Friday, May 25, 2012

Rider Never Looks Long or Far For Men's Coach

You can say one thing about Rider University searches for men's basketball coaches: the decision-making process doesn't take long.

OK, a second thing, too: It's not exactly wide-reaching, either.

When Kevin Bannon moved on to Rutgers in 1997, the school just moved assistant coach Don Harnum into the position.

When Harnum, in 2005, moved into administration to become the school's athletic director, his top assistant coach, Tommy Dempsey, moved up.

And, now, with Dempsey moving on to take over the program at Binghamton, the blueprint for finding his successor remains the same.

Kevin Baggett, whose title had been associate head coach of the Broncs, was officially introduced as the program's new head coach earlier this week.

No need to change what's working. Both Harnum and Dempsey, upon their respective moves into the lead chair, had good results directing the Rider men's basketball team. The same is expected from Baggett.

"Kevin has been a major part of our recent success and I am confident he has the ability to be an excellent head coach who understands what it takes to be successful at Rider," said Harnum, at the press conference to introduce Baggett as head coach.

Baggett, a former Saint Joseph's player, has coached on the Division I level for 16 years and has been on the Rider staff since the 2006-07 season. Over the last six seasons, Rider's 111 wins is the most by a Division I program in the Metropolitan New York/New Jersey area and the third-most in the MAAC.

Before coming to Rider Baggett also served as an assistant at James Madison, Howard, Western Kentucky and Coastal Carolina.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

GymRat AAU Event is Hoop Junkies' Mecca

If you came out to watch the GymRat Challenge AAU basketball tournament in 1999, you saw the formative days of Emeka Okafor, who would wind up being the No. 1 pick of the 2004 NBA draft.,

If you came out to wath in 2006 or 2008, you got to see players who led the nation in rebounding, on the Division I level, in college basketball's last two seasons. That would be Kenneth Faried (played in the GymRat in 2006, and led all college rebounders in the 2010-11 season), and Siena's O.D. Anosiki (played in 2008, led the country in rebounding in 2011-12).

If you came out in 2004 or 2005, you got to see the player who led the country in scoring in the 2010-11 season, current Sacramento Kings' guard Jimmer Fredette.

And, so it goes ... an impressive who's who list of players who came through the GymRat tournament, players like current NBA standouts Michael Beasley, Stephon Curry and Joakim Noah; players like national championship winners Cole Aldrich (with Kansas in 2010) and Shabazz Napier (UConn in 2011); and George Beamon, the MAAC's leading scorer this past season.

The 15th annual GymRat Challenge tournament takes place this weekend, Saturday May 26 and Sunday May 27 at seven different venues throughout the Capital Region of upstate New York. More than 2,700 players from 276 teams in age levels from 12-under through 17-under will participate.

The event is the third-largest of its kind in North America, the largest on the east coast and, surely, there is no better place to be this weekend if you're a basketball fan ... a real "gym rat," so to speak.

There are usually several dozen high-major college prospects here annually, and this year looks no different. Beyond that, several hundred of this weekend's participants will wind up at the mid-major level (at least 15 current or former Siena players have come through the event, and dozens more scattered throughout current and past rosters of other MAAC programs).

At least half of those playing here this weekend will someday play at some level of college basketball.

The tournament will be played from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Saturday and, then, on Sunday from 8 a.m. until Sunday evening. Championships will be determined at age brackets of 12-under, 13-under, 14-under, 15-under, 16-under and 17-under.

Admission is $10 per day and $15 for both days. Very reasonably priced concessions are also available, as is a tournament program with full rosters and a variety of tournament merchandise.

Your blogger is part of a team of talent evaluators that watch the games and select post-tournament all-star teams. Those selections, as well as details about the event, will be posted on the event's website ( That site attracts more than 1.2 million hits annually.

The site also has full game schedules on line right now.

For Albany area fans, there are 20 local teams with more than 200 Capital Region players representing 40 high schools from the upstate New York area. In all, 12 states and two Canada provinces will send teams to the GymRat.

Yes, indeed, the event is a basketball junkie's paradise. In all, about 450 games will be played.
Upon the event's conclusion, this blog will do a post-tournament posting here about the GymRat with plenty of recruiting information pertaining to MAAC schools.

So, attend the event ... and, if you can't attend, then keep reading here at some point next week for the post-tournament report.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Coming Attractions: Much MAAC News Ahead

Consider this a preview of coming attractions ...

We're nearing the completion of team reports for men's and women's programs (just two more for each are coming).

What's next?

Recruiting, of course. We wait longer and longer each season, it seems, to finally learn of incoming players, an exercise always delayed by late transfers and signees. So, the annual "recruiting report" gets pushed back so we'll have as complete a list as possible.

And, then, there's a neat debate going on somewhere in the internet-sphere world of message boards about the MAAC's all-time best players (your scribe specifically remembers seeing some give-and-take, too, about the league's all-time best point guards).

A few years back your correspondent posted personal choices for the MAAC's all-time best players, 13 in all.

At some point in the next few weeks we'll revisit that list, with any necessary updates. A word of warning, though: The initial feeling is that there won't be too many changes.

After that, new lists of all-time bests from the conference: We'll tackle the exercise of identifying the top five players at every position ... maybe we'll even try to identify the conference's all-time top-five coaches, too.

OK, one more note of interest. With the demise of The Sporting News' College Basketball Annual, your scribe no longer has to withhold extensive preview information until that publication's appearance on news stands. It means that at some point later this summer (probably mid-to-late August), we'll produce very early predictions with extensive information on expectations for the 2012-13 season.

An early preview of preseason favorites? Loyola on the men's side and Marist for women.

And, as always, we'll follow that up with full-blown team-by-team previews (late September and into October) on every men's and women's program in the conference.

