Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sporting News League Preview Coming

Just a "heads up" that your blogger's MAAC preview for The Sporting News' College Basketball Annual is due in early July.

While the magazine prohibits its preview writers from revealing too much information in advance, your blogger will give a "sneak preview" of sorts with the predicted order of finish and, even, a sentence or two about each team at some point in mid July.

And, I will make a commercial endorsement. Of all the national newsstand-available publications, The Sporting News is by far the best. It traces its roots to when it was the very respected Street & Smith's College Basketball Annual. And, yours truly has S&S preview magazines dating back to the late 1960s.

A few years back, S&S and The Sporting News merged, and the The Sporting News brand was kept. But the majority of those who wrote for S&S, this blogger included, now write for The Sporting News.

TSN only hires writers with long-time direct connections to the leagues they preview. I've been involved in covering the MAAC since 1985, or for 25 of the 29 years of the league's existence. Writers who preview other leagues have been doing so for dozens and dozens of years.

I'm not exactly certain when The Sporting News' College Basketball Annual will hit the newsstands, but it has traditionally been in mid-September.

My only concern not only about The Sporting News, but any of the national preview magazines, is that the mid-major conferences don't get the space they deserve. The MAAC gets one full page, while in the high-major conferences each team gets a full page. But, clearly the interest is at that level a lot moreso than at the mid-major level.

Still, there's a sizeable pocket of mid-major level fans, and we all know how strong the interest is from fans who follow the MAAC.

So, my preview for The Sporting News will be as informative as you'll find anywhere in a national publication (I hope). But, if you want even more than that, then there's one good place to find plenty.

And, that's right here ... as always, "Keepin' Track of the MAAC" remains the best source for conference news and happenings.

Thanks for reading, and keep it up.

Two Saints Tabbed for Preseason Honors

Catching up on news and notes from around the conference ...
Check Spelling
Siena's 6-7 sophomore forward O.D. Anosike has been picked as a "Breakout" frontcourt player by the Rivals internet site. Only players who started less than half their team's games, scored fewer than 10 points per game and played less than 25 minutes per contest were eligible for consideration.

The list focuses on players who could emerge, move into the proverbial spotlight, after being primarily a role player or a bench player this past season.

Here is Rivals' report on Anosike:

O.D. Anosike, Siena
The buzz: The Saints need someone other than Ryan Rossiter to produce offense as they attempt to replace departed starters Ronald Moore, Edwin Ubiles and MAAC player of the year Alex Franklin. Anosike, the brother of former Tennessee women's star and current Minnesota Lynx center Nicky Anosike, has the unenviable task of filling Franklin's shoes and, consequently, should significantly upgrade his 2008-09 averages of 2.7 points and 3.4 rebounds. Rossiter averaged 7.9 points and 10 rebounds in 2008-09 after averaging 1.9 points and 2.9 rebounds a year earlier. Siena's chances of winning a fourth consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title could depend on whether Anosike has a similar rise in production.

Here are the other front-court players who made the "Breakout" list:
- Reginald Buckner, Mississippi.
- Jack Cooley and Carleton Scott, Notre Dame.
- Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang, Vanderbilt.
- Andrew Fitzgerald, Okahoma.
- John Henson, North Carolina.
- Reggie Johnson, Miami.
- Deniz Kilichi, West Virginia.
- Daniel Miller and Brian Oliver, Georgia Tech.
- Mason Plumlee, Duke
- Ari Stewart and Tony Woods, Wake Forest.
- Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova.

AND, ANOTHER SIENA PLAYER earned a Rivals' honor recently when Saints' senior center Ryan Rossiter was named to that internet site's preseason all Mid-Major Team.
He joins Butler's Shelvin Mack, Gonzaga's Elias Harris, Hofstra's Charles Jenkins and UC Santa Barbara's Orlando Johnson on that list.

In putting together the team, Rivals.com considered student-athletes from the Big Sky, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Mid-American, Missouri Valley, Southern, Sun Belt, West Coast and Western Athletic.

In describing Rossiter (Staten Island, N.Y./Monsignor Farrell), Rivals.com noted: "Rooster" averaged a double-double for the Saints, at 13.8 points and 11.1 rebounds; he also averaged 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks. Siena lost its two leading scorers - both of whom were frontcourt players - so Rossiter's offense will become even more important next season. He's a hard worker who can be counted on to develop more of a mid-range game this offseason; still, the bulk of his points are going to come from in the paint.

