So I attended the annual Hofstra Men's Basketball Blue-White Scrimmage yesterday. It was my first look at the 2009-10 team which featured Hofstra's several new additions to the team. Only five players are returning from the 2008-09 team which finished fifth in the CAA and lost to Old Dominion by one in the CAA quarterfinals.
However, those five returning players were all starters at one time or another from last season. This includes junior Charles Jenkins, a First Team All CAA selection last season. Also returning are juniors Greg Washington and Nathaniel Lester and seniors Miklos Szabo and Cornelius Vines. The newcomers are juco transfer Brad Kelleher, a native Australian, and freshmen Chaz Williams, David Imes, Yves Jules, Halil Kanacevic and walk on Matt Grogan. The Pride also have another freshman, forward Paul Bilbo, who looks like he will be redshirted, and junior transfer Mike Moore. Moore, who transferred from basketball purgatory, Fordham, will have to sit out a season.
It's incredibly hard to tell from a scrimmage how good a team is but I did see a few things that I will point out.
First the returning players
Charles Jenkins - Jenkins, the 2008-09 Haggerty Award winner, is one of the best mid major college basketball players around. He didn't do too much in the scrimmage offensive wise. But what I did notice is that several times he pulled some of the freshman aside giving advice on plays they did wrong. Based on this, he seems to be taking more of a leadership role, which can only help when you have six newcomers. If he can be more consistent with an outside jumper, Jenkins will be devastating this season.
Greg Washington - For a 6 foot 10 inch forward, Washington can move down the court. On the positive side, he seemed more aggressive taking the ball to the hoop than last season. He also seems to be in midseason form with that nice 15 foot jumper. On the negative side, he still made some silly fouls that he cannot afford to make, especially this season (more on that later). He is still thin, though he seems to have added a little muscle.
Miklos Szabo - Szabo was out a significant amount of time last season with a foot injury. That seems to have hampered his development. He is prone to foul trouble and yesterday was no different. He played very well in the first half of the scrimmage, was aggressive and even showed his three point shooting touch. However, he was called for several offensive fouls for hooking the defender. Szabo also downright disappeared in the second half after that good first half. Szabo is by far the biggest in size on the Pride and he will be sorely needed this season.
Nathaniel Lester - Hofstra fans have been waiting for him to bust out. He was a highly touted freshman and has shown at times the promise he had coming in from Canarsie High School in 2007. However, he has not been consistent. Lester has a new short haircut and looked aggressive at times during the scrimmage. His outside jumper still is erratic for someone who is supposed to be able to bury the three. The Pride needs the junior to be the consistent second scorer on the team.
Cornelius Vines - The Pride's second leading scorer last season also has a new short haircut and is aggressive as he was last year. He is not afraid to shoot the three but he is still not consistent with it. The question is will he or Lester be the second starting scoring guard for the Pride. Chances are he will be the first player off the bench. The Pride will need his scoring.
Now the new players
Chaz Williams - He is everything as advertised. Fast, exciting and small. He is not 5 foot 9. He is more like 5 foot 7. But he is extremely quick and yet he seems to make good decisions with the ball. He made one pretty behind the back pass to Jenkins. And he is not afraid to drive to the basket. In fact, he showed his hops by dunking. The jury is still out on whether he can shoot an outside jumper consistently. He didn't shoot the ball much from the outside but he buried one long jumper. If he can run the point effectively, unlike Greg Johnson last season, the Pride offense will be better than last season.
Brad Kelleher - The Australian looks to be a find for the Pride. He runs the point very effectively and he buried three 3 pointers during the scrimmage. The juco transfer from Midland College in Texas is very polished and a vocal leader. I really really was impressed with Kelleher yesterday. Next to Williams, he was the best newcomer on the floor yesterday. He will be one of the first guys off the bench for the Pride.
David Imes - The freshman from Winchendon Prep is athletic and works hard under the boards. He didn't show much offensive skill nor an outside shot. Will he develop into a legitimate four, a scoring wing player? Not sure. Kind of reminds me of the recently graduated Darren Townes. He will need to provide minutes off the bench because the Pride are short on big men (especially if Bilbo is redshirted).
Yves Jules - Jules along with Imes were highly touted prospects for the Pride that were both sent to Winchendon Prep last season to get their grades in line to be able to enter Hofstra this season. Jules was a teammate of Lester's at Canarsie. Like Imes he didn't show much offense nor an outside shot. But he has hops and is very fast, perhaps as fast as Williams. He is also not afraid to go inside and battle for rebounds. Jules is another very fast guard to bring off the bench for the Pride.
Halil Kanacevic - The 6 foot 8 forward from Staten Island seems to have added some muscle to his frame. At the start, he looks to be the backup center/power forward to Szabo. He struggled defensively during the scrimmage causing several fouls. But he has some post moves, is aggressive and kind of reminds me of former Pride player Auremius Kieza. Kanacevic supposedly is capable of shooting a three like Kieza but he didn't feature that during the scrimmage. He is a work in progress but has some potential.
David Grogan – The walk on is probably the last player off the bench. But unlike the usual last player off the bench for the Pride, he actually has some size (6 foot 5). And he can actually shoot the three (he hit a couple of three pointers). Don’t expect him to play much, but the Pride have had worse players in this spot (who were actually scholarship players).
Overall, the Pride are much more athletic than last season. Jules and Williams are quick. Hiccup quick. Outside of Szabo, the other big men are more agile than last season’s group. However, they will need to be agile because outside of Szabo, they are not very big. Nor is there a lot of depth overall, especially in the frontcourt. The Pride only dressed eleven players and only four are considered big men; Szabo, Washington, Imes and Kanacevic. Lester can and has played the four at six foot five, so you may see more of that.
Based on what I saw, I expect the Pride to play more of an up tempo game. Last season, Hofstra struggled to score points, finishing in the lower third in scoring in the CAA. This was due to a plodding offense with not much movement, which often looked to Charles Jenkins for scoring.
So with a smaller, more agile team, it may be in their best interest to run and gun more. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of four guard sets with Lester playing the four and Washington as the five. That could be a very interesting group to watch. However, Hofstra may struggle against teams with size like Old Dominion and Drexel.
The lineup looks to be right now Chaz Williams at point, Jenkins (obviously) and Lester as the other two guards with Washington and Szabo up front. This is subject to change. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hofstra coach Tom Pecora will start different lineups against more athletic teams like VCU and James Madison to take advantage of his more athletic team.
The next chance I will get to see Hofstra play will be their first game of the season against Kansas in Lawrence on November 13. Like this scrimmage, a road game against the # 1 ranked team in the country will not be the most accurate judge of how this Hofstra team will be this season. But it certainly will be a baptism by fire for the newcomers. Welcome to Division I college basketball boys!