Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Fond Farewell as MAAC Blog Comes To An End

And now, as famous crooner Frank Sinatra sang, the end is here.

This will be the last posting on Keepin' Track of the MAAC (although all the achieves will remain on line for your eternal enjoyment).

As they say, all good things come to and end. The sincere hope is that you thought Keepin' Track of the MAAC was a good thing, because that was the intent.

This space has been the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's "official" blog since November 2008. But, word came down from on high recently that the blog was to be discontinued. It has become a victim of downsizing for financial reasons.

As it is in just about every aspect of our modern era, finances are stretched. The MAAC is no different.

My "stipend" for producing this blog over the years, close to 300 items annually, was by no means exorbitant. Calculated on a by-hour rate, compensation was below minimum wage.

But, the guess here is that MAAC administrators are seeking alternative avenues to spread the word of the league. Much of that will come via expanded TV packages, whether on cable networks or direct internet streaming.

That doesn't come for free. And the written word, it seems, doesn't carry the clout of TV. That's understandable.

There are certainly no hard feelings. It has been an enjoyable six seasons serving as your blogger, bringing you news, notes, insights and a variety of other things in this space.

I am fortunate that other opportunities have come up. Last year I became a columnist at The Troy (N.Y.) Record newspaper. My columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday ( and, at least during basketball season, a lot of my work will continue to touch on college basketball and the MAAC. So, I hope you'll check in there to read.

And, that forum allows me (unlike this one) to be critical of MAAC happenings that I don't agree with. There aren't many (ahem ... placing the post-season tournament in Springfield, Mass.?), but there's no filter when I do columns for The Record.

I'll also continue to work as the radio color commentator for Siena women's games, which will enable me to get to every school in the league and maintain contacts, relationships and, in many cases, friendships throughout the MAAC.

There are more than a few people to thank, and I know I'll miss a few.

We'll start at the top. Many thanks to commissioner Rich Ensor, who is absolutely terrific at what he does. It was his idea to bring me aboard six years ago. Rich has kept the MAAC on the right track in terms of doing things the right way while expanding the proverbial brand and developing ever-growing interest in the conference.

Thanks to former league media relations director Jill Skotarczyk for being among those who hatched the idea for this blog. If nothing else, she was the one who first reached out to inquire about my interest in doing the blog. Jill had been around the MAAC for many years before moving on and she was outstanding in every role she undertook.

Thanks to just about everyone in league administration, whether within league hierarchy or at the individual schools, for accommodating me at games, for providing advice, insight and expertise on league issues, and direction, when needed.

Thanks to every single coach in the MAAC for full cooperation any time I reached out, and to sports information types throughout the league for always making coaches, players and administrators available whenever the request came in.

Of course, they all knew the resultant publicity would always be positive. The blog was meant to publicize the league in positive fashion.

Still, that was rarely a stretch. Almost universally the league operates the right way. OK, nothing is perfect. There were a few "knuckleheads," if you will. But those were very rare and will remain nameless. This space will remain positive to the end.

I have been covering the MAAC in some form or other, either for newspapers, on radio or via this space, since its inception in 1981. Through all that time the league and its membership has never wavered in recognizing the importance of the "student" aspect of the student-athlete equation.

The league has also never exceeded its grasp, never sought to elevate its "level" at the expense of stretching the boundaries either of its core philosophy, its resources or the NCAA rule book for the benefit of on-court success.

The MAAC is what it is ... a collection of smaller institutions with similar philosophies and resources. It creates a setting that we all should be proud to follow.

That's not to say the league doesn't produce its share of very good players, very good coaches and a very good level of play.

OK, it's not the ACC or the Big East. But, it's still an enjoyable brand of the sport. The league provides good, competitive basketball. It's the type of play that's a pleasure to watch. It's played by real students that we should be proud to claim as products of their schools and of the league.

And, watching all of that in venues like the Taps Gallagher Center, Draddy Gymnasium, Alumni Gymnasium at Rider and a few other small, venerable facilities when seats are filled and the confined space amplifies a crowd's sound ... that can't be duplicated by leagues where teams play in antiseptic and large arenas.

I could continue to gush about the relationships the blog has enabled me to have, and I will mention a few that have really been particularly enjoyable over the years.

Start with former Siena women's coach Gina Castelli, who became a great source of support and a very close friend (and remains so) through a difficult personal period exactly when this blog began. And, in a rare editorial opinion within this space, your blogger still views Siena's firing of her as a major mistake.

Not far behind, back then, was former Siena men's coach Fran McCaffery and his successor Mitch Buonaguro, who is one of the all-time nicest guys to ever work a college basketball sideline.

Former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich has always been a personal favorite, as has current Siena coach Jimmy Patsos, even during his Loyola years.

Other "favorites" include former Manhattan coach and good guy Barry Rohrssen and current Saint Peter's coach John Dunne, who knew a phone call was coming whenever his team had some success.

Marist coach Brian Giorgis, one of the best at his job at any level of the college game, has been an absolute pleasure to deal with over the years He has been a great source, and a much-respected one, for his insights.

The same goes for Tony Bozzella, the former Iona women's coach who is now having success at Seton Hall. And Lynn Milligan at Rider, Joe Frager at Fairfield, Kendra Fausti at Niagara and Pat Coyle at Saint Peter's have always been extremely courteous and helpful.

The goal of the MAAC blog ... at least my philosophy for it ... was to provide something for everyone. The better teams, naturally, got the most recognition here. But, it was a league-wide forum and the intent was to give every program recognition as often as possible.

It meant women's basketball got the same attention as men's ... and, where else does that happen? If nothing else, the end of this forum certainly means there will be a lot less information about MAAC women's teams out there in cyberspace in the future.

It meant there was a constant vigilance for some of the teams that inhabited the lower portion of the standings to have some level of success to create opportunity for recognition.

It meant that just about any time one of the conference's women's teams would beat Marist that team's coach, by now, knew a phone call was coming in short order.

OK, my guess is that there was more written about the Marist women's program than any other women's or men's program over the years, and it was all deserved.

And, whenever those pieces about Marist appeared viewership of this blog always rose significantly. Many thanks to Marist's fans for appreciating Keepin' Track of the MAAC. That school's fans are, in this estimation, what college hoops' fandom should be all about.

Plus, Marist has a pep band that's an all-star group at any level, and that's important to someone who lives in a household surrounded by beautiful music. Sorry I never got to write about the Marist pep band. It certainly was on my future agenda, and might yet be the subject of a future Troy Record column.

The hope is that all of that was appreciated not only by those within the league but by those who took the time to check in and read Keepin' Track of the MAAC.

Heck, readers even provided some insight. Without mentioning names, supporters of the Iona and Marist programs in particular have regularly passed along well-informed insight that often contributed to blog content.

In all, there were close to 400,000 individual viewings over the blog in just the five years and eight months of operation.

The blog continued to build popularity as the years went on. This past year there were well over 100,000 viewings, the best 12-month period in its history. Hits came from a viewing audience that touched nearly all parts of the world.

Believe it or not, Russia was the No. 2 source of blog hits. Ukraine was No. 5. Viewings in the thousands came from China, Japan, Taiwan, Germany and, even, North and South Korea.

The guess is that military personnel who are sports fans were checking in, as were former MAAC players now performing on overseas' teams. We feel honored to have had those fans in the reading audience.

It just seems to be counterproductive to see the blog, when it has reached the zenith of its popularity, coming to an end. But, that decision was made above my pay level.

For sure, all the interest was greatly appreciated and writing in this space over the years was truly a labor of love.

A lot of hours were spent researching, interviewing, watching games in person and through other sources, and writing.

None of that, though, felt like work.

Thanks to all of those who made it feel that way.

I'll certainly miss the regular interactions the blog enabled me to have with dozens and dozens of quality individuals over the years.

Mostly, though, I'll miss helping you to keep track of the MAAC.

I'll still be around to some extent, at Siena women's games, at home games of the Siena men's teams, and at the MAAC's post-season tournament as The Troy Record's columnist.

But, now, the end is here for Keepin' Track of the MAAC.

Thanks so much for reading.

Steve Amedio

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sneak Preview: Thoughts On Sporting News Preview

Just a brief program reminder here ...

Your blogger is in the process of writing the MAAC's 2014-15 season's preview that will appear in the forthcoming College Basketball Preview issue published by The Sporting News, the best of the preseason annual publications.

The magazine usually hits newsstands by early to mid September, so the hope is that you'll look for it and purchase it.

The annual previews every conference and every team at the Division 1 level. It will give considerably more space to the larger conferences, as expected, and your blogger has been waging an annual attempt to increase MAAC coverage for the 12 or 13 years I've been involved with The Sporting News.

The space allowed, though, does create the opportunity for some insight to the upcoming season. And, the hope is that your blogger's insights are as good as you can find anywhere else. Hopefully, better than you can find anywhere else.

The Sporting News is one of the few national publications of its kind that uses active writers to preview conferences that the writers regularly cover. It's no secret that some (most) of the lesser preview magazines use on-staff individuals who rarely, if ever, get out to see games to preview our conference. And, it shows.

And, I am also happy to report that, for the first time, I'll also be previewing the America East Conference for The Sporting News' preview magazine this year.

But, this is a blog about the MAAC. And, as always, The Sporting News prohibits its writer to reveal anything in detail about previews that will appear in its pages.

Still ... just a little:

The predicted order of finish for the top five spots will be Iona, Siena, Saint Peter's, Quinnipiac and Manhattan.

And, that's about all I can provide without breaking the terms of the Sporting News' contractual obligations.

Hope you'll search out and buy The Sporting News' College Basketball Preview magazine when it comes out.

