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."