Saturday, September 24, 2011

News and Notes, from Around The MAAC

MAAC news, notes and disjointed thoughts from a cluttered mind ...


Your hoopscribe is very impressed with the two new men's coaches entering the league this season, Manhattan's Steve Masiello and Fairfield's Sydney Johnson.

Johnson has already been identified as one of the better mid-major level coaches nationally, for his previous work at Princeton, by one college basketball guru. Johnson fits the recent method of conference schools of hiring former head coaches from elsewhere.

Masiello, though, doesn't. He has never been a head coach before, but appears to have the necessary apprentice work, not only as an assistant in the program he now directs (he served under Bobby Gonzalez from the 2001-02 through the 2004-05 seasons), but also as a Louisville assistant under Rick Pitino. And, it would be difficult to find a coach anywhere with the enthusiasm and optimism of Masiello.


Moreso than any time in recent memory will transfer players have an impact in the conference this season.

The initial thought here is that Rakim Sanders, the 6-5 senior swingman at Fairfield, will be the best of the incoming group with previous experience at other schools. Sanders already has more than 1,000 career points through three seasons at Boston College and has drawn raves from his coach, Sydney Johnson, for his work ethic and on-court intelligence. He also joins a program that will benefit from his ability to score points, so look for him to be among the conference's leading scorers as well.

But, he's not alone, not even on his own team. Point guard Desmond Wade (formerly at Houston), a junior, was in the starting lineup for the Stags' summer trip to Italy and is likely to get significant minutes during the upcoming regular season.

Then, there's Chris Prescott (St. Joseph's) at Saint Peter's, a 6-2 guard who will likely be among the conference scoring leaders this season.

Also, there's Jeff Jones (Virginia), at Rider who scored 555 points in his previous three seasons and is likely to be an impact player for the Broncs.

And, Ra'Shad James, a 6-1 guard (St. Thomas Aquinas), at Iona who one practice observer claims might have been the Gaels' best guard in practices last season.

The strong incoming group will be followed up by a similarly strong, if not better, group the following year.

Among those will be Freddie Asprilla, a 6-10, 275-pound center (Kansas State) at Canisius, Jordan Latham, a 6-8, 245-pound power forward (Xavier) at Loyola, Desi Washington, a 6-1 guard (Delaware State) at Saint Peter's, and Lamont "Momo" Jones, a 6-0 guard (Arizona) at Iona.

Iona is awaiting a hardship ruling by the NCAA on Jones that would allow him to play this coming season. The thought here is that Jones won't get early eligibility and won't be allowed to play games for the Gaels until next season. But, one never knows.


The best non-conference game this season? Pencil in Nov. 14 at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., when Providence comes to town to play Fairfield.

That game marks the return of Ed Cooley, the Fairfield coach for the past five seasons whose resume there includes this past season's regular-season title.

Cooley is now Providence's coach, but as part of the buyout agreement to be released from his Fairfield contract there was an agreement that Cooley had to bring his new team in for a game this season.


Among the most-experienced staffs in the league is the new one in place at Fairfield. Not only does new head man Sydney Johnson have successful work in his previous position at Princetown, but brought in two highly regarded assistants, both with past MAAC connections, Tony Newsome and Brian Nash.

Newsome, a 1993 graduate at Niagara, also served as an assistant in the conference at Siena (two seasons) and Rider (six years). He has also coached at Holy Cross (two years) and or seven years at Princeton.

Nash only spent one season in the MAAC as a Siena assistant 2000-01, but also brings to Fairfield experience as a head coach from five seasons running the program at St. Francis of N.Y.


Don't expect Saint Peter's, last season's representative from the conference to the NCAA tournament, to fall off too far this year despite the loss of our significant seniors from 2010-11.

There are some nice role players, ready to step into bigger roles, returning. And, then, there is one of the conference's strongest groups of incoming players, led by Prescott. Also joining the program and expected to make significant contributions will be junior college transfer 6-7 forward Karee Ferguson and 5-9 freshman point guard Lamin Fulton, who has drawn high praise for his work there so far.

And, in a league of strong coaches, the Peacocks' John Dunne is among the best.


The likelihood is that Iona's 6-7 forward Mike Glover will be the conference's choice as its preseason Player of the Year, but the player nicknamed "Optimus Prime" is getting notice on a national level, too.

Glover has been rated the seventh-best power forward nationally by Lindy's College Basketball Preview issue.

Glover has only been in the league for one season so far, but based on what we've seen he might be the conference's best true forward since Lionel Simmons' days at La Salle.


And, of course, it's time for a commercial announcement: The top college hoops preview magazine of its kind is now available at newsstands everywhere. That would be The Sporting News' preview issue, which includes a comprehensive look at the MAAC, written by your blogger. The MAAC preview also includes my choices for how the league will finish, top players, best newcomer and best coach. A sneak look: I picked Iona to win the regular-season title, followed by Fairfield. Glover was my choice as the league's top player.

For more ... you'll have to buy the magazine.


And, there's this preview of coming attractions ... Schedules are out. You can find every team's full 2011-12 schedule on each's individual website, or on the MAAC's website.

But, if you're looking for a detailed look at every team's non-conference list of opponents, then Keepin' Track of the MAAC is your perfect destination. We'll start providing that later this month and into early October.