It all should be good reading during upcoming months.

As always, news about the MAAC never stops. And, as always, thanks for your interest.

Report: Dempsey To Take Binghamton Position

According to a published report Tommy Dempsey is leaving Rider to become the men's basketball coach at Binghamton of the America East.

That report appears in today's Trenton (N.J.) Times, which cites "two sources with direct knowledge of the situation" to confirm that Dempsey has agreed to become Binghamton's coach, pending an agreement on contract details.

The 38-year old Dempsey has a 119-105 record at Rider. From 2007-08 through 2010-11 his teams won 82 games, the most of any four-year stretch in Broncs' Division I history. But, his team only won 13 games this past season, the victim of some early season injuries and player ineligibilities.

If Dempsey does indeed move on, he will be remembered by this hoopscribe as an extremely personable, cooperative individual who wasn't afraid to speak his mind ... a trait well-admired by those of us who try to bring some information via the written word.

While recognized as a strong recruiter, the perception here is that his teams never had the most talent among MAAC programs but were always extremely competitive. Hard to judge a coach's abilities without seeing dozens of practices as well as games. But, based on results alone the perception is that he is very good at coaching a team, too.

Dempsey, according to multiple stories from Trenton and Binghamton, was specifically targeted to replace deposed Mark Macon by Bears' athletic director Patrick Elliott, who previously was the AD at Saint Peter's, also a MAAC school.

Sources indicate that Dempsey is likely to be paid somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000 per year at Binghamton, nearly double his Rider compensation.

According to a published report, key employees of Binghamton's athletic communications office were told to remain on campus for a possible men's basketball press conference rather than travel to handle communications for other sports.

Although the America East is considered a slight drop in level of play from the MAAC, Binghamton has outstanding facilities, including a relatively new 5,200-seat on-campus arena.

However, the program has had problems in recent years, or since capturing its only America East title in 2009.

After that, an investigation by the State University of New York found that the school's administration had lowered its admission standards for prospective recruits of former coach Kevin Broadus, who was fired after that report was released.

The scandal also resulted in the school's president, provost, two assistant coaches, the athletic director and assistant athletic director losing their jobs.

Binghamton had a 2-29 record this past season and was ranked last (344th of 344 Division I teams) in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index.

Since the end of March three members of this past season's promising freshman class have opted to transfer out of the program while two recruits who had given verbal commitments to the program also opted to accept scholarships elsewhere.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rider Coach Dempsey Gets Interview At Binghamton

The MAAC has already lost two basketball coaches (Tom Parrotta at Canisius and Gina Castelli at Siena) since the end of this past season and, now, might be on the verge of losing another.

A report in Thursday's edition of the Trenton Times, indicates that Rider men's coach Tommy Dempsey appears to be a serious candidate to move to Binghamton University. Binghamton's opening is a result of its April 30 firing of former Temple standout Mark Macon.

The report indicates that Dempsey was interviewed yesterday (Thursday), and that an offer was expected to be extended.

"I am very happy at Rider," the 38-year old Dempsey said in the report. "Any talk of me taking another job at this point is pure speculation. I have not made a commitment (to Binghamton)."

Published reports indicated that Macon was receiving a base salary of about $150,000 annually. The likelihood is that the school's offer to Dempsey, everything included, might be double that figure.

As a public institution, Rider is not required to release salary figures but the guess here is that Dempsey would receive a considerable financial increase were he to move to Binghamton.

Binghamton has significantly better facilities. Its Events Center holds 5,142 for basketball, more than three times what Rider's gym can accommodate. And, Binghamton is located within an hour of Dempsey's hometown of Scranton, Pa.

Rider finished with a 13-19 record last season, but was 12-8 after a 1-10 start when dealing with a variety of player absences. His teams the previous four years (2007-10) won 82 games, the most over a four-year stretch in school history.

Whoever takes the Binghamton job faces a significant rebuilding process.

After reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2009 (under former head coach Kevin Broadus), an investigation found that Binghamton's administration had lowered admission standards for Broadus' recruits.

Broadus was eventually forced out as was the school's president, its provost, two assistant coaches, its athletic director and its assistant AD. Six players were also dismissed from the program after the investigation found a variety of violations.

Macon had been 23-70 in three seasons, including a 2-29 record this past season, and ranked last in the Ratings Percentage Index of all Division I programs. And, since the end of this past season, three freshmen have transferred from the program.

The school's current athletic director is Patrick Elliott, who previously served in that capacity at another MAAC school, Saint Peter's, and surely knows Dempsey well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Site's Report on Anosike Doesn't Make Sense

Warning ... Be careful where you get your MAAC information.

College Basketball's Bleacher Report recently posted a list of the top 15 rebounders from this past season returning for 2012-13.

Here's what the site(the report is written by an individual who, clearly, has very little knowledge of MAAC teams) had to say about Siena's O.D. Anosike, who led all Division I players last season with 12.5 rebounds per game:

"For the first time since Paul Millsap in 2005-06, the nation's leading rebounder is returning to the college game. Standing at 6'8", Siena junior O.D. Anosike grabbed 12.5 rebounds a night last season, making him one of the few bright spots in a disappointing 14-17 campaign. However, the odds of Anosike repeating his magnificent showing next year are slim at best. Siena leaned on a tight seven-man rotation last year, and three of those players are graduating, leaving Anosike with minimal help for his final season on campus."

OK, much wrong with what Bleacher Report has to offer here.

First, was Siena's 14-17 season "disappointing?"

Not hardly. Considering that it started the year with a seven-man rotation, and played its last 21 games with, basically, a six-man rotation (after the transfer of DaVonte Beard) ... what team, under those extenuating circumstances, wouldn't be satisfied with a 14-17 season?