Picking the All-Time Top Stories in MAAC History

Prior to this past season your blogger began a series meant to identify the Top 32 stories in MAAC basketball history.

The initial thought was a Top 10 list. And, then, when trying to identify a top 10 it became evident very quickly that it would be all but impossible to limit great events in the conference's history to a mere 10.

So, where to cap it? Thirty two, one to coincide with the number of years of the league's existence (prior to this past season), seemed to be a good number.

We opted to do the list in reverse order, to build suspense leading up to the better happenings. We got through a few prior to the season's start.

And, then, we suspended the list. Once the season started there always seemed to be plenty to write about. We just never seemed to find time to research and write about league history. We fully intended to resume the countdown this summer.

Now, your scribe is sorry to say, that list won't be completed here. Situations beyond my control, which will be explained here within a day or two, have dictated that.

But, so as not to leave readership wondering, we will reveal the all-time best achievement in conference history. At least to these eyes.

And, I do feel like a a capable judge. When the MAAC was formed in 1981 your scribe was working for a paper in Middletown, N.Y., and covered Army basketball (the early days of Mike Krzyzewski) when that program was a MAAC member.

In 1985 I moved back to my home Albany area base for newspaper work and immediately began covering Siena basketball, which joined the conference in 1989.

There were four seasons, those years just before Siena moved to the MAAC, that I didn't directly cover the conference. But, I was still an interested observer and several MAAC teams played non-conference games against Siena which I did attend.

My MAAC coverage was full time again when Siena moved to the league in 1989, and my work about the MAAC continued in local newspapers until 2007. Shortly after that the conference brought me aboard to do Keepin' Track of the MAAC, and this blog has enabled me to continue covering the league since then.

In all, I've either covered or, at least, seen several games involving MAAC teams and have been an interested observer, for the entire 33-year run of the conference so far.

I'm not sure if anyone else can claim that kind of history with the conference. Maybe a select few, but no more than can be counted on one hand.

I'm not sure, either, if that's anything anyone ever aspired to do. As they say these days, it is what it is.

Anyway, the top stories ...

We've seen plenty of single-game highlights from star players, plenty single-game upsets and accomplishments an plenty of one-season success both from individuals and teams over the league's now 33 years of existence.

But your blogger has always been partial to sustained success. The old axiom is that the hardest thing to do in sports isn't just to win a championship, that it's to win a second championship after winning the first one.

On the men's side there have only been two programs from the conference to win regular-season titles and, then, also win the MAAC's post-season tournament to go on to the NCAA's.

Those teams were Siena (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10) and La Salle (1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90).

We''ll place Siena's achievement as the No. 3 all-time story in MAAC history, and La Salle's stretch as No 2.

During Siena's three-year NCAA run it ran up a 46-8 regular-season record and did become the first conference representative to win an NCAA Tournament game in successive seasons with wins over Vanderbilt in 2008 and Ohio State in 2009.

But, La Salle remains the most-dominant team the conference has ever seen with a roster, in its three most dominant years, that included three future NBA players, including arguably the best player ever to wear a conference uniform in Lionel Simmons.

Over its three successive NCAA Tournament seasons the Explorers lost just a single game in league play, an incredible 33-1 stretch while finishing 80-18 overall in those three years.

But if we believe it's difficult to go to the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive seasons, how about getting there an incredible nine straight (and still counting) seasons and 10 of the last 11.

That's what the Marist women's program has done under its head coach Brian Giorgis.

Players have come and gone; there have been years when Marist had arguably the most overall talent in the league and other years when it seemed other teams were at least equally talented.

But, like death and taxes, the Marist women's program has been the league's greatest constant. Its run of success far exceeds any league measurement. Its past 11 years can be measured against any nationally.

Not only have the Red Foxes have been dominant on their level, but they've also proven capable at the next level, too.

They've won NCAA Tournament games in four separate years, and only one other conference program (La Salle in 1988) can claim a single NCAA victory.

Not only that, Marist is the only conference team, men's or women's, to win two NCAA Tournament games in the same season (2007).

The program has accomplished the most-difficult thing to do, sustain excellence over a lengthy period of years, in any sport at any level.

And, for that, your blogger doesn't believe there's any doubt that the top story of all time in the MAAC's now-33 year history is what the Marist women's basketball team has achieved under the leadership of head coach Brian Giorgis over the past 11 seasons.

Two From Canisius Join NBA Summer League Teams

A pair of Canisius standouts from this past season will be playing for NBA summer league teams in upcoming weeks.

Guard Billy Baron, the MAAC's Player of the Year for 2013-14, will play for the Chicago Bulls' entry in the Samsung NBA Summer League in Las Vegas July 11-12.

And, former Cansius center, 6-10 Jordan Heath will join the Detroit Pitons NBA Summer League team that will compete July 5-11 in Orlando Fla.

The two players agreed to participate in the summer league situations on Friday, a day after the two-round NBA draft of amateur players that did not see a MAAC player selected.

"I have a great opportunity with the Chicago Bulls," Baron said, in a release issued by his school. "I'm excited and honored to have the chance to compete in the summer league. I plan on working as hard as I can and hopefully I will earn a spot on their team in the fall."

Baron was an Associated Press All-America Honorable Mention selection for this past season just the fourth in Canisius history.

He finished his senior season ranked fourth nationally in scoring average (24.1 points per game). He was the only Division 1 player in the country to average more than 20 points, five assists and 4.5 rebounds per game this past season.

Baron played two seasons at Canisius after transferring there from Rhode Island to play for his father, Jim Baron, who also moved over from URI.

Heath had a pre-draft workout with the Pistons prior to joining their summer league team.

"I felt like I was able to hang with the other guys there," Heath said in a press release issued by Canisius. "IObviously the time I spent at Canisius helped me develop as a player. I had a chance to play with some great teammates. Everyone there helped me develop my game and helped get me ready for the next level.

Heath also transferred in to Canisius from Roberts Wesleyan College. In two seasons as a Griff he averaged 9.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Team Report: Monmouth Women To Take Step Forward

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the 2013-14 season with a crystal ball look at what might be ahead. This is the last installment of the series.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 6-14 in MAAC play, 9th place; 8-25 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A lot more than the record indicated. The Hawks' youth almost ensured a slow start, which translated to a 1-12 early record. Some teams could have folded at that point, but Monmouth responded with  5-4 record over a mid-season stretch. Some minor injuries resulted in late limitations and an 8-game losing streak that was followed by a season-ending shellacking of Siena (80-57) and a first-round MAAC tournament victory over Niagara before the Hawks' season ended with a tournament loss to regular-season titlist Iona. Senior swingperson Chavannah Paalvast (13.2, 5.2 and a team-high 75 assists) was a do-everything performer who finished out a nice career. She was the team's only double-figure scorer, but there was plenty of depth. Twelve different players averaged at least 8.4 minutes per game and nine different players started at least four games. Freshman point guard Helena Kurt made the league's All-Rookie team and looked like one of the better emerging backcourt players in the conference. Head coach Jenny Palmateer did a masterful job of using an extended playing group and getting minutes for the right players not only to remain competitive through the season but to get experience for a large group of younger players. In all the team had five freshmen in the playing group and only one senior Paalvast, who averaged more than 4.7 points per contest. It also had the tallest front-line in the conference with a trio of 6-foot-4 post players in junior Sara English and freshmen Christina Mitchell and Sophie Beaudry. Another freshman, Mia Hopkins, provided long-range shooting off the bench.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Too much inexperience. It surely means better things are ahead, but that many freshmen in the playing group is never a good thing immediately except in developmental terms. Clearly it took tie for the youngsters to learn to play at the college level. The team really didn't have a go-to player. Paalvast was the leading scorer, but wasn't the prototypical big point producer. And there wasn't a defined second option. The next leading scorer was 5-7 junior Jasine Walker at 7.4 points per game. That so many players started games indicated that Palmateer was experimenting with playing groups. The 1-12 overall start ensured the Hawks wouldn't finish with a real good record, but there was never any loss of on-court intensity even after that tough beginning. And then, came an eight-game late-season losing streak fro which the team bounced back from once again with two straight victories before the tournament setback against Iona. As a team the Hawks struggled with ball control (590 turnovers against 371 assists).

WHAT'S AHEAD: A lot of good things. Expect Monmouth to be a very positive surprise in the upcoming season and for years to come. The team will still be relatively young (with Walker and English the only seniors), but a lot more experienced than this past season. Somehow Palmateer found ways to effectively use two of her 6-4 post players together late in the season and they all looked good. English had high rebound games of 16 and 14 during the season. Mitchell averaged 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in the final four contests while Beaudry averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in the last four contests.  Kurt really came on late in the year and should help solve the turnover issues in future years. Hopkins and another nice freshman, Jenny Horvatinovic (4.3 points, 2.6 rebounds) should also step up next season. Paalvast's loss is a big one, but there's a good replacement coming in with NJIT transfer Sarah Olson, a 5-8 wing who sat out this past season as per transfer rules. She averaged 7.7 and 7.4 ppg. in two seasons at NJIT and should be among the Hawks' better scorers in the upcoming season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Probably not experience in place yet for Monmouth to make a legitimate run at the top four or five spots in the standings, but certainly better than last year's ninth-place finish. Expect something like sixth or seventh place with even more signs that better things in future years.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Team Report: Better Days Ahead for Monmouth Men

Here's another in the series looking back at the 2013-14 season with a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead for conference teams.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 5-15 in MAAC play, 9th place; 11-21 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Monmouth had to reload and adjust to a new level of play, moving from the NEC to the MAAC for 2013-14. It wasn't the perfect transition, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Coach King Rice had a strong recruiting class that brought in guard Josh James (8.4 points per game) and a team-high 101 assists, Justin Robinson (7.1 ppg., 83 assists) and three quality "bigs" in 6-10 centers ac Tillman (4.4, 3.1 rebounds) and Chris Brady (3.1, 2.9) and 6-8 Greg Noack (2.0, 1.5). In all, five freshmen were among the nine-member playing group. Upperclassmen 6-6 Deon Jones (15.1, 6.9) and 6-6 Andrew Nicholas (14.3, 3.3), both wing juniors this past season, had strong seasons. Max DiLeo (6.9), a 6-1 junior, was the team's fifth-leading scorer as the team's top sub. And, a 6-5 sophomore wing, Ty O'Garro (4.0, 6.0) also played well and was the Hawks' second-leading rebounder. But, the preponderance of youth ensured 2013-14 would indeed be little more than a "rebuilding" year, as the record indicated. Still, Monmouth showed signs, with five losses in league play by nine points or fewer and with two of those in overtime contests. There was also a nice start to league play when the team won four of its first nine MAAC contests. Mostly 2013-14 provided a glimpse at a strong core of young players who should continue to develop and, eventually, lead the program to bigger and better things.