And, early October means the start of preseason practices. Not long after that (late October, early November) we'll provide our team-by-team preseason previews for both men's and women's programs.

The college basketball season, the best time of the year, is almost here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Masiello Plans to Restore Jaspers' Luster

In the not-so-distant past MAAC teams in search of a men's basketball coach traditionally reached out to youthful assistant coaches from higher-level programs.

That, though, has changed in recent years as three of the more recent coaching searches resulted in the hiring of head men with past experience running a program: Tim Cluess at Iona (formerly at Division II C.W. Post), Mitch Buonaguro at Siena (once a head coach at Fairfield), and Sydney Johnson at Fairfield (previously at Princeton).

Manhattan, reportedly, tried to follow that route initially offering its position, when it was open this past spring, to Jim Ferry, the head coach at Long Island University. Only when Ferry turned down the offer did Manhattan administrators revert to hiring an assistant from a major program.

So it is that Steve Masiello, formerly an assistant coach at Louisville under Rick Pitino, gained the job as coach at Manhattan.

Early indications are that second choice doesn't mean second best.

Masiello, one of two new coaches in the conference this season (Johnson is the other) is a dynamic, high-energy guy who not only was able to bring in three solid recruits (after three other committed players opted not to attend the school after it fired Barry Rohrssen), but isn't afraid to admit to high aspirations for the once-strong program.

How about this for raising the proverbial bar within a program that has had one winning year over the past five:

"Everybody better watch out," said Masiello, the mid-April day he was introduced as the school's new coach. "We are going to create a new brand, and it’s going to be the best in the City. And we are going to take New York back over.

“We will be the model program for the conference. We will be the school that everyone looks up to and wants to be like, on and off the court. We will create what’s called the ‘Manhattan Way’ in how we do things.

“We are going to be the hardest working team in the country, bar none. We'll be in the best shape in the country, bar none. And we will be the most prepared team there is. I know that’s going to equate into winning.”

“We’re going to win, and we’re going to win big. If the Final Four this year didn’t allow young men to dream today that don’t get recruited at the highest level, I don’t know what will. Manhattan Basketball is back. These guys are going to show people what we’re all about.”

Five months since he spoke those words, there isn't any hint of a retraction nor any indication his high energy has dimmed.

"We're getting guys in great shape," said Masiello, who points to senior guard Kidani Brutus's loss of 27 pounds since last season as proof. "Turning this around is more about the guys understanding what's expected of them. They're learning what discipline and accountability is all about. We've changing the culture of the basketball team here and making sure our players know what it takes."

Masiello, though, knows it takes more than conditioning and accountability to turn things around.

"Personnel is the key to success," he said. "Recruiting is the blood line to the program, our No. 1 priority."

Even with his relatively late start in his first opportunity to be a head coach, Masiello was able to bring in freshmen 6-1 point guard DeCarlos Anderson, 6-5 off-guard Emmy Andujar and 6-6 wing Donovan Kates to a class that already included the one Rohrssen recruit who stayed, 6-8 forward Ryan McCoy.

And Masiello is quick to admit that Rohrssen left some quality personnel in place.

"Barry was a great recruiter and left some good players here," admitted Masiello. "The injury bug bit this program quite a bit when Barry was here."

Masiello will probably rely heavily on Rohrssen's players initially, including junior wing George Beamon, and sophomores forward Rhamel Brown and guard Mike Alvarado along with Brutus.

Masiello also expects solid play from, among others, two players victimized by injury a year ago, 6-7 redshirt freshman Roberto Colonette, who missed the entire season, and junior guard Mohamed Koita, who missed 15 games.

If the team's health holds up Masiello is hoping to fit 10 or 11 team members into his playing group.

"We want to have guys who play multiple positions, guys who are triple-threat guys capable of shooting, passing and rebounding," he said. "We're going to play a fun style. We're going to get out and run and score 80 points a game. We're going to create havoc on the defensive end. We're going to take you out of what you do when you practice ... we're going to take you out of everything you usually do."

It's a style that has paid major dividends at this level in the past (Paul Hewitt's Siena teams come to mind).

"It can be effective because so few teams play that way, so opponents don't practice against that. If we can get our guys to be good at it we can cause some problems. It's going to be the foundation of who we are. We're going to try to get 35 deflections a game, 13 steals a game. We're going to fast break and make good decisions."

If it sounds like Masiello has a plan, it's because he has been formulating one for years awaiting this opportunity.

"There is no one better to have learned under than Rick Pitino," he said. "He prepares you as well as you can be prepared. Now, it's a matter of me going out and executing my plans."

And, it's not as if winning is foreign to Manhattan, a storied program even before the formation of the MAAC 31 years ago. And, in recent years, too, and Masiello was part of some of the program's more-recent glory years.

He was a Bobby Gonzalez assistant at Manhattan from 2001-02 through the 2004-05 season, part of teams that went to one NIT (2002) and two NCAA tournaments (2003, '04). Those teams had some of the best individual talent in place at Manhattan in recent years, and Masiello aspires to keep the talent level high, particularly since so much of it is cultivated in his own backyard of the basketball-rich New York City metropolitan area.

"We want to change the brand of us ... when we go into a high school to recruit we understand if a kid says he's going to Duke or some other top 15 program," said Masiello. "Otherwise, unless a kid absolutely wants to leave the area we want him to look hard at Manhattan.