The Saints were picked to finish eighth, in the league's preseason poll, and finished sixth. Along the way it claimed victories over first-place Iona and other ones over Fairfield and Manhattan, all programs that went to national post-season tournaments. It then upset Manhattan in the first round of the league tournament.

Not bad for a six-man team that included two freshmen with one of them its starting point guard. And, certainly far removed from being a disappointment.

As for the site's diminished expectations for Anosike as a rebounding force again for the coming season ... the expressed reason, that Anosike will have a lesser supporting cast, makes little sense.

If that were the case, Anosike would be expected to do even more in the coming season.

In truth, though, if Anosike's stats in 2012-13 don't approach those of this past season it's because he'll have more on-court help.

The Saints, for the coming season, will have the services of a pair of promising 6-8 players, Lionel Gomis and Imoh Silas who both were ruled ineligible for the past season due to an NCAA regulation that requires players to finish high school in a specific period of time. Siena will also have a healthy Davis Martens, a 6-9 sophomore who was in the playing group in 2010-11 but missed this past season after hip surgery. And, then, there's touted 6-8 freshman forward Brett Bisping who is likely to get minutes up front this season.

Anosike played 36.8 minutes per game last year, basically because the Saints didn't have anyone else. He won't need to approach those on-court minutes this season.

It all should mean that Anosike's statistics might diminish because he has more help for the coming season and not less.

Manhattan Women's Report: Rebuilding Ahead

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 10-8 in MAAC play, 18-16 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: The program suffered just one significant loss from the 2010-11 team that won 24 games, but it was a significant one in point guard Abby Wentworth. The Jaspers spent much of the season trying to find a semi-adequate replacement, ultimately using five different players at the position. The best seemed to be sophomore Allison Skrec, who cracked the starting lineup at the midway point of the season and, then, suffered a broken collarbone in early February and didn't return. It left the position to senior Alyssa Herrington, previously a shooting specialist, who handled it well enough for the team to have a 7-5 record with her at the position. As the team was trying to find its way early it stumbled out to a 2-6 start before going 16-10 after that. It was enough to get the No. 3 seed heading into the MAAC tournament where it stumbled in a 34-33 quarterfinal-round loss to Siena in the lowest-scoring post-season event game in league history. In that one, Siena had a 34-21 lead with 8:40 remaining  and didn't score another point. Manhattan got back to within one with 1:40 remaining and, then, managed just one more shot, a long three-pointer with nine seconds left. Siena won the battle for the rebound and held on. Still, a 16-15 record at that point earned the Jaspers a second-straight bid to the WBI, where it won two tournament games for the second straight year. The season finally ended with a 67-54 loss to Minnesota.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Senior forward Lindsey Loutsenhiser became a do-everything performer (12.3 points, 6.0 rebounds). She led Manhattan in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals and was the MAAC's only player to lead her team in all four of those categories. Another senior forward, Schyanne Halfkenny might have been the MAAC's most-improved player. After barely playing in her first two years and only averaging 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds as a junior she broke out to average 11.1, 4.7 as a senior and saved some of her best for the end. She had a career-high 25 points in a WBI tournament victory over Holy Cross. Sophomore guard Monica Roeder had a 35-point break-out game against East Tennessee State in a preseason NIT contest. Nadia Peters, a senior, was a solid inside player and had 35 blocks. Skrec looked good in her limited time as a starter, and Herrington did a nice job as a late-season find at the point. The team did a lot of little things well. It ranked sixth nationally in fewest fouls per game (12.7), 14th in steals (12.1), 19th in turnover margin (4.85 fewer turnovers per game than opponents) and 24th nationally in points allowed (54.0). The team also claimed the conference's only regular-season victory over 17-1 Marist, a 48-44 decision on Feb. 14.

WHAT WENT WRONG: For one, not enough height. Manhattan somehow finished over .500 despite averaging 5.6 fewer rebounds per game than opponents. It didn't have a consistent go-to player on the offensive end.. Roeder looked like she might be it after her early season 35-pointer, but only averaged 8.7 ppg in the other 33 games she played. The point guard situation, though, was the biggest problem. No team does well without at least a solid player at the point and Manhattan spent much of the early season trying to find someone to fit that role.Not long after settling on Skrec, she went out with the broken collarbone in the season's 22nd game and never returned. The biggest disappointment had to be the quarterfinal-round MAAC tournament loss to Siena. Still, Manhattan got a national post-season invite and did well, winning its first two games.

WHAT'S AHEAD: With Skrec back at full strength and this past season's experience as a foundation, she should solve the Jasper's point-guard situation. But, now, the questions concern who plays around her? Three of the top four scorers (Loutsenhiser, Halfkenny and Peters) are gone, as is Herrington (the team's sixth-leading scorer). Roeder, primarily a long-range shooter right now, will have to become more consistent and provide more than just shooting. A 5-11 junior Toni-Ann Lawrence (5.4, 3.5) will need to make a Halfkenny-like improvement. Ashley Stec, a 6-0 freshman forward and the younger sister of former Siena standout Heather Stec, flashed some signs that she could contribute in the coming season. Otherwise, Manhattan will need to rely a lot on freshmen with five coming in including 6-2 Briana Schnare the tallest. And while the incoming freshman class looks to have some nice talent, first-year players usually need time to get acclimated to the college level. The team should be fun to watch develop in the coming season.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Most of the conference's teams have considerably more returning talent than manhattan. It's probably unreasonable to expect it to match even this past season's record, although head coach John Olenowski always seems to find a way to overcome deficiencies to keep his team competitive. The likelihood is that Manhattan will be competitive but might struggle to finish in the upper half of the league standings.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Manhattan Men's Report: Good Year, More Ahead

