Monday, December 11, 2017

Fairfield progressing toward grand vision as MAAC play approaches

Fairfield's start to season has included stern non-conference tests, but Sydney Johnson is ultimately encouraged by what Stags' recent trends have projected as MAAC play beckons. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

BROOKLYN -- The future is bright.

To those who follow Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson on social media, those four words have been a familiar refrain as the affable optimist has rebounded from three lackluster seasons to reposition the Stags among the top half of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. With the infusion of a talented freshman class and arrival of junior college transfer Ferron Flavors, Jr. to complement senior guard Tyler Nelson, selected as the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year in October, Johnson's enthusiastic mantra remained a popular rally cry for a program whose NCAA Tournament drought is nearing the start of a third decade.

March grandeur and conference tournament glory is still further out on the horizon, especially with league play still more than two weeks away from commencing, but Fairfield seems to be getting into a groove at an opportune time, with Sunday's victory over LIU Brooklyn ending a three-game losing streak to provide a pick-me-up of sorts going into a three-game homestand that begins on Saturday when Old Dominion comes to Alumni Hall.

"We've been on the ropes a bit with three tough games," Johnson said with regard to losses to Wright State and Wagner by a combined three points before a third straight setback at Houston. "But I've got 16 guys in the locker room that are completely bought in, and all along the way, they're all together, so I'm really proud of them."

Tyler Nelson has picked up where he left off to begin senior season, leading Fairfield in scoring after being selected as MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Initially projected as a strong contender to win the MAAC immediately following the final buzzer of last year's national championship game, the Stags' hopes took a slight hit when guards Curtis Cobb and Jerry Johnson, Jr. decided to transfer, landing at Massachusetts and Chattanooga, respectively. In their place, though, stands a trio of promising newcomers in Flavors; a sophomore, and a pair of freshmen in Jesus Cruz and Wassef Methnani, and that does not count fellow rookies Kevin Senghore-Peterson and Omar El-Sheikh in what Johnson considers to be the best recruiting class he has been able to lure to the Nutmeg State in his six-plus years at the helm. And based on early returns, the new additions have quickly immersed themselves in the unselfish nature of the Fairfield offense, as Sunday's win was a total team effort where as many as seven players could have scored 10 or more points had it not been for foul trouble.

"The kids can play," Johnson proclaimed, referencing the impact of the new faces on a roster where Flavors and Cruz are the second and third-leading scorers behind Nelson. "They're not scared of big moments. Our big four (Nelson, Jerome Segura, Jonathan Kasibabu and Matija Milin) have been more aggressive so that the supporting cast can do their thing, but I think the future's bright with those guys."

"We're going to need all hands on deck," he declared as Old Dominion and New Hampshire serve as the final non-league tuneups for the Stags before Saint Peter's comes to Bridgeport to kick off MAAC play on December 28. "I just think we're looking closer and closer to what I want offensively in terms of sharing the ball, knowing Tyler's our main guy, but a lot of other guys can get involved. And defensively, we're working well together, so we're taking steps in the right direction. I'm hoping that we can continue that growth. We'll just take it one game at a time, but I like that we're looking closer to the team that I envisioned when we first started all this."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fordham MBB Recap and Doubleheader Photo Gallery

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BRONX, NY -- On a snowy afternoon more suited to hot chocolate, a basketball doubleheader was the order of the day. Instead of a good book or movie, the accent on this afternoon was on defense. Fordham's women hosted Iona in the opener, while the men entertained St. Francis Brooklyn.

In the first game, Stephanie Gaitley’s Rams took care of business, posting a 78-48 victory over Iona. While Fordham posted 1.24 points per possession and assisted on 20 of 29 field goals, the head coach's emphasis in this victory was on the defensive end, where they yielded a scant 0.72 points per possession to Iona as the Gaels struggled to get into an offensive rhythm, committing 15 turnovers on the afternoon. In the second game, the Fordham men defeated St. Francis Brooklyn, 76-68. On the offensive end, there were encouraging signs for the Rams, notably Prokop Slanina going for 18 points against a Terrier team making post defense a priority. Head coach Jeff Neubauer was also pleased with David Pekarek’s 10-point 8-rebound outing, but was not thrilled with some of his team’s attention or inattention to defense.