"When I was an assistant here before it was the cool thing to say you were with the Manhattan program. We were one of the better programs around, and that's what we want to get back too. We want Manhattan to be one of those schools like Butler, VCU, George Mason and Gonzaga. We want to take it to the next level. We want to be special, and for this to be a special place.

"And, at the end of the day, it's New York City. It's an awesome place to recruit. It's a great opportunity to come here, to stay home and play in front of family and friends and get a great education. And, this is the No. 1 media market in the country. Being written about in the newspapers results in having their names out there and equates to job opportunities down the road.

"There's not a Manhattan alum in the city who's not proud of this city and this program, and they're the people who do the hiring of college graduates. It's an easy selling point ... why not be on the back page of the Daily News or the Post and get that kind o exposure?"

The exposure, though, will only be there and only be positive if the program can win under Masiello.

But with the players left in place by Rohrssen's work, a little luck to avoid the injuries that plagued last year's team and Masiello's enthusiastic plan ... then doesn't seem to be much doubt that Manhattan will quickly start winning again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

St. Peter's Men's Recruits Should Help

Here's another, the final one for men's programs, in the series looking at incoming players to conference teams.

Up now ...


- Lamin Fulton, 5-9 point guard, Neumann-Goretti H.S., Philadelphia.

He averaged 15.5 points per game as a high school senior as his team finished 27-4 and won Pennsylvania's Class AAA state championship.

- Chris Prescott, 6-2 junior guard, transfer from Saint Joseph's.

Prescott played two seasons at St. Joe's. As a sophomore there in 2009-10 he started 12 games, averaged 4.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game.

- Karee Ferguson, 6-7 junior forward, transfer from Lincoln (Ill.) Trails Junior College.

He averaged 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game this past season.

- Markese Tucker, 6-5 redshirt freshman, Trenton Catholic H.S.

Tucker attended Saint Peter's this past season, but red-shirted and did not play.

- Desi Washington, 6-2 sophomore guard, transfer from Delaware State.

Washington played one season at Delaware State, averaging 13.1 points per game. He made 70 3-pointers, exactly half of his made field goals. He will redshirt this year, as per transfer rules, and be eligible to begin playing in 2012-13.

Gaetano Spera, 6-11 center, Scientific High School, Marigliano, Italy.

No stats on Spera are available.

ANALYSIS: Only Canisius lost as many key players as Saint Peter's, which used a savvy, veteran lineup to win this past season's post-season conference tournament and advance to the NCAA's. The Peacocks, though, seem to have adequate reinforcements. Prescott should be a ready-to-go standout in the conference and could be among its top point producers this season, an the team will nee his offense. Fulton, a highly touted point guard, is likely to get into the playing group early if not start. Ferguson is also a candidate to start, particularly since the team lost two front-court standouts (Ryan Bacon, Jeron Belin) to graduation. Tucker, a true wide body at 6-5 and close to 250 pounds, could also bring some inside toughness and get into the playing group early. There isn't a lot known about Spera, although internet highlight clips show that he has a smooth offensive game inside of 15 feet. He is likely a project that will develop as his career goes on.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Losses Mean Siena's Return to "Small Ball"

The 2011-12 Siena men's basketball team might look a lot like the 2005-06 squad that was short on height, short on expectations and big on exceeding the gloom-and-doom predicti0ns of just about every prognostication.

The 2005-06 team was the first during Fran McCaffery's five-year stretch as the program's head coach, and most expected the Saints to be a near-the-bottom of the MAAC standings' finisher, particularly since the previous year's team finished 6-24 overall and the top returnee, post standout Michael Haddix, would miss the season.

Instead McCaffery played "small ball," installing a run-and-guy style that took advantages of match-up mismatches with the smaller Saints taking advantage of superior quickness.

David Ryan, previously a 6-foot-7 perimeter player, was the only member of the 7-man playing group taller than 6-4. Antoine Jordan, a 6-4 swingman, led those Saints in both scoring (17.1 points) and rebounding (8.1).

The 2011-12 version of the Saints, as recently as a month ago, looked like it would have a bruising, albeit young, front court as the centerpiece of its style of play.

Instead, most of that front court is already out for the season, getting ready for 2012-13.

The school recently announced that returning 6-9 junior forward Davis Martens, who showed flashes of ability in limited time last season and was expected to be a key contributor this year, is done or 2011-12 after late-August hip surgery.

And bookend freshman 6-8 power forwards/centers Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas, have been ruled ineligible for the coming season by the NCAA.

It could have been worse. The NCAA's original decision not only would have kept Gomis off the court this season, but would have granted him just one subsequent season (2012-13) of college eligibility.

That decision on Gomis, though, was recently reversed. Now, both he and Silas can play three seasons after sitting out the upcoming year.

"Our compliance staff and basketball coaches have done a great deal of work assembling documents and gathering information that led to Lionel earning back two years of eligibility," director of athletics John D'Argenio said.

The NCAA decision to have players serve a year in academic residence and remove a year of athletic eligibility reflects delayed enrollment legislation that was adopted in April of 2010 and enacted in August. It states that a student athlete must complete their high school core curriculum requirements within a five-year period, or the international equivalent.