WHAT WENT WRONG: After a 4-5 league start, Monmouth lost its next eight games and only got one more victory the entire remainder of the season. While the season's strong influx of young players lent itself to hope for the future ... youth is most definitely rarely served, when it comes to success, at this level. Only a very rare few first-year players come to mid-major level programs as finished products. It usually takes a couple of years for young players to continue to develop before they're capable of major contributions, and that was the case here. Plus, one of the best freshmen, Robinson, suffered a late-season foot injury, played through it for several games and, then, was shut down with five games remaining. Both point guard, Robinson and James, were freshmen, although both had far more assists than turnovers. While the Hawks were the tallest conference team overall, its three tallest contributors were freshmen and none averaged more than 3.1 rebounds per game. And, then, four players from the program transferred out after the season, which made way for a another strong incoming group. The only contributor who is moving on is O'Garro who was the team's second-leading rebounder.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The team's top six scorers and eight of the top nine return, almost assuring that next year will be better. Jones and Nicholas, the top two players, will be seniors. The "bigs" are a year older and, theoretically, a year better. Plus, there's more front-line help coming with Providence transfer 6-9 forward Brice Kofane and freshman Nikola Vujovic. Kofane didn't play much at Providence (4.4 minutes per game last season), but graduated and is immediately eligible for his last season. He should provide some help, plus some experience that the front line needs. One other incomer, guard Micah Seaborn from a Texas prep school looks like a good one. And, there's another transfer, 6-4 guard Je'lon Hornbeak from Oklahoma where he was a key role player this past season (5.1 points, 2.6 assists, all off the bench). He will sit out the upcoming season as a transfer before becoming eligible, with two remaining years to play, for the 2015-16 season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Monmouth isn't likely to contend for the regular-season title right away, but that might be on the horizon at some point. Rice is doing a nice job bringing in quality talent that will ensure better things ahead. We'd expect the Hawks to close in on .500 league and overall records this season and finish somewhere in the 6th-to-8th range in the coming season.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

GymRat Girls' Event Features Future MAAC Standouts

The annual GymRat CHALLENGE AAU basketball tournament for girls' took place this Father's Day weekend and brought in a high level of basketball talent.

The top age level featured "rising seniors," or players who are currently finishing their junior years in high school, and the recruiting interest in them is strong. A good many are being recruited by MAAC teams.

Your scribe serves as the event's coordinator of talent evaluators, the individuals who watch GymRat games and subsequently select the tournament's all stars.

Here's a look at some players who listed MAAC interest, along with some tidbits from the evaluators:

- Madeline Smith, a 5-foot-8 point guard who played for the United NJ AAU team and attends High Point Regtional High School. She indicated interest from Quinnipiac and other MAAC schools.
The Report: A standout in every aspect of the game. Has great ball fakes to create her own shots. Skilled with both hands and a great defender.

- Amanda Schiefen, a 6-0 forward from the Crystal City Stars program who attends Horseheads H.S. Canisius and Niagara are both interested.
The Report: A slightly undersized post face-up player who has a goodo mid-range jumper and is a good passer. A left-hander. She runs the floor very well.

- Santita Ebangwese, a 6-2 center from the WNY Lady Lakers' program who attends Pittsford Sutherland H.S.: She indicated that several MAAC schools have expressed interest.
The Report: An athlete with strength and size. Long arms and catches everything. Good on pick and rolls. Likes the reverse pivot turn to face up and get away from the defense. She indicated A-10's and Ivy League schools are also interested.

- Taylor Ccballos, a 6-0 post player who attends Foran H.S. She indicated interest from Fairfield.
The Report: Good size and uses it well in the paint. Can be a real force inside. Gets good position and makes the defense work. Will use the hook shot.

- Maddie Springfield, a 5-10 guard from the New England Crusaders program who attends Marionapolis H.S. She indicated interest from Marist.
The Report: A smooth stroke on her outside shot and can knock down three pointers. Aggressive driver to the rim with strong finishes.

- Hannah Friend, a 6-0 forward who plays for the City Rocks' program and attends Taft Prep School. She indicated interest from Siena and Quinnipiac, along with some higher-level programs.
The Report: Clutch player who wants the ball when it counts. Long-range shooter who can also drive to the basket. Crafty on defense and uses wing span to snatch passes out of the passing lanes. High court IQ. She was the event's top-award winner, its MVG, Most Valuable GymRat.

- Jariah Johnson, a 5-9 combo guard on the CAS Panthers program who attends Frederick Douglas II H.S. She has already made a verbal commitment to attend Saint Peter's.
The Report: A long, athletic lefty guard who is an absolute terror on defense. Quick first step into the lane on offense to penetrate and kick or finish at the rim. Good 3-point shooter with her feet set.

- Morgan Graziano, a 6-1 forward who plays for the Central Jersey Hawks program and attends Holmdel H.S. She has indicated strong interest from Manhattan.
The Report: Great fundamentals; boxes out on every rebound. Outstanding scorer. Matches up vs. opponents' best player. Leads her team in the clutch.

- Leah Dollard, a 6-0 forward from the Albany Capitals program who attends Albany H.S. She indicated interest from Niagara.
The Report: Strong inside reverse layup move. Blue-collar worker. Scores with creativity. High percentage scorer who won't be outworked at either end.

- Andi Lydon, a 6-2 center from the PA Pride program who attends Shaler H.S. She indicated interest from Siena and Niagara.
The Report: Very strong and uses her body well on the boards on both ends. Alters shots. Great hands and can finish in traffic. Has nice post moves. Effective back-to-the-basket player. Tough and plays even bigger than she looks.

- Jessica Kovatch, a 5-8 guard from the United NJ-Navy program who attends Phillipsburg H.S. She indicated interest from Manhattan and Saint Peter's.
The Report: Makes great passes in transition. A big-time scorer who makes deep three's. Attacks the rim to score.

The above reports are just on girls who indicated MAAC interest. There are likely numerous others who did not reveal their college possibilities.

The event has been a great source for future MAAC players, and some of the tournament's alums include two-time MAAC Player of the Year Damika Martinez (Iona), Tehresa Coles (Siena), Madeline Blais and Tori Jarosz (Marist), Lizzie Ball (Fairfield) and numerous others.

You can find stories about each age division's championship game, as well as reports on all the all star selections at each age level at the GymRat website.

That site is:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Maker Front-Runner To Be Next Marist Men's Coach

The front-runner to be the next men's basketball coach at Marist is current Williams College coach Mike Maker, according to two sources close to the search.

Maker, according to sources, appears to be the overwhelming choice of an in-house search committee chaired by school athletic director Tim Murray and includes the school's women's coach, Brian Giorgis.

Giorgis, according to both sources, is strongly advocating the hiring of Maker, citing his reputation as a disciplinarian.

Maker has indicated, in an interview, that if hired he would retain the program's veteran assistant Paul Lee to help with the team's continuity.

The sources have indicated that no decision has been finalized, but one could come as soon as this coming week.

"He is the clear front-runner, the guy the search committee really likes the best right now," said one of the sources.

Maker, 47, has been the head coach at Williams College in Massachusetts, a Division III program, for six seasons. He has led the Ephs to three Final Fours (2010, 2011 & 2014), an Elite Eight (2013) and has an overall record of 147-32, the highest winning percentage (.821) in school history.

Williams, this past season, finished 28-5 and reached the D-III tournament's national championship game. The 2013-14 team ranked in the top 10 nationally among D-III programs in seven statistical categories, including free throws made (third), three-point field goals made (fifth) and offensive field-goal percentage (seventh at 50.8%).

The team finished 26-5 in the 2012-13 season and reached the Elite Eight with Maker being named the Northeast Region Coach of the Year.

Maker was named the Basketball Times co-National D-III Coach of the Year for the 2009-10 season when his team finished 30-2 and reached the NCAA tournament's championship game.

Prior to Williams, Maker gained Division I-level experience as an assistant at Creighton under current Oregon head coach Dana Alston..

Maker was also an assistant at West Virginia for two seasons under current Michigan head coach John Beilein.

In all, Maker has 26 years of collegiate experience, 17 of those at the Division I level.

Solid Candidate List In Marist Coaching Search

Marist has been able to keep a relative lid on information coming from its current search to replace Jeff Bower (the new general manager of the NBA Detroit Pistons) as the program's next head coach and third person to hold the position in 15 months.

But, a number of well-known names are being associated with the position, including some who the school appeared to favor that haven't reciprocated the interest.

