Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Former MAAC Ass't Clifford New NBA Bobcats' Coach

There's a new milestone for a former MAAC connection.

When the Charlotte Bobcats hired Steve Clifford, on Monday, to be their head coach it is believed to be the first time a former MAAC connection has ever become a head coach in the NBA.

Clifford actually served as an assistant coach for two MAAC programs. He was at Fairfield for a season (1989-90) and at Siena for a season (1994-95).

Your hoopscribe got to know Clifford well during his season at Siena, and has kept in touch over the years. All who have ever spent any time with "Cliff" know him to be one of the all-time nice guys.

After Siena, Clifford moved on to be the head coach at Division II Adelphi and, then, became an assistant coach at Division I East Carolina University.

While at East Carolina, he was a candidate for a Siena opening in 2000 (to replace Paul Hewitt) that eventually resulted in Louis Orr's hiring. Orr was at Siena for all of 49 weeks before moving on.

Clifford was again a candidate when Orr left in 2001 and, a variety of sources confirmed, was offered the position. But, he spent the 2000-01 season as an advance scout for the NBA New York Knicks. As Clifford was considering Siena's offer, Knicks' coach Jeff VanGundy promoted Clifford to a full-time assistant with that franchise.

Instead, Siena turned to Rob Lanier to fill that vacancy.

Clifford has been in the NBA ever since, first as Van Gundy's assistant in New York and Houston and, later, as Stan Van Gundy's assistant in Orlando. He had been a Lakers' assistant, for the past season, securing that position, in part, because of his connection and positive relationship with Lakers' center Dwight Howard.

Clifford has been known Jeff Van Gundy since they both worked at Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's summer camp in 1985.

Clifford and Van Gundy renewed acquaintances in 1998 during an NBA lockout. Clifford was coaching at Adelphi and Van Gundy (then the Knicks' coach) was living nearby.

Clifford recalls that Van Gundy called him to say he wanted to do something basketball related during the lockout and asked if he could come to Adelphi practices to help out. So, for several weeks Adelphi's players got the benefit of working with an NBA coach.

Van Gundy was so impressed with Clifford that, when the opportunity occurred, he brought Clifford to the Knicks' organization.

"He's a person with impeccable integrity," Van Gundy has been quoted, about Clifford, in news reports. "He's a brilliant basketball coach who relates to all kinds of people well and I think he will do an absolutely fantastic job with the talent at hand. I'm so happy for one of the good guys in the league to get this opportunity."

The Bobcats were 21-61 this past season under previous coach Mike Dunlap.

And, now, Clifford gets a chance to help turn that franchise around.

It has been a meteoric rise for a well-liked, well-respected coach whose background includes early years within the MAAC.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Team Reports: Niagara Women Look To Crack .500

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 9-9, fifth place in MAAC play, 15-16 overall.Won a first-round conference tournament game, 59-54, over Rider. Lost in the semifinal round, 61-36, to Marist.

2012-13 RECAP: Every player of any significance returned from the previous season's team that finished 9-9 in regular-season conference play and nearly upended Marist in the league tournament before losing in overtime. But, this past season's team turned in the same .500 record and got beat handily by the Red Foxes in this past season's tournament. The team never really seemed to get its footing, winning more than two games in succession just once. It did have a nice five-game stretch at midseason, winning four of those games, but then only went 2-4 down the stretch of regular-season play.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Lauren Gatto continued to prove she's one of the MAAC's better "bigs," averaging 14.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and earning first-team all-MAAC honors. She was second in the league in field-goal percentage (49.0) Meghan McGuinness continued to be a superlative long-range threat (57 treys on the season, and a solid .354 percent accuracy), and guard Kayla Stroman was among the better point guard in the league with 126 assists against 102 turnovers. She was No. 2 in the MAAC for assists at 4.0 per contest. There was considerable depth, with nine different players each getting at least five starts during the season. The strong mid-season stretch included victories over Canisius, Rider, Loyola and Saint Peter's. Niagara, in fact, beat a very solid Rider squad in both regular-season meetings, as well as the first-round tournament victory.

WHAT WENT WRONG: It's nice to have depth, but to have so many players move in and out of the starting lineup was an indication that there were a lot of solid players on the roster, but very few who merited regular starting duties. Only Gatto and Stroman, the team's best two players, started all 31 games. No one else started more than 18. Gatto was the only double-figure scorer. McGuinness was next at 9.6, and no other player averaged more than 6.6. There were times that Shy Britton (6.5 ppg.), an athletic swingperson, looked like she'd step into a major role (particularly with a 20-point/7-rebound effort in a game against Siena in just 27 minutes), but too many other times when she was content to defer to others. And, there really wasn't a strong second option on the boards. The next-best rebounders were McGuinness and Stroman (the point guard), both at 4.3 per outing. Two years ago Niagara made a 6-2 late-season run before losing to Marist in OT of the MAAC tournament. Better things appeared likely for this coming season, but they never truly materialized. Still, this is a program that was 0-18 in MAAC play and 1-29 overall just two seasons ago (2010-11), so back-to-back 9-9 conference finishes mean there has significant progress in recent seasons.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Maybe 2013-14 will be the year that Niagara truly contends. The only senior on this past season's roster was Jess Flamm, an effective reserve. However, Stroman, a fourth-year junior this season, appears to be headed elsewhere to complete her fourth year of eligibility after graduating from Niagara this year. Replacing a point guard as good as Stroman won't be easy. Kelly Van Leeuwen (81 assists/62 turnovers) appears to be the likely player to move into that position. Had Stroman come back, Niagara had the recipe for success ... a veteran team that had been together for awhile. Stroman's loss means the absence of a key ingredient, though. Still, if athletic players like Britton and Chanel Johnson step up, Niagara should still be strong. The program also has two incoming recruits, a 6-2 post player, Victoria Rampado from Niagara Falls, Ont., and 5-11 sharpshooter Emily Granruth from Virginia.

PREDICTION: If Stroman were coming back, it would be pretty easy to predict the Purple Eagles would be fighting to be one of the top MAAC teams (behind Marist). Without her the team is still fairly strong, particularly if there's the expected improvement from players as they progress throughout their careers. It's not hard to envision Niagara finishing in the top five of next season's 11-team league.