Gomis and Silas were reclassified after moving from Africa to the United States by the preparatory schools they attended, causing their education to extend beyond the five-year window.

Siena asked for a legislative relief waiver for both student athletes, but the NCAA staff indicated today that a waiver would only be granted if Siena could prove that extenuating circumstances led to the delayed enrollment. It noted that these circumstances would need to extend beyond any socioeconomic issues that may have led both players to leave their home countries.

Silas actually did not attend school for two years, due to extenuating personal circumstances, while living in Africa, leading to the NCAA's original ruling that he would only have one remaining season of college eligibility before that decision was overturned based on Siena's appeal.

Still, the loss of three front-court performers leaves Siena with just 10 scholarship players, and only two of them taller than 6-6, for the coming season.

Speaking at Siena's "Sneak Preview" at Times Union Center recently, head coach Mitch Buonaguro said that he'll have "more of an up-tempo, spread-the-floor type team" than last year, when the main objective was to pound the ball inside to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year Ryan Rossiter, who graduated and is now playing professionally in France.

"Well, we'll have to play differently," Buonaguro said.

The front-court losses have changed the complexion of the Saints, who are trying to rebound from a 13-18 season.

The team's remaining big men are 6-7 junior O.D. Anosike, 6-8 senior Brandon Walters and 6-7 freshman Marcus Hooper.

Anosike played power forward last season, Walters was a lightly used reserve and Hooper's game, according to reports, is better suited to the perimeter.

The likelihood is that Siena will move Anosike to the middle and find considerable time for returning starter 6-6 Owen Wignot to move from his previous role on the perimeter to the power forward spot.

"Before all this happened, you looked at our team, and we were huge," said Wignot. "We had guys 6-8, 6-9, for days. And now that they're out, we've just got to transition into what we've got to work with."

Now, Wignot will often get called on to play inside.

"Coach B (Buonaguro) especially talked about that," Wignot said. "With our lineups, if I'm at the 4 (power forward), we can create some mismatches and spread teams out."

Can that succeed?

Certainly expectations for the coming year won't be high.

Then again, they weren't high in 2005-06 when the Saints employed the smallest lineup in the conference and far exceeded any expectations.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Camara, Bidlingmyer Land Coaching Posts

From the department of well-known faces in new places ...

Two formerly prominent MAAC players have landed new coaching opportunities.

Fifi Camara, the conference's women's player of the Year for the 2005-06 season, has returned to her alma mater, joining the Marist coaching staff as its director of basketball operations.

And, former Siena standout Brian Bidlingmyer, who graduated from that school in 1995, has become the director of player development at Western Kentucky.

"We are extremely happy to have Fifi Camara back at Marist College. She will be a tremendous role model for our players and a tireless worker on our staff," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis, earlier this week. "I know that our fans will be happy to see Fifi back on the floor at the McCann Arena. She is a wonderful addition to our staff."

After transferring from Division III Genesee, Camara enjoyed two very successful seasons in a Marist uniform. In just 59 games for the Red Foxes, Camara scored a total of 938 points and collected 506 rebounds, ranking her first on the Red Foxes’ career records with 8.6 rebounds per game and second all-time with 15.6 points per game. She was an All-MAAC First Team selection in both seasons and was Marist women’s basketball’s first ever MAAC Player of the Year in her senior year. That season, Camara helped the Red Foxes to a 23-win season, a school record at the time, and their first of six straight MAAC championships.

As Director of Basketball Operations, Camara will be responsible for coordinating team travel, film exchange and editing.

Bidlingmyer joins the Western Kentucky staff in 2011-12 in a position that will focus on players' academics, after spending the last six seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

While at Milwaukee, Bidlingmyer helped to oversee recruiting efforts while also participating in all of the on-court aspects of head coach Rob Jeter’s program.

"Brian has a wealth of different experience at many different levels, and he is a guy who is really going to help our staff with various aspects of our program," WKU head coach Ken McDonald said. "He is going to have a high amount of focus on the academic progress of our players, community relations and the day-to-day operation of our basketball program. He will be a great glue-guy for our program and will pitch in with everything that makes a high-level program operate efficiently."

Bidlingmyer has delivered results at each of his previous coaching stops as well. In two seasons at Binghamton alongside current WKU assistant coach Lawrence Brenneman, he helped Al Walker build the Bearcat program into one of the up-and-coming squads in the America East Conference.

Bidlingmyer's coaching career also includes a stop at Lamar University where he served under Mike Deane, the former Siena coach who directed the Saints in the first three years of Bidlingmyer's playing days there.

Under Mike Deane at Lamar, Bidlingmyer served as the program's recruiting coordinator in addition to his on-the-floor coaching duties, helping the Cardinals capture the 2000 Southland Conference Championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years.

Bidlingmyer also worked with Deane for two seasons at Marquette, and was the director of the Mike Deane Basketball Camps for all six years he worked with Deane.

His coaching experience has also included summer stints overseas with People-To-People Sports. He led a team to France during the summer of 2000 before taking teams to Australia in the summers of 2001 and 2002. He also toured Romania as a player with a college all-star team in 1991.