ESPN reported this week that former Boston College coach Steve Donahue, who had considerable success at Cornell prior to moving to BC, turned down an offer to coach at Marist.

Red Foxes' athletic director Tim Murray claims that he spoke to Donohue, but did not make an offer. But, school administrators are loath to admit being turned down by candidates.

Marist officials also reportedly had interest in Colgate head coach Matt Langel who, reportedly, took his name out of consideration for the position.

There are a variety of other names being mentioned by a variety of sources, with the most credible possibly being Jay Young and Paul Lee.

Young, a 1986 Marist grad, is the current top assistant at Stony Brook and sources say he has been contacted about the position.

Lee has been an assistant at Marist for the past eight seasons, has been widely recognized as one of the better mid-major level assistant coaches nationally and would surely make for a smooth transition particularly for a five-player incoming freshman class.

Some sources have indicated that Marist AD Murray would prefer a candidate with past Division I head coaching experience, and there are a variety of candidates that meet that criteria.

Among those, and these names are mostly speculation ...

- Bill Carmody, the former head coach at Northwestern and Princeton. He is a New Jersey native who had a 284-235 record as a college head coach (92-25 at Princeton). He played and, then, served as an assistant coach at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., just 90 miles or so away from Poughkeepsie, for 10 years before moving on to Division I-level coaching.

- John Dunne, who is the current head coach at league member Saint Peter's. The New York native might be the deane of MAAC coaches tenure-wise but remains among the conference's lowest-paid head coaches and a move to Marist not only would result in a considerable salary hike but into a program that commits more resources to its program.

- Brett Reed, the head coach at Lehigh (129-91) after seven seasons there so far.

- Mike Maker, the head coach at Division III Williams College  (147-32) in six seasons. He has Division I experience as an assistant at West Virginia and Creighton.

- Al Skinner, the associate head coach at Bryant College who was the head coach at both Boston College and Rhode Island. Skinner, though, turns 62 in a few days.

- Patrick Beilein, the son of Michigan head coach John Beilein, is in line for an interview according to Adam Zagoria, writing for Beilein, 31, is the head coach at West Virginia Wesleyan University, which plays at the Division III level.

- Mark Prosser, currently an assistant coach at Winthrop, is another name sources on the internet are mentioning as a potential candidate. Prosser is a Marist graduate and is the son of the late Skip Prosser, a well-respected coach during his days in the MAAC at Loyola and, then, at Xavier and Wake Forest.

Team Report: St. Peter's Women Ready To Move Up

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the 2013-14 season and taking a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead for conference teams.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 2-18 in MAAC play, 11th place; 3-27 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Not much either on the scoreboard or in the won-loss column in coach Pat Coyle's first season with the program. The league win total matched the previous season's (2-16), but with two more losses. The 3-27 overall record was only a one-game improvement over a 2-28 finish the previous year. But, Coyle came aboard late and didn't have much time to bring in players to a program that had reached rock bottom. Probably the best freshman from this past season, guard Marcia Senatus (4.8 points, 1.1 assists) was hurt and only played 10 games. The lone real bright spot was senior forward Kaydine Bent (12.7, 9.0), a third-team all MAAC selection who enabled the Peacocks to stay competitive in the post with most opponents. Junior guard Antonia Smith (9.4 ppg.) was an explosive, yet inconsistent, scorer and another senior, guard Aziza May (8.7) was the team's third-leading scorer. Saint Peter's got a nice early season victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in non-league play and, then, added league wins over Monmouth and Niagara as well as playing league co-champion Iona close (65-61) at midseason. But, there were nothing but losses after that. Whatever positives came about from this past season mostly went on behind the scenes where Coyle began instilling more determination and effort within her players. Included was skill development that while not always on display this past season will benefit the team in future years. The addition of Coyle alone was something that went right. She has coached at the highest level (five years as a head coach in the WNBA) and formerly rebuilt the Loyola program when it was in the MAAC and twice took the Greyhounds to the NCAA's. She is one of the better coaches at this level.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Plenty, including the continuation of sub-.500 overall records since a 19-12 finish in 2007-08. The last four years have seen Saint Peter's produce a 16-106 overall record, by far the worst of any MAAC team. Bent, strong inside, got little help in the post. May and Smith, the next two best players statistically, were woefully inconsistent. Senatus, expected to be a good backcourt addition, only played 10 games. The team's other post players, 6-2 sophomore Neechelle Ingram (3.0, 3.6), 6-1 Hola Mostafa and 6-2 Kaycee DeVoogd weren't physically up to the rigors of inside play at the college level. The team's offense struggled all year long, averaging just 49.5 points per contest. Only one team of 343 nationally scored fewer points in 2013-14. After a small mid-season surge the Peacocks lost their last 15 games, including their first-round MAAC tournament game, scoring just 45.3 points per contest. They did very little well on the court, but chalk the past season up to Coyle doing at least some experimenting with playing time as she tried to find out not only what she had but what she could have in the future.

WHAT'S AHEAD: It would be easy to discount the team and predicting more of the same of past years, particularly after the loss of two of its three top scorers. But, there's light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and it should start showing up this coming season. Coyle is terrific at developing players, so expect the offseason to result in significant improvement over a decent nucleus of young players returning. Then, there's considerable help on the way, mostly in the form of 6-2 forward Imani Martinez and 5-6 point guard Rebecca Sparks. Martinez is a transfer from East Tennessee State and Sparks from St. Francis. Both sat out this past season and are eligible for 2014-15. Martinez only played for games at East Tennessee in 2012-13, but Coyle expects her to be a key inside player. Sparks was a starter as a freshman at St. Francis, is a "scoring" pint guard and had 27 points in the last game she playerd there in an NEC tournament game against Quinnipiac. Ingram (3.0, 3.6) and Mostafa (5.5, 2.9) could join Martinez to form a good front-court trio if the two returnees add some off-season strength. Smith, Senatus, Bridget Whitfield (3.7, 3.2) and current freshman 5-8 Kylee Garrett (2.9) should all be in the playing group. And, watch out for Garrett, who we witnessed staying on the court for more than an hour after games, an almost unheard of dedication, to work on her skills. If nothing else, Saint Peter's will have plenty of depth.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: The Peacocks will almost assuredly be picked, in the coaches' preseason poll, for another last-place finish. But, this scribe thinks the team could be one of the positive surprises in the MAAC. If Martinez and Sparks can be strong contributors and the returning depth improves, as would be expected under Coyle's direction, Saint Peter's almost assuredly will avoid the cellar. They won't contend, and probably won't get into the top five this coming season. But, seventh or eighth place isn't unlikely with even better things in future years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Girls' GymRat AAU Event Attracts Top Performers

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, an event-record of 240 teams with close to 2,800 players from 13 states and Canada will descend on the Albany, N.Y., area for games on Saturday and Sunday. Is there a better way for dad to spend a Father's Day weekend.

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 Siena, Skidmore College, Saratoga Maple Avenue Middle School, Gavin Park Athletic Center in Saratoga Springs, The Saratoga Recreation Center and Mont Pleasant Middle School in Schenectady.

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 20 Capital Region-based teams participating with close to 240 local players, and the proverbial best of the best from the east come to the event.

The tournament brings in numerous players who eventually wind up in the MAAC, and GymRat alums who are currently playing in the league include two-time defending Player of the Year Damika Martinez (Iona), Tehresa Coles (Siena), Briana Logan (Siena), Sydney Rosales (Marist), Tori Jarosz (Marist), Madeline Blais (Marist), Maeve Parahus (Manhattan), Lizzie Ball (Fairfield) and several others.

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 NCAA Tournament's MVP. Her UConn teammate, Bria Hartley, is another GymRat alum.

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.

Mason's Decision: Leaving Niagara For Auburn

Niagara's Antoine Mason, the leading scorer among players returning to college for the 2014-15 season who announced several weeks ago that he would be transferring elsewhere, has a new home.

The 6-foot-3 guard will be playing  at Auburn under that school's new head coach Bruce Pearl, according to a variety of published reports.

Because Mason, who was a medical redshirt for a year at Niagara, has already completed undergraduate degree work he was able to transfer and be eligible to play immediately this coming season.

His ability to put up points made him an attractive candidate at a number of schools with Auburn, Providence and Boston College emerging as his most-likely choice.

Mason averaged 25.6 points per game this past season and leaves Niagara as that school's third all-time leading scorer.

The move is a significant one upward. The MAAC, Niagara's league, was rated the 16th-best conference competitively last season. The SEC, of which Auburn is a member, was ranked No. 7.

Mason also faces a move from having free reign on the offensive end for the Purple Eagles to surely having less individual freedom at Auburn. He'll also be playing against bigger and better opponents at his new school.

