Sunday, June 30, 2013

Siena's Anosike Joins Nuggets For Summer League

A second former MAAC player, Siena's O.D. Anosike, will get a chance this summer to pursue NBA dreams.

The 6-foot-7 forward (the measurement from this spring) has agreed to join the Denver Nuggets' squad for the NBA Summer League to be played in Las Vegas from July 12-22.

Anosike revealed his plans via his Twitter feed. In all, 22 NBA franchises are sending teams to the Vegas summer league where they will play at least five games, beginning with three preliminary round games followed by a tournament format.

Anosike's first game will be on Saturday, July 13 at 10 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBA TV.

The former Siena standout led the country in rebounding each of the past two seasons. He is the first MAAC player to win back-to-back national rebounding crowns, and just the seventh player in Division I history to do so since 1950

Anosike averaged 15.0 points per game as a junior, earning a an all-MAAC first team all-star designation. As a senior his scoring average dropped to 13.3 ppg., and he was a second-team all-MAAC selection.

He averaged 12.5 rebounds per contest as a junior and 11.5 per game this past season.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Iona's Jones Signs Free-Agent Contract With Celtics

Another NBA draft has come and gone without a MAAC player selected, but that doesn't mean at least one individual from the conference isn't getting a chance to join the pros.

Lamont "Momo" Jones, the league's Player of the Year for this past season, signed a free-agent contract with the Boston Celtics shortly after the end of Thursday's draft.

It's probably as good an opportunity as any for the 6-foot-0 Jones, considering the Celtics' current rebuilding mode after the team traded away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce Thursday to the Brooklyn Nets.

Jones averaged 22.6 points per game this past season, third-best nationally.

But, the 6-footer doesn't fit into the cookie-cutter mold, height-wise, for the league's preference for taller shooting guard. And, he only connected on 31.3 percent of his 3-pointers this past season.

Iona used Jones, who played two seasons at Arizona before joining the Gaels, at both guard spots. He averaged 3.4 assists per game in 2012-13, but also 3.4 turnovers per contest.

Here are some comments about Jones, from Kevin O'Connor who writes for SB Nation's Boston Celtics' blog:

"From what I can digest watching only a few videos online, he seems more like a shooting guard than a point guard. He lacks a lot of the orchestrating abilities you look for in a point guard, but he has the abilities to be a scoring spark off the bench. He has a very fast and compact dribble, a valuable asset to have in the NBA. Since he had 3.4 turnovers per game, I would assume that the majority of his turnovers came from a lack of good passing instincts and not a loose handle on his dribble.

"I doubt Lamont Jones makes the team considering the Celtics have so many guards on the roster, but he seems like a good guy to bring in for the summer league. He seems to play with a lot of energy and could be a guy that pushes other players to get better since he is so offensive-oriented."

During the season your Hoopscribe chatted with an NBA coach about Jones' draft prospects.

The scout indicated that Jones' height (or, lack thereof) for a player who isn't a point guard, would ensure that he'd go undrafted but that the Iona standout would almost assuredly get a look over the summer. And, that if the NBA doesn't materialize right away then Jones had the potential for a lengthy and profitable pro career overseas.

Which, so far, is exactly the route Jones appears to be on, although the guess here is that Jones' strong offensive game will get him a strong look and a real chance to make an NBA roster.

This year marked the fifth straight NBA draft that did not include a MAAC player.

The last conference player selected was 7-footer Jason Thompson, a first-round pick by the Sacramento Kings in the 2008 draft.

Prior to that, Jared Jordan, a point guard from Marist, was a second-round selection of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2007 and Luis Flores, a shooting guard from Manhattan, was a second-round pick of the Houston Rockets in 2004.

Flores' selection ended a 12-year drought for the MAAC, after the Clippers made former La Salle standout guard Randy Woods a first-round pick in 1992.

Former Stag O'Toole Moves to Stanford as Assistant

Former Fairfield player and head coach Tim O'Toole is back in college basketball as a full-fledged court assistant.

O'Toole, who had been away from the sport for six seasons after his dismissal by Fairfield in 2006 as eight seasons as the Stags' coach, was hired earlier this week as an assistant at Stanford.

O'Toole had returned to college hoops this past December when he became Syracuse's director of basketball operations, a position that is restrictive in terms of actual on-court coaching.

During O'Toole's six-year hiatus from coaching he had worked as a college basketball analyst for ESPN and SNY as well as working as a financial planner and motivational consultant.

As is often the case in basketball hirings, O'Toole's "connections" worked in his favor for the move to Stanford.

O'Toole knows Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins through their Duke connections. Dawkins is a former Duke standout and returned to Duke as an assistant coach. He and O'Toole were together on the Duke staff for several weeks before O'Toole moved on to become an assistant at Seton Hall.

"I'm very excited to have Tim join our staff and look forward to working with him," Dawkins said in a statement released by his school. "Tim brings a wealth of experience to our program, having served as a head coach and an assistant coach for several successful programs. He possesses an incredible passion for the game, and the ability to instantly connect with student-athletes he coaches. Tim's presence will greatly benefit everyone associated with our program."

O'Toole, now 49, was a scrappy standout swingman over four seasons in the mid-1980's at Fairfield.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Personal Reflections On A Much-Appreciated Honor

It's not often I write about myself, and I can't recall doing that even once during my nearly five years of involvement with Keepin' Track of the MAAC.

But, we'll make an exception now, thanks to a recent honor received.

On Sunday your Hoopscribe was recognized for media contributions to basketball, an award presented by the Upstate New York Basketball Hall of Fame. It's an honor akin to getting into the writers/broadcasters wing of baseball's Hall of Fame.

It is indeed an honor, to be recognized before those I have written about for close to 40 years, in my "home" area, a location in which I always wanted to work and have done so for about 32 of my 40 years in the newspaper/on-line writing/broadcasting fields.

There are many, many people to thank. But, first, a little history.

My enthusiasm for sports was sparked by time spent in a two-chair barbershop in the hill section of Cohoes, N.Y., where I first remember being taken by my dad when I was, probably, three years old.

It was an old-fashioned place where the neighborhood "guys" hung out talking sports, and it was a treat for a very young boy to be around that every few weeks ... it gave a sense of importance to sports, a recognition of how much enjoyment they provided.

It probably wasn't until about 13 or 14 years later when, in high school, the realization set in that I wouldn't be a professional athlete, and probably not even a college one.

But, the encouragement of some well-appreciated teachers who recognized my love of sports and some potential as a writer, convinced me use college as an avenue to pursue a career of writing about sports.

And, that began in 1973, mostly covering high school sports in upstate New York for the first few years. Included was a first writing award, a state-level one for a column about a fabricated basketball player gaining inclusion to a national "Who's Who of high school basketball players," someone submitted to show the lack of oversight involved for getting recognized by that long-out-of-business publication.

Following a short break to finish college, the next step was eight years at the Middletown (N.Y.) Times-Herald Record that included coverage of Army's basketball team and a young, on-the-rise coach, one Mike Krzyzewski, who would go on to considerable fame elsewhere.

But, not until he turned around Duke's program after a slow start that saw fans of that program hang his likeness in effigy. Entering Coach K's third year there, I was granted a solo, hour-long audience at his New Jersey hotel room while Duke was in the area for an early season tournament.

Krzyzewski expressed little doubt that he would turn Duke around, mostly because of a strong incoming recruiting class that included Gene Banks, Johnny Dawkins, Jay Bilas and Mark Alarie. And, it appears that he might have been right in that belief.