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 12-6 in MAAC play, 21-13 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: Tough to see classy, nice guy head coach Barry Rohrssen forced out after a 6-25 injury plagued 2010-11 season. But, his replacement, Steve Masiello, was a welcome and energetic force who promised to change the culture of his program, promised to bring winning back to the once-proud program ... and delivered in a big way. The Jaspers' 21 victories marked a 15-victory improvement off the previous year, the best jump in wins of any team on the Division I level. Masiello did it with a combination of Rohrssen's recruits, with a nice dose of his own. He did it, too, with an up-tempo, pressure defense style of play that employed at least nine or 10 players just about every game. Along the way came a defining 75-72 victory over Iona which was the Gaels' first MAAC loss of the year and just one of three they suffered all season. But Manhattan faltered late, going 2-2 down the stretch of regular-season play and, then, losing to Siena in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament, 84-82 in overtime, when senior guard Kidani Brutus' potential game-winning shot with two seconds remaining in regulation inexplicably twirled twice around the rim before popping out. Still, 20 wins at that point was enough to get Manhattan an invitation to the tournament where it knocked off UAlbany in a first-round game before having its season end in the next round against Fairfield. All in all, a very satisfying season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Junior swingman George Beamon continued his development as a player and wound up the league's leading scorer (19.0 ppg., 24th-best nationally). Beamon is an acknowledged hard worker, and his off-season efforts truly paid dividends. By working on his long-range shooting motion and taking hundreds of shots a day over the summer Beamon made 61 of 143 three-pointers (42.7 percent) this past season after making just six treys as a sophomore. Although Beamon was the team's only double-figure scorer, 6-5 freshman Emmy Andujar developed into a nice sidekick (8.5 points, 5.7 rebounds). Mike Alvarado, a sophomore point guard, was among the conference's best at his position and Manhattan was a different and not as good team in his absence (he missed three late-season games with an eye injury). And, Beamon wasn't the only hard-worker in the offseason. Senior guard Brutus shed 30 pounds since the end of the 2010-11 season and was noticeably more mobile and more effective. Rhamel Brown, a 6-6 sophomore forward, led the conference in blocked shots (2.5 per game, 20th-best nationally). Redshirt senior Roberto Colonette, a 6-7 forward, added a bruising inside presence. The team's new style enabled it to go deep into its bench, and the reserves responded. The post-season appearance was the program's first since the 2005-06 season, as was its 20-victory season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Any team that makes a 15-victory jump over the previous season obviously didn't do much wrong. But, there was a bit of a bitter taste when, as the MAAC tournament's No. 3 seed, it lost to sixth-seeded Siena in the event's quarterfinal round. But, Alvarado didn't play in that game, which didn't help the Jaspers. And, the fates seemed to work in Siena's favor when Brutus' potential game winner couldn't have been further down the cylinder while spinning around the basket twice before popping out. That game went into overtime and Siena pulled it out by an 84-82 score. Manhattan also struggled with turnovers, committing 16.1 per game. Only 15 teams nationally made more turnovers per contest. That was indicative of several things ... an uptempo but high-risk offense, a youthful team and the lack of a quality back-up point guard. The team also dealt with a lack of height. The 6-7 Colonette, a reserve, was the only player taller than 6-6 who saw significant minutes. Still, Manhattan had a favorable rebound margin over opponents.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Almost assuredly more of the same. There won't be another 15-victory improvement, but there should be another 20-victory season and, probably, an even more-serious run at the league's regular-season title. Brutus is the only regular starter who graduates. Beamon will be a senior, is already established as the league's top offensive weapon and is a viable candidate to be the MAAC's Player of the Year in the upcoming season.. Alvarado gives the team the requisite standout at point guard, and Brown was named the MAAC's top defender for this past season. If Andujar, already very good, improves off a solid freshman season ... that's a four-man group that ranks with just about any in the MAAC. Colonette (6.3, 5.1) is the potential fifth starter as he comes back for his final season. Another freshman 6-6 Donovan Kates (5.0 ppg.) will contribute. And, a wild card for the team is 6-8 freshman Ryan McCoy, who only needs to add some bulk and strength after playing this past season at about 185 pounds. But McCoy is the nephew of one of Siena's all-time greats, Steve McCoy from the late 1980s, and looks to have the potential to be a real contributor for Manhattan. Masiello also has a well-earned reputation as a standout recruiter, and has four freshmen joining the program, including 6-9 Adam Lacey of San Diego and 6-2 guard C.J. Jones, who could immediately solve the team's point-guard issues when Alvarado isn't on the court.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Right now we're making Loyola the early preseason pick to win next season's regular-season title, with Manhattan a close second and more than capable of contending for the top spot all year long. It would be a surprise if the Jaspers don't win 22 or 23 games overall, at least, and advance to national post-season play again.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fairfield Women's Report: Good Stretch Continues