Auburn finished 14-16 overall last season. Its two leading scorers played in the backcourt, but one, Chris Denson (19.1 points per game) has graduated. The team's second-leading scorer, 6-4 guard KT Harrell (18.3 ppg.) has one more year of eligibility.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Team Report: Saint Peter's Men Should Be Better

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the 2013-14 season and taking a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead for conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 9-11 in MAAC play, tied for sixth; 14-17 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The season, as a whole, was another step forward. The overall record was the best since the program won the MAAC's post-season tournament in 2010-11, finishing 5-26 and 9-21 in the two previous years before this past one. Things didn't start well, though, as the Peacocks got off to a 2-6 start before what was a season-turning, gut-check victory over Seton Hall. It was Saint Peter's first win in the annual series with its higher-level, in-state rival since 1995. The Peacocks were better after that, but there were also ups and downs. The season, though, ended on a definite upswing with four wins in a row to close out regular-season play and, then, a first-round 65-62 decision over Fairfield in the MAAC tournament. In that game, junior guard Desi Washington drained a three-pointer from the right side to secure the outcome, and no one can blame the Stags for having a bit of a dislike for Washington. The game-winning trey was the third time during the season his last-second three-pointer, from just about the same spot on the floor, won games against Fairfield. Washington continued to build a nice career as a good-shooting scoring guard (13.5 points per game, 3.1 rebounds). This past year, though, he got a lot of help from Rutgers' transfer 6-7 junior forward Marvin Dominique (16.6, 8.9), who became one of the conference's best front-court players. There was also considerable support from freshmen Trevis Wyche, a 6-0 point guard (8.3 points, 3.9 assists) and 6-7 post player Quadir Welton (4.7, 5.0). Another post, sophomore reserve (2.3, 2.2) helped out as did junior guard Jamel Fields (4.4, 1.1), junior forward Kris Rolle and junior forward Tyler Gaskins. Senior Chris Burke, a swingman, provided considerable leadership, averaged 7.4 points per game and was the team's best perimeter defender. The season ended with a quarter-final loss to Manhattan in the MAAC tournament, no disgrace as Manhattan went on to win the event.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A lot of ups and downs, which was to be expected with a lineup that included two key freshmen, and two key transfers (Dominique and Rolle). There were also eight losses by eight or fewer points, most of them coming when the team was developing its chemistry. Height was an issue. No MAAC team was smaller as the Peacocks' tallest player is only 6-7. Still, the team actually outrebounded opponents by a slight amount. But the size difference was more pronounced on the other end as the team was without a true rim protector. There also wasn't a consistent third scoring option. Wyche averaged 8.3 points and Burke averaged 7.4, but neither was regularly capable of providing the third option any good team usually needs.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The late surge indicated the chemistry truly developed and, maybe, better things are ahead. Washington and Dominique both return as tested senior veterans and combine as one of the better inside-outside duos in the MAAC. Wyche also returns after a season under fire as a college freshman point guard, and he improved as the season progressed. And Welton, another freshman, should be better after a season of banging heads inside with older and more-mature opponents. Fields adds another veteran presence off the bench. In all, eight members of the playing group return, and teams with veterans usually do well at this level. Rolle, an undersized 6-5 forward, flashed some signs with a 4-point/5-rebound lift in just nine minutes in the MAAC tournament win over Fairfield. Gaskins and Desport are capable reserves. Burke will be a loss, but steady, fundamentally sound swingman Chazz Patterson, who redshirted last season, returns. The team signed well-regarded guard 6-4 Elisha Boone (also recruited by Hofstra) and 6-6 "stretch forward" Rodney Hawkins out of the Baltimore area.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: It's nice to start off with a Washington-Dominique duo. Wyche and Welton should also both step up considerably. The other four returnees are all solid role players, as is the returning-from-a-redshirt Patterson. If Hawkins, or a late addition, can help out inside it would be a nice addition. The team seems to be either a solid "big," or another decent scorer away from truly being a contender in the upcoming season. But, the expectation is something like a fourth- or fifth-place finish. Plus, veteran coach John Dunne is one of the best in the league and always has his team playing hard. That type of play could cause some tournament upsets.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Team Report: Manhattan Women Should Be Better

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the 2013-14 season and taking a crystal-ball look at what might be ahead for conference teams.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 8-12 in MAAC play, seventh place; 9-21 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: It wasn't the season the program hoped for, but there were bright spots, most of them coming when team chemistry developed as the season progressed. A tough non-league schedule produced a 1-8 record and, then, the Jaspers got off to a 2-7 start in conference play. That, though, was followed by a strong 6-5 finish including a victory over fourth-place Rider and a difficult sweep on the Western New York trips with wins at Niagara and at Canisius. Senior perimeter player Monica Roeder (12.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 62 three-pointers) had another strong season to finish out a very nice career. Another senior, point guard Allison Skrec, continued her career-long upward trend and finished out with one of the better seasons by any point guard in the league. Her 6.2 assists-per-game average was sixth-best nationally. A freshman forward, Kayla Grimme (9.9, 7.1) burst on the scene early with the promise to be one of the better "bigs" in the conference and, then, was hurt and didn't play after the team's first eight games. Sophomore forward Shayna Erickson and 6-1 junior forward Ashley Stec also had solid seasons. Junior guard Nicole Isaacs continued to be one of the better long-range snipers in the MAAC (61 treys), while sophomores Blake Underhill and Katie Reese also contributed. There was enough depth, just not enough of it in the post after Grimme went down. The team played its traditionally efficient defense and ranked 172nd nationally (out of 343 Division I teams) in points allowed. It finished 61st with 9.2 steals per contest.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The slow start against what was a fairly strong non-conference schedule. And, then, Grimme got hurt in the season's eighth game and never returned. That left the Jaspers woefully undermanned inside and its 10.5 rebound-per-game disadvantage was, by far, the worst of any conference team. Roeder was pretty much the team's only consistent scoring threat and opponents certainly took note of where she was at all times. Stec, the next biggest contributor, missed several games with a concussion situation. Erickson, a slender forward, wound up the leading rebounder (5.8) after Grimme went down. Still, the solid late-season surge must have created some optimism but that didn't help in the MAAC tournament when 3-17 (in league play) Siena demolished Manhattan, 87-66, in the post-season event's play-in round.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Roeder and Skrec are gone, and a team's top scorer and a very effective point guard are tough pieces to replace. But, it appears Manhattan can overcome the losses. Jacqui Thompson, a 5-3 transfer from Wagner (4.2 points, 3.4 assists per game in the 2012-13 season) sat out last year and is eligible in 2014-15 and is the likely starter to replace Skrec. Erickson, Isaacs and Stec are all likely to step up their point production, which should make up for Roder's loss on the offensive end. And, then, Grimme should be 100 percent for the season, which gives the team the presence in the paint it did not have a year ago. The top incoming recruit seems to be Nyasha Izizarry, a 5-9 guard who was a big scorer on the high school level and is expected to get into the playing group. The other signed recruit is another 5-9 guard, Shanda Heine, who could also help. The team will certainly have depth on the perimeter, particularly if Maeve Parahus, another big-time high school scorer who didn't get a lot of playing time as a freshman, can step up.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: If Grimme is fully healthy and Thompson can step in for Skrec, the overall result should be at least as good as last year. Younger players should develop and seven who were in the playing group this past season are back. If the Jaspers can get enough inside play, an improvement of a couple of games could be expected. Coach John Olenowski is one of the better mentors in the conference, so that helps, too. Manhattan isn't likely to challenge for a top four position, but they also won't be in the bottom three or four. Expect something between fifth and seventh.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Team Report: Despite Losses, Manhattan Men Solid

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look at the 2013-14 season and a crystal-ball look ahead for conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 15-5 in MAAC play, 2nd place; 25-8 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Picked to win the MAAC's regular season, Manhattan finished second with a resume that included one loss to eventual titlist Iona, two to a tough Quinnipiac and somewhat harder-to-explain setbacks to Siena and Fairfield. But, the team more than made up for the slight regular-season stumble by out-efforting everyone in the conference's post-season tournament to earn a trip to the NCAA's. Once there, head coach Steve Masiello re-affirmed that he can indeed coach. The Jaspers drew highly regarded Louisville in the opening round, a less-than-desireable coaching match between Masiello and his acknowledged mentor Rick Pitino. And, then, the heavy underdog Jaspers followed a near-perfect game plan and held a 60-58 lead with a little over three minutes left before some late-game missed shots enabled Louisvile to sneak off with a 71-64 victory ... The team had very few injury losses, only two games from leading scorer swingman George Beamon (18.8 ppg.) and one by point guard Mike Alvarado. Inside force Rhamel Brown (120 blocks) was third nationally in rejections. As a team, Manhattan was 18th in steals, and 4th in free-throws attempted, both stats indicative of how hard the team played all season ... Brown, Beamon and Alvarado combined for a nice threesome ... an inside force, a slashing win and an underrated/effective pint guard. They weren't alone in providing ocntributions. Junior Emmy Andujar, a 6-6 foward, (8.6, 5.3) continued to show signs, sophomore wing Shane Richards provided long-range shooting (71 made treys while playing just 21.1 minutes per game), Maryland transfer 6-10 sophomore Aston Pankey (7.1, 4.3) increased his contributions late in the season (he led Manhattan in rebounding three times i the last five games), and put up his numers in just 17.7 minutes per contest. Back-up guards RaShawn Shores and Tyler Wilson both helped out and both had more assists than turnovers. The team also had impressive non-league victories at Illinois State, at South Carolina and a double-overtime decision over La Salle. After a few league bumps, Manhattan won 11 of its last 12 games before heading to the NCAA Tournament.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Not much, discounting the failure to win the regular-season title. There was a greater emphasis on offense this year than the previous season, whilc resulted in Manhattan's points-against-total to be 173rd nationally. Manhattan was also a little small, at least when Pankey wasn't in the game (Brown is only about 6-6), yet still outrebounded opponents by one per contest. Any minor deficiencies were overcome by effort, determination and tough play, hallmarks of Masiello's teams in his three seasons at the school to date. Some might look at losing a late-game lead to Louisville in the NCAA's a disappointment, but that Manhattan hung in there so long and played so well before falling has to be considered more of a positive. It was enough so that Masiello became a hot off-season candidate to move, which he did. He accepted a five-year contract from South Florida (total value reported at $5.4 million), but subsequent vetting by that school revealed that Masiello never graduated from college (he attended Kentucky), a requisite for the job. Manhattan has the same requisite, but clearly failed to do the required research twice: once when it hired Masiello as an assistant and, then, again when he became the program's head coach. The events brought some less-than-positive publicity to the program. School administrators claimed Masiello did not knowingly misrepresent himself (say what?) and, when USF withdrew its offer, allowed him to return to the program upon completion of degree work which did occur recently. It remains to be seen how much that affects future recruiting.