In addition to the “starting five”, Rivals.com included seven players on the bench for its Preseason All Mid Major Team, among them Fairfield’s Derek Needham.

Rossiter and Needham figure to be the leading candidates for MAAC Preseason Player of the Year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Marist Women: The Rich Get Richer

We'll start catching up on off-season happenings around the conference in coming days and weeks, but this one is particularly eye-catching ...

The Marist women's program, which has dominated the MAAC for the past eight seasons, added another big-time piece for its future when Kristina Danella, a 6-foot-1 forward who played the past two seasons at UMass, transferred to the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school.

Danella recently completed the transfer process to begin attending Marist in the 2010-11 academic year. Because of transfer rules, she will have to sit out the upcoming season and, then, will have two years of eligibility beginning with the 2011-12 season.

Marist is likely to be the league's top team again this coming season, and Danella is likely to enable the Red Foxes to continue to contend for championships after that.

She averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest playing at UMass this past season, and was a four-time Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Week as a freshman there.

In addition to being a strong rebounder, she can also go out to the perimeter where she made 39 percent of her 3-point attempts this past season.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Many from MAAC in Upstate N.Y. Hall

The Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame might only be in its second year of existence, but it has already gone a long way to honor top hoopsters from the upstate New York region.

And, a good deal of those being inducted in a class of 50 Sunday night (June 27) have Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference connections.

The hall is directed by local businessman Rene LeRoux, who also just completed a book about the history of basketball at Siena. This year's event, which still has a limited number of tickets available at the door ($75 per person), is being held at the Crowne Plaza in Albany with a reception from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and dinner and ceremonies to follow.

All individuals selected to the Hall must have played high school basketball in New York's Capital Region.

Here's a list of this year's inductees who have touched the MAAC:

- Kashif Hameed; A 6-8 forward who was the MAAC's Player of the Year in 1998 at Iona, where he scored 1,276 career points and blocked 209 shots.

- Lucious Jordan: A 6-2 guard who played a season at Loyola and made the MAAC's all-Rookie team there before he transferred to the University at Albany.

- John Leonard: A 6-4 guard, he was a two-time team MVP at Manhattan College who was a senior in the MAAC's inaugural season (1981-82), and was a 10th--round draft pick of the NBA New York Knicks. Leonard later coached at Manhattan.

- Corey Osinski: A 6-7 forward and second-team all-MAAC player in 1999 and 2000 and the leading rebounder at Siena in both of those seasons. Also the MAAC's scholar-athlete of the year in 2000.

- Jeff Robinson: A versatile 6-6 swingman who still stands seventh in career scoring at Siena (1,657 points), 17th in rebounding and 14th in assists. He was a key member of Siena's first NCAA tournament team (1988-89, a year before Siena joined the MAAC), and that team knocked off 13th-ranked Stanford in a first-round game, still the biggest victory (in this blogger's opinion) in the history of the Siena program.

- Michelle Collins: A 5-6 point guard who graduated in 1992 and remains Siena's career leader in assists (4.98). Her career average of 5.69 assists per game is tied for the top spot in MAAC history. She is currently an assistant coach at Siena.

- Katelyn Dooley: A 5-9 guard who graduated from Siena in 2007 after scoring 1,111 career points there.

- Heather Fiore: A 5-2 guard who graduated from Canisius in 1997 as its career scoring leader (1,949 points), which is now No. 2 at that program and No. 6 in MAAC history. She is still No. 2 in career assists for the Golden Griffins (586).

- Mary Fuchs: A 5-8 guard who scored 1,106 points and had 680 rebounds for Siena before her 1991 graduation.

- Val Higgins-O'Dell: A 6-1 center who finished with 1,137 points and 683 rebounds prior to her 1991 graduation from Siena.

- Jolene Johnston: A 5-9 forward who was a first-team all-MAAC player as a Siena senior (2004), as well as the conference's Defensive Player of the Year that season. She played in more winning games than any player in Siena history and is currently an assistant coach with the Saints.

- Heidi Harkins: A 5-9 guard who graduated from Siena (1984) with 1,106 career points and 241 career steals.

There are also several players who were members of current MAAC teams before their respective schools joined the conference, or before the conference was formed. They include:

- Fred Daniels, a Siena point guard (1981 grad).
- Billy Harrell, a 1952 Siena grad and arguably the best athlete in school history.
- Rod Owens, a 6-7 power forward at Siena (1980 grad).
- Fred Shear, a 6-3 guard who graduated (1973) as Siena's leading scorer.
- Nancy Egerton, a 1981 Niagara grad where she remains fourth in career points (1,585).
- Cathy Rousseau-Boland, a 1982 Siena grad who had 1,001 points, 725 rebounds and 230 steals at Siena.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

GymRat: Looking at Some Top Players

If you've never been to an AAU basketball event, you should try it. If you're any sort of basketball fan, it is certainly a small piece of hoops heaven.

My neck of the woods, upstate New York, is fortunate to host the GymRat CHALLENGE AAU event annually. The boys' version is the largest AAU tournament on the east coast bringing in more than 2,400 players. The majority of those, even a good portion of each team's reserves, will go on to play at some level of college.

Players who have appeared in the event in the past include the likes of Emeka Okafor and Michael Beasley, each of which was the second overall pick in their respective NBA drafts. Also here one year was Cole Aldrich, the center on the most-recent Kansas national championship team.

Literally dozens ... maybe hundreds ... of players who came through the GymRat have gone on to have impact at the high major level of college basketball.

But, for readers of this blog ... those of us whose interest resides at the mid-major level and, most specifically the MAAC ... rest assured that similarly dozens of players who have appeared in the GymRat have gone on to play for teams of our favorite conference, too.

With that in mind, I'll highlight a few players from this year's event (played Memorial Day weekend) who either have expressed interest in a MAAC school or look like a good fit for a conference program.

Also, you can find the event's all-star teams and honorable mentions on this website: www.gymratchallenge.com

Once there, click on "tournament history" to find a full paragraph describing the attributes of about 35-to-40 all star selections at each of the three age brackets contested in the event as well as newspaper-quality reports on each division's championship game.

Your blogger helps out at the tournament, serving as the talent evaluation coordinator. Our group of 10 "scouts' who watch games and, eventually, make the all-star selections is comprised entirely of some of the better "basketball people" in upstate New York.

Anyway, here's the start of some a list of some of the players who look like good MAAC fits ...

- Pat Ackerman (Middlesex Magic AAU team), a slender 6-10 center with nice skills for a true big man. Right now several MAAC teams are involved, as well as Ivies. His expressed interest here was, possibly, to defer college for a year in favor of a prep school and it's certainly possible that a year's maturity could result in bigger schools getting involved.

- Rob Poole (Jersey Shore Warriors), a 6-5 off-guard with terrific range. He has already given a verbal commitment to Siena. He was the GymRat's MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) at the 17-under age division after scoring 24 points in a semifinal-round game and, then, 10 points late in the first half of the game-deciding juncture of the championship game. A very intelligent player who not only contributes with his shooting but is also a good passer. Should be a very good MAAC player.

Darrun Hilliard (Jersey Shore Warriors), an athletic 6-5 swingman, the type of player who has an all-league caliber career in the MAAC. Very good rebounder, drives to the basket and finishes. Siena has expressed strong interest, but the A-10 (St. Joe's, Temple) is also involved.

Andrew Nicholas (Jersey Shore Warriors), a 6-6 left-handed forward who plays hard and effectively at both ends. He originally committed to Rutgers, but has decided to re-open the recruiting process. Probably a little short to play in the Big East, but he would be an outstanding player at the mid-major level and is open to MAAC schools.

Matt McMullen (Jersey Shore Warriors0, a 6-6 swingman who is versatile and played extremely hard at the GymRat. Has been offered by Colgate, and his interest is mostly from Patriot and Ivy League schools. But he could definitely play in the MAAC and it appears that several MAAC schools will get involved.

Jayon James (Team Izod), a powerful 6-5 swingman who is capable of playing point guard or small forward. Originally committed to Fordham, but has opted to de-commit and consider other schools with a possibility of delaying his decision with a year at prep. There are "rumors" that Iona might get involved. Most definitely capable of having a strong impact at a MAAC level school.

Blaise Mbougorba (N.J. Roadrunners), a legit 6-10/6-11 center who is getting some interest from MAAC schools, but is also hearing from Big East programs, too. But, he is relatively slender and not yet a finished product offensively. Still, off-the-chart athleticism and enthusiasm for playing mark him as a player to watch develop. And, we might be watching him nightly on telecasts of high-major level games.

Dennis Clifford (Bay State Magic), a 6-11 center who is more skilled than a banger. He was being looked at extensively by mid-major programs a year ago and, then, added about 20 pounds of muscle and another level to his game since then and interest in him blew up. He has committed to Boston College.

Michael Zangari (York Ballers), a 6-9 inside player whose only need is to add some bulk. He only weighs about 210 pounds right now. Ivy and Patriots are strongly involved, as are several MAAC schools. He is getting some early calls from Pitt and Seton Hall, too. Looks like he could be a standout MAAC player and could develop into someone who could contribute at a high-major program.

This is truly only the tip of the proverbial ice berg. In coming days I'll highlight a few more players from the upper level age bracket of the event as well as put out a couple of names of players from the younger levels who look like they will have great basketball futures.

And, for anyone within range of New York's Capital Region ... don't forget that the girls' version of the GymRat CHALLENGE ... 156 teams, more than 1,750 players ... will take place this weekend (June 19, 20) with games at Siena College and at the University at Albany.

Like the boys' event, the girls' tournament is a mecca for young players who will advance to the college level.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Big Man to Canisius; Pickett quits Jaspers

A couple of interesting moves within conference programs of late ...

- Marial Dhal, a 7-foot-3 center, has given a commitment to join Canisius for the upcoming season. Dhal, a native of Kampala, Uganda, played the past two seasons at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla., leaving him two seasons of eligibility with the Golden Griffins.

At 7-3, it is believed that he will be the tallest player to ever be part of a MAAC program.

Then again ... big men, especially those who transfer into the MAAC, rarely have made a significant impact, so it remains to be seen how effective Dhal can be.

Dhal did originally sign to attend the University of Houston, but was allowed to break that commitment after Houston coach Tom Penders left the program in March.

"Marial is someone who can ghange a game for us at obvious reasons," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta in a release issued by the school. "... he'll provide us with a versatility defensively that not a lot of teams enjoy. He can run and rebound effectively and it will be our job to catch his offensive game up to his defensive game."

This past season at Hillsborough CC he was fifth nationally at the NJCAA level in blocks (5.1 per game), while averaging just 3.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

- And, then, there has been a recent personnel loss with the decision by star-crossed guard Rico Pickett to give up his final year of elibility at Manhattan to pursue professional opportunities, likely overseas.

In his one season with the Jaspers the 6-foot-4 Pickett averaged 17.7 points per game to lead the MAAC in scoring in 2009-10.

And Pickett also likely led the league in acts of unsportsmanlike conduct in his short time at Manhattan. The most noteable was after making a steal that would eventually lead to a breakaway dunk in a post-season tournament game with Siena he detoured to dribble near the Siena bench to stick his tongue out at the Saints' bench. It was arguably the most-unsportsmanlike act this blogger has ever seen in more than two decades around MAAC basketball.

And that was the proverbial tip of the iceberg for the volatile player who quickly established himself as Public Enemy No. 1 throughout the MAAC with a series of antics that also brought about a mid-season two-game suspension from Manhattan.

Pickett had originally declared himself eligible for the NBA draft before later withdrawing his name, likely upon the realization that his chances to actually be picked in the tw0-round draft weren't much different from winning the top prize in a New York Lotto drawing.

And, now, he is officially gone from Manhattan. For those keeping score, his upcoming "adventure" will be his fourth stop in four years: He spent the 2007-08 season at Alabama, the 2008-09 season at Miami Dade Junior College, and last season at Manhattan.

Farewell, Mr. Pickett. You will not be missed.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: A much promised review of some of the top players from the recent GymRat CHALLENGE AAU basketball tournament for boys in New York's Capital Region, plus a preview of the upcoming GymRat event for girls.

And, after that a full list of incoming recruits to MAAC programs complete with some analytical insight.

Thanks for reading, and please keep doing so.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Remembering Wooden, and a Prized Gift

I never met legendary John Wooden, yet your blogger still felt a touch of personal sadness at the legendary former UCLA coach's passing recently for a variety of reasons.

Primarily because Wooden and his teams were at their peak in the 1960s and into the 1970s during my adolescent/teen/early adult years, when my sporting interests were being formed. It's probably not much of a stretch to claim my affinity for college basketball ... and, maybe, my desire to cover the sport at that level, which I've done for 37 years ... is directly tied to Wooden and UCLA.