Bidlingmyer played four seasons at Siena College, where he served as team captain his senior year. The Saints advanced to the NIT semifinals in 1994, winning a school-record 25 games. He played in 118 consecutive games at the school and led the team in rebounding as a junior. He also holds a pair of Siena single-game records for field goal percentage (8-for-8) and steals (10). The steals mark is also still a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference record.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jaspers' Women's Recruiting: Needs Filled

Here's another in the series looking at players joining conference programs for the coming season.

Up now ...


- Ashley Stec, 6-1 forward, Cazenovia (N.Y.) H.S.

No high school stats available. She is a gifted athlete who played four sports (also swimming, soccer and track & field) in high school. Stec is the younger sister of former Siena standout Heather Stec.

"Ashley is a great athlete who can play multiple positions," said Manhattan coach John Olenowski said. "She has fine three-point shooting range and is a sound inside player. Ashley is a top-notch rebounder and defender as well."

- Sheba Hall, 5-5 point guard, Lower Merion H.S., Philadelphia

No statistics available.

"Sheba is an outstanding point guard who is explosive in transition and very crafty with the ball," Olenowski said. "In addition, she is a tenacious defender."

- Nicole Isaacs, 5-7 guard, Rumson Fair Haven Regional H.S.

No statistics available.

"Nicole is a great all-around basketball player," Olenowski said. "She is a dynamic outside shooter who has a fine handle and sees the court well. Nicole is also fundamentally sound defensively."

ANALYSIS: Manhattan posted 24 victories this past season, but lost do-everything point guard Abby Wentworth to graduation. Hall likely will get significant minutes running the point,, and Isaacs should fit in immediate as a member of the playing group at the off-guard spot. Manhattan's other challenge last season was a lack of height, and Stec should provide some help in that area.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

List Overlooks Deserving MAAC Coaches

We've been reading ...

Your hoopscribe came across a well-done, thought-provoking piece about the nation's best mid-major level coaches recently. Anyway, it did provoke my thoughts.

Well-done, thought-provoking ... and, lacking in, it says here, expertise related to the MAAC.

The story, done by Jason King for Yahoo Sports, highlighted, in no particular order, Blaine Taylor, Old Dominiion; Shaka Smart, VCU; Steve Alford, New Mexico; Tommy Amaker, Harvard; Randy Bennett, St. Mary's; Mike Davis, UAB; Fran Dunphy, Temple; Steve Fisher, San Diego State; Tim Floyd, Texas El Paso; Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa; Chris Mack, Xavier; Chris Mooney, Richmond; Stew Merrill, Utah State; John Pastner, Memphis; Dave Rose, BYU; and, Sydney Johnson, Fairfield (formerly Princeton).

The article mentioned nine others as also meriting a mention.

Yours truly has two proverbial bones of contention ...

1) Since when have the upper-echelon teams from Conference USA and the Atlantic 10, among others, ever been considered "mid-majors?"

The resources at schools like Memphis, BYU, Xavier, Richmond and more than a few others on the list, dwarf the true mid-majors that inhabit the MAAC.

2) There are 25 coaches, total, mentioned within the article and not a single one has ever coached a game in the MAAC.

OK, Fairfield's Johnson is now a MAAC coach, but his work to gain mention came at Princeton, his last stop.

The guess here is that the article's writer isn't very familiar with the MAAC. Before he moved to Yahoo Sports he worked for the Kansas City Star. He is a graduate of Baylor University. Both locales are far removed from the MAAC's northeast base.

If any opinion maker wants to opine about the top mid-major coaches, they had better look strongly at our conference of preference, because there are plenty of outstanding candidates within it.

Where to begin?

How about Joe Mihalich, who inherited a mostly downtrodden Niagara program located in a region that only true snow-lovers can enjoy for a good portion of the year. And, all Mihalich has done is to put up 11 winning seasons in his 13 at Monteagle Ridge. Great coaches usually move on, and Mihalich is the conference's dean of men's coaches. But, he got hired relatively late in his career, after a lengthy run as an assistant at La Salle, and Mihalich watched his children grow up over his time in Niagara. He has had opportunities to move on, but didn't want to displace his family. And, a note here: Mihalich nearly came into the MAAC many years before he landed at Niagara, finishing as the runner-up candidate in a Siena coaching search in 1994, losing out to Bob Beyer.

Or, how about Jimmy Patsos, who inherited a Loyola program that ranked as the worst nationally, in terms of consecutive losses in a season, the year before his arrrival. Patsos, a former Maryland assistant, hasn't yet won a MAAC title, but he has lifted his program to the upper half of the conference standings regularly and has made Loyola a place for local products to consider as a college destination, a situation that didn't exist before his arrival.

Then, there's Tommy Dempsey at Rider. In recent years his teams have won non-league games over nationally ranked Mississippi State (two years ago) and higher-caliber opponents USC. TCU and Loyola Marymount last season. And, a year after losing his best player (Ryan Thompson) and returning a group comprised almost entirely of role players, the Broncs were even better than the previous season, finishing 13-5 in conference play this past year, good for a tie for second place.

More? How about Tim Cluess at Iona? Previously a Division II coach Cluess made his mark in his first season at Iona, leading the Gaels to 25 wins, a four-win improvement over the previous year (a season good enough for previous coach Kevin Willard to move on to Seton Hall), and taking the program to the finals of the post-season tournament. He did that in his first Division I season.