WHAT'S AHEAD: A little uncertainty, mostly over Masiello's situation. Clearly, he's a viable candidate to move on and one wonders (as might recruits) if he'll jump ship again at first opportunity. Then again, the situation might have dimmed Masiello's proverbial star and unless the team at least duplicates this past season he might be at Manhattan for the foreseeable future. And, that's not a bad thing. He has clearly proven that he can coach. Now, though, the question is whether he can recruit. The team loses its top three players, Beamon, Alvarado and Brown, and all three were brought in by former coach Barry Rohrssen (which has graciously and regularly been acknowledged by Masiello). The best player he has brought in to date has been Pankey, a transfer. And, now, it appears there's another strong transfer in the form of 6-9 forward Jermaine Lawrence, who played about 15 minutes per game last season at Cincinatti where he averaged 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Some, reports, though, have questioned his "motor," but there aren't many better motivators than Masiello. Lawrence has petitioned for a waiver of the transfer rule that would require him to sit out a season (he has what appears to be a legitimate family health issue). If the waiver is granted and he can play immediately, the combination of Lawrence and Pankey will potentially be as good a one-two front-court punch as there is in the league. Andujar and Richards are also both quality pieces. The team's big question mark, though, will be finding a replacement for Alvarado at the point, a role likely to fall to Stores (64 assists/33 turnovers) this past season, whose leadership abilities earned him a co-captain's position this past season. And, despite Masiello's off-season status, only one recruit de-committed and the rest of the incoming group seems strong. Zane Waterman, a 6-9 forward; and Samson Usilo, a 6-4 wing, appear to be the best of the incoming players.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Any time a team loses its best three players, there almost has to be a dropoff. Still, Manhattan has enough coming back ... and, that includes Masiello ... to remain competitive. This scribe's early prediction was for the Jaspers to finish fifth in the upcoming seaso, behind Iona, Siena, Saint Peter's and Quinnipiac. But, that was before the addition of Lawrence. If Lawrence gains his eligibility for the coming season, Manhattan is a candidate to move up and, potentially, compete to be in the top three.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bower Leaving Marist For Another NBA Position

Jeff Bower came back to coach the Marist men's basketball team about 14 months ago, highly touted for 18 years in a variety of capacities in the NBA and highly respected for an inclination to come back to the mid-major level of the college game where his roots were deep.

And, now, Bower has abandoned Marist and the MAAC for, it appears, another run at the NBA.

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

Bower did go home, back to Marist where he served as an assistant coach during the days of former head coach Dave Magarity for nine seasons.

But Wolfe never wrote anything about staying home for very long.

Marist administrators announced Monday afternoon that the 53-year old Bower resigned his position as the school's men's basketball coach.

Marist, which significantly upgraded its financial package to attract Bower, thought it was making a late hire last April when it brought Bower aboard.

Now, nearly two months further along in the calendar than the timetable that produced Bower in 2013 (he was introduced on April 10, 2013), the Red Foxes have to unexpectedly go through the process of finding a head coach once again.

The next head coach will be the fourth since Magarity's ouster after the 2004-05 season. And, in hindsight (at least in this scribe's mind), the program might have been better off had it kept Magarity, who has had significant success just down the road coaching the West Point women's program in recent years.

The departure comes at an inopportune time in terms of recruiting and keeping players on task in preparation for the 2014-15 season.

But, the move is understandable. Yahoo Sports reported earlier on Monday that Bower was in talks to join the Detroit Pistons as that NBA team's next general manager.

"I have a lot of respect for Jeff and the job he did in his time at Marist," school athletic director Tim Murray, who shared an apartment with Bower during Bower's previous time at the school, in a statement released by Marist.

"He laid the foundation for the program moving forward and I feel that this is a great opportunity for our next head coach. I wish Jeff the best of luck as he leaves for a very specific and compelling NBA opportunity."

"I can't comment on what everyone wants me to comment on right now," Bower told the Poughkeepsie Journal on Monday. "... it's not at that stage yet."

Bower's Red Foxes finished 12-19 in 2013-14, after an 0-9 start. He replaced Chuck Martin, who went 41-118 in his five seasons at the school.

Bower signed five recruits to join the team for the upcoming season, but there was no word on whether the incoming players would seek a release from their commitments, as is often the case with any coaching change.

Bower met with his staff and, then, Marist players during the day on Monday to reveal his move.

Bower seemed to instill a new attitude and a renewed work ethic to his players this past season with a calm, yet firm demeanor. His basketball acumen and experience at the professional level was rare for any mid-major coach.

Prior to his return to the Poughkeepsie school he had been in the NBA for 18 years, the last three as a consultant within the league and for several individual franchise. 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 to just about every position in between.

His initial time at Marist was his second job after his graduation from St. Francis (Pa.), and he credited his previous nine seasons with the Red Foxes as his biggest early steps up the coaching ladder.

It's also where he met his future wife, then an athletic trainer at the school, and where he became close friends with current AD Murray, who was also on Magarity's staff as an assistant coach back then.

Bower's family also has a vacation home in the Oneonta, N.Y., area, just two hours away from the Poughkeepsie campus.

When the Marist job opened up last spring Bower was an eager applicant seeking a return to a place he previously called home for nine seasons.

 "I've been here before and there are still people here that I know, so the comfort level is extremely high," Bower said last March..

But, it appears the lure of a return to the NBA was an even more comfortable situation, one too good, it seems, for him to pass on.

Bower was a first-year assistant at Marist the last time the program went to the NCAA tournament (1986-87), and said, last May, that he 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.

And, now, the chase for a return to the NCAA Tournament after a lengthy absence will be left to his successor.

School officials have indicated that a national search for a replacement will begin immediately.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Manhattan's Steve Masiello Finishes Degree Work

Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, it seems, will soon be returning to that position after completing his coursework for an undergraduate degree from Kentucky. He will be awarded a degree in August.

Masiello, who took Manhattan to the NCAA Tournament with a 25-8 record this past season, has been on unpaid leave from Manhattan since April, shortly after it was revealed that he had not earned an undergraduate degree.

That information came out after Masiello accepted a 5-year, $5.4 million contract to coach at South Florida. A subsequent background check turned up that he was reportedly 10 credits short of graduating from Kentucky.

Manhattan also requires its coaches to have at least an undergraduate degree, but, it seems, school officials there had not done as complete a background check that would have turned up Masiello's undergraduate situation. Masiello has been Manhattan's coach for the past three years.

Manhattan administrators have said that they will reinstate Masiello once his degree requirement was completed during the current offseason. But, it does not appear that has been done yet.

Manhattan school officials have opted not to comment.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Team Report: Iona Women To Contend For Top Again

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, looking back at the 2013-14 season with a crystal-ball look ahead for conference programs.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 18-2 in MAAC play, tied for first; 26-6 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty in the program's first-ever regular-season MAAC title. It was shared with perennial conference power Marist, but Iona had the tie-breaker and was the league's first No. 1 seed that didn't wear a Marist uniform entering the MAAC's post-season tournament in 10 years. Things started well, although didn't finish that way (more on that later). There were only two early non-league losses, one to mid-major power Bowling Green, the other to high-major St. John's. Then came an 18-game winning streak that was among the longest nationally before an upset loss to Rider. In the midst of that winning streak was a last-second victory over Marist (on a jumper by Damika Martinez with three seconds remaining) to break a string of 29 consecutive losses in meetings with the Red Foxes. After the Rider loss came seven more wins in a row before Marist got a measure of revenge for the earlier loss with a decisive 79-67 win on the Gaels' Senior Night game. Iona recovered to win a MAAC tournament quarterfinal round game but then lost in the semis to Quinnipiac, sending it to the WNIT. First-year head coach Billi Godsey took a veteran cast, mostly assembled by previous coach Tony Bozzella, and made a few tweaks without making drastic changes. Her guiding hand worked to the tune of a 26-victory season and Godsey was named the national Rookie Coach of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches' Association., Individually, the Gaels had arguably the league's two best players in Martinez and forward Joy Adams. Martinez, a rising senior, led the league in scoring for the third straight season (24.9 points per game) and was the league's Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Adams led the conference in rebounding (13.8 per game) and was third nationally in that statistic. Martinez was the nation's No. 8 scorer. Graduating point guard Haley D'Angelo's 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio was 14th best nationally. As a team, Iona ranked sixth nationally in FT percentage (78.5), and third nationally in 3-point shooting percentage (38.0). And, Martinez and Adams will eventually surpass more than team milestones. Martinez already has 1,866 career points, which is already the 11th best total in the league. If she matches the 771 points she scored this past season she'll finish with 2,643 career points, shattering the previous MAAC record of 2,467 held by former Loyola standout Patty Stoffey. Adams, heading into her junior year, already has 795 career rebounds. If she matches this past season's total of 442 rebounds, she'll finish her junior season with 1,237 over her career, surpassing the league record of 1,217 (former Manhattan standout Rosalee Mason) with another full year to play.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The end of the season. Iona got overwhelmed by Marist in its final home game, trailing by 21 midway through the second half and never seemed to recover. It did get a first-round MAAC tournament victory over Monmouth, but then lost in the semifinal round to fourth-seeded Quinnipiac. In that game the Gaels were tied at halftime, but were down by double digits midway through the second half and weren't close again after that. Then came the WNIT against Harvard. Iona's Aleesha Powell made an old-fashioned three-point play with six seconds left that gave Iona a one-point lead. And, then, Harvard scored on a layup at the buzzer to secure the one-point victory. In all, Iona lost three of its last four games putting a bit of a sour ending on an otherwise superb season. The team's 6-4 senior center Sabrina Jeridore led the conference in blocked shots, but the team otherwise struggled to stop opponents. Most league teams tried to run with Iona, knowing they could score points on the Gaels (who allowed 67.7 points per game, 185th of 343 Division I teams nationally).