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 24-9 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: To sum up: better than expected. With a 5-11 post-player and an offense that relied heavily on three-point shooting, the Stags posted the second-highest overall victory total in program history and put up 15 conference victories losing only twice to perennial title winner Marist and once to solid Loyola. After a 7-4 non-conference start Fairfield posted an 11-1 record, then lost consecutive games to Marist and Loyola and, then, rang up six more victories before falling to Marist in the championship game of the conference tournament. The Stags finished second in the regular season, earning an automatic bid to the WNIT (the program's second national post-season tournament ... it also went to the WBI in 2010... in the past three years) where it lost its first-round game to Drexel. Senior post player Taryn Johnson had a standout year, averaging 12.4 points and 7.7 rebounds and was this scribe's choice for the top player in the MAAC. Yet, the team was about more than just Johnson, as it proved in a 63-48 MAAC tournament semifinal-round victory over Siena. In that game the Saints held a 39-38 lead with a little over 17 minutes to play when Johnson picked up her fourth foul. Yet, with the team's top player on the bench for the next 15 minutes, Fairfield went to an outside-oriented/four-guard style and pulled away to knock off the Saints. The effort, though, seemed to drain the Stags, who were never in the championship game, losing 61-35 to Marist after having only lost to the Red Foxes by four- and 12-point margins in the two regular-season games. The 24-victory season marked the third time in five years under coach Joe Frager that the Stags have hit the 20-victory plateau. Prior to that Fairfield had six straight sub-.500 seasons.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Frager's philosophy is team play (no player averaged more than 12.4 points), tough defense and a deliberate offense that almost entirely eschews any sort of fast break. Mostly, Fairfield secures a defensive rebound and, then, walks the ball up court. It's part of the reason why it ranked fifth nationally in fewest points allowed (52.0), but it also ranked 45th in defensive field-goal percentage (opponents shot 36.2 percent). The style also enabled Fairfield to rank 18th in fewest turnovers per game (13.9). The team's 186 made three-pointers were the most in school history. Johnson, while not a flashy player or prolific scorer, made big plays when the team needed them. Another senior, point guard Desiree Pina (11.0 points, 3.4 assists) was an improved offensive player and indispensable ball-handler who played the full 40 minutes in nine games. She became the 12th player in MAAC history to put up career totals of more than 1,000 points, 400 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 three-pointers. Sophomore guard Alexys Vasquez was a revelation from long-range, making 42.7 percent of her three-point attempts and led the country in 3-point percentage for a good portion of the season. She would have ranked second overall had she met the minimum (2.0 per game) made treys required to be ranked by the NCAA. Junior guard Katelyn Linney had a team-high 65 three-pointers and joined Vasquez to form one of the conference's top long-range tandems. Junior forward Brittany MacFarlane basically played starters's minutes coming off the bench (averaging 5.2 points and 5.3 rebounds) and was the MAAC's 6th Player of the Year.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Had to find too much fault in a season that resulted in the second-highest victory total in program history. Under Frager the Stags have pretty much become one of the MAAC's best teams, but (like everyone else) they just haven't been able to match Marist. Fairfield is 62-26 against MAAC teams other than Marist during Frager's five seasons, but 2-9 against the Red Foxes. Fairfield's one glaring weakness was on the boards, where it had a 2.4 rebound-per-game deficiency. Yet, it more than made up for that by doing a lot of other things well. The team also lacked a solid bench, pretty much going just six or seven deep. And, the offense struggled late. Fairfield failed to get to 50 points in four of its last six games, and scored just 35 (vs. Marist) and 41 (vs. Drexel) in its last two contests.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Two very good players, Johnson and Pina, graduate and there are no sure-thing replacements. Three touted recruits are coming in, but they are all perimeter players. Still, with four solid players returning, Fairfield should once again be very good in the coming season. And, Cristelle Akon-Akech (2.4, 1.7), the niece of NBA standout Luol Deng and former Fairfield men's star Ajou Deng, improved as the season went on and is a likely starter next season. To approach another 20-victory season, though, the team will need to find a capable replacement for Pina. Freshman Felicia DaCruz is certainly a candidate, but ... she averaged 26 minutes per game in the first three games of this past season and, then, only played more than nine minutes in any other game just once afterwards. The other candidate will be 5-8 Lizzie Ball, an incoming recruit. It will be interesting to see which of those two earn the point-guard spot for next season. There's no "replacement" for Johnson, although MacFarlane will almost assuredly move into the starting lineup and 6-2 sophomore Katie Ciznski (5.6, 2.7) will be expected to be more of an inside presence. Potentially 6-1 sophomore Brittany Obi-Tabot could also help inside next year. She is an athletic, lanky inside player who only got into 17 games this season due to a mid-season injury. Still, the team's style and Frager's notoriously thick offensive playbook makes Fairfield a tough opponent every night.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Hard to envision anyone other than Marist dominating the league again, but Fairfield is certainly among the next group that will contend for second through fifth place in the coming season.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fairfield Men's Report: Transition Continues