Those were UCLA's dominant years ... 10 national titles, an 88-game winning streak, etc. Your blogger, and a circle of friends growing up in a small upstate New York city, jumped on the proverbial UCLA bandwagon and discussions about the exploits of Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Keith Erickson, Lynn Shackleford, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, Steve Patterson and, of course. Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, dominated our daily lunch table.

Nothing captured my imagination and interests in the sporting world like UCLA basketball. So, the thought was planted that covering college basketball as a profession would be an enjoyable occupation.

So, I owe that to a man I never met. But, I did later make a personal connection of sorts and received one of my most-treasured sports mementos as a result.

And, it even has a small MAAC connection, occurring when Siena made a west coast trip to play Stanford at the start of the 2006-07 season. Your blogger was still working for an upstate N.Y. newspaper, covering Siena and made the trip to Palo Alto, Calif.

The night before the game, while partaking in a liquid beverage in our hotel's sports bar, a conversation was struck up with a gentleman who sat down on the next stool.

We quickly learned we knew of each other ... the next-stool gentleman because he often read my Siena stories on line from his California home, and your blogger because he grew up watching the gentleman play basketball at Siena.

It was a chance meeting with Rod Brooks, who grew up in the Syracuse area, played at Siena and finished there as the program's second all-time leading scorer when he graduated in 1974 with 1,315 career points.

Not long after his Siena days Brooks moved to California to start a business that brought about a connection with John Wooden's only son, Jim Wooden.

Brooks and the younger Wooden became close friends, living in the same neighborhood. Brooks told of often making visits to to his friend's dad, John Wooden.

I was certainly impressed, and told Brooks of my younger days as a true fan of UCLA basketball and John Wooden.

Brooks asked me if I wanted to meet Wooden's son. Of course, I did.

"Just stay here a little while, because he's on his way over to meet me," said Brooks.

Later that night I did meet Jim Wooden, and listened to stories of his dad for several hours.

The younger Wooden made the trip to the hotel lounge to bring something to Brooks, three place mat sized reproductions of John Wooden's famed "Pyramid of Success" that were signed by the legendary coach.

Brooks was going to make a short presentation at the next morning's breakfast fundraiser for Siena College, and would present the signed reproductions to Siena's school president, to then-coach Fran McCaffery and to athletic director John D'Argenio.

Your blogger sat at the breakfast with Brooks who later offered to arrange to have Wooden sign one for me, too.

Brooks described that Wooden would want my name in order to personalize the reproduction because he didn't want them to be sold (personalizing sports memorabilia diminishes monetary value significantly).

And, so, about a week later a mail truck pulled into my driveway to deliver a large envelope. Inside was the reproduction of the Pyramid of Success with the inscription: "To Steve, thanks for being a fan. John Wooden."

The reproduction was quickly framed and hangs prominently on a wall in my home office, one of my most-prized possessions. And, don't worry ... I'll never sell it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Women's Title Game Set for Monday, TV

Some interesting news has come out of the MAAC Council of Presidents' recent spring meeting.

The most interesting item is a schedule change for the league's post-season tournament's 2011 women's championship game.

The women will now play their title event on Monday (March 7, 2011), with the primary benefit being an opportunity to have the game televised nationally by ESPNU, which is available in more than 70 million homes.

This will mark the first time the women's championship game will be aired on national television since 1996. Game time is still to be determined, but it is expected to be an afternoon time slot.

The early rounds of the women's games will be unchanged, with play-in contests on Thursday with the quarterfinals on Friday and semifinal-round games on Saturday of the MAAC tournament weekend. The women will then have Sunday off prior to Monday's championship game.

Also accomplished at the annual league meeting:

- A reaffirmation of the continued development of the MAAC strategic plan, including marketing implementation and use of new media in the ever-evolving environment in college athletics.

- Discussion of conference and NCAA membership and other legislation, the recent NCAA men’s basketball broadcast package announcement and the 68-team bracket, as well as potential conference realignment pertaining to both the MAAC and all Division I conferences.

- A viewing of progress reports on the planning efforts of the MAAC Basketball Championships that will be held at the Arena at Harbor Yard (Bridgeport, Conn.) in 2011 and the MassMutual Center (Springfield, Mass.) for 2012-14. Included in the 2012-14 report was updates on the MAAC partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the MAAC serving as the event sponsor of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament and the MAAC exhibit space in the Hall of Fame.

- Approval of a contract extension of Commissioner Rich Ensor through June 30, 2013. Ensor was named the third commissioner of the MAAC in August of 1998.