The move to Middletown, which also included considerable major league coverage of Knicks/Nets, Yankees/Mets, Giants/Jets, etc., was initially thought to be career advancement.

But, it wasn't. Not long after making the move came the realization that a return to roots, a move back to upstate New York to cover "local" sports in my home area, was my preferred career path.

I grew up reading about the basketball exploits of Pat Riley, Barry Kramer, Dick Grubar, Joe Geiger, Ticky Burden and numerous others. I always knew I wanted to tell audience the stories of the subsequent generations of athletic standouts in New York's Capital Region.

So, that opportunity came again in 1985 with a job offer from the Troy Record and, so, began a still-ongoing stretch of 28 years covering Siena and MAAC basketball.

In all, I have covered games coached by 10 different Siena men's coaches, five different women's coaches,  and who knows how many dozens of coaches throughout the MAAC, a count that likely reaches well into the hundreds.

Game coverages have brought me to about 175 different college venues in 25 states around the country, including a nice five-day trip to Hawaii for a Siena tournament appearance in the 2000-01 season.

There are so many people to thank, beginning with my late parents who were always so supportive with their guidance towards my career choice, and to the high school teachers who encouraged my direction towards sports writing.

Of course, my wife of many years, and my son who understood the need to be away so often to cover events. And, thanks to them both for bringing some balance to my life. Both are musicians, my son already a superior saxophone player who has won national and international competitions. They have instilled in me a love of music that equals my love of sports.

Thanks, too, to my late daughter Julie who, somehow, became a sports fan and accompanied dad to nearly every near-by sporting event over the last five or six years before her sudden and unexpected passing in November, 2008.

She was my "Trusty Sidekick," and her absence remains a considerable hole in my life.

Her loss corresponded with the continuing demise of the newspaper industry, and occurred not long after I was "downsized" by my last newspaper home, of 17 years, The Schenectady Gazette. I was informed, at the time, that production personnel, those who did the behind-the-scenes work to create the product, were more valued than those who wrote the stories that appeared. Because I was solely a writer, I had become a luxury, of sorts.

Thus ended a newspaper career that included well over a dozen awards, several on the national level, for writing. The awards included one for the very last newspaper story I had published, a profile of former UMass/Schenectady H.S. standout Rashaun Freeman's effort to overcome dyslexia to complete work for a college degree.

Thankfully, basketball helped in the recovery from the indescribable loss of a beloved daughter, and there are many to thank for that.

It can start with former Siena women's coach Gina Castelli (now at Le Moyne), who regularly called, shared dinners, texted and e-mailed with support. Her team had become my daughter's passion, and they had a nice connection. So, Castelli's team became my way of staying involved with the program my daughter enjoyed so much.

Castelli opened daily practices to me, and often called when I did not attend. Soon, she arranged for me to become the radio color commentator for broadcasts of her games. She, and her staff members, particularly Andrea Woodbury and Michelle Collins, have provided much support and have become close friends.

There's thanks, too, to MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor, who brought me aboard five years ago to do the on-line blog work produced in this space. It has enabled me to continue to be a "hoopscribe," to continue to be associated with a terrific mid-major level Division I league where controversy is at a minimum and where member institutions do things the right way.

And, although it's not a direct connection to college basketball, thanks also go to John Kmack, who established and operates the GymRat CHALLENGE basketball tournaments in the Albany area. Kmack brought me aboard five years ago to publicize the event, to organize talent evaluators and to write championship game reports and produce the descriptions of the event's all-star selections. Many of those who participate, both for the boys' and girls' events, become outstanding college players and more than a few of them wind up in the MAAC. My affiliation has enabled the production of annual reports on players who are looking at, or are being looked at by MAAC programs.

Thanks go, too, to Hall organizer Rene LeRoux, and to Hall nominating committee members Bob Pezzano, whose connections to basketball are lengthy and noteworth, and to Joe Loudis, a longtime outstanding high school basketball coach, for bringing about my honor.

Thanks, finally, to those who have been on the other side of whatever I produced over the years ... the readers of the stories, whether they appeared in newspapers or within this on-line space. The MAAC blog's number of "hits," individual views, has nearly tripled from its early months and continues to grow. That interest is greatly appreciated and is a validation of just how much readers care about and appreciate MAAC basketball.

The formal "media recognition" by the Capital District Hall came on Sunday night (June 23) at its annual dinner, before a crowd of over 300.

The dinner was particularly noteworthy since it also honored legendary basketball figure Howard Garfinkel, the godfather of the pre-college ratings system for players (HSBI) as well as the long-time owner/operator of the 5-star summer camps.

On hand to support "Garf" were Mike Fratello, George Raveling, Dereck Whittenburg of North Carolina State fame, and former Siena men's coach Mike Buonaguro.

It was a bit of "basketball royalty," and there were some personal connections.

One of the best stories I wrote in my first year in the newspaper business was about how Garfinkel rated players, and included his ratings for some Albany-based high school standouts.

I remember, from interviewing Garfinkel, that he was typically gruff but also extremely cooperative and generous with his time.

Raveling's connection is that he was and remains a mentor, of sorts, for former Siena men's coach Paul Hewitt, who remains a good friend.

And Whittenburg and Buonaguro were involved with arguably college basketball's two biggest championship-game upsets.

Whittenburg was a North Carolina State guard when that program surprisingly reached the 1983 NCAA championship game, and took a last-second shot that fell short but was grabbed by teammate Lorenzo Charles, who made the last-second, game-winning basket that beat heavily favored Houston.

And, two years later, Buonaguro was not only an assistant coach with the Villanova team that shocked the Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown squad in the 1985 NCAA championship game, but Buonaguro drew up the scouting report that produced the upset.

Buonaguro, in his remarks, joked that it was nice to be in front of a crowd that wasn't booing him.

Those who read this space know of my respect for Buonaguro as both a person and for his basketball expertise. And, for sure, there were never boos for him from this direction.

And, a quick aside ... it's a commentary on what mid-major level basketball is becoming if a team's fans, by definition its supporters, can be so negative toward a good man like Buonaguro based entirely on won-loss numbers without caring anything else about the circumstances involved or knowing anything else about the individual.

In all, there were 25 inductees at Sunday's event and your Hoopscribe was the only direct link, this year, to the MAAC.

It was indeed a much-appreciated recognition.

Over 40 years, there have been over a dozen writing awards ... a couple on the national level. But, to be recognized in front of an audience filled with the basketball connections I grew up aspiring to writing about, in my home area ...

It was, indeed, the greatest honor I have ever received.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

GymRat Event Draws Many Future MAAC Players

The 9th annual GymRat CHALLANGE AAU tournament for girls was held in New York's Capital Region over Father's Day weekend, and there was the usual abundance of Division I basketball talent, at least future D-I talent, participating.

As always, we tried to ascertain a connection between players and MAAC programs. So, the following, is a list, as comprehensive as we can come up with, of players who are looking at MAAC schools and vice versa.

- Sarah Veilleux, a 6-foot-0 wing player from Rham H.S. (Connecticut Cobras AAU program). She is a big-time scorer in high school, but only flashed that ability (8.2 points per game) in five games here. Still, she was heavily recruited by Marist before opting, according to sources, to verbal to St. Joseph's.

- Mary Patterson, a 5-foot-7 guard, from Troy H.S. (Albany Capitals program). She is an aggressive, athletic player who gets into the lane to score yet is a good outside shooter. Several MAAC schools are looking at her.

- Rachel Gartner, a 5-foot-9 point guard from Danbury H.S. (Ct. Wescon Fillies program). She is a tall point guard who not only runs a team and makes good passes, but can create her own shot and shoot deep three-pointers. She has gotten some interest from Fairfield.

- Infiniti Thomas-Waheed, a 5-foot-11 wing player from Newton North H.S. (Rivals-White program). Event evaluators called her a tremendous athlete who gets to the rim at will, has the ability to create her own shot and can shoot long range. Also a good defensive player. She mentioned that Niagara has shown interest.

- Tiana Carter, a 6-foot-2 forward/center from Lake Region H.S. (Maine Wave program). She is an athletic inside player with a nice touch around the hoop. She is athletic and crashes the boards hard at both ends. She took an unofficial visit to Siena while in the area.

Nyasha Arizany, a 5-foot-9 point guard from Molloy H.S. (N.Y. Gauchos program).  A true point guard with good size who finds open teammates and runs an offense. Also gets into the lane and finishes. She plays with a lot of emotion, and is a good pressure-defense defender. Has been getting interest from Quinnipiac.

- Kristen McLaughlin, a 5-foot-11 wing player from Tappan Zee H.S. (Hudson Valley Elite program): An active player, particularly on defense. Shooting range out to the three-point stripe. Still needs to add strength. Most MAAC teams are involved, as is Rhode Island and Towson.

- Joanna Dobrovosky, a 6-foot-2 forward from Saneateles H.S. (Unity Wildcats program): A physical post player who is a good rebounder at both ends and is a high-energy player. Still filling out physically. Siena, Canisius and several other MAAC schools are looking.

- Anna Ross, a 5-foot-8 point guard from Westhill H.S. (Unity Wildcats program). A point guard that also scores, particularly with a cross-over move that gets her into the lane. Hard worker on defense. Good passer who finds open teammates. Marist, and several other MAAC schools, along with some Ivies are looking.

- Shannon Ryan, a 6-foot-4 center from Beekmantown Central H.S. (Lake Champlain Lakers program). A true "big" post who has great fundamentals. Uses her size well to block and alters shots. Gets position and scores well around the paint. Marist, Siena showed early interest, but she is also hearing from many high-major programs, including Boston College and Louisville.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Team Report: Siena Men's Makeover Stirs Optimism

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 4-14 (9th place) in MAAC play, 8-24 overall.

2012-13 RECAP: Beat Marist, 70-64, in a MAAC tournament play-in round contest, lost to Niagara, 74-62, in a quarterfinal-round contest. Several days after the end of the MAAC tournament, third-year head coach Mitch Buonaguro was fired.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Not a lot, not in an eight-win season. And, it seemed that Buonaguro, a well-respected basketball mind was either not quite capable of a second try as a head coach (he had been the head man at Fairfield in the late-1980's), or was a victim of a lot of circumstances against him. Most fans of the program believe it to be the former, but, in truth, it was probably more the latter. Buonaguro certainly showed he had what it takes the previous season when, due to injuries, and unexpected ineligibilities, he coached a team with just six reliable players to a far-above-expectations 14-17 record. And, then, this past year started when two of his expected starters, Rakim Brookins and Trenity Burdine, were suspended for the season's first three games due to rules' violations. Brookins dealt with back issues most of the rest of the season, and Burdine had some foot issues and a second academic-related suspension during the season. Despite that, the Saints were usually respectable, losing two games by a single point and eight overall by six points or fewer. Senior forward O.D. Anosike was a significant bright spot, leading the country in rebounding (11.4 per game) for the second straight season, the first player in MAAC history to do so. Sophomore swingman Rob Poole (11.8, 4.7) became a nice second option and, with a little more improvement, will contend for conference all-star honors in the future. Brookins, Burdine and sophomore Evan Hymes all had some bright moments, good games and big plays ... just not nearly enough of them.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The year-long issues/injuries with Brookins and Burdine were real setbacks. Hymes, who had one of the best freshmen seasons in school history (13.4 ppg.), didn't match that as a sophomore, dropping to 11.3 with nearly four turnovers per contest. Sophomore big man Imoh Silas, a redshirt the previous year due to a complicated NCAA ruling, wasn't what Buonaguro hoped for, particularly on the defensive end. Freshman forward Brett Bisping dealt with some back issues most of the year, while another touted first-year player, guard Ryan Oliver, suffered a mid-season knee injury and only played 17 games. It left the Saints thin in the backcourt, to the point that Poole wound up playing major minutes there late in the season. Davis Martens, who had a strong late-season stretch (12.5/5.3 over a five-game stretch), opted to graduate and not come back for the coming season and complete a final year's eligibility. The 8-24 record, coupled with a slow-down style and reliance on a zone defense, almost necessitated by depleted numbers, also alienated fans, and school administrators opted to let Buonaguro go despite a year remaining on his contract.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Just about everything will change, particularly at the top with former Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos taking over. Patsos revitalized a dormant Greyhounds' program and took that team to the NCAA's two years ago and to the Tournament this past season. Patsos also has the type dynamic personality that attracts interest, a modern-day Mike Deane, if you will. Brookins and Burdine are both gone, victims of more violations. It leaves Poole as the only sure-thing starter among returnees, although the 6-8 Silas, Hymes and Oliver will certainly be in the mix. Patsos, though, is a master at reloading and finding players, and he found a few for Siena among players who initially committed to play for him at Loyola. Those include incoming freshmen point guard Marquis Wright, 6-8 power forward Michael Wolfe and 6-6 forward Lavon Long. Thee lone Buonaguro recruit still coming in is 6-8 Javon Ogunyemi, an athletic big man who could be a part of the playing rotation. Patsos also got a transfer in 6-5 guard Patrick Cole from Coppin State, where he averaged 10.3 ppg. this past season as a freshman. Cole will have to sit out a year per transfer rules. There is also a possibility that talented 6-2 guard Taran Buie, a local product who has already been at two colleges (Penn State and Hofstra) might join the program and is seeking an NCAA waiver to be immediately eligible to a family illness. For sure the Saints will be young with a lot of new pieces to fit into place. But, Patsos has already exhibited an ability to turn a program around. He just might not be able to do it right away.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Bringing in a coach with nine years of experience and considerable success elsewhere in Patsos is a coup for the program. He knows how to find players. But, the turnaround he made with the Loyola program took a couple of years, and it might not happen right away at Siena, either ... not with all the newcomers and inexperience players who will get playing time. It's probably too much to expect a top-five finish (the top five teams avoid the post-season tournament's play-in round), but Patsos' team will play hard and be competitive. Expect a few more wins than last year and a finish somewhere in the 6th/7th/8th range in the 11-team league with much better to come in subsequent seasons.

Girls' GymRat Event A Place For Future Stars To Shine

The GymRat CHALLENGE AAU basketball tournament, played in New York's Capital Region, has a reputation as a showcase for rising stars. The boys' version of the event was played three weeks ago and, now, its the girls' turn to play in what is the largest tournament of its kind for females on the east coast.

In all, 228 teams with close to 2,500 players from 13 states and Canada will be in the area this weekend for games on Saturday and Sunday.

Games begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday and continue until the wee hours and, then, resume at 8 a.m. on Sunday. Each team plays three "pool round" games, and teams that advance from pool play begin championship brackets Sunday afternoon with champions determined in four age brackets Sunday evening.