“There were defensive shortcomings the second half,” Neubauer said. “At the half, we talked about not giving up threes, especially to number 14.” Number 14, Jalen Jordan, scored 18 points, making three of five shots from deep in the process. He drew the praise of Neubauer for his range and scoring ability. On the other side, it was a case of giving up “shots we do not want to give up,” per Neubauer. A silver lining for the now 4-5 Rams was forcing 18 Terrier turnovers. As Neubauer noted, though, getting steals (13) and disrupting opposing offenses into miscues is something Fordham does as well as anyone in the nation. The win was to be savored. Those thoughts of perimeter defense would have Neubauer back looking at and seriously analyzing tape, and soon.

On this afternoon with both Fordham teams winning, it was quite interesting to observe and see how defense worked into the equation. With the women, satisfaction for a job well done. On the men’s side, a definite need to search for answers immediately, with a trip to Rutgers on tap Tuesday night.

Photo Gallery (all photos by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Fordham retooling with youth and experience, taking one game at a time

Now in her junior season, Lauren Holden has become one of Fordham's veteran leaders as Rams usher in youth movement while remaining competitive in Atlantic 10. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BRONX, NY -- Entering the locker room at halftime, the first thing Lauren Holden did was go to the grease board.

Holden, Fordham's junior guard, simply wrote "0-0" on the board. It was a definitive reminder to the Rams that celebrating would have to wait. Granted, Stephanie Gaitley's club brought a commanding 34-14 lead over visiting Iona into the intermission, but the message was clear. Twenty minutes of basketball remained. Consider Holden's note as taken to heart, as the Rams went on to post a 78-48 victory over the Gaels to improve to 5-3.

“Lauren has really become a leader for us,” Gaitley said, “as has G’mrice Davis.” Davis, Fordham's senior forward, dominated with a game-high 26 points and 16 rebounds. Beyond Holden’s halftime inspiration and Davis’ sterling exploits, this was a total team effort that excited Gaitley, as the Rams assisted on 20 of 29 field goals, controlled the boards (44-27), and forced the Gaels into 15 turnovers.

“When you defend and shoot well, you should win by 10,” Gaitley said. “We had no let up today, and that was coming off a tough loss at Penn State.”

Fordham led Penn State for most of the game. They wilted in the stretch, coming home on the short end of a 65-60 decision. “We outshot and outrebounded them,” Gaitley said. “In the end, we didn’t win. Those last ten minutes, they just wore us down. We can’t get angered from the effort. “It’s a game we can grow from.”

With a roster including five freshmen, growth and maturation are key words on Rose Hill. It is difficult to pinpoint a marquee yearling as a standout talent. Instead, this is a group collectively learning and improving.

“Our young players are learning,” Gaitley said. “Each day, it is fun to see another one of them step up. Today it was nice to see Ralene (Kwiatkowski) give us some good minutes off the bench.”

Zara Jillings, a 5-foot-11 guard came up with eleven rebounds on this afternoon. Joanna King, a 6-3 post player out of Germany had been sick and still contributed 6 points in nine minutes. Guards Katie McLaughlin and Kendell Heremaia had the opportunity to get more playing time in this contest. Breanna Cavanaugh scored 14 points while handing out three assists, showing added value by occasionally running the point, allowing Holden to move to the two guard slot. “This was a game we were able to get minutes for everyone," Gaitley said.

The freshman orientation, though, goes far beyond games. It is a daily process of teaching. “We make it a point to talk with each of them as much as possible,” Gaitley said.

Five non-conference games prior to the Atlantic 10 opener against George Washington on New Year’s Eve remain. Highlighted are a trip to St. John’s on Tuesday and home date with UCLA on the 20th of December.

“Our non-conference schedule always challenges us and prepares for conference play,” Gaitley said. “We scheduled with the idea of having a few veterans we lost here with us. This is a young group, and the young kids are doing very well responding to the challenge." A summer trip to Italy and Spain helped, as the first-year players were able to learn the system and indoctrinate into the program.  

The Atlantic 10 will be competitive. Gaitley is not about to prognosticate the conference race. Her concern is Fordham’s development.

“Right now,” she said. “The kids have responded. Especially after a setback, they are quick to bounce back.”

Chaise Daniels to take leave of absence from Quinnipiac

Chaise Daniels, thought of to be Quinnipiac's best player entering season, will take personal leave from program just weeks before Bobcats begin MAAC play. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Quinnipiac's work in progress continues on.