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 12-6 in MAAC play, 22-15 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: Much was expected of Fairfield, but it took the Stags time to deliver. That, though, was understandable considering all the transition. Former coach Ed Cooley moved on to Providence after the 2010-11 season, meaning Fairfield not only had to adjust to a new coach (Sydney Johnson), but a new playing style (a Princeton-type offense), some new players (transfers Rakim Sanders and Desmond Wade became eligible for the recently concluded season) and a roster of returnees all brought in to play Cooley's style. It meant an 8-9 overall start to the  season. And, then, things started falling into place. After that the Stags went 14-6, advancing to the conference tournament's championship game and, then, getting to the tournament's semifinal round before its season ended. The late success came without No. 2 scorer junior guard Derek Needham, who broke a bone in his left foot and missed the last regular-season game and all of post-season play. Sanders, a transfer from Boston College, made a nice adjustment to the MAAC, becoming the Stags' go-to player on offense.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Not much early, but plenty after the first 17 games. Sanders was the team's requisite star, finishing fifth in the league in scoring (16.6), third in rebounds (8.2) and seventh in steals (1.4). Needham finished third in the MAAC in three-pointers per game (2.5). Sophomore forward Maurice Barrow (9.3, 6.0), showed signs of significant progress, particularly on the offensive end in the CIT when he averaged 11.8 points per game in the four games of that event. Junior guard Colin Nickerson also stepped up in Needham's late-season absence, connecting on 60.5 percent of his shots in the three MAAC tournament games and the first three games of the CIT. The Stags also made a nice statement, knocking off top-seed Iona in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round, 85-75. The 14-6 run after the slow start showed that Johnson's style of play became effective (albeit, after some adjustment). The Stags did advance to the MAAC tournament's championship game, but faltered there while scoring just 44 points (losing to Loyola, 48-44). It's not a stretch to think Fairfield would have had a better chance in that game if Needham had been able to play. Statistically Fairfield was the top MAAC team for points allowed (61.1 per game), and 34th-best nationally. It was also 32nd nationally in assists-per-game (14.9), indicating just how well the Stags shared the ball in light of ranking eighth in total points scored per outing. It all added up to the program's third consecutive 20-victory season and another national post-season tournament marked the third straight of those, the first time the program has ever gone to three consecutive post-season events (CIT in 2010, NIT in 2011 and CIT this season). The program has come a long way since it was mired in mediocrity under former coach Tim O'Toole, and appears to be poised to continue having solid seasons.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The slow (8-9) start, very much attributable to a considerable amount of transition. And, then, the Stags' MAAC tournament chances were severely compromised by the loss of Nedham, although they did well just to get to and be competitive in the event's championship game. Even when Needham was around, though, his numbers fell off for the second consecutive season. After a spectacular (16.4 ppg.) freshman season, he fell off to 14.1 as a sophomore and 11.8 this past season. This season's diminished numbers can be somewhat excused to a new offense and a new go-to performer (Sanders), both limiting the need for more production from Needham. Still, most players build off a freshman year and Needham's numbers have been going in the other direction. And, Fairfield did have some deficiencies that were on display in the MAAC tournament's championship game. Its 7-footer, senior Ryan Olander, was more a perimeter than a paint player. Otherwise, its next biggest contributor was 6-5. The Stags just weren't big enough or physical enough inside to contend with Loyola. And, then, since the end of last season, two members of the playing group, and a promising reserve and, potentially, another player in the program have either left or appear to be leaving the program early. Sophomore guard Jamal Fields (to Saint Peter's), junior guard Sean Crawford and freshman forward Adam Jones have all opted to leave Fairfield. And, star-crossed guard Keegan Hyland, who attended Fairfield this past season, appears to be on the verge of transferring to a Division II school, which would be his fourth college stop.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Not necessarily a fall back to the O'Toole days, but also a little bit of a slip from the recent three-year run of 20-victory seasons and national post-season berths. With graduations and the recent defections only five players who saw action this past season will be back, an not one of them is taller than 6-5. The only other returnee is 7-footer Vince Van Ness, who red-shirted this past season. Still, Fairfield will be more than competitive with one of the MAAC's better perimeter groups in Needham, junior 6-3 guard Nickerson and junior 5-8 point guard Desmond Wade. Barrow made considerable strides as a soph coming off a solid freshman year and another 6-5 sophomore Keith Matthews flashed signs he is ready to move from role player to solid contributor, at the very least. But, that's it for experience. The team welcomes seven new players ... six incoming freshmen and red-shirt Van Ness. The incoming class does bring considerable height, particularly with 6-10 center Josip Mikulic. Hard, though, to expect freshmen big men to be major factors right away. Fairfield will go as far as its perimeter players can carry the team next year.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Most likely not in the top two, and there are a few other teams with more returning talent, as well. But, the Stags' style is difficult to defend. If the young big men contribute anything of any value, there's a chance Fairfield could finish as high as third ... or, as low as sixth or seventh.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Former Saint Elderkin Moves To St. John's Staff

Here's a coaching move to note, and a nice opportunity for a former conference assistant.

Angel Elderkin, who worked for four seasons (2001-02 through 2004-05) at Siena under Gina Castelli, was recently hired as an assistant coach at St. John's.

This past season the Johnnies finished 24-10 and advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the women's NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

Shortly after the season, former coach Kim Barnes Arico moved on to take over the Michigan women's program. The school promoted assistant Joe Tartamella to take over for Barnes Arrico, leaving the opening in which Elderkin will fill.

"Angel has proven herself as an excellent recruiter at all different levels," said Tartamella, in a release issued through the St. John's sports information office. "Her wealth of knowledge in all facets of the game has made her one of the rising stars in the business. She fits all the core values that St. John's University and our women's basketball program is built on. Angel will be a tremendous addition to our staff."

Elderkin's resume includes time on the staffs of two Hall of Famers. She has served at Tennessee under recently retired coach Pat Summit and at Virginia under Debbie Ryan.

Elderkin was on the LSU staff this past season, She is a graduate of pf twp  Tennessee staff under recently retired Hall of Fame coach

She is a 199 graduate of Southern Maine where she lettered four seasons. Her teams there finished with a 104-15 record and finished as the national runner-up on the Division III level in the 1998-99 season.

"I am excited to be part of the St. John's program and look forward to helping build on what Joe and Kim Barnes Arico, before him, have established with the players and the University community," said Elderkin, in a release issued by St. John's. "My past experiences ... have prepared me well for this role at St. John's, and I look forward to being a part of coach Tartamella's vision for this program.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rider Women's Report: Reasons For Optimism