And, then, there's John Dunne at Saint Peter's, a program whose facilities and financial support for its athletic program doesn't rank anywhere near the top of the conference. Dunne came in after previous coach Bob Leckie abandoned ship when the program's all-time best player, Keydren Clark, graduated. The early results were predictable, just 11 total wins in his first two seasons. And, early last season, his best player (Wesley Jenkins) suffered a knee injury and never approached full physical capabilities. But Dunne's team won 11 conference games for the second straight season (a Saint Peter's first since 1987-88 and 1988-89) and captured the MAAC's post-season tournament for the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA's.

And, even though Mitch Buonaguro "only" won 13 games in his first season as Siena's head coach, he did so despite more personnel injuries than any other conference program. Included was a severe ankle injury to his lone outside threat, Clarence Jackson, that had Jackson limp through games he was able to play. And, Buonaguro long ago stamped himself as knowing a little about the sport. It was his game plan, when he was an assistant coach at Villanova, that resulted in that program's historical upset victory over Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA tournament's national championship game.

And, we haven't even considered the other conference coaches, Tom Parrotta at Canisius, Chuck Martin at Marist and Steve Masiello at Manhattan.

Masiello is just beginning his first year as a Division I coach. Parrotta has been at Canisius for five years and since a 6-25 finish in 2007-09 his record has gotten progressively better each season. It was 15-15 this past year, not exactly overwhelming success. But, it was the first time the program didn't finish with a below-.500 mark since the 2000-01 season. Martin has been a seemingly annual victim of player defections, some not his fault. But, he appears to have good young talent in place right now. The jury is still out on whether he'll succeed at Marist, but his track record, particularly as an assistant coach at Memphis where he was a proponent of the effective dribble-drive offense, earns high marks.

That's nine overlooked MAAC coaches. Fairfield's Johnson is No. 10, and he's on the list. And, deservedly so for his work returning Princeton to the upper echelon of the Ivy League.

The bottom line is that it says here the MAAC has never been so strong, top to bottom, in terms of strong coaching.

And, those who don't see it just aren't looking hard enough.

Italy Trip Builds Familiarity for Fairfield

When considering a new job, college coaches look at a variety of factors.

New Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson says he looked primarily at three things when he was considering a departure from his former position as head coach at Princeton to taking over the Stags.

"Believe it or not the first two things I looked at were whether the school was academically strong, and whether the support from administration and the athletic department were there," said Johnson.

Fairfield certainly has solid academics, and the athletic commitment, at least related to men's basketball, has grown significantly in recent years not only with the school's full-time move to the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Ct., for games but in terms of financial support that includes his salary that has been reported to be in the range of $400,000 annually. That figure likely makes him the conference's highest paid coach.

It was only after his positive perception of those criteria were satisfied did he start looking at his third consideration, the talent in place within the Fairfield program.

When he began watching films of last year's games he had to like what he saw there, too.

The Stags not only return four players who each started at least 18 games a year ago, including the team's top two returning scorers and top two rebounders, but a fifth player with 11 starts in 2010-11.

Add to that two highly talented transfers who become eligible for the coming season, and Johnson inherited a wealth of strong personnel as he tries to duplicate a regular-season championship (15-3 in conference play) from a year ago and a school-record 25-victory total.

But there's one thing Fairfield hasn't done yet in its recent era of resurgence that includes a MAAC-best 48-19 overall record over the past two seasons: earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

"We hope our team can be better than it has been," said Johnson, certainly aware that qualifying for an NCAA berth is about the only thing the Stags haven't accomplished over the past two seasons.

"I really do believe that we'll challenge to win the conference," he said. "I'd be very disappointed if we're not in the mix for an opporunity to win the championship. But, to say that we're favorites ... we've got a challenging non-league schedule to prepare us for conference play and the MAAC is a very challenging league.

"The one thing that impressed me going from the Big East (as a Georgetown assistant) to Princeton was the quality of coaches in the Ivy League," he said. "And, after watching film of last year's games of teams in the MAAC, I've got the same respect for coaches in this league. There's a lot of talent in this league, and it's well-coached. We know trying to win a championship is going to be a struggle."

A struggle that might have been made even more so with a new coach (former coach Ed Cooley move on to take over at Providence) and two new potential starters (incoming transfers wing Rakim Sanders and point guard Desmond Wade).

But Johnson and his team got a break, an early opportunity to get acquainted and develop team bonding and chemistry, in the form of an already scheduled 10-day trip to play games in Italy last month. The summer trip also allowed Johnson to bring his team together for 10 practice days in preparation for playing overseas, an opportunity not allowed teams that don't make international trips.

"That gave us a big advantage," said Johnson. "My challenge as a first-year coach is to have our guys as prepared as possible for when the season starts.

"Because of the practices and games that we've already had ... now when the guys came in (for the just-begun fall semester), they spend spend time catching up and not just finding out about each other. We've already had 10 days of practices and 10 days in Italy playing games. We're extremely fortunate for that.

"Now we don't have to get to know each other. Now, when practice starts we can concentrate on competition rather than concentrating on new technology. We've put in some things already. They already know how i like to do things and I know how they like to do things. We've become familiar with each other."

In other words, Fairfield got an early opportunity to develop team chemistry that it otherwise would just be starting to do right now. It was an opportunity for Johnson to at least introduce his practice routines and general style of play this summer rather than doing it when pre-season practices begin in October.