After following up a 21-point loss to Lafayette with a thrilling victory over Columbia, which was then erased by a close loss to Hartford, it was announced Saturday that the Bobcats would be without the services of senior forward Chaise Daniels for the foreseeable future, as the Connecticut native is taking a personal leave from the program.

"At this time, Chaise Daniels is taking a personal leave from our men's basketball team," head coach Baker Dunleavy said in a statement. "Our program will continue to support him through this process."

A native of Meriden, Connecticut, a short distance from Quinnipiac's Hamden campus, Daniels had been averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, with the former enough to solidify him as the Bobcats' second-leading scorer behind Cameron Young. However, things appeared to take a different turn in Thursday's loss to Hartford, as Daniels was benched in the second half and only registered 13 minutes, showing his frustration by throwing a chair after being given the hook, as was reported by Dylan Fearon of Q30 Television in Hamden.

Initially rumored to be transferring out of the program along with Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss after Dunleavy was hired as Tom Moore's successor at the end of March, Daniels had a change of heart and decided to stick it out for his final campaign. His return paved the way for a preseason all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference third team selection, but the 6-foot-9 forward may not have been the best fit for Dunleavy's offensive scheme, which is very similar to the four-guard attack he helped Jay Wright hone to perfection as an assistant at Villanova before taking over at Quinnipiac. In the Bobcats' last four contests, Daniels has only averaged 19 minutes per game while Abdulai Bundu and Jacob Rigoni, the latter of whom posted a career-high 20 points in the victory against Columbia, have taken on a greater role.

This story will be updated as more details become available.

Ranked for a second time, Seton Hall now guarding its number with extra care

Kevin Willard and Seton Hall have worked to get to their current standing as 19th-ranked team in nation, something that Pirates are now placing greater value in after briefly dropping out of Top 25 last month. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEWARK, NJ -- Throughout his tenure at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard has been, by and large, the type to take every game and every result in stride, not riding too high after a win and not dwelling too far or long on a loss since assuming the reins of the Pirates in 2010.

Therefore, when the eighth-year head coach took a moment Saturday to reflect on how far his program has come; a feeling he has allowed himself to slide into from time to time, following Seton Hall's 90-67 win over VCU, the product of his postgame rumination was a very introspective and poignant assessment of what has been a process spanning multiple seasons, and is now on the precipice of reaching its highest crescendo since the beginning of the century.

"Every day, I wake up and I remind myself it's taken us a long time to get here," Willard humbly declared, with the Pirates set to improve their No. 19 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this coming Monday, moving potentially into their highest placement in the poll since the 2000-01 season, when a No. 7 ranking represented the high water mark in a season where the late Eddie Griffin led Seton Hall to the NCAA Tournament. "This group has worked extremely hard. I have five guys that spent three summers -- they haven't gone home in the summers -- they've been here working, they've been sacrificing. I don't ask them, I don't have any rules on it, I don't tell them that they have to be here. They're driven, and they want it."

Getting to where Seton Hall presently stands has only been half the battle. Ranked to start the season, the Pirates carried the number next to their name for three weeks before losing it in a one-point loss to Rhode Island on Thanksgiving night, a No. 20 standing in the polls having evaporated for a week before victories against Texas Tech and Louisville vaulted the Hall back into the creme de la creme of college basketball. Since then, the Pirates have protected the number much more vigilantly, defending it with the same pride and toughness they take the court with nightly, regardless of whether they receive votes from the media or coaches.

"I talked to them yesterday for about an hour about things given and things earned," said Willard. In life, you're really going to appreciate things that are earned more than things that are given. What I talked to them about was that they've earned this ranking. It wasn't given to them. We've played a tough schedule, had some big wins, we've earned the right to get ranked. And when you earn something, you want to take care of it."

"I always try to teach my guys in life, people are going to give you stuff and you're going to take that and chuck it in the back of your closet," he continued. "But the things that you've earned with your paycheck, that you go out and buy, you're going to appreciate. And I think these guys have really appreciated the fact that they've worked very hard, they've sacrificed a lot to get this, and they don't now want to give it away."

JP's 5 Thoughts: Seton Hall slams VCU for fourth straight win

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, NJ -- The Seton Hall Pirates came home for the Never Forget Tribute Classic on Saturday at Prudential Center and easily handled the VCU Rams by a final score of 90-67. Let's jump right into the thoughts- it's been a while!