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 3-15 in MAAC play, 11-19 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: One wouldn't think that an 11-19 finish is anything to be proud about, but it's progress at Rider, considering it's the first time since a 14-14 finish in 1999-00 that the program didn't lose 20 games. It marked considerable progress after 5-25 and 4-26 finishes the previous two seasons. And, it might have been better had the team not lost 5-7 guard Sironda Chambers to academic problems after 19 games, and two senior guards (Ali Heller and Alyssa Parsons) to ACL injuries during the season. It all makes for much optimism for the program's future, a lot of that coming from a terrific start. The Broncs were 10-5 at one point, the program's best start in 18 years. And, then, Chambers was lost, Heller (the league's best long-range shooter) went down (in game No. 17) with an ACL and the early momentum was lost. Rider went 1-14 after the 10-5 start, although two of the losses came in overtime and three of them were by three points or less. The three victories did include ones over Niagara and Loyola, teams that finished in the top four in the regular-season standings. And, then, came a heart-breaking opening-round tournament loss in overtime to Iona, 61-60, when the Gaels scored the game-winning bucket with two seconds left to play.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The fast start. The Broncs' 8-3 record against non-league opponents was the best of any conference team, although the opponents didn't exactly threaten to crack the Top 25 polls. Still, winning is something Rider hadn't experienced much of in a long time and the early success created considerable excitement around the program. Then, too, came the early victories over Niagara and Loyola, and the strong effort (despite being short-handed) in the conference tournament. Chambers gave the team an athletic perimeter player for the first 19 games until she was ruled ineligible to continue. There was no true go-to player (the leading scorer only averaged 10.6 points per game), but somehow Rider used balanced scoring and strong team play to win as many games as it did. Sophomore forward MyNeshia McKenzie (10.6, 9.1 rebounds) put up nice numbers. Freshman Emily Fazzini (7.1, 3.3) had some flashes of good play. And, another freshman, Kornelia Valiuskyte, thrust into the starting lineup for the MAAC tournament, looked good with 13 points in that event in the game against Iona.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Personnel losses. Had Chambers stayed eligible, and Heller and senior point guard Alyssa Parsons not gotten hurt, it's not hard to speculate that Rider might have approached the .500 mark overall this season. Heller went down in the 17th game of the year, and although Parsons went out to her third career ACL tear in the second-from-last weekend of the regular season, those losses were devastating. Neither Heller nor Parsons were among the most-gifted players in the MAAC in terms of pure talent, but both epitomized what players can become with dedication and hard work. Heller became the conference's top long-range shooter in her last two seasons, while the slight 5-foot-4 Parsons became a glue-like point guard over her career and the contributions of both went far beyond numbers. McKenzie's numbers were good, but some inconsistent play and effort for portions of the year had her coming off the bench for seeveral games during the season. Bopp, a nice inside player, suffered an early season injury, missed five games and her overall numbers suffered. By the end of the year the Broncs were starting two freshmen (Fazzini and Vasiuskyte) in the backcourt and that's never a good recipe.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Heller is the only one of the team's top six scorers who won't return. The team also loses inside role player Sarah Homan and the intangibles of Parsons. In essence, two senior guards (Parsons and Heller) are gone, and that loss of experience and mature play of itself is considerable. Rider will need this year's freshmen guards to mature quickly to duplicate or, potentially, improve on this this past season's record. But, it's more than possible. There's also another highly touted player who should be contributing next season. Guard Manon Pellet of France was in the program this past season but she also tore her ACL in a practice. If she's not back by the start of the season, she is expected to be ready before the semester break, at the latest, and should help. McKenzie and Chambers give the Broncs two athletic perimeter players at guard and small forward. And, a healthy Bopp, along with 6-0 junior Carleigh Brown (6.4, 4.9) give Rider some strong inside play. The program also added a talented transfer, 5-10 guard Lashay Banks from Cincinnati of the Big East (although she was a lightly used reserve at that level), who will be eligible in 2013-14.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: It will be hard to match the 10-5 start, but even the 11-19 overall finish created some momentum going into the upcoming season. There is finally enough talent in place for the Broncs to start having more success within the league. At worst, a middle-of-the-pack finish with the potential for a little better.

Rider Men's Report: Resilient Squad Looks For More

Here's another in the series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 10-8 in MAAC play, 13-19 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: Almost as many ups and downs as an elevator. A terrible start, followed by a nice mid-season turnaround, followed by some mediocre play, followed by two terrific wins to end the regular season, followed by a first-round ouster in the conference tournament. Still, an above-.500 finish in league play, which included season-ending victories over Loyola and Fairfield, the teams that competed in the MAAC tournament's championship game. But, then, the Broncs lost to Fairfield in the tournament's quarterfinal round when, trailing by two points with seven seconds left it failed to get a rebound on a missed Stags' free throw. Still, Rider had a chance to tie it but a missed tip in attempt after a purposely missed free throw in the final second ended a classic of a game. Still, many positive points but none of them early as the team struggled with a two-game suspension to point guard Jonathan Thompson to start the season, missing freshman front-court player Junior Fortunat for 10 games while waiting for his clearance from the NCAA and lingering knee issues of senior forward Novar Gadson. It added up to a 1-10 start and if head coach Tommy Dempsey takes anything from the past season it is that his team never gave up. When things finally fell into place Rider followed the 1-10 start with a 5-1 burst. But, then, that was followed by a 5-7 stretch before the two late-season wins over Loyola and Fairfield. Despite the sub-.500 overall record the 82 wins over the past four seasons was the all-time best for the program.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The late-season victories over Loyola and Fairfield certainly was the high point. That the team forged on despite the 1-10 start was also rewarding. "The guys hung together," said Dempsey. "It could have been a 5-25 season but we stayed together and found a way to fight right to the finish line." It didn't hurt that the 6-7 senior forward Gadson's knee improved as the season went on. He was at his best late, scoring 79 points in the team's last four games and finished with 1,475 career points. Still, his 10.7 point/3.5 rebound average as a senior was a drop from 13.7/5.5 as a junior. Guard Jeff Jones, a one-year transfer from Virginia, was also slow to fit in early but came on as chemistry developed and had a team-best 13.4 points per game average. Brandon Penn, a senior forward who barely played as a freshman, continued a four-year upward swing averaging 12 points and 6.5 rebounds and earning second-team all-league honors. Sophomore forward Daniel Stewart (11.1, 6.6) improved on a freshman season in which he was the MAAC's Rookie of the Year. Thompson was second in the league in assists (4.7), Fortunat (3.8, 2.9) looked promising and the team had five players average double figures, the fifth being sophomore swingman Anthony Myles (10.1).

