Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hofstra Blue White Scrimmage

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!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Litos Always Has the Scoops

You'll first notice that I added a couple of new sites on the left hand side. First, is Michael Litos' always terrific coverage of the CAA at CAA Hoops. Second, I have been meaning to add the often witty Defiantly Dutch site link of Jerry Beach to our site and I finally got around to doing that.

First, check out Beach's posting on CAA Predictions. Then check out Litos' site for the Coaches Poll and CAA television coverage. Nice to see the Charleston Classic is back. It's kind of funny seeing where the coaches think everyone is going to finish. I am going to give away a little bit of my CAA preview here. I think they have VCU too high and James Madison too low. Everything else seems almost right (I also think Hofstra is a little too low and ODU a little too high - more on that in my CAA preview).

But three weeks from today, at this time I will be on a flight to Kansas City, eventually heading to Lawrence, Kansas. Preseason Number One Kansas vs. Number One in My Heart Hofstra (hey, you have to be true to your school). CAN NOT WAIT!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Around for Binghamton

Earlier this year on my blog, I noted a couple of articles about the shady doings at Binghamton, including Kyle Whelliston's commentary about "the hired guns" that Binghamton brought in. The New York Times article from February is a much more scathing account of what coach Kevin Broadus, with university blessing, did as far as recruit players with checkered backgrounds. Broadus' fellow America East coaches were so sickened by Binghamton's questionable tactics that they unanimously voted as a block for Marcus Blakely for America East Player of the Year over many considered the best player in the America East, the Bearcats' D.J. Rivera. Rivera, the Bearcats leading scorer, averaged 20 points per game for Binghamton last season.

Well, you reap what you sow and it's come back at Binghamton in spades. First, guard Emanuel Mayben, the Bearcats third leading scorer and assist leader, was arrested on possession and attempted distribution of cocaine. Mayben was immediately dismissed from the team. Then after Binghamton University President Lois DeFleur noted in a prepared statement that "This behavior does not reflect the quality of our program and the hundreds of student athletes at Binghamton University," five other Binghamton players, including Rivera and Malik Allen, the team's fourth leading scorer, were dismissed from the team.

One of the other players dismissed was Rutgers' transfer Cory Chandler, who averaged 11.5 points as a freshman at Rutgers, but lost playing time during his sophomore year. Chandler ended up being dismissed from Rutgers due to a violation of athletic department policy. Now Chandler has been dismissed again from another athletic program.

Then the man who hired Kevin Broadus, Binghamton Athletic Director, Joel Thirer, resigned shortly after the dismissal of the six Binghamton players. In a press statement that announced Thirer's resignation, DeFleur stated that she has directed Broadus to provide her with a recruitment and supervision plan for the basketball team. She also said an external consultant also will audit the athletic program to make sure it complies with America East and NCAA policies and procedures.

Then, it was announced that the State University of New York would pursue an independent review of Binghamton's athletic program following the dismissals of the six basketball team members. The SUNY Chancellor. Nancy Zimpher, who as president at Cincinnati University was responsible for the dismissal of former basketball coach Bob Huggins, announced that an executive committee of the Board of Trustees would over see the audit. The audit will be led by retired New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye (who I have actually met when she has spoken in the past at Hofstra Law School).

However, the Bearcats men's basketball dam continued to spring leaks as it was then next reported by newly appointed Interim Athletic Director Jim Norris that Broadus violated NCAA rules with illegal contact of prospective recruits. This resulted in Binghamton suspending off campus recruiting for the men's basketball team. As Andy Katz reported, the violations were apparently due to Broadus speaking to two prep guards on the first day of the evaluation period, an absolute no-no in NCAA recruiting rules.

Finally, the Bearcats tried to plug the dam leaks by placing Broadus on an indefinite paid leave of absence. Norris named assistant coach Mark Macon (yes the former Temple guard) as interim head coach.

The amazing thing about this all was that all these events occurred in the span of less than one month. Once Mayben was arrested and dismissed, it was like knocking down a wall of dominoes with the Binghamton team. Basically, this is the risk you take by taking second and third chances with players. Katz' article notes a comment by Dennis Wolff, former head coach of Boston University questioning why would Broadus do this with an America East team stating "It's a mid-major league that gets one bid"

It's a good question, but I think I have a good answer. That answer lies simply in the first paragraph of that New York Times Article I mentioned above;
Sitting 10 rows up at midcourt, Binghamton University’s president, Lois B. DeFleur, and athletic director, Joel Thirer, can look around the $33 million campus events center and see their dream of Division I men’s basketball unfold.

I remember being at the Binghamton Events Center back in November of 2004 when the Events Center in Vestal had just recently opened up. My friend Tony Terentieff and I saw Hofstra defeat Binghamton 76-63. This was a year before I started writing my blog. I remember noting to Tieff at the time that it was a really nice arena (minus the scoreboard which didn't have a large digital screen but had the old moving advertising screen boards instead). But I wondered also why was this arena built, considering it wasn't even half full that night. I mean Binghamton was never known for its athletics.