1. You Don’t Want To Go To War… With The Pirates
VCU came in known for a number of things, including their pep band (which was outstanding) and their HAVOC pressure defense (more on that in a second). Well, in this game, the Pirates were the team that set the tone with their defense, holding the Rams to 33 percent shooting in the first half. They were good in their rotations, and their energy. Of particular note was how they defended Justin Tillman, VCU’s senior post player and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. They fronted him on most possessions, and through his first nine minutes on the floor had just one point and two rebounds, and had only attempted one shot. It was certainly part of the Pirates’ game plan.

“Even though Tillman ended up with 20, he got a lot late,” said head coach Kevin Willard. “We wanted to, early in the game, make him uncomfortable -- make him take tough shots, not give him an easy look from three. We really wanted to limit (De’Riante Jenkins) as well…limit those two guys and make everyone else score.”

They even scored 43 points in the first half, so the offense wasn’t terrible by any means. But in the second half, Seton Hall’s offense was so good it didn’t matter what the Rams did. The Hall just scored, and scored, and scored, doing it in every way you can think of. They nailed 21 of 33 field goals for a 64 percent clip, and did so almost entirely inside, with just one three-point field goal. For the game? Seton Hall wrecked the Rams with 50 (!) points in the paint.

2. Desi Developed
Desi Rodriguez had yet another outstanding game today with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists, and several excellent decisions and passes on top of that. Coming off a well-deserved Big East Player of the Week nod after outstanding games against ranked opponents Texas Tech and Louisville, it’s pretty safe to say that he’s the Pirates’ MVP so far. Delgado has been Delgado, and Powell’s come far over the last offseason, but night in and night out, it’s Rodriguez that has given opposing teams nightmares.

Think about where he’s come from: He was regarded as the fourth-best guy in his recruiting class after Isaiah Whitehead, Delgado and Khadeen Carrington coming in as a freshman. He was a center at Lincoln High School. And over the last four years, he’s developed into a force both on the wing and inside.

The biggest key? Maturity. He’s no longer a kid out there on the floor, and it shows. Take one particular instance: He forced a three-pointer that missed badly, and on the ensuing defensive trip, he played excellent defense on Mike’l Simms and stayed vertical on the floor, resulting in a blocked shot. He didn’t let the lapse on offense affect his defense, and those are the kind of plays that mature players make.

3. Ball Control
Remember VCU’s HAVOC defense? It didn’t have much bite today. Seton Hall’s ball control was outstanding, with Carrington and Eron Gordon really making good decisions bringing the ball up the floor. As a result, the Pirates committed only 12 turnovers against 20 assists, and took the Rams out of their identity. There were several instances I noticed where the HAVOC was called off, with just token pressure in the backcourt after a score was made, and that’s something I didn’t expect to see.

“We experimented with, like, four different press offenses during the week,” Willard said. “It just wasn’t natural. After watching them on film we said ‘let’s just do what we do’ and have the four-man take it out… space them out as much as possible. And I wanted Desi and Myles up the floor, so that when we did break it, we had guys that could hurt them.”

4. Unselfishness
Seton Hall finished with 20 assists on 35 baskets for the game, a great rate no matter what. But it was how they moved the ball that was impressive tonight. Of the 20 assists, four players had three or more, led by Powell’s five. The shots that the Pirates generated with that unselfishness were quality shots, and the scorers converted those into points. If you like “old-school,” unselfish, team basketball, this was the game for you. Everyone was in on the act, and when Seton Hall moves the ball like they did tonight, and makes the ensuing shots, their defense and individual skill makes them damn near impossible to beat.

5. Things Given And Things Earned
What a couple of weeks this was for the Pirates. This was the toughest portion of their schedule, and although they stumbled against Rhode Island on Thanksgiving, they rebounded immediately by beating Vanderbilt the next night, then beat two ranked teams in a row, including at Willard’s old stomping grounds in Louisville, to regain a national ranking. Seton Hall is now 8-1 on the year, and the schedule has done just what it was intended to do: Toughen the Pirates’ resume up for the long run. Willard had some comments on that, as you might have guessed.