WHAT WENT WRONG: The horrendous start, which doomed the Broncs to a sub-.500 overall record. Thompson missed the first two games, Fortunate missed the first 10 waiting for NCAA clearance and Gadson was never 100 percent, although he got close by year's end. All that, coupled with incorporating Jones as the team's top scoring threat, caused considerable time for chemistry to develop. After the slow start the team went 12-9, not terrific but certainly commendable considering how bad things looked early. The schedule was also as tough as it got in the MAAC. Before Jan. 1 the Broncs had played nine opponents who would go on to national post-season tournaments. And, just when the Broncs seemed to be at their best late in the season they dropped a tough 65-63 decision that they nearly tied with a tip-in off a purposely missed free throw with a second remaining. If nothing else Rider proved itself to be a very dangerous team and resilient team.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The team's top two scorers (Jones and Penn) and its best player (Gadson, at least when he was healthy) are all gone. Still, there is much coming back and an exciting scorer coming in who could more than make up for the team's graduating offensive production. That would be former St. John's guard Nurideen Lindsey, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds in nine games for the Johnnies last season before transferring. He initially announced he would attend Arkansas, but saw his waiver to play there immediately next season turned down by the NCAA. Then, the Philadelphia native opted for Rider where, some sources indicate, he might get a positive ruling on his waiver application and be eligible to play right away. If not, he's eligible for the second semester and for one full season after that. Lindsey, who attended Philly's Overbrook H.S., averaged 35.8 points per game one season there and led the high-level Philadelphia Public High School League in scoring twice. He has the type talent that often doesn't fall to the MAAC, but that doesn't always translate into stardom, so we'll see how he does. Also back is Stewart, who looks like the type of hard-worker who will continued to improve off two already solid seasons. He'll get front-court help from Fortunat. Myles, another capable scorer, returns. Thompson is back as the point guard and yet another perimeter player, 6-0 freshman Eddie Mitchell, had a decent first season and should be in next season's playing group. Tough to tell about incoming freshmen, but 6-2 guard Jamal Nwaniemeka looks like he could contribute after averaging 24.4 points per game at Cornwall-Egan Catholic H.S. in Philly this past season.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Tough to envision any MAAC team beating out Loyola and Manhattan for the top two spots. But if Fortunate improves the Broncs are good enough inside. If the incoming talent fits in, then Rider will be poised for a better record than this past season. If Lindsey's waiver is approved it would help plenty. If it isn't, then Rider will be trying to adjust to an incoming impact player at mid-season, which could upset early season chemistry. A top-five finish looks like a strong possibility, but the team needs some things to fall into place (not out of the question) to legitimately contend.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Alumni Hoop Events Set at Siena, Niagara

Who knows when the trend began? Your scribe, though, remembers attending "Old Timers' " baseball games at Yankee Stadium (complete with Joe DiMaggio) back in the 1960s.

And, now, it has come to the MAAC. At Siena they're calling it a "Legends Game." At Niagara, they're bringing back former players to be on the court during that program's inaugural alumni weekend.

Whatever you call it, nostalgia now helps fuel fund-raising, which is the primary reason these two schools (they're the ones we noticed so far) are bringing back former players.

Siena's first-ever Legends Game will take place on Thursday, July 19 at the on-campus Alumni Recreation Center.

Players who have confirmed their appearance at the event include Marc Brown, Dwayne Archbold, Marus Faison, Tay Fisher, Alex Franklin, Michael Haddix, Kenny Hasbrouck, Tom Huerter, Clarence Jackson, Antoine Jordan, Prosper Karangwa, Scott Knapp, Steve McCoy, Tommy Mitchell, Ronald Moore, Ryan Rossiter, Edwin Ubiles and Geoff Walker.

Tickets are priced at $12 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under and can be purchased on line at the Siena website ( All proceeds from the game will go toward "Saints Alive!" the athletic department's annual giving program. The event tips off at 5 p.m. with a pre-game meet and great, a variety of skills' competitions will take place at 6 p.m. with the featured game to be at 7 p.m.

Niagara's first basketball alumni weekend will take place June 22 and 23 on the school's campus.

The weekend will feature activities including clinics, autograph signings, contests and will offer a commemorative program. A number of alums from the program, which began play in 1906, will be returning to Monteagle Ridge, including Naismith Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy.

"Maybe this should be called `Family Weekend,' " said current men's basketball coach Joe Mihalich, in a release issued by the school. "I know the word family is used loosely, but this will be more like a family reunion. We all grew to loe Niagara, our teammates and our NU experience."

Festivities begin on June 22 with a family cookout from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. On June 23 events begin with the Calvin Murphy instructional clinic from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the on-campus Gallagher Center. Murphy will run the camp for boys and girls from 8 to 16 years of age. There is a $5 registration fee and all participants will receive a T-shirt.

A luncheon featuring Murphy will be at the Como Restaurant in Niagara Falls from noon-to-2 p.m. Tickets for that event, priced at $20, can be purchased through the school or for $25 at the door.

The main event will be games played at the Gallagher Center, including an Old Timers' game, and a Mihalich Era game.

The Old Timers' game not only will featured former from Niagara against their contemporaries from Buffalo State, Canisius and St. Bonaventure. The Mihalich Era game will feature alums who played from 1999 through 2012. The Old Timers' game will start at 6:30 p.m., followed by the Mihalich Era game. Admission to the games is $5, and a post-game autograph session and reception will finish off the night.

Information on purchasing tickets for any of the events can be obtained by calling men's director of basketball operations Colin Curtin at 716-286-8605.