Well as the Times article notes, "The Bearcats finally have what DeFleur and Thirer have yearned for since ignoring a faculty senate vote and pushing the athletic program to Division I in 2001". It's really the vision that DeFleur, a former college basketball player, and the now former AD Thirer wanted. A Division I SUNY athletics school like Albany, Stony Brook and Buffalo. But they wanted a more - an NCAA Tournament team. And thus the deal with the devil, Broadus.

Here's the kicker. Outside of Albany's famed NCAA tournament game against UConn in 2006 and Buffalo's first winning Bowl season in college football this past season, these three schools really haven't been on the Division I athletic spotlight. Stony Brook is known for it's academics not it's athletics. And they are all either America East schools or in Buffalo's case, a member of the Mid American Conference. Chances are they never will truly be in the athletic spotlight, well in a positive sense. And there's nothing wrong with that.

However, by giving leeway to Broadus and his questionable recruiting tactics, Thirer and DeFleur have now put Binghamton in the national spotlight, of course in a negative way. For the past month, thanks to all these stories, Binghamton has been featured on ESPN's College Basketball home page. Binghamton now has its name along with Memphis as being the examples of "What Not to Do in College Basketball Recruiting".

Not exactly the spotlight DeFleur and Thirer were looking for eight years ago. But when they hired Broadus, that was the risk they took. They got the NCAA tournament glory and the filled to capacity $33 million arena they were looking for with the Binghamton Men's team (they sold out their America East Championship win vs UMBC). But the price they paid will set back their program and the University's name for years to come.

This will probably result in DeFleur's eventual resignation. She and Thirer allowed this to happen. The Times article clearly shows Broadus' recruited players that had shaky academic backgrounds and the questionable "diploma mill schools" from which Broadus recruited players.

I'll close by what Patrick Nero, the America East Commissioner stated about Binghamton in the Times article. He stated he had spoken with the Binghamton administration about Binghamton’s off-court issues and then said the following;

“I don’t know how I’ll feel a year from now or six months from now. Certainly there have been signs there that made me concerned.”"

Nero couldn't have been more Nostradamus if he tried. Wonder how he feels now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Hardwood is Back and Kansas is Booked!

Now that the Minnesota Twins won an epic extra inning game against the Detroit Tigers yesterday, that win marks the end of the MLB regular season. It also marks the beginning of our season, the college basketball season. I am sure you are saying, "What do you mean? College basketball doesn't start until the middle of next month!!"

Well, oh contrare, it is the start of the college basketball season for me. Yesterday I got a phone call from Daniel Solow, the Assistant Athletic Director at Hofstra. Daniel, a good guy who I have met several times, was calling me about my season tickets. See, Hofstra, like many other schools, does a re-seating of their basketball seats every few years and this was the year for the latest re-seating. This is based on various criteria, such as how many years you have been a season ticket holder, being a member of the Hofstra Pride Club, the University's alumni booster group, donations to the Pride Club etc etc. If you are wondering, I have had season tickets for the past eight years, and I am a member of the Pride Club (which means I have donated a decent amount of money to the University that I call home. :-)).

Well, the last time they had the re-seating a few years ago, I lost the seats I once had due to being lower on the above criteria. Those seats were lower level mid court on the same side as the team benches. I had witnessed many special games in those seats, especially the magical 2005-06 run Hofstra had that year.

So the evening that I went to get my new seats, Mark Cox, the former Hofstra assistant AD, who I know well, knew I wasn't happy. But all that changed. He brought me to the opposite of the court, Section 111, row D. He told me that he liked these seats even better than the ones I previously had.

He was so right. The seats were mid court, lower than my previous seats and actually have even helped in my blog posts. That's because the seats allow you get to see the coaches and the players on the other side, a view I didn't have when sitting on the other side. You get to see a lot of the emotion on the team benches and even get to see how the coaches are managing the game. And there is nothing better than watching the antics of Bruiser Flint during a Hofstra-Drexel game. Can't thank Mark Cox enough for those seats.

So when Daniel called yesterday, I knew he was calling about the re-seating. It was a very quick conversation. "So Gary, would you like to keep the same seats or move to another section". My reply, "I'll gladly keep the same seats". Daniel replied "I thought so." When my friends Mal and Tieff, my compadres in Hofstra basketball, heard the news, they were quite happy!

So thus, my college basketball season started on a great note. Daniel even had me call Maria Corvino, who I also know and is always pleasant to talk to on the Preseason NIT tickets at Storrs. Thanks Daniel!

But actually, my season started even sooner last week. This is when I booked my flight for Kansas City and my hotel for Lawrence Kansas on November 13. Yup, I am going to be at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas for the start of the basketball season for both Kansas and Hofstra. My friend Grant Hayden, a KU alum, has already got mid-court seats. It should be a rocking good time. I already even have my headline for my blog posting the day after that game. :-)