“The schedule’s been tough, it really has,” he said. “The team’s we’re playing are all a lot like us -- they’re tough, hard-nosed… even our two games this week (Saint Peter’s and Rutgers) just because I feel like every team we’ve played has been a tough defensive team. We haven’t played anyone that just lets you run up and down and shoot, and have fun and dunk… it’s been a lot for us to just try and keep our momentum going. I’m really pleased where we are because I think the schedule has tested us, and each game emotionally, we’re there.”

But the most telling quote from Willard came regarding the Hall’s newfound national ranking, as their monster week put them back in the Top 25, and they may be ranked higher than they’ve been in nearly 20 years come Monday thanks to this shellacking. In regards to how the Pirates handled the ranking this time around, Willard had an insightful response.

“We talked about protecting it, and how much it’s important,” Willard said. “I talked to them yesterday for about an hour about things given and things earned, and in life, you’re going to appreciate things that are earned more than things that are given. What I talked to them about is that they’ve earned this ranking, it wasn’t given to them.”

“When you earn something, you want to take care of it,” the Pirates’ skipper added. “I always try to teach my guys that in life, people are going to give you stuff, and you’re going to take that, chuck it in the back of the closet, but the things that you’ve earned with your paycheck that you go out and buy, you’re really going to appreciate (those things), and I think that these guys appreciate that they’ve worked hard, they’ve sacrificed a lot to get this and they don’t now want to give it away.”

Seton Hall welcomes Saint Peter’s to South Orange on Tuesday night in their next contest at Walsh Gymnasium. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Kevin Willard quote book: VCU

On handling VCU's ball pressure:
"I was just telling Gary Cohen -- we experimented with like, four different press offenses during the week. We started off having Desi (Rodriguez) take it out, then the other guard take it out, it just wasn't natural. And really after watching them on film, it was more or less let's do what we do and have the four man take it out, really space them out as best as possible. I wanted Desi and Myles (Powell) on the floor so when we did break it, we had guys that could hurt them, and I thought Khadeen (Carrington) and Eron (Gordon) did a great job of just taking their time spacing them out and making good decisions."

On balanced scoring and how much he expected it during the season:
"This is -- I told the guys the other day that last year, we played a lot 3-on-5, and as good as Madison (Jones) was for us defensively; which he was -- we were a better defensive team because we had Madison and Ish (Sanogo) out there a lot -- we struggled to score sometimes because we played 3-on-5, and I told all the older guys, I said, 'You're going to have to get used to the fact that we've added Myles Powell to the equation and he's gonna get 16, 17 points a game.' When he's open, he doesn't miss, and he does so many good things with the basketball. I said, 'We're going to be a balanced team.' We're still going to have nights where Angel (Delgado) gets 20 and 20, but you have to understand with adding another scorer -- that's why everyone keeps saying, 'Well, Angel's numbers are down.' Angel's numbers are about the same they were last year at this time: Same amount of touches, he has more assists, but it's just the fact we've added somebody that's going to get 16 a game."

On plans to limit VCU's offense:
"We worried about one guy and one guy only. Even though (Justin) Tillman ended up with 20, he got a lot late, we wanted early in the game to make him uncomfortable, make him take tough shots, not let him get an easy look from three. And obviously, De'Riante (Jenkins), we really wanted to limit him. I really thought he was a weapon, and take those two guys, make everyone else score, I thought we had a really good chance."

On Myles Powell:
"Myles had as good a summer as probably anybody in a long time in this program. All our guys had good summers and worked hard, but Myles -- I've said this 100 times -- Myles got addicted to his body, and when you lose the amount of weight that he lost, and then you start putting muscle on that like he did this summer, his body transformation has helped his game transform. He'll keep evolving as a player because he keeps working at it, but I think the biggest thing is he's got so much confidence in his body that he's able to do things he just wasn't able to do before."

On non-conference schedule:
"I think the schedule's been tough, I mean, it really has. I think we're playing -- the teams we're playing are a lot like us. They're all tough, hard-nosed, even our next two this week, I'm dreading these two next week; Saint Peter's and Rutgers, just because I feel like every team we've played has been a hard, tough-nosed defensive team, and there's been -- we haven't played anybody that lets you just run up and down and shoot, have fun and dunk, and this is fun -- you have to worry about them offensively. Every game has been -- Texas Tech, Rhode Island, they're all just very well-coached, defensive-minded teams. It's been a lot for us to kind of keep our momentum going, and I'm really pleased with where we are because I think the schedule has been -- it's tested us, and I like the fact that our guys, each game, emotionally, we're there. I think the only time we really weren't there emotionally, and I'm going to blame it on Brooklyn, is just the Rhode Island game. We weren't ready emotionally. That's Brooklyn's fault and it's my fault."

On handling pressure of Seton Hall's No. 19 ranking:
"When we got ranked, we talked about protecting it and how much it's important, and I talked to them yesterday for about an hour about things given and things earned. In life, you're really going to appreciate things that are earned more than things that are given. What I talked to them about was that they've earned this ranking. It wasn't given to them. We've played a tough schedule, had some big wins, we've earned the right to get ranked. And when you earn something, you want to take care of it. I always try to teach my guys in life, people are going to give you stuff, and you're going to take that and chuck it in the back of your closet; but the things that you've earned with your paycheck, that you go out and buy, you're going to appreciate. And I think these guys have really appreciated the fact that they've worked very hard, they've sacrificed a lot to get this, and they don't now want to give it away."

On how far he and Seton Hall have come on the precipice of their highest ranking since the 2000-01 season:
"Someone just asked me that question, and I have to be honest: I was part of the problem for a while. I've been here eight years. I've got to take some ownership of the fact that my first three or four years here were not the greatest. We were ranked my second year, but then year three was a disaster, year four, we were okay and year five, we should have been good. It hasn't been easy getting here, and I've got to take some -- every day I wake up and I remind myself it's taken us a long time to get here. It drives me to come to work every day, but I still was part of the problem. I'm not taking any credit for it. This group has worked extremely hard. This group has sacrificed, they've spent -- I have five guys that have spent three summers -- they haven't gone home in the summers, they've been here working, they've been sacrificing. Angel Delgado has been a workhorse, Khadeen Carrington, Desi, Ish, Mike Nzei -- these guys have really sacrificed. They haven't gone home in three years. They've been very driven, and these young guys -- Myles Powell, I mean, he hasn't gone home in two years now, because he wants to make it and he wants this program to be great. I don't ask them, I don't have any rules on it, I don't tell them that they have to be here. They're driven and they want it, and these young guys have been phenomenal for us. I can't tell you -- the freshmen might not tell you they're doing a lot, but the freshmen have been phenomenal."

Kentucky mauls Monmouth at MSG

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

NEW YORK -- Kentucky rolled to an easy 93-76 win over Monmouth Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, routing the Hawks in the Citi Hoops Classic.

After trailing 5-4 in the opening minutes, Kentucky went on a 17-3 run capped by PJ Washington free throws to make it 21-8 at the 12:42 mark of the first half. Washington put up 16 points in the first half, finished off by his dunk with 1:33 left that made it 52-25, and they took a 54-31 lead into halftime. He finished with 20 points on 5-of-8 shooting, with six rebounds and one assist to go along with an astounding four blocks.

Hamidou Diallo owned the second half, as he scored 15 of his team-high 23 points in the second frame. He shot 8-of-13 overall, including a three-pointer, with four rebounds, an assist, and two steals. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a big day for the Wildcats as well, with 23 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 2-for-4 on threes, nine assists, and six rebounds. For Monmouth, Deion Hammond had 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting and 4-of-11 on threes, and Micah Seaborn had 18 points on 5-for-14 shooting and 4-of-10 from behind the arc, with five rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari said of Washington's day, "It was good. Look, I always come back to this and I've always tried to be this guy. Individual teams have got to improve before your team can get better. So, PJ lost that weight and all of a sudden he didn't look like the same guy. I wasn't sure if it would be this game, but he practiced this way."

Calipari continued on the rest of the team, "Hami (Diallo) being a more willing passer, doing less, looks way better. We still have a couple of the pieces. Kevin Knox struggled today, wasn't one of his better games, but that's fine. It's good for the soul to go for 1-for-9. What you would learn if you go 1-for-5, would you shoot jumpers or just keeping going the basket until they foul you and get baskets? Or, you end up going 1-for-9, which is what he did. It's a good lesson for him.

"There were some good things from the game. (We had) 19 turnovers, my guess is 10 or 12 of them were unforced. They're not even forced turnovers. Not like they put us in a bad position, they were just, we gave them the ball. We've got to stop it. We're better, the things that we worked on, the press and some other things that looked better. How we were trying to play, but we're still not capable of playing 40 minutes."

"Monmouth, I tell you, and I told (Coach) King (Rice) prior to, they've lost games, like, I can't believe how they've lost. Four overtimes, buzzer beaters, a tip out versus a free throw miss. They have played, and again, in the first half, there were spells where they struggled, but then you see them at the end, how they played, they're going to be good in their league, and I said to him, you know, I've watched the games and the tapes, and he says to me, we could've won this, won that one, but that's how this stuff goes."

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and new manager Aaron Boone, pictured among the Madison Square Garden crowd: (Photo by Jason Schott/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Shane Richards still living his dream and fighting long odds

A key component to two MAAC championship teams during his time at Manhattan, Shane Richards is making a professional living in NBA G League by outworking his competitors and embracing challenge head-on, much as he did in Riverdale. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

UNIONDALE, NY -- The uniform and number have changed since his last appearance around these parts. 

The game, the fight, and the endless commitment, however, have not.

Plying his wares as a rookie in the professional ranks, Shane Richards may not be recognizable to the casual observer while he charters his maiden voyage in the NBA G League as a member of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the developmental affiliate of the Houston Rockets. But for those who know the native New Yorker well and have watched him grow from token shooter to all-conference talent during his time at Manhattan College, where he became the school's most prolific three-point shooter before graduating in 2016, the only noticeable difference is the red on his jersey where the Jasper green once was.

Drafted by the Erie BayHawks in last October's G League draft before being traded to Rio Grande Valley shortly thereafter, Richards' initial attempt at a first professional campaign was shelved due to torn cartilage in his knee, a malady he admitted to possibly having played through during his senior year at Manhattan. But in typical Richards fashion, he battled back, and now revisits the injury and rehabilitation as a turning point in his career.

"Thinking back now, I probably should have just ripped it off and played anyway," he said following the Vipers' win over the Long Island Nets Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum. "It really made me a better person and better player as well. I'm more mentally tough, I'm physically the strongest I've been in a while, and I'm actually grateful for that experience. I really think that it changed me as a person, and it was for the better."

A veteran in the sense of having to consistently earn whatever he has achieved, but still a youthful; yet battle-hardened, 23 years of age, Richards' recovery and presence on a roster filled with collegiate standouts and legitimate professional talents has placed him in a favorable position as he carves out the next chapter in a career dedicated to not only perseverance, but also seizing any and all opportunity within his reach.

"It's awesome," he said of the transition from the college game into the professional level. "I really don't see too much of a difference, obviously the game and the rule changes, but otherwise, I feel good. We're in a great place right now."

"You have to fight for everything, especially in this league," he reiterated, not sugarcoating the commitment needed to make a living in the highest vestige of basketball. "Coming from a small school and with all the talent we have in this locker room, every day I have to fight for minutes, and I'm fine doing that. I've been doing that my whole career. I'm having a great experience, I get paid to play basketball and travel the country. I really have no complaint. I shouldn't even be here right now, technically, after the injury I had. I believe if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life."

Richards' saga began with a reputation burnished through shooting at the famed 92nd Street Y, just blocks from his house, and was further enhanced by his lack of a Division I scholarship offer before signing with the Jaspers in the 2012-13 offseason. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that having to scrap is seemingly the only way he knows in the basketball world, a relentless work ethic he credits Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello for helping cultivate long before the realization of playing professionally entered his stream of consciousness.

"The main thing I would say he helped me with, more than anything, is just the mental aspect of the game," Richards said of Masiello and his impact. "Before I came to college, I didn't even know that existed. I was just the kid who played off emotions and was always trying to prove myself and all that stuff. I didn't understand it at first with him, but as I look back on it now, I'm extremely grateful for how he coached me. Now that I look back on it, I think it made me a stronger person mentally, for sure, and that's really carrying over. I believe my mind is bulletproof right now, honestly. Nothing fazes me anymore, especially coming from what I had to overcome last year. The fact that I'm here, man, I'm blessed."

Villanova, Syracuse win in Jimmy V Classic as Valvano's legacy remains strong

Jim Valvano's iconic ESPY Awards speech aired on Madison Square Garden jumbotron during Tuesday's Jimmy V Classic, a tribute to his indelible legacy and continuous efforts to raise awareness for cancer research. (Photo by Jason Schott/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

NEW YORK -- One of the premier early-season tournaments to open the college basketball season, the Jimmy V Classic, was held Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The evening is in honor of legendary coach and Queens native Jim Valvano, who coached at Iona and, most memorably, led North Carolina State to an improbable national title in 1983. After his career ended, Valvano was a broadcaster at ESPN and ABC for a few seasons, working with Dick Vitale and John Saunders.

Valvano is remembered for the inspirational and memorable speech he gave in 1993 at the ESPY Awards, telling listeners to laugh, think, and cry each day, saying, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” That speech was run at The Garden before the doubleheader Tuesday night. He gave the speech less than two months before his death from adenocarcinoma, a type of many glandular cancers. He was just 47 years old.

The Jimmy V Classic is held in tribute to him, and in support of cancer victims and survivors, raising money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research (jimmyv.org).

Villanova 88, Gonzaga 72
This was a big matchup to start off the night, as Villanova won the national championship in 2016 and Gonzaga was last season's runner-up, losing to North Carolina in the title game.

This game started off even, as they were tied at 17 midway through the first half. From there, Villanova went on an 11-0 run and then an elongated 15-3 run capped by a Phil Booth layup that made it 32-20 at the 4:20 mark of the first half. The Villanova lead ballooned to 17, at 41-24, on a Donte DiVincenzo three at the 2:30 mark, and they took a 43-30 lead into the half.

In the second half, the Wildcats maintained a 10-point edge, and the highlight was a Mikal Bridges dunk in which he started his leap halfway down the lane at the 8:10 mark to make it 66-51. They led by as many as 19, 86-67, on their way to an 88-72 win.

Villanova, who improved to 9-0, was led by Bridges, who had 28 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, including 5-for-9 on three-pointers, with six rebounds and two blocks. Phil Booth had 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting overall and 2-for-5 on threes with two rebounds and two assists. Jalen Brunson had 12 points (5-for-9 FG), five assists and five rebounds. Omari Spellman had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of the game, "We beat a really good team. That was a very difficult team to prepare for, play against. They shot 48 percent and I thought we played well defensively. They have a lot of answers, but we played well. We played through foul trouble and it was really leadership, great leadership. Jalen Brunson, Mikal and Phil, these are our leaders and they got our guys ready to play. This was a good game for us."

Wright said of the evolution of Bridges, "He's a real high-character guy. He probably could have done more of this last year and the year before, but he just gradually got better and better and he knows it this year. He's the leader. He's the captain, so he's playing with a lot more freedom, 'aggressiveness,' as he says. Last year he would pass up a lot of those shots just to get it to Kris (Jenkins) or Josh (Hart), not because he wasn't confident, he just knows it's his turn and he's ready for it. He's worked hard to improve his game and he's ready mentally and he's ready skill-wise."

Wright said of having Booth back with the team, "He brings a lot. He's probably the most, they all like each other, but he's the most revered guy on the team, the most respected. He just has a great relationship with everybody on the team. He played hurt his sophomore year, everybody knows that and they respect him for it. Scored 20 in the (2016 NCAA) championship game with all the pressure on him. He's just a really well-respected guy, so it really permeates our team, his confidence having him back."

Syracuse 72, UConn 63
The nightcap rekindled the old Big East rivalry between Syracuse and UConn, but it was obvious who the better team is now.

Syracuse dominated this one throughout, and took the game over in the first half, when they opened up a 17-point edge, 37-20, on a Tyus Battle three with 3:04 left in the opening frame. The Orange led 40-29 at halftime, and UConn never got closer than six points in the second half, as Syracuse won by nine, 72-63.

Syracuse improved to 7-0 on the season, and they were led by Battle, who had 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field, including 3-of-8 on three-pointers, with three assists and two rebounds. Matthew Moyer had 18 points (7-of-9 shooting, 1-of-2 threes) and eight rebounds. Oshae Brissett had 16 points, including 12 in the first half, on 5-of-13 shooting, with 10 rebounds to give him a double-double on the night. UConn, who dropped to 6-3, was led by Jalen Adams, who had 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 3-of-6 from behind the arc, two rebounds, and two assists.

UConn's record is a misnomer in a way, as their wins are against Colgate, Stony Brook, Boston University, Oregon, Columbia, and Monmouth; while their three losses have been to far better teams, Michigan State (77-57) and Arkansas (102-67).