"On top of the practices we've had four good games in Italy," added Johnson. "It has helped us determine roles and to start to come together. It was a help, but we've still got challenges."

Not the least of those is figuring how Wade and Sanders, transfers from Houston and Boston College, respectively, fit into the playing group and, potentially, the starting lineup.

Wade, who has two seasons of eligibility, comes in after being one of just three players in Houston history with at least 100 assists in back-to-back seasons. The 5-foot-8 point guard could allow junior Derek Needham, the team's top scorer while also running the point the past two years, to move over to the off-guard and concentrate even more on producing points, which is what he does best.

"All I can say is that if Derek stays healthy, considering all the things he's done in the last two years, he's going to be on the floor a lot," said Johnson. "Whether he plays point, or 2-guard, I don't care ... he's just going to be in there. He's a natural-born leader and a skilled player who helps us be a better team. He'll probably start the season doing a little bit of both."

Johnson, though, knew all about Needham long before he ever saw the 5-11 guard on the court. Needham's reputation, and ability that could be clearly seen in game tapes, certainly gave Johnson a hint of what to expect from him.

But Johnson said his biggest surprise came after getting a first-hand look at Sanders, who already has 1,048 career points from his three seasons at Boston College.

"We knew he was an accomplished player who performed well against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents," said Johnson. "So, no one was surprised by his talent and ability. But we were impressed with how smart he is as a player. He plays the game the right way, he does the right things on the court. He makes good decisions. It's easy to be impressed by his size and strength, but it was something to see how versatile he is as a player."

Considering all that Fairfield currently has in place, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to see the Stags repeat as the conference's regular-season titlist.

That might not have always been the perception. Iona, which went through its own coaching change and the adjustment to a new key player (Mike Glover) last season, now has that full sense of familiarity and, for sure, will challenge the Stags for regular-season superiority.

But the international trip that gave Johnson and his players, both new and old, a chance to blend and bond, should pay dividends for the Stags this season. It could be enough for Fairfield to reach the one goal it hasn't gotten yet in its recent positive run: a trip to the NCAA's.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Manhatten Men Add Strong Guard Group

Here's another in the series looking at players joining conference teams for the coming season.

Up now ...


- Donovan Kates, 6-5 guard, Christian County H.S., Hopkinsville, Ky.

Kates averaged 20 points and 7 rebounds per game this past season, while making 77 3-pointers.

Donovan is a versatile player with a great skill set and he can play a multitude of positions for us," said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello. "With his work ethic and pedigree the sky is the limit for Donovan."

- Decarlos Anderson, 6-2 point guard, I.C. Norcum H.S., Suffolk, Va.

He averaged 15.8 points per game this past season.

"Decarlos is a winner who has experienced success throughout his high school career," said Masiello. "He can play multiple positions in the backcourt and we will look for him to be an integral part of our basketball team."

- Emmanuel Andujar, 6-5 wing, Rice H.S., NYC.

He averaged 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists this past season.

"He continues a great tradition of Rice High School players who come to Manhattan," said Masiello. "Anytime you get a player from Rice, you are getting a high quality person and student-athlete who will be successful on and off the court. Emmy fits the mold of a player who can be used in multiple positions and one who has a high skill set."

- Ryan McCoy, 6-6 wing, Montgomery (N.J.) H.S.

No senior season statistics available. He averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game as a junior.

McCoy was signed by former Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen during the early period.

ANALYSIS: New head coach Steve Masiello was hired relatively late, yet still brought in what appears to be three solid recruits in Anderson, a point guard, and two wing players in Andujar and Kates. McCoy, another versatile win, signed in the early period. Rohrssen actually had four early period signees, but three of those opted not to honor those commitments after Rohrssen was fired. It meant the Jaspers lost out on 6-10 center Edson Avila (headed to Seward JC in Kansas), point guard Davontay Gray (headed to prep school) and wing player Zach Lamb.

Phoenix Named Centenary Women's Coach

Add another former conference player to the list of college head coaches.

Last week former Manhattan standout Justin Phoenix was named head coach at Centenary College's women's basketball team.

No, that's not the school that produced former NBA star Robert Parish. Instead, it's a Division III program located in Hackettstown, N.J., that participates in the Colonial States Athletic Conference.

Still, it's a terrific opportunity for Phoenix to continue to pursue his career as a college coach.

Phoenix, who played at Manhattan from 1992 through 1996 and, then, played 10 professional seasons for various European teams, previously served as an assistant for the Kean University's women's teams or the past three seasons.

The Kean teams, during Phoenix's tenure, compiled a 75-15 record. Phoenix wasn't the only Manhattan connection there. Former Jaspers' women's head coach Michelle Sharp has been Kean's head coach for the past 12 seasons.

Phoenix also coached a year with the men's team at Burlington County College prior to moving on to Kean.

“I am truly honored to be selected as the new women's basketball coach," said Phoenix, when his hiring was announced. “I am greatly appreciative to director of athletics Billie Blackwell and the entire search committee members for allowing me the opportunity to lead this program. It has been a long time dream to have my own program and from the moment I stepped on campus it felt like I belonged.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Rider Women Recruits Provide Optimism

Here's another in the series looking at players joining conference programs this season.