Annual GymRat AAU Event A Basketball Paradise

If you attended the GymRat Challenge AAU basketball tournament in 1999, it's inaugural appearance, you saw the formative days of Emeka Okafor, who would wind up winning a national championship at UConn and, then, become the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NBA draft.

Okafor credits his strong play in that year's GymRat as self-proof that he could play against anyone. The event has a well-earned reputation as the place where the sport's stars first shine, and Okafor is proof of that.

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

If you came out to watch in in 2006 or 2008, you first saw the drive that propelled two players to become the nation's rebounding leaders over the past three season. Kenneth Faried played in the GymRat in 2006, led the country in rebounding in the 2010-11 season and, now, just completed his second NBA season. Former Siena standout O.D. Anosike, who played in the GymRat in 2008, has led the country in rebounding for each of the past two seasons.

The event has produced over two dozen current or former NBA players, close to 500 eventual Division I players and thousands who have played some level of college basketball.

And, the MAAC has been well represented. The past two MAAC scoring champions, Momo Jones and George Beamon, are GymRat alums, as is Anthony Nelson who, three years ago, was the national steals leader.

Current Siena player Rob Poole was part of a team that won the GymRat's top-division championship three years ago, and Poole was named the event's MVG (Most Valuable GymRat) for his performance that year.

And, so it goes ... truly an impressive list of players have come through the GymRat tournament, players like current NBA standouts Stephen Curry, Joakim Noah and Michael Beasley.

The 15th annual GymRat Challenge tournament takes place this weekend, Saturday May 25 and Sunday May 27 at various venues throughout the Capital region of upstate New York. Close to 3,000 players from 276 teams in age levels from 12-under through 17-unde will participate.

The event is the third-largest of its kind in North America, and the largest on the east coast.

Surely, there is no better place to be this coming 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. More than 60 percent of the event's participants over the years have gone on to play 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 and entitles fans to view any game at any venue. Very reasonably priced concessions are also available, as is a tournament program with full rosters.

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

The site also includes the full list of game schedules on line right now. For local fans, there are more than 20 Capital Region teams participating with more than 200 players from various local school districts. In all, 13 states and two Canada provinces will also send teams to the GymRat.

Yes, indeed, it is a basketball junkie's paradise.

Upon the event's conclusion, this blog will feature a post-tournament rundown, primarily about players who are being scouted and recruited by MAAC teams.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Team Report: Canisius Women Have Roles To Fill

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 12-19 overall. Won a play-in round conference tournament game, 79-55, over Saint Peter's; lost in the quarterfinal round, 76-58, to Iona.

2012-13 RECAP: A fourth straight year of failing to make it out of the post-season tournament's play-in round. This time, an 8-10 MAAC record after three consecutive 6-12 league finishes. The last four years have also seen the program finish 12-19, 12-18, 11-20 and 12-19. There was a very good start to league play, a 5-2 beginning, but the Golden Griffins were 3-8 in MAAC play after that.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Ashley Durham (11.8 ppg.) truly became the senior leader, both on and off the court and was rewarded with a first-team all-MAAC designation. Tiahana Mills had a nice freshman season (4.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, more assists than turnovers), and made the all-MAAC Rookie Team. Included was her game-winning half-court shot in an early season victory over Siena that was ESPN's top highlight of that particular night's sports action. No one else, though, had a particularly strong season although there were  many "solid" performances. Junior forward Jamie Ruttle and senior forward Ashley Wilkes eached averaged more than eight points (8.8 for Ruttle and 8.2 for Wilkes), and Wilkes was the team's leading rebounder (6.4). There was also considerable depth with eight players averaging at least 4.0 points per contest. Reserve forward Jen Lennox was fourth in the league in blocked shots (1.1 per game). Canisius was the MAAC's only team to have three players make at least 40 three-pointers (Durham had 48, Hoohuli had 47 and Morabito had 45) on the year, and one of just nine teams nationally to do so. 

WHAT WENT WRONG: It started early when junior forward Courtney VandeBovenkamp, expected to be a key member of the playing group, was lost for the year with a preseason knee injury. Still, there seemed to be enough depth  ... and, enough talent as evidenced by the 5-2 start in league play. Yet, Canisius had a chance to finish in the top six and avoid the tournament play-in round but lost its season's finale, a 64-53 decision at Siena when Mills missed the game with an ankle injury. That was the final loss in the 3-8 late-season stretch for the Griffs, and those losses came by an average of nine points per game, with only one of them by less than five points. It was the latest in a mediocre stretch in the program's history, one that includes just one winning season (14-4, 24-9 in 2008-09) in the last seven years. This looked to be the year the team started turning things around. In 2010-11, four of its players (Ruttle, Morabito, Lennox and VandeBovenkamp) each earned at least one MAAC Rookie of the Week award during a 6-12 league finish. It seemed to bode well for the future, particularly as that quartet matured. But, two years later, the record is pretty much the same.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Losing Durham (the only double-figure scorer), Wilkes (the leading rebounder) and senior swingperson Allison Braun, a valuable "glue" player, means the team has holes to fill. There are stretches that Ruttle looks like she could be among the league's best players, but it doesn't happen consistently. The Griffs will need a big year from her, but there's a good group back on the perimeter, including Hoohuli, Morabito and Mills. If VandeBovenkamp can return to her former form, it would be a nice lift. Other than Mills, a sophomore next year, the five best returnees are either seniors or juniors and experience is always a good thing.

PREDICTION: Losing two of a team's best three players, including the leading scorer and the leading rebounder, never bodes well. The Griffs will need some players to really step up if it hopes to match this past season's results, let alone surpass them. It looks like another battle to avoid the play-in round of the post-season tournament this year, with a finish somewhere between fifth and ninth the reasonable expectation.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Melissa Flagg Latest MAAC Connection at Seton Hall

College head coaches like to populate their respective staffs of assistants with individuals they know well.

And, Tony Bozzella is no exception to that premise. Upon moving from Iona to Seton Hall earlier this spring, he brought along Lauren DeFalco, who both played under Bozzella at Iona (a 2008 graduate) and coached with him there as an assistant for the past two seasons.

When Bozzella had one more position on his staff to fill recently, one to be the entry level assistant coordinator for basketball operations, he had more than 100 applicants.

And, he once again reached out to hire one of his own, bringing in former Iona player Melissa Flagg.

Flagg played for four seasons at Iona (graduating in 2011), and had to earn her playing time there. She started just one game over her first three seasons, but earned a reputation as a heady, hard-working and solid reserve. She finally pushed her way into a starting role as a senior, and averaged 6.5 points with more assists than turnovers (89-to-82), playing both guard positions in the 2010-11 season.

She previously had been playing professionally in Puerto Rico, but tore her ACL last summer in a summer league game in New York City and opted to go into coaching.

"After the injury, I wondered what I should do next," Flagg told the New York Daily News. "Then, I realized that I didn't think life would be complete without me being around basketball somehow.

"With this opportunity, I'm just ecstatic. I'm fortunate. I'm blessed. I get to pass on the knowledge that I know to other girls."

Bozzell actually asked Flagg to join his staff at Iona last year in a part-time role, but she turned down that opportunity to concentrate on her graduate-school studies.

After the injury, though, she realized her basketball future would be as a coach.

"I love her personality and her understanding of the game is off the charts," Bozzella told the Daily News.
"When she played for me we fought and went back and forth. But, at the end of the day, she's as nice a human being as there is. She'll be able to relate to the kids and help them assimilate onto the campus and help be a liaison to the community and just get the word out about how we're going to resurrect the (Seton Hall) program.

"This is a great starting point for her and I would be surprised if one day she isn't a head coach."

DeFalco and Flagg aren't the only MAAC connections on Bozzella's staff.

Shortly after his hiring, Bozzella also brought in Stephanie Del Preore and Tiffany Jones to be assistants on his staff.

Del Priore was a four-year standout at Marist (graduating in 2004), who finished with 1,114 career points. She has been in coaching ever since, and her experience includes the last three seasons as head coach at Division II Bridgeport.

Jones had been at Saint Peter's for the past four seasons, and served as that program's interim head coach for much of the 2012-13 season while head coach Stephanie Wolfe was on maternity leave.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Team Reports: Despite Losses, Canisius Still Solid

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play (tied for fourth), 20-14 overall. Lost to Iona, 89-85, in the conference tournament's quarterfinal round. Received a berth in the Collegeinsiders.com Tournament where it beat Elon and Youngstown State before losing to Evansville, 84-83 in overtime.

2012-13 RECAP: A new coach in Jim Baron, and new results. The 20 overall victories were a 15-win improvement from the previous year, the largest one-season jump in Canisius history and the third-best improvement nationally from the previous season. The CIT berth was the program's first national post-season appearance since 1996. There were four sell-outs of the 2,196-seat Koessler Athletic Center during the season, after only 11 total sellout crowds over the previous 10 seasons.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The entire team, except for Baron's own son Billy, was recruited by previous coach Tom Parrotta, but Baron sure knew what to do with the talent on hand. And, Baron was the best addition of all, a transfer from Rhode Island who received an NCAA waiver that allowed him to play immediately. He was a first-team all-MAAC pick, and arguably the most-versatile player in the league averaging 17.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and a league-best 5.0 assists. Harold Washington (13.8 ppg.) and Isaac Sosa (11.6, and a program single-season record of 95 three-pointers made) completed one of the top perimeter trios in the league. And, the No. 4 guard, Alshwan Hymes, added 7.1 ppg. and finished with 1,047 career points. The Golden Griffins got off fast, an 8-2 start, that included a win at Temple, and got a rare sweep of "Big Four" rivals St. Bonaventure, Buffalo and Niagara during the season. The 20 victories was a first since the 2000-01 season. Baron's 584 points scored was the most in a single season by a Griff since Ray Hall had 628 in the 1984-85 season. Even in defeat, Canisius looked good, particularly in its quarterfinal-round conference tournament loss to Iona, arguably the best-played game of the event, and the Gaels went on to win the tourney title and advance to the NCAA's. Chris Manhertz, an undersized (6-foot-6) power player led the team with 8.7 rebounds per game. The team also played a considerably more-exciting brand of basketball than in previous years, averaging 73.5 points per game. And, there were the two CIT victories, including a stirring rally from a 22-point second-half deficit against against Youngstown State with the Griffs eventually earning an 84-82 victory. Much of what Canisius did, though, was a result of having more talent in place than at any time in more than a decade.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Hard to find too much fault in the program's best season, all things considered, in 17 years. But there were some disappointments. Start with a one-point home loss (66-65) to rival Niagara in the regular season. Then there was the close loss to Iona in the MAAC tournament, and the season-ending loss to Evansville in the CIT after Canisius held a six-point lead late in regulation of that game. Canisius also probably relied a little too much on its perimeter players, possibly out of necessity. But, Manhertz (7.6 ppg.) was offensively challenged and the Heath brothers, Jordan (9.2 points, 5.9 rebounds) and Josiah (3.1, 3.5) didn't contribute as much as it seemed they are capable of. And, neither did Asprilla, a touted transfer from Kansas State, who never looked to be peak condition and only averaged 11.4 minutes per game. Still, things could have been a lot worse, particularly with so many new pieces to acclimate. Baron didn't officially get clearance until mid-August. Jordan Heath, Aprilla and Sosa also joining the game-eligible group for the first time after transferring, although those three all practiced with the team the previous year. And, Baron was a new coach, albeit a veteran one, and his solid reputation as a program builder at his previous stops certainly served him well ... and, held up ... at Canisius.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More change, and much uncertainty. Washington and Sosa, the team's second- and third-leading scorers, are gone, as is Hymes (the sixth-leading scorer), Reggie Groves (seventh) and Aprilla. That's five of the team's top nine players from this past season. Groves, who graduated, did have another year of eligibility. And, lightly used forward Tyrell Edwards, also left the program. But, Baron is back and a good point guard, which he most definitely is, cures a lot of ills. And, the three top front-court players, the Heath brothers and Manhertz, are also returning. But Baron, in his first full recruiting cycle, had to find players and is bringing in five newcomers, including Jeremiah Williams, a junior college transfer (from high-powered Vincennes JC of Grand Rapids, Mich.). Williams, though, only averaged 4.4 points and 2.7 assists, but had an exemplary 91 assist/43 turnover total. If Williams can play the point, it would allow Baron to log some minutes at shooting guard. And, Canisius is finally landing some local players. The incoming freshmen include 6-4 swingman Adam Weir (of Buffalo's Canisius H.S.) and 6-6 forward Jermaine Crompton of Niagara Falls H.S. Also in place is Phil Valenti, a 6-7 forward from Aquinas H.S. in the Rochester area, who redshirted this past season.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: As good as the Barons are ... father as a coach, Billy as a player ... it might be difficult for the program to duplicate this past season. Difficult, but not impossible. There will likely be a greater emphasis on getting production from the front court, and the Heaths and Manhertz are capable of better. But, for Canisius to expect to finish in the top five (to get a first-round MAAC tournament bye), it will need to find some backcourt help for Baron, with the options all incoming players, making it hard to predict just how capable those players will be. If the front court makes forward strides, and the team can find some production from several of the incoming players, a top five finish ... maybe as high as third ... isn't out of the realm of possibility. But, there's also the chance that if those things don't fall into place, Canisius will be looking at a lower finish. The bottom won't drop out, though. At worst, the Griffs are still sold and it would be hard to envision a sub-.500 season.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Former Manhattan Coach Rohrssen Back at Pittsburgh

It's nice to see former Manhattan men's basketball coach Barry Rohrssen back in the sport.

Rohrssen, at Manhattan for five seasons (2006-07 through 2010-11) was recently hired as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh where he'll once again work under Pitt coach Jamie Dixon.

Rohrssen had been a Pitt assistant for seven years (1999-2006) prior to moving to Manhattan. During his last five years there the program had a 133-33 overall record, three regular-season Big East championships, three NCAA Sweet Sixteen berths and five straight trips to the NCAA tournament. He was the program's associate head coach during his last two seasons there.

Rohrssen is one of the all-time nice guys to ever have come through the MAAC. While at Pittsburgh previously he earned a reputation as one of the nation's top recruiters, and helped the Panthers establish a pipeline from New York City to Pittsburgh.

"We are extremely excited to bring Barry back to Pitt," Dixon said, in a press release issued by his school. "From the start here, Barry played an integral role in the success and building of our program. He has a great coaching background, is a good recruiter and has an exceptional understanding of how we operate our program."

Rohrssen did have some success at Manhattan, guiding the Jaspers to a 16-14 overall record in 2008-09. but had a 58-95 record over his five seasons, including a 6-25 finish in his last season there before he was replaced with current coach Steve Masiello.

Rohrssen also improved academic progress ratings at Manhattan as he graduated every player that stayed for four years and dramatically improved the school's basketball APR scores.

Team Report: Marist Women Poised To Keep Rolling

Here's another in the "Team Report" series taking a look back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 18-0 in MAAC play, 26-7 overall. Won the MAAC tournament title with a 72-48 championship-game victory over Iona. Lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Michigan State, 55-47.

2012-13 RECAP: The Red Foxes lost 2011-12 MAAC Player of the Year Corielle Yarde and second-leading scorer Brandy Gang to graduation. And, then, saw its two tallest inside players, Vanderbilt transfer 6-3 Tori Jarosz and 6-5 freshman Delaney Hollenbeck, suffer season-ending injuries before the MAAC season started. If there was a year the rest of the league would finally catch up to Marist, this looked like it. Except, it wasn't. The Red Foxes turned in another perfect (18-0) conference season, the third for the program in the past eight years. It won league games by an average margin of 19.7 points and capped that off with league tournament victories of 22, 25 and 24 points. Seventeen of the 18 regular-season wins were by double-digit margins. The only close win was a five-point victory over Fairfield. Somehow, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, certainly a credit to head coach Brian Giorgis, the MAAC's much-deserved Coach of the Year award winner. Marist did it this year with balance, defense and typically mistake-free and efficient play. It was enough to get a 10th straight league title, and an eighth straight trip to the NCAA's. It wasn't quite enough, though, to get a victory in the NCAA's as Marist ran into a team that played similarly to itself, except with bigger/faster/stronger athletes. Still, it was within four points with three minutes remaining against the Spartans, but wasn't able to get closer down the stretch. And, a brief word about the 57-year old Giorgis, who by all accounts, has no intention of leaving Marist: not only has he turned down numerous offers from higher-level programs, but he very often doesn't even accept the initial phone call of inquiry related to a coaching vacancy elsewhere. It's very easy to say that Giorgis is arguably the best coach the MAAC has ever seen, in terms of what he's been able to accomplish. But, that doesn't even begin to measure his value. It's no reach whatsoever to perceive that he is among the best coaches nationally at any level of the game.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Team play. Six players averaged between 7.3 and 12.0 points per game and 3.1 and 4.7 rebounds per game. The team's success came without a single first-team all star, although two made second team and two others made third team. There were also three reliable reserves, so depth was never an issue. Defensively, Marist allowed 8.5 fewer points per game in league play than the next best defensive average by a MAAC team. And, there was a tangible reward. Junior Leanne Ockenden was the deserved Defensive Player of the Year and she not only consistently guarded every opponent's top scorer, but held all of them below their seasonal per-game scoring averages. Marist also led the MAAC in just about every other statistical category except rebounding. But the Red Foxes did enough on the boards, despite its leading rebounder (6-foot-0 Emma O'Connor) averaging just 4.7 per game, the lowest rebounding average by any MAAC team leader. She got help from 6-2 Elizabeth Beynnon (4.2) and 6-1 reserve Kristina Danella (4.4). And, none of that is to say that Marist was bereft of talent. Any team that could have Danella, who scored more than 1,000 career points (two years at UMass before coming to Marist), coming off the bench has its share of talented players. Giorgis gives great credit to his assistants for compiling good scouting reports on opponents and to his players to religiously adhering to them. And, they'd better. The bench is a great motivator, and Giorgis will invite any of his players to take a seat during games if he's not pleased with their play. The result is that this past season merely continued the most-dominant stretch the MAAC has ever seen by either a women's or a men's team. Over the past three seasons Marist has lost just a single conference game (62-1, including tournament games), and over the past 10 years the program has a 163-17 record in regular-season conference play. Since the league expanded to an 18-game schedule in 1997, there have been three 18-0 conference finishes, and Marist has all three.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A 5-7 record against non-MAAC opponents? Well, consider the competiton. Four of the losses came against Oklahoma, Purdue, Kentucky and UConn, and all four of those programs were ranked in the top 12 nationally when the games were played (and, UConn went on to win the national title. Two others came against teams that went to the WNIT (Hartford and Boston University) and the other was to Michigan State in the NCAA's. At one point, Marist had the third-toughest non-league schedule nationally. Giorgis takes on difficult non-league schedules annually to get his team ready for conference play and beyond, and no one can argue with the results. One could also point to not getting out of the first round of the NCAA's, but Marist was within four with three minutes remaining against a tough draw, an mirror-image opponent that was just a little better. But, it's all relative. Every other MAAC team would be overjoyed just to get to the NCAA's. But Marist aspires to more, expecting not only to get there but to win post-season games. What else went wrong? The loss of its two true post players, Jarosz (who played just one game) and Hollenbeck (who played six games) before the MAAC season even began. It clearly didn't affect Marist on its own level, but it left the team a little short (literally) when it came time to match up with higher-level opponents. But, in truth, there isn't much to find fault with after an 18-0 conference record and all that went into it.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More of the same, and then some. It's hard to predict another 18-0 perfect conference slate, but Marist could be even better in the coming season than it was in this past one. Lost to graduation will be Beynnon, its tallest player and leading scorer; and Danella, who might have been the team's top offensive player. But, both the 6-3 Jarosz and the 6-5 Hollenbeck are expected to be 100 percent for the coming season. Jarosz could become the best inside player in the league, and Hollenbeck has a bright future, too. The team also loses part-time starter at point guard Kristine Best, a solid performer. But, junior Casey Dulin (10.2 points, 3.1 assists) and reserve Natalie Gomez are both back to handle that position. Ockenden, O'Connor and Dulin will be seniors, providing the requisite maturity. Sydney Coffey, a 6-0 guard, had a nice freshman year (7.3 points, 3.1 rebounds) and has the potential to eventually be among the conference's best players. Another freshman, Madeline Blais, is talented and will be a factor when her defensive skills catch up to her already advanced work on the offensive end. And, the rich get richer ... Incoming recruits are highly touted, including point guard Brittany Lai (Irvington, N.Y., H.S.), 6-2 Kat Fogarty (Governor's Academy of Massachusetts) and 5-10 guard Sydney Rosales, a highly effective long-range shooter from Colonie (N.Y.) H.S.

PREDICTION: It's a worn cliche, but it's true: Death, taxes and Marist women's basketball success are predictable certainties. The Red Foxes could be even better in the coming season than they were in 2012-13, and that's saying something. But the return of Jarosz and Holleneack, the continued development of Blais and Coffey and the talent level of the incoming freshmen are all reasons to believe next year's team could truly be something special. And, barring unexpected injuries, the added height of Jarosz, Hollenbeck and Fogarty means Marist is capable of stepping up in class and competing with the high-level teams on its regular-season schedule and come post-season tournament time. It goes without saying that Marist will once again dominate the MAAC. It's just a matter of seeing how much damage the 2013-14 edition can do in the NCAA's.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Team Report: Marist Men Have Reason For Optimism

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 6-12 in the MAAC (9th), 10-21 overall. Lost to Siena, 70-64, in the play-in round of the MAAC tournament.

2012-13 RECAP: Just like the previous season, a slow start followed by a nice finish. The difference, though, was 2011-12 season's blueprint was a little better: a 7-2 regular-season finish pushed the overall record that ear to 14-18. It seemed like it would be a springboard, particularly with almost all of a young team returning, to even better things this past season. Instead, the start was even slower. Marist was 5-18 at one point before a 5-2 regular-season finish enabled the team to just reach double-digits in victories. And, the relative late-season success came to an abrupt end in the play-in round loss to Siena in the conference tournament.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Despite a relatively dismal season, there were more than a few bright spots. Start with arguably the most-surprising upset of the MAAC season, a 105-104 double-overtime victory at Iona, the conference's eventual NCAA tournament representative. In that one, four Marist players scored at least 18 points, with senior-to-be 6-foot-10 center Adam Kemp turning in monster numbers of 29 points and 16 rebounds. Point guard Isaiah Morton and swingman Chavaughn Lewis both played all 50 minutes, and Lewis not only scored the winning points with two free throws with five seconds remaining, but blocked a last-second Iona shot that might have given the Gaels a victory. Marist followed that with another eye-opener, a 69-64 victory over Loyola, with Kemp going for 23 and 13. Later, Marist finished up the regular season with victories over Siena and Fairfield. It looked like a lot of momentum going into the MAAC tournament. The 6-6 Lewis (16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds) has positioned himself to be one of the league's best players entering his junior year in 2013-14. Kemp, a rising senior, showed flashes (10.4, 8.6) of being the MAAC's top post player. Senior-to-be Jay Bowie missed half the season with an injury, but sparked the late-season run with his return. And, Morton (120 assists against 80 turnovers), a rising junior, showed himself to be a capable and clever point guard. Devin Price finished off his Marist career with a nice season (13.7 ppg.).

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with Bowie's early season injury. He missed 13 games, and his loss was often lamented by former coach Chuck Martin as the prime reason for early season losses, and for good reason. Bowie was the team's philosophical leader, its fourth-leading scorer, its best shooter (52.7 percent field goal percentage),and  its third-leading rebounder. The team clearly played better when he was healthy. Plus, on a team with limited depth, the loss of one key player hurts. And, actually, Marist lost a key player before the season even started. Highly touted freshman guard Khalil Hart suffered a preseason knee injury that forced him to redshirt. Martin is a good guy, and had exemplary basketball expertise. But, there was a telling recent comment from a Marist player that his team didn't "buy into" everything Martin was trying to do, and that didn't help. From the outside, it seemed like more could have been gotten from players. Lewis probably could have been featured even more. Kemp had three terrific games (ones that produced these numbers: 29 points, 16 rebounds vs. Iona, 23-13 vs. Loyola, 24-14 vs. Siena). Otherwise, he averaged just 8.8 points and 7.9 rebounds. Some of that wasn't his fault. Marist didn't do enough from the perimeter to prohibit opponents from packing it in to slow Kemp's offense. Morton was almost a non-factor as a shooter, and needs to score more or opponents can continue to slack off him. The season actually started respectively, a 4-6 start that included wins over Vanderbilt and Manhattan (which played in the conference tournament's championship game), but that was followed by a 1-12 stretch.The 5-2 late-season surge renewed a little optimism, but the play-in round loss to Siena ... a game that featured two coaches fired within the following week ... certainly didn't leave the Red Foxes with much to feel good about this past season, one in which much more was expected. It just seemed that there was more talent in place than the final record indicated.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Certainly, the new-found sense of optimism that comes with a coaching change. And, this looks like a good one. Marist finally broke the mold of giving a rising assistant a first opportunity to be a head coach by bringing in Jeff Bower, who had been in the NBA for the past 18 years, including a stint as the interim head coach of the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets. Plus, Bower already knows his way around Marist, having been there as Dave Magarity's top assistant for nine season. He'll provide the type of basketball knowledge (and player respect, from his time in the NBA) that doesn't always land on a MAAC sideline. Still, his background brings some questions, most related to being away from college basketball for 18 years and dealing with entirely different levels of scouting and players in the NBA as compared to what he'll deal with at Marist. And, as of early May, he doesn't have an assistant in place yet. And, it looks like the program has two available scholarships which it might not be able to fill at such a late date. Martin's lone early signee, 6-8 forward Kentrell Brooks (from the legendary St. Anthony's of N.J. high school program) has indicated he'll honor that commitment and, possibly, be the lone newcomer for now. But, the team doesn't need much. If Lewis becomes just a little more assertive, he's a potential first-team all-MAAC level player. Kemp, Bowie, Morton, Hart (if he's 100 percent) provide the team with some above-average talent. There's decent depth in returnees. The team's likely top four players are veterans (Kemp and Bowie will be seniors, Lewis and Morton juniors). Bower is big on player development, and claims his players really want to improve and are listening to what he's saying ... and that's important.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Certainly better days. There's enough talent in place to ensure a better result than last year's 10 overall victories and, probably, more wins than the 14 from the year before that. A lot will be predicated on how much players improve, particularly Morton and Lewis. But, it's not hard to envision Marist to be in the hunt to finally avoid a play-in round berth (remember, only the top five teams will get a first-round bye in the coming season). And, a new coach not only brings new optimism from program supporters, but from players, too. An early look has Manhattan and Iona as the two favorites for the coming year. Fairfield and, potentially, Canisius might be in the next group and Marist isn't far from that. It might be too much of an expectation for the Red Foxes to get up to third place, but fourth or fifth might not be out of the realm of possibility.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bower Seeks to Restore Success, Interest at Marist

The author Thomas Wolfe once wrote that "you can't go home again."

But, sometimes you can. And, followers of the Marist men's basketball program are likely to be happy that administrators at that school didn't adhere to Wolfe's words when they were looking for a new coach last month.

Their search produced Jeff Bower, who is coming home, in a sense, returning to a program where he served as an assistant coach (under Dave Magarity) for nine seasons.

Since leaving Marist in 1995, Bower has been in the NBA for the past 18 years. The last three of those had been as a consultant within the league and for several individual franchises. Before that he spent 15 years with the New Orleans Hornets in a variety of duties ranging from advance scout to head coach to general manager and just about every position in between.

But, Marist was Bower's second job as a coach after his graduation from St. Francis (Pa.), the place where he began making his biggest early steps up the proverbial ladder. It's where he met his future wife, then an athletic trainer at the school; where he became close friends with another assistant coach, Tim Murray, who now serves as as Marist's athletic director. His family has a vacation home in the Oneonta area, just two hours away from campus.

So, when the Marist job opened up when the school fired previous coach Chuck Martin shortly after this past season, Bower was an eager applicant seeking a return too a place he had previously called home for nine seasons.

But, 18 years away is a long time.

"I've been here before and there are still people here that I know, so the comfort level is extremely high," said Bower. "But, I will say that this is a different place than before, a totally different place.

"The improvements and upgrades the school has made, in terms of facilities, resources and technology since I was here before are amazing. They are all assets that I hope to use to help our program improve."

The program hasn't been entirely downtrodden as previous coach Chuck Martin always seemed to have the Red Foxes playing well down the stretch. This past year Marist was 5-2 in its last seven regular-season games and was 7-2 in its last nine the previous season.

But, outside of back-to-back late-season surges, there wasn't a lot of success in a five-year 41-118 overall record. That type of record didn't reflect the support and resources the school has put into the program in recent years.

"They're really on target here to improve, and they made it clear that they want me to build a first-class, cutting edge program," added Bower.

Bower was a first-year assistant at Marist the last time the program went to the NCAA tournament (1986-87), and would like nothing better to get the program back to that level.

"Yeah, that's something I might have said (during the interview process)," said Bower, about a desire to be the coach that helped take Marist there before and who wants to be the one to do it again.

"That's the goal of every coach at every school," said Bower. "And, it's the goal here ... to be competitive in the MAAC every year with a chance to go to the NCAA's."

At Marist, Bower is hardly walking into an impossible situation. He believes, based on his interactions with team members, there aren't any expected player defections.

If his team returns intact, it will include some very good mid-major level players, including 6-10 center Adam Kenp, point guard Isaiah Morton and swingman Chavaughn Lewis. Kemp might be the league's top post player; Lewis, a rising junior, is already one of the league's best overall players; Morton is an effective court general. The roster also includes highly touted freshman Khalil Hart, who missed this past season after suffering a preseason knee injury.

"I've been able to get in the gym with the players for individual workouts, and the thing that impressed me the most is their attitude and their willingness to learn new things and accept things," said Bower. "It's clear that our players want to be coached and developed."

They'll be coached, and developed, not only by someone who has been at Marist before but whose resume that includes 18 years around the NBA is impressive.

Yet,, the benefits about those NBA years also include some questions related to nearly two decades away from a college situation.

"In all those years I was still connected to college basketball," said Bower. "As a personnel director, I was still around college campuses. i still had to pay attention to the college game to do my job well. I spent a lot of time at different colleges (to scout potential draft picks and free agents), and I always felt connected to the college game.

"Sure, this is a different level (from the high majors where Bower previously sought out potential NBA players), but some things are the same. I know what it takes to create success, and that translates down to different levels and places. It's as important to know the way guys do things to be successful as who is doing it."

The positive aspect of all those NBA years is an immediate credibility. Players, whether current team members or potential recruits, are bound to be impressed by a resume that includes 18 NBA seasons.

"That remains to be seen, but I have the benefit of being where every player desires to eventually reach," added Bower. "I do have a knowledge of what goes into getting there."

He also has the contacts, whether it be in the NBA or professional leagues overseas, to help players move on after their college careers are over.

"I think all of that is an asset that I have," said Bower. "It can benefit our program."

That, though, is all to come. Bower has only been in place for two weeks, and hasn't even hired a staff of assistants yet.

But, he claims his first two weeks back home have been enlightening.

"I've been most surprised by the commitment and energy toward the program ... by the fan enthusiasm I've seen in these two weeks," he said. "People around here can't wait for the season to start. Everyone in this region seems really excited for basketball and they're ready to support the program."

Bower had a first-hand look at the type enthusiasm and support the mid-Hudson region can give Marist from the days he was an assistant for the school's last NCAA trip.

He is asked if his job includes creating new fans, new interest for his program.

"That type of support, and our fans are till here," said Bower. "We just need to get them to come back."

Two weeks in, and Bower is already off to a good start to ensure that happens.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Team Reports: Loyola Women Have Young Talent

Here's another in the "Team Report" series ...

Up now,


2012-13 RESULTS: 7-11 in MAAC play (8th), 12-19 overall. Lost to Manhattan, 50-49, in the play-in round of the MAAC tournament.

2012-13 RECAP: Some quality wins, including a nice one over second-place Iona at midseason, just not enough of them. The Greyhounds had one of the league's top players in senior guard Katie Sheahin, and not much else. Sheahin averaged 14.4 points per game, and the next closest scorer was senior forward Alyssa Sutherland, at 7.9 ppg., the lowest per-game average by any MAAC team's No. 2 scorer. Loyola had trouble scoring points (eighth of the 10 MAAC teams) and rebounding (8th), statistics that would lend itself to the team's 8th-place finish.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Some nice early non-league results, including mastery of regional mid-major programs with victories over UMBC, Towson and American. But, success was harder to come by in the MAAC. There was a nice late-January/early February stretch that included consecutive victories over Iona, Niagara and Siena, all teams that finished higher in the final standings. But, Loyola went 3-6 after that. Sheahin had to do more than ever for the Greyhounds and finished her career as one of the school's all-time great women's players, and arguably the most-versatile standout the MAAC has ever seen. She led Loyola in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals for the past two years, the only conference player to lead in those four major statistical categories over that time. Tiffany Padgett, a 6-foot-1 forward, had a nice freshman year (4.1 points, 4.5 rebounds), and Sutherland was solid (7.9, 5.0).

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with Sheahin, who had nowhere near the senior season everyone expected ... and, it's hard to find a lot of fault with a player who leads her team in the four major statistical categories. Still, she was picked in preseason to be the MAAC's Player of the Year, and wound up as a second-team selection. Her play, for a portion of the season, was hindered by a mid-season stretch of severe flu-like symptoms that caused her to miss two games and play several others at less than 100 percent. Even when healthy, though, she faced defenses stacked to stop her, which limited her contributions. Teams were able to load up defenses against her because she didn't have a lot of help on the offensive end. When the team's second-leading scorer only averages 7.9 ppg., well defenses don't have to worry as much about the rest of the offense. Sophomore guard Kara Marshall looked like she might have been a strong second option, after averaging 11.0 ppg. in her first year, but her average dropped to 7.5 this past season. Loyola was also easier to guard because it was so perimeter oriented. Even Sutherland, the team's tallest starter, did her best work on outside the paint.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The program moves to the Patriot League for its future, and goes there with significant personnel losses. Sheahin and Sutherland graduate and are significant losses. Loyola definitely needs some quick development from Padgett, who showed signs of having the capabilities of becoming a very nice inside player. Marshall and another sophomore, Nicole Krusen (who averaged 6.0 ppg. this past season) both need to step up. Nneka Offodile, who will be a senior next season, has also made strides over her career and could be another nice inside piece a year from now.

PREDICTION: The Patriot League traditionally isn't quite as competitive as the MAAC, and Loyola did finish 3-1 against Patriot teams in non-league games this past season. Still, replacing Sheahin is a big task and the team will have to replace her contributions by committee, so to speak. But, there is some good young talent returning and head coach Joe Logan has always found a way to get more from his teams than the talent level would dictate. There isn't much doubt that the Greyhounds will be at least competitive in their first year in their new league.

Team Reports: Loyola Men Depart MAAC on High Note

Here's the first in the "Team Report" series looking back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now,


2012-13 RESULTS: 12-6 in MAAC play (tied for 2nd), 23-12 overall. Lost in the MAAC tournament's quarterfinal round. Played in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament and advanced to the quarterfinal round before losing in that event.

2012-13 RECAP: It was Loyola's last season in the MAAC, after a decision by school administrators to move to the Patriot League. The decision probably cost the program its head coach Jimmy Patsos, who was never enamored by the move in a competitive sense, and eventually was able to remain in the conference when he was hired by Siena. Patsos spent nine seasons at Loyola and took the program from the depths (1-27 prior to his arrival) to some of its greatest heights, including an NCAA appearance (2012), back-to-back 20-win seasons (2011-12, 2012-13) for the first time since the program went D-I in 1981, and back-to-back post-season berths (it went to the Collegeinsider.com Tournament this past season), also for the first time at the D-I level.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A veteran team had considerable success for the second straight season for a school that rarely had much success. The only other post-season appearance, other than the past two years, for the Greyhounds came in 1994 under the late Skip Prosser. Not only did Loyola play in a national post-season event this past season, but it hosted two games in the CIT (first home-court post-season games), beating Boston University and, then, Kent State before losing at East Carolina, 70-58, in the CIT's quarterfinal round. A 12-6 league record was exemplary, although some thought Loyola might have been capable of even better (your blogger predicted that Loyola would win the regular-season title). Junior Guard Dylon Cormier (16.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game) and senior forward Erik Etherly (15.7, 6.5) were both first-team all-MAAC selections, marking the first time Loyola has had two first-team picks in the same year. Do-everything senior guard Robert Olson also had a standout season (12.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists), and wound up playing in 126 games over his career, a Loyola record.