Games will be played at UAlbany, Skidmore College, Schenectady H.S., Niskayuna H.S., the Saratoga Recreation Center, Saratoga's Gavin Park Athletic Center and Maple Hill Middle School in Saratoga. There are age divisions for players 16-under (traditionally rising seniors), 15-under, 14-under and 13-under.

Admission is $10 per day or $15 for both days and covers any game at any venue. Reasonably priced concessions, merchandise and game programs with full rosters are also available at every site.

There are 16 Capital Region-based teams participating with close to 180 local players, and the proverbial best of the best from the east come to the event.

Recent participants from MAAC schools include Sydney Rosales (headed to Marist), Tehresa Coles (at Siena), Briana Logan (headed to Siena), Damika Martinez (Iona, this past season's MAAC Player of the Year), Maeve Parahus (headed to Manhattan) and dozens of others. Other Capital Region-team GymRat alums include Julie Forster, Sarah Royals and Keyenna Williams, who played on this past season's UAlbany NCAA team.

The event also draws considerable talent from elsewhere, including Epiphany Prince, who played in the GymRat in two different years and is annually among the WNBA's leading scorers. Four years ago Breanna Stewart, then a 6-foot-4 center who was rated the top high school player nationally, was here. Stewart, this past season, led UConn to a national championship and was the first freshman since 1986 to be the MVP of the Final Four.

Stewart's teammates, Bria Hartley and Caroline Doty, UConn's starting backcourt this past season, are also GymRat alums.

Your Hoopscribe is involved, helping organize and being part of a group of talent evaluators who watch games over the weekend and pick all stars. After the event I'll be writing about the top-level all stars selected  as well as producing a report on the championship game at each division. It will all be available at the event's website (as are past all-star teams),

Is all of that well received? In past years, there have been more than 1.2 million hits to the site within two weeks after the reports get on line. Reports will be on line, this year, no later than next Wednesday or Thursday.

We'll also keep track of players who are being recruited by MAAC programs, and post that information here, at "Keepin' Track of the MAAC" by late next week.

Better yet, though, fans of terrific basketball can get out to get a first-hand look at the sport's future stars and, in many cases, future MAAC standouts. The event truly is a basketball junkie's paradise.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Team Report: Siena Women Will Need Inside Help

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 8-10 (6th place) in MAAC play, 13-16 overall. Won a quarterfinal-round MAAC Tournament game, 52-48, over Fairfield. Lost in the semifinal round, 68-58, to Iona.

2012-13 RECAP: A stellar season from its top player, senior center Lily Grenci (15.9 points, 9.5 rebounds per game), and from sophomore guard Tehresa Coles (9.1, 4.6). Otherwise, a mixed bag. The program fired long-time head coach Gina Castelli to bring in former Northwestern assistant Ali Jaques, yet despite the return of the majority of the previous year's roster the record was almost identical to Castelli's from the past two season ... except Castelli's last two teams finished fourth in the league standings, while this season's had to sneak out a win over a Canisius team playing without its point guard in the season's final game to avoid the play-in round and finish sixth in the MAAC. Jaques, though, proved to be an effective motivator as her team effectively persevered through some difficult stretches. Subsequent years will be a better indication of what she can do with this program.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Grenci's strong season that, in this humble estimation, should have brought her Player of the Year honors (which, instead, went to Iona sophomore Damika Martinez). Coles improved significantly, particularly on the offensive end. Defensively, she finished 28th nationally in steals. As a team, Siena went to the foul line more than any other conference team, and converted there finishing 38th nationally in free-throw percentage. There were nice non-league wins over Maine, coming back from a 17-point second-half deficit; and one at UMass. Siena also had a regular-season blowout win over second-place Iona  (68-54), and a three-game mid-season winning streak (over Manhattan, Saint Peter's and Loyola). A new defensive scheme that emphasized pressure, particularly with a half-court/trapping zone, forced opponents into nearly 20 turnovers per contest, more than any other MAAC defense. The MAAC tournament victory over Fairfield, which had beaten the Saints in both regular-season games was an pleasant upset.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Start with some tough losses including three straight early in the season: a one-point setback at Sacred Heart on a last-second foul call, followed by a last-second half-court heave by Tiahana Mills of Canisius to beat Siena (ESPN SportsCenter's top highight that night), followed by losing a late-game lead and, then, an overtime contest at Niagara. It could have been a devastating stretch, yet the Saints hung in, quickly following up with a 3-game winning streak. But, a 5-7 run down the stretch required beating a depleted Canisius team in the final regular-season contest to avoid the tournament's play-in round. The team emphasized pounding the ball inside, at the expense of its perimeter players, and opponents sagged inside to eventually clog the middle. Other than Coles, no other perimeter player averaged more than 5.2 points per game. Injuries were also a factor. Redshirt freshman guard Ida Krogh played through year-long foot issues, and junior forward Kate Zarotney played through season-long shoulder issues. And, while the team forced turnovers it committed more than its share. Its 19.3 per game ranked it 293 of 343 D-I teams nationally in total turnovers. And, only 10 teams nationally had worse field-goal percentages.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The loss of Grenci is as significant as any team in the league has to deal with. And, Zarotney, probably the next best inside player, is having off-season shoulder injury and might be lost. Those were the team's best two post players last season. It leaves the post, for the coming year, in the hands of sophomore-to-be Symone Kelly, who battled concussion issues and had a limited role last season, and incoming 6-2 freshman Meghan Donohue. Kelly, a physical player, showed some signs this past season but the middle will be inexperienced. The Saints will also need contributions from other its other incoming freshmen, particularly 5-6 point guard Briana Logan, who is a cousin of the men's program's all-time leading scorer Marc Brown. Other perimeter spots are well stocked with experience, including wing forward Sole-Anglada, guards Kanika Cummings and Ciara Stewart. Coles, a junior, is a potential all-league player and Krogh, a sophomore, is also solid.

PREDICTION: If Zarotney doesn't play, then the Saints will be relying on inexperienced post players to compete inside against several teams with quality inside veterans. The perimeter, though, is at least solid with considerable depth. The turnover issue might be alleviated to some esxtent if Logan can at least be a contributor at the point. Still, the MAAC looks to be stronger overall for the coming year, and adds two new programs including Quinnipiac (which loses only one starter from a 30-3 team). The best expectation is a middle-of-the-pack finish, and avoiding the tournament's play-in round would be a nice achievement.and not out of the realm of possibility. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Team Report: Fairfield Men Facing Much Inexperience

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 9-9 (tied for 6th) in MAAC play, 19-16 overall.

2012-13 RECAP: The Stags were the seventh-seeded team for the conference tournament, and made it to the semifinals with wins over Saint Peter's and Rider, before falling to Manhattan, 60-42. Fairfield then got an invitation to the tournament, where it dropped a last-second 73-71 decision to Kent State.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A nice year by senior guard Derek Needham (14.6 points per game and a team-high 110 assists). He finished his career as No. 3 on the Stags' all-time scoring list and No. 4 on its all-time assist list. He was a contributor from his first game as a freshmen, as well as one of the classiest individuals to ever play in the MAAC. The win total is good, but the likelihood is that expectations were higher than a tie for sixth in the regular-season standings. Still, a fourth-straight trip to a national post-season tournament is definitely a positive, and the Stags played well there, rallying from a a 13-point deficit in the second half to tie it with 16 seconds remaining before Kent State converted the winning basket with three seconds remaining. Amadou Sidibe, a developing "big" had a strong freshman season (5.7 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) and will only get better. And, head coach Sydney Johnson thinks highly enough of Sidebe's leadership abilities to have named him a captain for the coming season, an almost unheard of honor for a sophomore. Another freshman, 6-6 small forward Marcus Gilbert, also contributed (5.5, 3.2) and looked like he will be a nice building block for the future. Desmond Wade was solid at the point (110 assists against 67 turnovers). Team-wise there was a nice six-game winning streak early in the year (Rider, Milwaukee, Drexel, St. Joe's, Old Dominion and Canisius). And, later, there was a mid-season five-game winning streak against MAAC opponents. The Stags also did much of their best work on the defensive end, holding opponents to 59.2 ppg., 27th-best nationally.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Other than Needham, there wasn't a consistent offensive threat (the team's second-best scorer was forward Maurice Barrow, at 8.9 ppg.), and teams without at least two offensive threats rarely have a lot of success. The Stags did good work, though, turning games into physical affairs played at their preferred (slow) pace. But, as good as the defense was ... the offense ranked 309 out of 343 Division I teams nationally in terms of points per game. The couple of in-season winning streaks were countered by inconsistent stretches. The Stags started 2-6 in MAAC play before a 7-3 run down the stretch to get to the .500 level in conference play. Still, it wasn't good enough to avoid the post-season tournament's play-in round as Fairfield wound up as the event's No. 7 seed. Fairfield actually had a 7-1 stretch after the 2-6 start before losing its final two regular-season games. One of those two late losses was a 34-31 setback against Manhattan. Fairfield's 31 points in the game matched the program's all-time low for a single game, last set in the 1976-77 season. The Stags were also a little "short" inside with the only real contributor taller than 6-6. Keith Matthews, an effective reserve who reportedly wasn't pleased with his playing time, was given a release from his scholarship and is said to be looking to transfer to a school in his home state of Florida. The team's inconsistent play was probably caused, in some part, by its overall inexperience as there were only five non-freshmen on the roster.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The top three guards (Needham, Wade and Colin Nickerson) are gone, and that leaves a considerable backcourt void. But, help is coming. Sean Grennan, a 6-3 off-guard who sat out last season after transferring in from Seton Hall (he was limited to 18 games there in the 2011-12 season due to appendicitis), has three years of eligibility. The Stags also have numbers in the backcourt but, again, but will have inexperience there after having so much senior talent this past season. Sophomore-to-be Justin Jenkins is a candidate at both guard spots. But, incoming freshman K.J. Rose looks like the only true point guard in the program. Lincoln Davis, another newcomer, spent this past season at prep school. He's another strong candidate for playing time in the backcourt but appears to be more scorer than ball-handler. The future of the program's guard corps appears strong, but inexperienced for now. It means the front court will have to make strides, but there's talent there in the developing Sidibe, Barrow and Gilbert. Josip Mikulic, a 7-footer, flashed some potential this past season and might be ready to be a stronger role player. And, then, there's a big piece, literally, coming aboard in mid-season when Pittsburgh transfer Malcolm Gilbert, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound center, becomes eligible after the first semester. Gilbert, who played sparingly at Pitt as a freshman two years ago, was redshirting in 2012-13 when he, instead, opted for a mid-season transfer to play alongside his brother, Marcus. His offensive game is still developing, but he should be an immediate contributor on the defensive end.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: It's hard to envision Fairfield competing for the league's top spot this year, particularly considering its youth. Barrow will be the program's only senior. Everyone else on the roster will be either a sophomore or a freshman. Still, there's enough talent in place for the Stags to be competitive. A mid-pack finish is probable with considerably better coming in future years as the youngsters develop together.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Coyle Returns To MAAC as St. Peter's Women's Coach

The Marist men's team isn't the MAAC's only program that, this off season, has hired a head coach that previously worked at the sport's highest level.

The Red Foxes, earlier this spring, brought in Jeff Bower, who had been in the NBA for 15 years in a variety of positions ranging from general manager, interim head coach and scout.

And, now, the Saint Peter's women's program, this week, hired Patty Coyle, who had been in the WNBA for a decade, first as an assistant coach with the New York Liberty from 1999-2004 and, then, as that franchise's head coach from 2004-09.

Coyle replaces nine-year Peacocks' coach Stephanie DeWolfe, who left the position shortly after this past season.

Coyle is an enlightened hire by a once-strong program that has struggled in recent years. The 51-year old Coyle brings not only the credibility of having spent a decade in the professional ranks, but also past MAAC experience and previous success at rejuvenating a conference program.

Coyle had been in the league at Loyola from the start of the 1992-93 season through five games of the 1998-99 season when she was hired away to be an assistant with the WNBA's Liberty franchise.

During that time, she turned around a Greyhounds' program that had been nothing short of abysmal with 13 consecutive losing records, including a 12-71 overall record in the last three seasons before Coyle took over.

Coyle's first Loyola team finished 8-6 in the MAAC and 14-15 overall. In her six-plus seasons with Loyola her teams had a 100-77 record and advanced to back-to-back NCAA tournaments (1995 and 1996), the program's only two appearances in the NCAA's in its history.

Coyle, a no-nonsense program director, then spent the next decade in the WNBA before she eventually returned to the college ranks in 2010 as an assistant coach with Pittsburgh. That program, though, fired head coach Agnus Berenato and her entire staff after the Panthers finished 0-16 in Big East play and 9-21 overall this past season.

Coyle, though, wasn't out of work long, connecting with Saint Peter's two months (a move that had been rumored for several weeks) after losing her position at Pitt.

The Peacocks, for sure, need similar work that Coyle did at Loyola. Saint Peter's has had five straight sub-.500 overall records, including a 2-16/2-28 finish this past season and a 13-79 overall record over the past three seasons.

Coyle certainly has a rebuilding job ahead. Saint Peter's graduates three of its top four scorers and its three leading rebounders from this past season's team.

Your Hoopscribe was able to spend a few minutes with Coyle prior to an early season game at Pittsburgh this past season, and she fondly reminisced about her previous experience in the MAAC,

"What I miss most (about the MAAC) is the people from around the league that I had good relationships with," she said, back then. "The MAAC is a very good league, and that all starts with the leadership. We had some battles with some good programs when I was at Loyola, and I always enjoyed them and enjoyed my entire MAAC experience."

And, now, she's back for another run, taking on another program in need of some rebuilding. If her track record at Loyola is any indication, then Saint Peter's will be back among the conference's stronger teams in the very near future.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Former Gael Dagostino Set To Be Ave Maria Coach

Our first viewing of Kenny Dagostino was as a standout high school player at Guilderland (N.Y.) H.S., a 6-foot-1 guard who was a little too small and a little too slow afoot to be a factor at the Division I level. Still, he had enough ability to have been a good player at the Division II level, and had several scholarship offers to play D-II.

Instead, Dagostino wanted a Division I experience, wanted to be mentored by coaches at the highest level and soak in as much of their expertise as he could. Dagostino knew, even as a high school player, his basketball future would be as a teacher/coach and not as a player.

So, he walked on at Iona where he played for Jeff Ruland and graduated in 2006. Because of his on-court smarts, his all-out hustle and enthusiasm, Ruland regularly claimed that Dagostino was one of his all-time favorite players.

Mostly, Dagostino was a practice player, but a very good one who most-definitely challenged starting teammates every day in practice. Over his four years at Iona he saw action in just 29 games and scored nine total points, but those statistics belied his contributions in practices and as a team leader.

He got the full Division I college experience, even getting to the NCAA tournament with the Gaels in the 2005-06 season. Ruland gave Dagostino a scholarship when "Dags" was a junior and a senior. And, Dagostino was a team captain as a senior. And, how many college walk-ons are respected enough leaders to eventually earn captain's designation?

Your hoopscribe remembers connecting with Dagostino, via phone, when the Gaels were in transit to the the NCAA's in 2006. There probably wasn't an individual anywhere enjoying the experience any more than he was, even though he knew he wouldn't get on the court.

"This is what I came here for," said Dagostino. "This is what I wanted to experience, the thrill of being involved in an NCAA tournament. This is what I dreamed about."

It was all part of the experience that Dagostino hoped would lead to something in the sport in future years.

And, now, it has. Now, another dream is being realized.

Dagostino, according to a variety of sources, will be named the had coach at Ave Maria University, a four-year NAIA program near the Gulf Coast in southern Florida. It's a nice move for a young coach who doesn't turn 30 until September.

Dagostino certainly paid his proverbial dues to advance. He began his coaching progression at UAlbany, first as a grad assistant/video coordinator and, then, as the program's director of basketball operations.

In 2009 he got his first chance to direct a program when he was named head coach at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. In four seasons there he had a 74-44 record.

Ave Maria's job opened up in May when its previous coach, Jamon Copeland, moved on to become the head coach at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Ave Maria won 23 games this past season and has a good nucleus returning. It's another nice move forward for a good guy and a young coach on the rise.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Team Reports: Fairfield Women Will Be Strong Again

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play (3rd place), 18-14 overall. Lost in the MAAC tournament's quarterfinal round, 52-48, to Siena. Received a berth in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) where it won a first-round game, 71-51, over St. Francis and, then, lost to Penn, 49-48.

2012-13 SEASON RECAP: Start at the end ... the Stags got sudden endings both to MAAC play and, then, the season. It took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Penn to end Fairfield's season, 49-48, in the WBI. That post-season berth came after Siena pulled off an upset, 52-48, victory in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament. The late-season ups and downs were a microcosm of the regular season in which Fairfield opened non-league play by winning five of its first six games and opened MAAC play with a 6-1 record, the only loss in that stretch by five to league unbeaten Marist. After that nice league start, though, the Stags went 5-6 in other conference games. And, other than those two nice stretches ... the 5-1 non-league start and the 6-1 MAAC stretch ... Fairfield's record was 7-12.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The 5-1 non-league start, the 6-1 MAAC start wee both very nice stretches, and probably saw the Stags playing a little better than expected. The program lost two all-time players, from the previous season (Taryn Johnson and Desiree Pina) to graduation, and, all things considered, getting 18 total wins on the year probably exceeded expectations. But, players leave and others step up. Junior forward Katie Cizynski, previously a role player, became a first-team all-MAAC selection, averaging 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and shooting 48.6 percent from the floor (52nd best nationally). Junior forward Brittany Obi-Tabot, previously a lightly used reserve, broke out to average 10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and was a second-team all-MAAC pick. Sophomore guard Alexys Vazquez was superlative from long range, making 74 of 189 from beyond the bonus stripe, a 39.2 percent accuracy rate which was 23rd best nationally. Katelyn Linney, a senior guard, averaged 8.1 points per game and Kristin Schatzlein, a freshman guard, had a solid first season in college (4.4, 2.2). The Joe Frager-preferred playing style ... defense and deliberate, multi-play offense, was effective again. Fairfield opponents only averaged 53.9 points per game, the 23rd best defensive statistic nationally. That total, though, is always somewhat skewed since the Stags almost never push the ball up court and usually run clock on offense while running a variety of set plays. Still, it works. Frager has 119 wins in six seasons, and really has turned the program around after it went through six straight years without cracking the .500 mark prior to his arrival. This year's end result was another national tournament berth, one that included a home-court victory (over St. Francis). It was the Stags third national post-season invitation in the past four seasons.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The highs (the 5-1 start to non-league play, the 6-1 MAAC start) were balanced by the lows (7-12 otherwise). The loss, as a No. 3 MAAC tournament seed to No. 6 seed Siena in the league's post-season event was a disappointment, as was the abrupt end to its overall season when Penn made a last-second three-pointer to pull out a 49-48 victory over the Stags in the WBI tournament. There were physical issues, too. Brittany McFarlane, the 2011-12 season's Sixth Player of the Year in the MAAC, battled painful rheumatoid arthritis in her hips all season and played at far less than her best. That she played at all this past season was a tribute to her desire. Obi Tabot also missed three late-season games with an injury and probably wasn't at her best in the tournament loss to Siena. And, the team never found a suitable replacement for Pina, who had been one of the league's best point guards who not only ran the team but also contributed with outside shooting. The Stags went with sophomore Felicia DaCruz and junior Christelle Akon-Akech splitting the role. DaCruz struggled to guard quicker opponents and with her outside shooting (25.3 percent, including just 14.0 percent on three-pointers) and Akon-Akech rarely looked to shoot from the perimeter (she averaged 3.3 points per game) and opposing defenses were able to leave her open on the perimeter and help out on other Fairfield players.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Probably yet another good season in what is now a nice six-year run. The team's top three scorers (Cizynski, Obi-Tabot and Vazquez) and six of the top eight all return. The losses are Katelyn Linney, essentially a long-range shooter (8.1 ppg.) and McFarlane, who struggled physically as a senior. They aren't devastating losses. There's still strong perimeter play returning, particularly if either DaCruz and/or Akon-Akech can improve their perimeter shooting skills. Cizynski and Obi-Tabot combine to be one of the conference's better front-court duos. And, there looks to be good front-court help coming via recruiting. Samantha Cooper, a 6-2 forward from Ontario, Canada is the biggest recruit. She is joined by two 6-footers, Kelsey Carey (2,174 career high school points) and Kristine Miller, a strong inside player.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Another typical Fairfield season, that is one that approaches 20 victories overall and has the Stags finishing among the top three in the final MAAC standings. It's probably a given that Marist will capture yet another conference crown, but Iona (second place this past season) will be adjusting to a new coach. It means Fairfield could certainly contend for second place in the coming season.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Team Report: Transition, Defections Hurt Niagara Men

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

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD 13-5 in MAAC play, regular-season champion 19-14 overall. Won a MAAC tournament quarterfinal round game, 74-62, over Siena; lost in the semifinal round, 79-73, vs. Iona. Played in the NIT, losing a first-round game to Maryland, 86-70.

2012-13 RECAP: The youngest team in the league (four sophomores and a freshman were starters) matured quickly, getting off to a 10-1 start in conference play before a 3-4 regular-season finish. The strong early play, though, was enough for Niagara to capture the regular-season crown. It then played eventual MAAC tournament winner Iona tough in the semifinal round, but just didn't have enough inside to overcome the Gaels. It was a little disappointing that Niagara went 1-3 against regional opponents, splitting with Canisius and losing single games to both Buffalo and St. Bona's. The sophomore backcourt of Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason were both first-team all-MAAC picks, the first time in league history sophomore teammates earned that honor. It was a masterful coaching job by Joe Mihalich, who only had three sub-.500 seasons in 15 years with the Purple Eagles. It was a good enough season for Mihalich to move on, becoming the head coach at Hofstra in early April.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A young team matured quickly. Mihalich gave his players considerable on-court freedom in an up-tempo style of play, and that helped attract talent. Green and Mason were, as their all-star designations indicated, two of the league's top five players. Ameen Tanksley, a 6-5 swingman, also had a very nice season (11. 3 points, 6.0 rebounds), junior guard Marvin Jones (8.2 ppg.) did good work off the bench. Tahjere McCall, a 6-4 freshman starting point guard, was a significant contributor, as was 6-8 freshman forward T.J. Cline off the bench, particularly with outstanding long-range shooting. Niagara was still somewhat undersized in the middle, particularly when 6-8, 240-pound senior Devon White (who only played 18.6 minutes per contest) wasn't on the court. But, the high-scoring, wide-open playing style gave opponents problems and made for a very nice season for the youthful Purple Eagles.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Not a lot during the season, but plenty since the team saw its playing year end in the NIT with a loss to Maryland. There was the 3-4 stretch at the end of the regular season, but Niagara looked good in the tournament with a victory over Siena and, then, a strong game before losing to eventual tournament winner Iona in the semifinal round. By winning the regular-season title, Niagara ensured it had an NIT bid after the disappointment of being eliminated in the conference event. White didn't contribute quite as much as was expected from a transfer from a bigger school (La Salle), and when he wasn't on the floor Niagara literally came up a little short. It was when the season ended, though, that things started going the wrong way for the program. Start with the 56-year old Mihalich's departure. It looked as if the MAAC's all-time winningest coach (265 wins at Niagara) might just be on Monteagle Ridge until he eventually retired. But, a very nice offer from Hofstra which more than doubled his previous salary, enticed him to move. And, Mihalich took his entire Niagara coaching staff with him to Hofstra. Mihalich's spot was filled by Chris Casey, a well-respected Division II head coach at LIU-Post, who is noted for his enthusiasm, energy and a desire to maintain Niagara's up-tempo style. With any coaching change there are usually some player defections, but rarely were there so many that resulted from Mihalich's departure. Green (who this blogger felt should have been this past season's conference Player of the Year), and Tanksley both followed Mihalich to Hofstra. Cline also left, and will reportedly join Richmond's program. Malcolm Lemmons, an effective reserve guard, also received his release to transfer (no school selected yet), and it appears that athletic 6-8 forward Scooter Gillette, who had a year's eligibility remaining after he was a medical redshirt this past season, is also gone from the program. The loss of those five, plus the graduation of White creates a roster transition far above the norm, and far more than anyone would have expected.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Had the roster not undergone such transition, Niagara was clearly in position to make a run at another regular-season league championship. There is still some talent in place, but not nearly enough to expect it to contend for anything except trying to avoid the play-in round of this coming season's MAAC tournament. The players lost early ... Green, Tanksley, Lemmons, Gillette and Cline together would have been a group of five that, of itself, would have just about matched any other MAAC team's starting lineup. Talent remains, though, particularly on the perimeter. Mason (18.7 ppg. last season) will have to take on an even greater scoring load and is the early favorite to be the MAAC's leading scorer in 2013-14. Jordan is also a more-than-capable scorer and will also probably be among the conference's top point producers. And  if McCall makes the usual progress as a maturing player ... Niagara's perimeter trio will still be among the best in the MAAC. And, you can add to that group Rhode Island transfer 6-4 Rayvon Harris, another athletic perimeter player in the Tanksley mold. He might wind up being the team's top rebounder, as well as providing some outside marksmanship. The 6-7 Joe Thomas, a lightly used front-court reserve last season (9.4 minutes per game) is likely to be pushed into the starting lineup Otherwise, depth is non-existent right now. There are only four other players, as of early June, on the team's roster, and one of them, 6-4 sophomore-to-be guard Emile Blackman is a transfer from LIU-Post (12.7 ppg. there last season) and has to sit out a transfer year. The other three are incoming freshmen. One, 6-2 guard Karon Davis, looks like he'll be a contributor at either guard spot. The other two bring much-needed height. Dominique Reaid is 6-8 and Aaron Bodie is 6-7, but both weigh less than 200 pounds and need to add some bulk/strength to be effective college players. There are sure to be a few more additions to the team before school starts in September, so stay tuned. But, Niagara fans will be left to wonder what might have been.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Again ... if everything remained in place Niagara was poised for a bright future. Even with all the defections, there's enough talent in place for the Purple Eagles to finish as high as fourth or fifth, particularly if the incoming freshmen can contribute at all and Casey can find a couple more players. A big-man transfer from a junior college program would provide a huge boost. As currently constructed, though, Niagara could drop to seventh/eighth/ninth-place range in the upcoming season's 11-team league structure.

Another MAAC Connection Becomes NBA Head Coach

For the first 32 years of the MAAC, we can't recall a single individual with conference connections becoming an NBA head coach.

And, now, within the space of a week, there are two.

First was former Siena and Fairfield assistant coach Steve Clifford getting hired as head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats last week.

And, now, Mike Malone, a four-year player at Loyola (1989-1993), becomes the second one when he was named head coach of the NBA Sacramento Kings on Sunday.

Malone, primarily a valuable reserve until starting regularly as a senior, was an effective point guard. Over his career with the Greyhounds he played in 107 games and started 39. He finished with 279 career assists, which ranks 11th in school history.

Malone's path to becoming an NBA head coach, as is usually the case, was lengthy and varied.

After graduating from Loyola in 1994, Malone began his coaching career at Oakland (Mich.) University where he served for one year before joining the staffs under Pete Gillen at Providence (1995-98) and Virginia (1998-99).

Malone then returned to the MAAC to be an assistant at Manhattan from 1999-2001 before moving to the NBA as a New York Knicks' assistant from 2003-05 (where both he and Clifford were assistants).

His next stop was as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2005-2010), and that team's roster during that time included Lebron James. Malone then spent the 2010-11 season with the New Orleans Hornets and the past two seasons as Mark Jackson's top assistant with the Golden State Warriors.

Malone is considered to be an exceptional strategist who, under Jackson, was given a great deal of responsibility in terms of implementing the Warriors' style of play.

Malone is the first Loyola alumnus to become a head coach in any of the four major leagues (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL).

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Future MAAC Players Among Those at GymRat Event

Whew, finally a chance to catch a breath. Your hoopscribe has been involved, for the past five years, with the GymRat CHALLENGE AAU tournaments for boys and girls. It's an incredibly well-organized event which gets bigger and better every year.

One of my duties is to oversee a staff of "talent evaluators," 18 of them for the boys' event, who do nothing but watch games and select all-star teams at each age division. Our "evaluators" are extremely knowledgeable, a gathering of former D-I coaches, high school coaches and current D-III coaches (who can attend AAU tournaments during a "down" period for the higher levels).

Anyway, all the information, ranging from championship game reports to the full list of all stars and honorable mentions at six age divisions that were contested are now on line at

That site attracts close to 1.2 million hits in the first couple of weeks after its gets posted. We try to learn what schools are involved in recruiting some of the participants in the GymRat. And, we'll pass along some of the better players who were here who mentioned getting interest from some MAAC programs.

Arguably the best player here was 6-foot-8 forward Dominique Uhl, who plays for the Jersey Shore Warriors (the 17-under championship team in the GymRat) on the AAU circuit. Uhl, a native of Germany, has quickly acclimated to the game in the U.S. He is a multi-talented, still somewhat slender, front-court player who has full-court skills.

He has been "offered" by Boston College, Temple and Rice, but is also still actively being recruited, he said, by Fairfield of the MAAC.

A teammate, Eric Anderson (a 6-6 small forward) listed Manhattan as one of the school's he is considering. Our scouts indicate he is a do-everything type player who can knock down three-pointers, put the ball on the floor, post up and deliver accurate passes. He also plays for the Jersey Warriors' program.

Aary Biggins, a 6-4 swingman with the Albany City Rocks' Program, lists Siena as a school he is looking at. Our scouts indicate he is a long, athletic guard that contributes in all phases of the game, that he is a lock-down defender and a capable scorer with terrific athleticism.

Another City Rocks' player, Jordan Deccico, lists Niagara as a possible destination. He is a 6-1 point guard who, according to our scouts, is extremely quick and can attack the basket and score over bigger players ... a scrappy player who sees the floor well and gets teammates involved, but also an explosive scorer.

David Hawthorne of the N.J. Select Stars' program is a 6-6 forward who lists Iona as a possible destination. Our scouting report indicates that he has a high upside with a Rudy Gay-type game, at his best attacking the basket and a good rebounder.

Wil Bathurst is a 6-4 small forward from the Locker 1 program of Western New York who lists Iona, Niagara and Marist among his potential colleges. Our report indicates that he is a stat-sheet stuffer that affects the game in every aspect of play.

Louie Pillari, a 6-5 small forward from the New Jersey Cyclones' program, indicates that he is considering Monmouth. Our reports indicate that he is athletic, a streaky 3-point shooter who can get into the lane and finish in traffic and is a terrific competitor.

Canisius is listed as a potential destination for Dontay Caruthers, a 6-1 guard with the Rochester Playmakers' program. Our report indicates that he is very talented with a high motor ... a mix of athleticism and skill that enables him to create scoring opportunities from anywhere on the court.

There are probably many more receiving interest from MAAC teams, but those are the key players at the GymRat who specified interest in the conference.

The GymRat, over the years, has had many alums play for MAAC teams, including O.D. Anosike, Ryan Rossiter and Rob Poole at Siena, Momo Jones and Sean Armand at Iona, George Beamon at Manhattan, Anthony Nelson and Bilal Benn at Syracuse, Billy Baron at Canisius and literally dozens of others over the years.

This year, 292 team boys' teams participated with more than 3,000 players on hand. Traditionally, more than half of each year's players go on to play at some level of college basketball.

And, the same thing happens for girls with this year's event scheduled for June 15 and 16 at various sites throughout New York's Capital Region. We'll be reporting on some of it here, but you can get all the information ... and, the eventual full reports and all-star selections ... at the GymRat's website.

Return of MAAC Tournament To Albany A Good Move

Earlier this week came news that the MAAC tournament will return to the Albany, N.Y., area and its Times Union Center. It's a three-year commitment for the tournaments of 2015, 2016 and 2017.

To that, I can only give an emphatic "Hooray."

New York's Capital Region, which is Siena's home turf (and the TUC is Siena's home court) seems to be the only area which truly embraces the tournament.

The last time the event was held in Albany, in 2010, there was a fan turnout of 53,569, the all-time tournament best for fan support.

By comparison the total crowd count for the event at the Springfield, Mass., Mutual Center for this year's tournament was a very disappointing 14,394. It was the second year the event was held in Springfield, so community supporters there had a full year to create interest and couldn't. Crowds in Springfield were actually down from the 16,560 that turned out in 2012, the event's first run at the Massachusetts' location.

The sentiment here was that Springfield would be a nice site for the MAAC tournament. It's the birthplace of basketball, and had the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame just down the street, a terrific place to visit for basketball fans in the area for the tournament. The league even made good use of the Hall for its awards banquet and the athletes truly enjoyed the chance to wander around the facility, soaking in their sport's history.

The bottom line, though, is that despite the perceived interest in basketball in that area ... and, the relative proximity of several MAAC schools to Springfield ... the tournament just never attracted the on-site atmosphere, the crowds, that contribute so much to the games.

League presidents, who ultimately make the decision on the tournament's site, got what they wanted for the past two years (and the upcoming season, too, as Springfield will host the event one more time).

After Siena won the MAAC tournament, and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, for three straight seasons in Albany, officials at the league's other schools wanted a neutral site that, theoretically, created an equal playing field in the quest for a trip to the NCAA's.

Who could blame them? An NCAA trip is worth plenty to teams that go there, particularly teams at this level. The resultant national-level publicity, the television exposure and the resultant increases both in alumni donations and admission applications are benefits schools can't otherwise secure.

To that, the response should be: Get better.

When Siena was on its three-year run of winning the MAAC tournament on its home court ...  well, it also had the league's best team and almost assuredly would have also won the event no matter where it was played.

But, the desire remained for site neutrality. The cost was a crowd count of less than 30 percent of what Albany traditionally draws.

And, that wasn't exactly surprising. The tournament hasn't drawn well at any venue other than the Albany arena over the past two decades-plus.

The Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, NJ., which hosted the tournament one season backed out a subsequent contract to host over fear of a substantial financial loss.

Buffalo, which hosted the event multiple times, but drew relatively small fan numbers despite the location of two MAAC schools (Canisius, Niagara) within 15 miles of its arena, no longer even bids to host the event.

The Bridgeport, Conn., arena has also served as a tournament host to low numbers. That venue did get involved in the bidding for upcoming tournaments, but lost out to Albany's proposal.

Springfield also made a proposal to continue as the event's host. And, the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., also submitted a proposal to host the event.

The MAAC, though, came to a quick decision, selecting the Albany facility for the three-year commitment, barely a week after that arena's proposal was submitted.

"We still have much bigger crowds than anywhere else that's hosted it before ... I think that had a lot to do with the decision," said Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber.

MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor cited Albany's strong tradition of hosting the tournament (15 times to date), a vibrant downtown area and the players' enjoyment of competing in front of larger crowds, as factors in the decision.

Ensor has said, on multiple occasions, that he understands the importance of having a crowd-generated and loud atmosphere at MAAC tournament games and has always been supportive of having the event in Albany.

The event is also seeking to hold on to its prime time spot on ESPN's television schedule, and games look a lot better on TV when there's a large, enthusiastic crowd on hand rather than the turnout of 1,493 that watched the tournament's championship game in Springfield this year.

And, then, there's the potential message that the upcoming arrangement might be making.

In the current state of league instability, with programs seemingly changing leagues so quickly, rumors have circulated that Siena might eventually leave the conference for the Atlantic 10.

School officials, though, claim there has been on contact between Siena and the A-10 and that any talk about Siena moving to that league is purely speculative.

Does the upcoming three-year commitment by the MAAC to hold its tournament in Albany mean that Siena will remain a conference member, at least for as long as the just-announced commitment to host the event?

That was the initial though, but it's not necessarily so. The MAAC's agreement with the Times Union Center includes an option to move to another venue with the tournament should Siena leave the league.

Still, it's one person's opinion that a Siena-to-the-A 10 move isn't likely to happen in the immediate future.

The cost of moving the school's entire athletic operation to that league would come at considerable expense, an expense Siena doesn't appear capable of making right now.

And, the A-10 includes more than a few large, public institutions (UMass, VCU, Rhode Island, Duquesne, among others), schools with considerably greater resources than smaller, private colleges like Siena.

The MAAC has always been an affiliation of schools and programs with similar resources and philosophies toward athletics. Siena has been a nice "fit" within that profile.

So, it makes one wonder if Siena would move to the A-10 where the proverbial "fit" doesn't seem quite as good.

There's no definitive answer, for now. But, the strong guess here is that a Siena move out of the MAAC isn't on the immediate horizon.