Up now ...


- Emily Fazzini, 5-10 guard, Archbishop Carroll H.S., Philadelphia.

N0 senior season stats are available.

"Emily is a tough hard working Catholic League Philly kid," Rider coach Kim Milligan said. "She has a great desire and passion for the game. Emily will be able to contribute right away to our program because she can play defense, shoot the ball and attack the basket."

- Marritta Gillcrease, 6-3 center, Perry Traditional Academy, Pittsburgh.

As a junior she averaged 14 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. No senior season stats are available.

"Marritta will add size and depth to our post game," Milligan said. "She is very agile, can rebound and score in the paint. Marritta will be able to play either post position for us and will cause matchup problems when she is able to play with Sarah (Homan) and Caitlin (Bopp)."

- Manon Pellet, 5-6 point guard, Montpellier Academy, Marseille, France.

No statistics available, but she was selected among the 16 best players in France, of her age, and was invited to the second FIBA international camp in July 2008 in Slovenia, where she was MVP, and consequently, invited to attend the Euroleague Women's Final Four 2009 as an official guest of FIBA Europe.

"Manon is an exciting talented player who can change games," Milligan said. "She is a scoring point guard who can also defend and run a team. We are very excited she has chosen to bring her talents to the United States and Rider University."

- Kornelija Valiuskyte, 5-8 point guard, The Rock School of Gainesville, Fla.

She averaged 9.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.9 steals per game as a senior. She is a native of Lithuania.

"Kornelija is a solid steady point guard who can run a team," Milligan said. "She has a very high basketball IQ and a maturity about her game. She can score from the perimeter and can set up her teammates and put them in successful situations."

Sironda Chambers, 5-7 guard, Harcum Junior College.

She averaged 20.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.2 steals per game this past season at Harcum. She enters Rider as a junior with two seasons of eligibility.

"Sironda is a scoring guard who knows no other way but 100 percent," said Milligan. "She has played in the junior college ranks for two years and competed for a national title. She is a threat on both ends of the floor and can make things happen with her speed, quickness, and scoring ability. She will be a veteran presence to our guard group next season."

ANALYSIS: This looks like the group that has the best chance, joining an already developing cast of young players, of turning around Rider's struggling program. Chambers, an effective scorer, is likely to get significant minutes at shooting guard right away with Fazzini also capable of playing the position. The Broncs' greatest need a year ago was quality point guard play, and the team brings in two promising young players at the position in Pellet and Kaliuskyte. And, Gillcrease joins a front court that was already among the tallest in the conference.

Rider Men add Solid Present, Future Parts

Here's another in the series looking at players joining conference programs for the coming season.

Up now ...


- Junior Fortunat, 6-8 forward, Roman Catholic H.S., Philadelphia.

Fortunat, a native of Quebec, averaged 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game for high powered Roman Catholic this past season.

- Mark Medley, 6-3 guard, Tatnall H.S., Wilmington, Del.

He averagted 20.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this past season.

- Eddie Mitchell, 6-0 guard, LaSalle H.S., Philadelphia

He averaged 16.2 points per game this past season.

- Charles Oliver, 6-2 guard, Scotch Plains (N.J.) H.S.

He averagted 21.8 points an 5.3 rebounds per game this past season.

- Jeff Jones, 6-4 guard, transfer from U of Virginia.

Jones was a part-time starter at UVA over three seasons there, scoring 555 total points. He was at Rider last season and, as per transfer rules, was able to practice. He is eligible this season with just one year of eligibility remaining.

ANALYSIS: A good incoming class. Jones should be an impact player, a big-time scorer, for Rider helping keep the team strong this coming season. Fortunat could eventually be a potent inside force while the three freshmen guards (Medley, Mitchell and Oliver) all could contend or playing time early and, together, make up the future of the Broncs' backcourt.

"This is a recruiting class that will not only make an immediate impact but also continue to lay the foundation for long term success here at Rider," said Rider coach TommyDempsey.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loss of Doran, former Jaspars' Star, Felt

J. Willard Doran graduated from Manhattan College long before the MAAC existed, but his contributions to not only basketball but sports in general was felt or many years after his own college playing days.

Doran, a 1954 graduate of Manhattan and a standout basketball player there ... he was the captain of the 1953-54 team ... died earlier this week. He was a native and lifelong resident of Troy, N.Y.

He was a three-sport star (basketball, football, baseball) at the high school level at Troy's LaSalle Institute, played at Manhattan (his 12.7 rebound-per-game average in the 1952-53 season remains seventh-best in Jaspars' history) and, after graduation, was part of the first-ever U.S. Army basketball team stationed in Fort Dix, N.J.

Doran's connection to sports, though, continued after his own playing career.

He moved to officiating in the 1960s, an avocation he pursued for more than three decades. The tall, distinguished-looking Doran was a commanding figure as an official for both football and basketball. Your hoopscribe probably attended several dozen games that Doran officiated, and was always impressed by how he positively interracted with coaches and players.

Doran was widely recognized, along with the late Dom Denio, as one of the best official ever to work games in upstate New York. He and Denio were the only officials in the inaugural group selected to the Capital District's Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Here's a a tribute to Doran that appeared in The Troy Record, with more details about his exemplary life and longtime dedication to sports: