’s first home winning record since 2004-05.

After a 6-25 overall record in the 2007-08 season, Canisius improved to 11 victories in 2008-09 and 15 this past season.

“I am excited and proud to be continuing the development and success to this program,” Parrotta said, in the school's press release. “We are on the cusp of great things here at Canisius."

The Griffs will return four starters and eight letterwinners to next year’s team. Parrotta’s first recruit, Frank Turner, wrapped up his eligibility at the end of the 2009-10 season and will leave the College ranked as the school’s career leader in assists, games played and minutes played, while ranking among the top-10 at Canisius in seven other statistical categories.

Among the returning players for next year’s team, rising seniors Julius Coles and Greg Logins are on pace to join the program’s 1,000-point club, while classmate Tomas Vazquez-Simmons, the school’s career blocked shot leader, is on pace to join the top-five on the MAAC’s all-time blocks list. The program has also made strides in the classroom, as all five members of the Class of 2011, including Elton Frazier and Robert Goldsberry, will start next season working toward their master’s degrees at the College.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Women's Report: Canisius Looks Solid

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series taking a look back and ahead at conference women's teams.

Up now ...

CANISIUS (6-12 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 12-19 overall)

RECAP: After losing two terrific players (Amanda Cavo and Marie Warner) from the 2008-09 team that finished 14-4 in conference play and 24-9 overall, the Golden Griffins figured to have a down cycle, and they did. But, it wasn't so bad. Six teams, ones that finished fourth-through-ninth, were fairly even in terms of talent this past season. It's just that the Griffs finished at the bottom of those six. Of its 12 league losses, nine were by single digits and five of those by five or fewer points. Canisius didn't have much height, but rode a deep, solid roster and its traditional three-point shooting proclivity for whatever success it did have. Senior guard Brittane Russell cemented her legacy as one of the program's best-ever players, fiinishing her career as the only MAAC player (and one of only five in NCAA history) to ever accumulate more than 1,200 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Russell and 6-foot-0 senior forward Ellie Radke had strong seasons. Russell averaged 13.0 points and her 3.0 steal-per-game average not only led the MAAC (she was the conference's top thief in all four of her seasons in the league), but was 16th-best nationally. She was a second-team all-MAAC all-star and should have been on the first team. Radke averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. The team's best night might have come in a loss to league champion Marist on Jan. 29. Before a sell-out Koessler Arena crowd of 2,196 the Griffs held a 23-14 lead over Marist at halftime before the Red Foxes rallied for a 54-45 victory. A group of younger players got valuable experience, particularly 5-5 freshman guard Ashley Durham who looks like a capable replacement for Russell at point guard. In recent years, the program has found an up-tempo, 3-point shooting playing style to be effectively and currently has an NCAA-record active streak of 485 consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer.

WHAT WENT WRONG: First, there wasn't enough height. The Griffs were outrebounded by an average of 4.4 per night. Then there were injuries. Promising 6-foot freshman Melissa Gardner, who might have helped on the boards, suffered a foot injury after starting in 10 of the team's first 12 games (she was averaging 3.0 rebounds in 16 minutes per night) and missed the remainder of the season. Stephanie McDonald, a 5-10 sophomore guard (averaging 3.3 points, 3.2 rebounds) who started the team's first six games, suffered a shoulder injury and didn't play again. If those two remained healthy giving Canisius a little help inside the result likely would have been a few more wins. Then there was youth. Four of the team's top 10 players were freshmen, and that's never a great recipe for success. The lineup was almost a nightly work in progress. Eleven different players started at least a game. That's usually a sign of a roster of solid players, but not enough real standouts, which appeared to be the case here.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Here's a trivia question: What team is the last other than Marist to win the MAAC's post-season tournament? That would be Canisius, which earned the right to advance to the NCAA tournament in 2005. That won't happen again in 2010-11, but the Griffs seem to be doing the right things in their building process to get back there. Still, Russell and Radke will be tough to replace. Durham will have to emerge as a sophomore, which she seems capable of doing. Micayla Drysdale, a 5-9 junior guard whose career .392 percent 3-point accuracy is the best in the program's history, looks like she can provide some offensive punch. The return of Gardner and McDonald will help, as will the natural progressions of sophomore guard Tauralee Tenn, who moved into the starting lineup late in the season, along with 6-2 freshman Whitney Ellenor and 5-10 freshman Allison Braun. More help, especially up front, should come from incoming recruits, including two 6-foot-3 post players and another 6-1 forward. All three incoming "bigs" are from Canada. Next season the Griffs will have nine Canada natives on the roster, the most of any Division I program nationally.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: The MAAC looks like it will be as balanced in the coming season as it has been in recent memory. Canisius probably won't contend for the top couple of spots, but will clearly be in the next pack, like it was this year. The Griffs, though, don't appear destined to be at the bottom of that pack as they were this past season. Expect Canisius to finish anywhere from fourth to eighth, getting on the high side of that if the freshmen provide immediate help and on the low side if that help doesn't materialize. The team should be better this season, but it is best set up for success in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Women's Report: Rider To Be Improved

We did it for the men, and now it's the women's turn ... a look back and ahead at the conference's 10 programs.

Call it a "10 Teams in 10 Days" series.

The reports are done in reverse order of last year's finish.

First up, this past season's 10th-place finisher ...

RIDER (2-16 in MAAC play in 2009-10, 4-26 overall)

2009-10 RECAP: A 7-11 conference record and 10 overall victories in 2008-09, the program's high points since 1999-00, created some optimism that was never fulfilled. Instead, third-year head coach Lynn Mulligan dismissed leading scorer senior Tammy Meyers from the program after seven games and the Broncs' offense suffered. The team wasn't going to be a contender anyway, and there were indications that Meyers' dismissal was addition by subtraction. On the court, though, teams only had to be concerned about defending senior guard Amanda Sepulveda, a terrific outside shooter, and junior guard Cintella Spotwood, an athletic slasher. Not much offense was coming from anywhere else. On the year the Broncs scored a MAAC-low average of 52.7 points per game while allowing 65.5 points, also worst among conference teams.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Sepulveda had a nice senior season, connecting on 77 3-pointers, best in the conference and 26th-best nationally. She was a long-range threat all season. She was also an above-average point guard, but the team needed her to score more than it needed her to pass. Spotwood chipped in with 10.2 points per game and should be one of the league's better players as a senior in the coming season. Although freshman Caitlin Bopp didn't win the conference's top rookie award, she might well be the first-year player who will have the most impact in the league in future seasons. A 6-2 center, Bopp averaged 8.4 points and 9.6 rebounds. She was the conference's second-leading rebounder, third nationally in that statistic among all freshmen and 40th nationally for any player. On the year she had 10 double-doubles. The team had a nice early season non-conference victory over state rival Monmouth, and defeated solid conference teams Manhattan and Saint Peter's during regular-season play.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The early dismissal of Meyers left the offense too easy to defend. There was also much youth getting significant time. Four of the team's top seven scorers were freshmen or sophomores. Other than Bopp (8.4 ppg.), who wasn't a real offensive threat, the Broncs got almost nothing offensively from its frontcourt. On the season, it shot a conference-low .334 percent from the field. And, then, Bopp suffered an ankle sprain and didn't play in the MAAC tournament. Without her, Rider managed just 25 points in a 45-25 first-round tournament loss to Siena, the low point total ever by a team in the conference tournament. There just wasn't enough experienced talent around for anything other than a last-place finish.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Certainly better days. Only Sepulveda departs. If Bopp adds some off-season strength she'll be among the league's elite inside players over the next three years and will be a terrific building piece for the program. Sophomore Sarah Homan, a 6-3 post player, flashed some signs that she can be a future contributor. Another inside player, 6-foot freshman Carleigh Brown, could be another nice piece for a strong future front court. Spotwood is a strong swingplayer and will likely be the go-to perimeter performer next season. Five recruits are signed, including junior college transfer Aisha Varnadore, who averaged 15.4 points per game at Burlington County College this past season. Things certainly can't get much worse for a team that hasn't won more than seven league games since 1999-00 and hasn't been above the .500 mark overall in its 13 years in the MAAC. The Broncs probably won't get there next season either, but they're moving in the right direction.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Eight of the team's players will be freshmen and sophomores and another is an incoming JC transfer. That sort of youth rarely has great success at this level. Still ... if Bopp continues to develop, if this year's freshmen make some natural progression, if JC transfer Varnadore can pick up Sepulveda's lost scoring and the incoming freshmen can at least contribute, Rider should escape the cellar. Don't expect the Broncs to compete for the upper division, but it could contend to escape the play-in round for the conference's bottom four teams and move on to even better things beyond next season.

Pickett, As Expected, Returning to Jaspers

As expected, Manhattan's junior guard Rico Pickett, the MAAC's leading scorer this past season, will return to the Jaspers for the 2010-11 season.

Earlier this spring Pickett submitted his name for eligibility in next month's NBA draft. He had until this past Saturday to withdraw his name from consideration to retain his eligibility for next season, which he did.

Pickett was among 80 college underclassmen to declare for the draft. Players who did not hire an agent had the option of withdrawing their names. About 50 underclassmen decided to remain eligible for the draft and give up their college eligibility.

Only 60 players are drafted by the 30 NBA teams in the two-round draft. Only players selected in the first round are assured, by NBA rules, of receiving guaranteed contracts.

Underclassmen who declare for the draft are allowed to work out for NBA teams prior to Saturday's deadline to decide to remain draft eligible or return to school.

Pickett, though, did not participate in any workouts, according to a report in his hometown Decatur (Ala.) Daily newspaper.

“I made the decision, really, before I even had workouts,” Pickett told the newspaper. “I had workouts set up. I just decided I wanted to come back to school before it all started.”

He’ll return to Manhattan College, his third college stop after Alabama and Miami-Dade Community College. Pickett scored 17.7 points a game as a junior last season to lead the MAAC..

“The main part was really what I wanted for myself and what I wanted to do,” he said. “I felt like that I just needed one more year before I pursued my professional career.”

It probably didn't hurt his decision that his name never appeared in the many mock drafts floating around the internet.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Robert Burke Hired at Mount St. Mary's

Another individual with past MAAC connections has become a head coach.

The latest is Robert Burke, an assistant at Siena during Paul Hewitt's time there (1997-2000), who will be introduced Monday as the new head coach of Mount St. Mary's University of Emmitsburg, Md., a member of the Northeast Conference.

The 43-year-old Burke had been an assistant this past season at American University, which had an 11-20 record.

Before that he was an assistant for five seasons at Georgetown under John Thompson III, but departed from that program under unexplained circumstances after the Hoyas failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament in 2009. Most reports indicate that Burke was either fired, or forced to resign under pressure.

Burke has coached as an assistant for 22 years on the Division I level, and is acknowledged as a good recruiter and tactician. But, there's probably a reason why he's coached for so long without getting an opportunity to run his own program.

After Hewitt left Siena for Georgia Tech he did not offer to bring Burke with him, an unusual move since most head coaches moving on to better things traditionally bring their top assistants along.

Burke did seek to become Hewitt's replacement at Siena in 2000, but was not a serious candidate then. The school opted to hire Louis Orr at that point, and Orr remained at Siena for all of 49 weeks.

Burke was interviewed again by Siena when the position was open prior to the 2005-06 season. But a source on that search committee revealed that Burke had an extremely poor interview and was subsequently dismissed from consideration in the process that ultimately brought Fran McCaffery to Siena.