WHAT'S AHEAD: Gone will be the starting center (Jeridore), the starting point guard (D'Angelo) and the team's third-leading scorer (Powell, who is transferring to Seton Hall). But, the Gaels don't exactly have an empty cupboard for the 2014-15 season, not with Martinez and Adams returning along with fourth-leading scorer Aaliyah Robinson (8.4 ppg.), who made four key second-half three-pointers in the mid-season victory over Marist. Rising junior Cassidee Ranger (2.5) adds another returning shooting threat, but no other returnee averaged more than 8.1 minutes of playing time this past season. And, there's a more-than-capable replacement for Jeridore. Karynda DuPree, a 6-4 post player, is eligible after sitting out this past season as a transfer from La Salle. Dupree, a sophomore, started 15 games at La Salle in the 2012-13 season, averaging 2.7 points and blocking four shots in three different games. The program also has four recruits coming in, two forwards and two guards. With Martine, Adams, Robinson and Dupree, the Gaels have as good a top four as any MAAC team. All it needs is to develop three or four more players within the playing group.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Had Powell returned, your scribe would have installed Iona as the slight favorite to earn a second straight league. Still, we'll call the Gaels a co-favorite along with Marist right now. If Dupree's higher-level talent emerges and one of two of the freshmen become at least solid contributors the Gaels have a legitimate chance to capture another MAAC championship.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

GymRat Standouts Draw Interest From MAAC Teams

The annual boys' GymRat CHALLANGE AAU basketball tournament was held in the upstate New York area over the Memorial Day weekend.

The event drew 328 total teams, its largest field in the 17-year history of the tournament.

And, as always, there was a good representation of players who are being recruited by MAAC schools.

Traditionally, a good number of them wind up playing in the league. Of recent vintage, former Iona standouts Momo Jones and Sean Armand were GymRat participants, as was Manhattan's George Beamon and Siena's Rob Poole.

And, that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The number of GymRat grads that have played at MAAC schools since the AAU tournament's beginning is well over 100.

Your scribe is involved in the event, as the director of a crew of talent evaluators who watch games and help select all-star teams.

This year's all-star teams, at each of six age-level divisions, will soon be available on the event's website ( in relatively short order.

But, here's a more concise look at some players who listed interest coming from conference programs, with a synopsis of their abilities, in no particular order.

There are dozens and dozens more players from this year's event either being recruited by D-1 programs above and/or below the MAAC level. Only players who specifically mentioned conference interest are listed.

- Dave Krmpotich, a 6-foot-8 forward on the Jersey Shore Warriors: His team won the upper division (17-under) championship in a 104-team field. Krmpotich was the MVG - Most Valuable GymRat. He is a slender (180-pound), multi-talented forward who moves like a small forward and attacks the paint like a power forward. He has heard mostly from lower-level D-1's so far, but the staff at the GymRat believe mid-majors and larger will soon be getting involved. His program, the Jersey Shore Warriors, has won the GymRat in four of the last five years and always produces several eventual D-1 players (including Siena's Poole).

- LaTerrance Reed, a 6-3 guard, from the Northeast Shooters (Canisius H.S.): An athletic guard who can play either position. Outstanding three-point shooter with good speed and athleticism. Already a solid build and gets to the basket. Western N.Y. schools Canisius, Niagara, Buffalo and St. Bona's are involved.

- Joel Winkowski, a 6-2 guard from Northeast Shooters (Lake George H.S.): Upstate New York basketball fans know him as the leading scorer in the region (about 28 points per game) this past high school season. Winkowski didn't need to score so much here with a good group of teammates, but was able to still excel against better, quicker opponents while exhibiting a rare and instinctive passing ability. Your scribe saw him during high school play this past season, and he looked better in the AAU event than he did during the year. Siena and Boston U. are showing the most interest right now.

- Jordan Roland, a 6-1 guard from the Syracuse Select-Lobello AAU Team: Quick and athletic, capable of creating a shot at will. Finishes in the lane over taller defenders and causes opponents problems with his defense. Marist is involved, as is George Washington and Bucknell.

- Tyler Reynolds, a 6-7 forward from the Syracuse Select-Lobello team: A little slender (200 pounds), but a tough matchup here as he posted smaller defenders and could go around bigger opponents. Effective shooter with good court vision and a physical rebounder. Interest being shown by Siena, UAlbany and St. Bona's.

- Kevin Huerter, a 6-4 guard playing for the Shenendehowa Pride team: The son of former Siena player Tom Huerter (Class of 1991) played up an age level, yet still stood out. Handled the ball well and is an exceptional long-range shooter. Some early interest from Siena and a number of other mid-major schools.

- Kieran Hamilton, 5-10 point guard playing for the NYC Jaguars: Another son of a standout from a MAAC school, Kevin Hamilton who played alongside Jeff Ruland at Iona. The younger Hamilton is a little on the smallish side, but is extremely quick and a true playmaker. Outstanding in transition and just made his team better here. He is just starting to get D-1 interest, and will likely be hearing from MAAC schools.

- Cameron Jones, a 6-2 off guard from the Jersey Shore Warriors: A strong guard and an exceptional 3-point shooter. Also showed the ability to finish off drives here because of his strength. He already has an offer fro Rider.

- Jake Silpe, a 6-2 point guard from the Jersey Shore Warriors: Hard-nosed player with a high court IQ. Outstanding defender and a good 3-point shooter, as well. Getting looks from several MAAC schools

Jason Dunne, a 6-4 wing from the Shoreshots AAU program (Matawan H.S.): A very effective scorer even out to the 3-point line. Lengthy and height makes it tough to block his shot. Also showed an ability here to attack and finish above the rim. Monmouth, along with Bucknell and Army have shown early interest.

- Jordan Little, a 6-8 power forward from the N.J. Trailblazers AAU program: A high-energy player who is long and athletic., Active on the glass and scores effectively on put-backs. Evaluators here believe he needs to add strength, but has a positive upside. Saint Peter's and Monmouth have shown interest.

- Ricky McGill, a 6-2 point guard from House of Sports Elite AAU program: A very quick point guard who excels in the open court and has an ability to drive, dish and find open shooters. Good mid-range game and quick hands on defense. Originally committed to Manhattan, but has reopened his recruiting.

- Jonathan Nwanko, a 6-9 center from House of Sports Elite AAU program: One of the top bigs here; long and athletic and runs the floor well. Good rebounder, shot-blocker, finisher around the basket. Perimeter skills need work but he is said to have a huge upside and might soon be drawing high-major interest.

- Yasim Smith, a 6-3 point guard from the N.J. Trailblazers program: A tall point guard with athleticism and a good feel for the game. Right now prefers to drive and can either finish in traffic or dish to open teammates. Fairfield has shown interest.

Friday, May 23, 2014

GymRat AAU Event on Tap, Draws Top Hoop Talent

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 NBA 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 national rebound leaders. Kenneth Faried played in the GymRat in 2006, led the country in rebounding in the 2010-11 season and, now, just completed his third NBA season. Former Siena standout O.D. Anosike, who played in the GymRat in 2008, led the country in rebounding twice.

The latest success story out of the event is UConn guard Shabazz Napier, this year's MVP of the NCAA Tournament after leading the Huskies to a national title. Napier played in the GymRat in 2009.

That year he played at two different age levels. At one point he became so dehydrated that he was treated intravenously to get his fluid levels increased. He then literally jumped off a trainers' table to get back to the court for another game.

Napier knew the AAU circuit is a place, more so than high school competition, to build and polish reputations.

The GymRat is a tournament that attracts the best of the best and if basketball players can be successful there ... well, they can be successful just about anywhere.

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.

Billy Baron of Canisius, this past season's MAAC Player of the Year played in the GymRat. So did Sean Armand of Iona, one of the MAAC's all-time great long-range shooters.

Current Siena player Rob Poole was part of a team that won the GymRat's top-division championship four 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 and Sunday at various venues throughout the Capital region of upstate New York. Close to 3,600 players from 328 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 ( 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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Team Report: Iona Men Poised For Another Title Run

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back at the 2013-14 season and a crystal-ball look ahead for conference teams.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 17-3 in MAAC play, first place; 22-11 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty, as has been the case under head coach Tim Cluess. This past season brought the second regular-season title in the past three years and the fifth-straight 20-plus win season. There was enough talent in place for Cluess to really challenge the team with a grueling non-conference schedule (losses to Kansas, Northern Iowa, Nevada, Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Cleveland State), but that helped toughen the Gaels up for conference play and the results were evident. Sophomore A.J. English, hurt for the second half of 2012-13, not only came back successfully but made a difficult move from off-guard to the point, and he flourished (17.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 142 total assists) and figures to be one of the best perimeter players (if not THE best) in the conference for the next two seasons. Sean Armand, one of the top long-range shooters in league history had the second-most three's made this year with 96, trailing only Billy Baron of Canisius. Isaiah Williams, a 6-7 forward, joined the program and added ability usually seen at a higher level. His value could be seen in the games he missed due to a minor injury. Iona was 1-4 without him and 21-7 with him in the lineup. Mike Poole, with just a single season of eligibility, also contributed (6.0, 4.2), and 6-9 junior David Laury (14.0, 8,.3) showed signs that indicated he is among the most-talented bigs in the league. And, senior Tre Bowman (13.9) provided more offensive fire power. There were also some non-league wins over sold programs, including George Mason and Florida Gulf Coast. There was an 11-game late-season winning streak that was extended into a 14-of-15 stretch through the end of the regular season. The only loss in that stretch came against Manhattan, but that was a harbinger. Iona did get to another national post-season tournament, but it was the NIT after an NCAA berth the previous year.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The 1-4 record when Williams was out. Laury also struggled early and was sent to the bench just before the midway point of the season,  and Cluess was outspoken about the reason why: his big man wasn't playing hard enough. But Laury became more effective as the team's top front-court reserve and continued to play "starters' minutes." In one way, Laury's demotion worked in Iona's favor. The smaller lineup was quicker and overcame opponents with that trait. The downside, though, was that the team didn't have a second legitimate post player, and got outrebounded by an average of five per game. The offense was as high-powered as ever (83.6 ppg, fourth-best nationally). The downside, though, was a defense that allowed 77.6 points per contest, and only 18 Division I teams nationally gave up more. There also wasn't much depth as only six players averaged more than 9.7 minutes per game. The smaller lineup also made Iona susceptible to physical teams, and league losses came to two of the more physical MAAC squads, Quinnipiac and Manhattan; and, the third came against Canisius, whose best player, Billy Baron, was as good an individual perimeter player in the conference in a decade.  And, then, came the late-season disappointments, first a 71-68 loss to Manhattan in the MAAC Tournament's semifinal round against a Jasper team that just seemed more physical and seemed to have the "effort" edge. And, then, came the season-ending heart-breaker, a last second loss on a tip-in that gave Louisiana Tech an 89-88 victory in the NIT.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More of the same. English, Williams and Laury are the key returnees, and all three are among the league's best players in terms of pure talent. And, the team also gets the services of Kelvin Amayo, a 6-4 sophomore guard who had a spectacular high school/prep school career. He played three games at Marshall before leaving there for Iona where he had to sit out as a redshirt transfer last season. Also back is 5-9 junior Tavon Sledge, a key playing-group member two years ago whose role diminished this past season. And, there's a solid addition in Jeylani Dublin, a 6-6 forward who averaged 10.4 points and 4.2 rebounds at Longwood College last season who is immediately eligible as a graduate-level transfer. Ryden Hines, a 6-10, 240-pounder who showed some flashes as a freshmen, might power his way into the post rotation, too. And, there's intriguing 7-foot string-bean frosh Daniel Robinson, who redshired this past season, and is reputed to be a strong face-up big man. One true freshman, lightning-quick 5-9 point guard Schadrac Casmir might also get inutes. He averaged 19 points at South Kent prep school last year and 26.7 points two years ago in high school.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Most prognosticators are going to select Iona as the 2014-15 preseason favorite, and there's no argument here. Siena is a relatively close second choice, for now, but Iona's top four players are all experienced. There should also be more depth this year. And, as always, the Gaels will overwhelm a lot of opponents with quickness and offensive firepower. We'll pick Iona to win the regular-season title and, at worst, finish second.

Another Loss for Niagara Men: Mason To Transfer

Schools expect to lose players via graduation. And, so it is with Niagara that will lose its stellar guard Antoine Mason, who graduated earlier this month with a bachelor's degree in finance.

But, the Purple Eagles, until a few days ago, expected to have the 6-foot-3 Mason back for the 2014-15 season. Mason, who was a medical redshirt for a year, had one more season of eligibility. He could have remained at Niagara, taken graduate-level courses and continued to play there.

Instead, he has recently requested, and been granted, permission to transfer out of the program.

How big a loss? This big: In just three seasons, he scored 1,934 points, third-most in Niagara's history. He also leaves as the 14th all-time career scorer in MAAC history. For a good portion of the 2013-14 season he led the country in scoring before finishing second nationally at 25.2 points per contest.

Had he remained in the MAAC, he'd have been the clear front-runner to be the preseason Player of the Year choice.

Instead, he opts to move on.

According to published reports, Niagara's release agreement stipulates that Mason can not transfer to any other MAAC school (Iona had been rumored as a potential location) or at any school on the Purple Eagles' non-league schedule.

“I know Antoine enjoyed playing here, and I’m sure this was a difficult decision for him and his family,” said Niagara coach Chris Casey, in a statement released by the school. “Antoine played a big role in our basketball program for the past four years and we are proud that he earned his bachelor’s degree from Niagara University. Now it is time for us to move forward with the players who are committed to continuing the tremendous legacy of the Niagara University Purple Eagles.”

Even with Mason Niagara finished 3-17 in conference play and 7-26 overall. It was the program's worst record since it was 2-16/5-25 in the 1994-95 season.

And, now, without Mason, Niagara doesn't have a single returning player who averaged double figures last season.

Mason's departure means the program lost its top three scorers from a year ago (forward Marcus Ware and guard Marvin Jordan also graduated) and its No. 5 scorer, Tahjere McCall, a guard, who opted to transfer several weeks ago.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Team Report: Qunnipiac Women Will Survive Losses

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, looking back at the 2013-14 season with a crystal-ball look ahead for every conference program.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 14-6, fourth in the MAAC; 21-13 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A difficult transition to a new and better league after a 16-0 conference finish the previous season, and an NCAA Tournament berth, in the Northeast Conference. But, the Bobcats handled it well enough to almost get back to the NCAA's again (more on that below). One of the toughest non-league schedules nationally toughened the team up for MAAC play where there were no surprises. Quinnipiac finished fourth in conference play and had a perfect 14-0 record against team that finished below it in the final standings and an 0-6 record against the top three team. Along the way were victories over non-league opponent UAlbany, an NCAA Tournament team, and close contests with MAAC co-champ Marist (a six-point loss) and third-place Fairfield (a one-pointer) ... Senior forward Brittany McQuain proved to be one of the best low-post players in the MAAC (13.5 points, 9.3 rebounds), her rebound average 67th-best nationally. She was also Quinnipiac's first player to ever record 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 career blocks. And, point guard Gillian Abshire, a junior, was one of the best pure distributors the MAAC has seen in many years. Her 6.6 assist average was 10th nationally, and her 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio was third bet on the Division I level. Junior 6-1 forward Samantha Guastella (11.7, 4.5) was another solid inside player, while leading scorer 5-6 junior guard Jasmine Martin (15.1, 2.0) was a very effective offensive weapon. There was alsoe depth as considerable the Bobcats had 10 players average at least 2.4 points per contest, with junior forward Nikoline Ostergaard (6.8, 2.3) and senior forward Camryn Warner (6.7, 4.8) the top reserves. And, Quinnipiac got a little revenge in the post-season vs. co-champion Iona, knocking off the Gaels, 78-68, in the MAAC Tournament's semifinal round. And, then, in the MAAC event's championship game, Quinnipiac couldn't have played much better for about 18 minutes, holding a 17-point lead over Marist.

WHAT WENT WRONG: And, now (as Paul Harvey used to say), the rest of the story ... After running out to that 17-point championship game lead over the Red Foxes, Marist turned things around and earned a 70-66 victory over Quinnipiac that clearly left the Bobcats devastated. The "consolation" prize was a trip to the WNIT (a good thing), but there the team lost, 74-66, against a tough Villanova opponent. Quinnipiac was more than competitive in the MAAC, yet did have that 0-6 record against the league's top three teams. The team didn't have a good ballhandler when Abshire wasn't in the game (McQuain was No. 2 on the team in assists), and didn't have a real effective rebounder besides McQuain. Overall, the Bobcats got outrebounded by an average of 1.9 per game. It also relied heavily on three-pointers, and its 7.9 per game was 27th nationally, but it's long-range shooting percentage of 32.0 was only 132nd nationally.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The loss of McQuain is a big one, literally as she was by far the program's best inside player in many years. Also graduating is 6-2 Camryn Warner, the team's second-leading rebounder (4.8 per game) and effective reserve guard Elloen Cannon. It will probably mean the team will be even more perimeter oriented next season, with things centered around Abshire, Martin and Guastella, whose 72 three-pointers made this season was a program record. Having the league's best point guard (Abshire), the MAAC's third-leading returning scorer (Martin) and the versatile 6-1 Guastella, all seniors in 2014-15, is a strong nucleus. Rebounding, though, will be an issue but 6-1 freshman Morgan Manz (2.4, 0.9) seems poised to help out a year from now. And another 6-footer, junior Nikoline Ostergaard (6.8, 2.3) is also likely to be more effective next season. Otherwise, the team has plenty more, particularly at the guard spot with effective reserves 5-8 sophomore Adily Martucci (3.8, 1.0) and 5-9 Maria Napolitano (4.6, 1.5) also coming back. Plus, veteran mentor Tricia Fabri is among the best, not only in the league but at any mid-major level program. Recent reports indicate that 6-foot-4 post player Val Driscoll is transferring from Michigan as a grad student, and would be immediately eligible. She started 29 of the Wolverines' 34 games this past season and averaged 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds and blocked 70 shots. If the reports are true, she will literally add a big dimension to the squad. More height is coming in with 6-1 Sara Shewan, a native of Canada who played at St. Thomas Aquinas prep school this past season. Don't expect Quinnipiac to drop off much, if at all.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: All the upper-level programs of 2013-14 face significant graduation losses, some moreso than Quinnipiac's. But, the expected addition of Driscoll, who had some success at the high-major level at Michigan, makes up for the loss of McQuain. Expect another top-four finish next season with the Bobcats making a serious run at the regular-season title.