WHAT WENT WRONG: There were expectations things might have been even better, but there was an early issue with sophomore starting pint guard R.J. Williams, who was suspended (undisclosed violation of school policy) for the first 18 games, and he didn't seem quite as effective, upon his return, as he was as a freshman. Then, the Greyhounds lost their first MAAC tournament game, a quarterfinal-round setback to Manhattan, 55-52, a result predicated on lingering effects of the teams' meeting six days earlier in the final regular-season contest. A pre-game altercation with Manhattan players resulted in a one-game suspension for center Jordan Latham and forward Julius Brooks, for the MAAC event's opener, and it cost Loyola its inside strength, some depth and, ultimately, the game. As good a season as Etherly had, he didn't quite live up to preseason expectations when he was selected by league coaches to be the Player of the Year.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The move to the Patriot League, a decision made by school administrators to position Loyola with schools of higher academic reputations as well as new geographic affiliations (the Patriot League has teams in Boston and the Washington, D.C. area) in an effort to recruit student applications from those areas. Also, a new coach in place as G.G. Smith, the son of longtime college coach Tubby Smith, was promoted to the top spot after serving six seasons as an assistant under Patsos. The program's two other assistants under Patsos came with the former coach to Siena. Loyola, though, filled one of its assistant vacancies with former Maryland standout Keith Booth, who had previously been an assistant with the Greyhounds' women's program. All four recruits who had committed to Patsos have opted out of their agreements, with at least two (and, maybe, three) of them rejoining him at Siena.

PREDICTION: Still some very good talent in place, led by Cormier, Latham and Williams, all of whom are likely to be better than their counterparts in the Patriot League, which is traditionally at least a half a step below the MAAC competitively. Loyola should immediately be competitive in the Patriot League, at least for its first season.

Team Reports, Recruiting Information Coming Soon

Call this a preview of coming attractions.

By now, most of the proverbial dust has settled around league programs. Coaches have moved on, and new ones have come in. Some players have moved on, and others have joined the league.

Much of the recruiting of incoming players is complete.

That means it's time for post-season team-by-team reports. We'll do one per team ... one for every men's and every women's team.

We'll start, later today, with the outgoing programs from Loyola as that school moves to the Patriot League. And, eventually, we'll finish off with newcomers Monmouth and Quinnipiac.

As usual, the reports will take a look back and a look ahead for conference teams. We'll also include a little bit about recruiting, but full-fledged recruiting reports will come later on.

After doing the Loyola reports, there probably won't be any particular order to the reports ... but, we'll do the teams together. If we do a report on a school's men's team, then the women's report will immediately follow.

And, one last bit of "preview" information: The Sporting News recently announced that it is resuming its preview issue for College Basketball, which it did not publish prior to last season.

After the one-year hiatus, the preview magazines returned first with an upcoming college football issue and, this fall, with the college basketball publication.

Your Hoopscribe will once again be responsible for previewing the MAAC. And, I will say that the one thing that has always set the preview magazines done by The Sporting News apart from other similar publications is that TSN consistently contracts with writers who directly cover the leagues about which they preview. That's not always the case, but it is with The Sporting News.

Koita, Watson Finding Success in New Sports

We can label the following information as "Old Faces in New Places."

It wasn't hard to see that Mo Koita, a 6-foot-4 reserve guard at Manhattan this past season, had a rare level of athleticism.

It wasn't quite enough to get the senior regular playing time (he averaged about 13 minutes, while recording 3.4 points and 1.4 rebounds per game), but it has been more than enough for him to find considerable success off the basketball court.

After hoops season ended Koita joined the Jaspers' men's outdoor track & field team.

Three weeks into his foray into that sport he made school history.

Koita recently set a school record while wining the Eastern high jump at the prestigious Penn Relays, clearing the bar at 7-feet-2 1/2 to break the meet record in the event.

The "Eastern" event is a regional-level of competition in the Penn Relays. Still, Koita's height would have placed him second in the event's "Championship" division. And, it broke a 33-year old Manhattan school record.

Koita's jump achieved the qualifying standard for the World University Games, which will be held in Kazan, Russia from July 6-17. He's currently ranked 12th in the NCAA and tied for 31st place on the 2013 world outdoor list. Not bad for someone competing in the event for just three weeks.

And, then, there's the relatively unique progression of Menelik Watson, a former power forward (with the emphasis on "power") at Marist.

Watson spent two years with the Red Foxes, redshirting in the 2009-10 season and exhibiting considerable potential in the 2010-11 season when he averaged 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

In one post-season report, we identified Watson as a 6-foot-8, 270-pound "man mountain" of an inside player.

Watson's physical dimensions have changed considerably since then, after he transferred from Marist to Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, Calif. After one year there he moved on to Florida State where he became a starter on the offensive line and an All-ACC honoree.

These days, Watson is listed as 6-foot-5 (goes to show that basketball heights are just a little exaggerated) and about 310 pounds.

And, it looks like he made the right move. He was a second-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders in the recent NFL draft and is projected to step into that team's starting job at right tackle.

Here's the NFL.com's pre-draft projection on Watson:

STRENGTHS: A physical specimen. Great size, and tremendously athletic. Explosive first step. Good foot quickness. Showcases mobility and range as a blocker. Able to get to the second level and make cut off blocks. Flexible, bends well. Powerful punch.

WEAKNESSES: Still raw, limited football experience. Older than ideal (will turn 25 before the 2013 season). Hand placement is poor. Often hits outside the frame and will have a tendency to get overly grabby. Will result in ore penalties in the NFL. Needs to play with a wider base. Inconsistent with his footwork.

BOTTOM LINE: Watson has rare athletic ability on a tremendous frame. He has an explosive first step, light feet and a powerful punch. There are a lot of things in his game that need to be cleaned up from a technique standpoint, and he will be 25 years old in his rookie season. He can project to either tackle spot, or possibly even inside, at guard.