This blogger's interactions with Burke over the years found him to lean toward the paranoid side (which seemed to make him a perfect fit at Georgetown) and extremely hesitant to reveal even the most innocuous seeming of information.

While assistant coaches are usually considerably more accessible to close program followers than head coaches, Burke opted not to develop those type relationships at Siena. It's probably not stretching the issue to perceive Burke's people-person skills weren't his strongest characteristic.

His hiring at Mount Saint Mary's, though, makes sense. It's a school in the shadows of several larger programs so media attention is minimal and its fan base relatively small.

Burke replaces Milan Brown, who moves on to become the head coach at Holy Cross. Coincidentally, Brown was on Siena's radar to replace McCaffery but was not interviewed.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

School-or-Pro Decisions Due Saturday

A reader of this blog recently asked for an explanation of the NCAA rule pertaining to underclass players who declared for the NBA draft.

This is pertinent, for the first time in MAAC history, because Manhattan junior guard Rico Pickett "declared" last month, the first conference underclassman to do so.

Here's the rule, put into place for this season: Pickett and other early entrants in the draft who haven't hired an agent have until Saturday (May 8) to declare whether they will stay in school or chase a pro career.

Prior to this year a deadline agreed upon by both the NCAA and the NBA was set at 10 days before the NBA draft. That would have been June 14 this year. This year, though, the NCAA invoked the new rule after pressure from coaches who perceived that they were left in limbo as players mulled their futures into mid-June and left little opportunity to recruit replacements for those who did move on.

Players who have declared themselves eligible for the draft can travel for workouts not only to see if they're ready for the next level, but to allow pro teams to get a better look, too. They can no longer do so after Saturday, though, if they announce an intention to return to school for next season.

With its new policy the NCAA not only has created an earlier decision-making deadline, but it bars players from missing classes for workouts. Many schools are still in session, or beginning a final exam period, limiting the time players can travel to work out before pro talent evaluators. The majority of NBA teams did not start working out draft prospects until last week, which left early declarees less than a two-week window to travel for workouts, a period that becomes even more restrictive with class and exam schedules.

About three dozen players, including Pickett, have made an early declaration without hiring an agent and face the Saturday deadline.

All players selected in the first round of the two-round NBA draft receive guaranteed three-year contracts. Players picked in the second round get no such guarantees.

Pickett, at least in this blogger's opinion, isn't likely to be picked at all and is likely to return to Manhattan. However, that's no certainty and players who opt not to return to school and go undrafted can continue to pursue the NBA through free-agent situations or seek playing opportunities overseas.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Banquet To Honor Siena's Hoop History

From time to time, this blogger comes across interesting events worthy of being brought to the attention of our readers.

An "Evening With Siena Banquet" scheduled for this Saturday night (May 8) is one of those.

The event is meant to honor the school's basketball success, not only over the past three seasons but over the past few decades.

At least 20 former players, including some who played in the 1950's, will be on hand. Among the most noteable will be Marc Brown, arguably the program's best player of the school's Division I era; and, former coach Mike Deane, who recruited Brown. Together, they brought Siena its first NCAA tournament appearance (1988-89). That season, in this blogger's humble opinion, remains the greatest in the school's history.

Former players expected to attend include Bruce Schoeder, Jack Mulvey, David Ryan, Michael Haddix, John Murray, Rod Owens, Mike Catino, Scott Knapp, Andy Grazulis, Josh Duell, Richie Smith, Kenny Hasbrouck and several members of this past season's team.

Current coach Mitch Buonaguro will be a keynote speaker, and the majority of former players and Deane are also expected to speak at the event.

The banquet is being sponsored by Rene LeRoux, who recently wrote a book about Siena's basketball history.

The banquet will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn on Hoosick Street in Troy, N.Y. Those interested in attending can contact LeRoux at 518-877-5170, or Jason Rich at 518-783-2411. Cost to attend is $75.