Now in his third year at St. Francis, Glenn Braica will have de facto homecourt advantage as Terriers face St. John's at Barclays Center tomorrow. (Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)
Tomorrow's tripleheader at the Barclays Center includes a traditional New York program as its opening act and the third-ranked team in the nation as its main event, but sandwiched in the middle is a clash of Brooklyn and Queens; one in which the head coach of one program faces the school he was once an assistant at, as Glenn Braica and St. Francis make the ten-minute trip from their Brooklyn Heights campus to meet Steve Lavin and the 7-3 St. John's Red Storm.
Braica and the Terriers will be looking to avenge a 63-48 loss to the Johnnies last season at Carnesecca Arena, and just as I did yesterday with Fordham coach Tom Pecora, I had the honor of meeting with the reigning Northeast Conference Coach of the Year prior to the next game on his ledger.
Jaden Daly: Eight games in, and 2-6 is not exactly the greatest start, but it's been a pretty strong schedule. What is your impression of the team so far?
Glenn Braica: We're doing some very good things, but we haven't gotten payback, and we need to get better. There's things we're doing well that we're probably ahead of last year, but there are still some things we've got to clean up and get better at to have success the rest of the way. I do think that even though we haven't gotten much payback, we are doing some good things.
JD: Has losing Stefan Perunicic and Justin Newton, but still bringing back most of the team and adding two newcomers changed the team dynamic?
GB: Well, there's always struggle...I don't think you get where you need to go without struggle, but the teams always change. Guys leave, new guys come in, and teams just evolve. I think we're going to be fine, we have a lot of potential, but it's one thing to say that and another to go out and do it. Those guys (Justin and Stefan) had a lot of games under their belt and they obviously helped us win a lot of games, but I still think we're fairly talented, and have a chance to have more upside than the team last year. Right now, we need to lock in and just get better in a lot of different ways.
JD: Talk about the continuity in guard play, having Dre Calloway back for another year, Brent Jones, and even some of the guards on the bench.
GB: We have guys in different roles. We had a lot of guys play last year, but they were in different roles, so there's still somewhat of an adjustment period because they're asked to do a lot more this year. With Dre, he got back after the summer, was healthy and playing great in the preseason, and then got hurt, was out a month, then came back and got hurt again, so he's been kind of interrupted a little bit in his recovery process. It's kind of hurt us as a team because we haven't had continuity at that position, but it's something you have to deal with. It happens and you move on, and as he gets healthier, we'll be better off.
JD: How much of an improvement has Kevin Douglas made from his freshman season?
GB: He's played very well, and that position was a concern for us coming into the season. He's done a great job with it, taking that spot and doing well. His shot selection has improved from last year, his skill level has improved, and he's athletic and defend guys at a pretty high level in this league. We're looking for him to just get better and better, and he has to work every day in order to do that.
JD: You look at some of the big rebounders in the Northeast Conference, (Ike) Azotam and (Ousmane) Drame at Quinnipiac, (Julian) Boyd and (Jamal) Olasewere at LIU, and now you have one of your own in Jalen Cannon. How much progress has he made, and as far as some of the great players in this conference, where might he rank?
GB: He has a knack to get the ball, offensively and defensively off the glass. He's just a very good rebounder, has great hands. Some guys just have a feel to do it, and he does. The early season results have been very good, he's putting up big numbers on the glass, he's being very aggressive offensively; which we're happy with, and he's just continuing to improve as a player.
JD: Against St. John's tomorrow, a team that's a lot more athletic from when you and I were there, (Glenn's first year as Norm Roberts' top assistant was my freshman year there as a student) what do you expect from St. John's and what challenges do they present for you?
GB: Well, they're very good in transition, they really push the ball up the court. They have a great shot blocker, the freshman (Chris) Obekpa, who's putting up ridiculous numbers as far as blocked shots are concerned. He changes the game in that way. I think you've got to limit their transition opportunities, you've got to limit their turnovers, because they're very good at converting turnovers into baskets, then you've got to guard their ability to go off the bounce. (D'Angelo) Harrison's a great scorer, and they have a lot of other guys that can score in different ways, so we just have to go out and play our game, be aggressive, and just try to outwork and outplay them in any way we can.
JD: How much has the success of both the Nets and Knicks helped the college game here in the city, and how will the Barclays Center help expand that?
GB: To have a place like that in Brooklyn, if you brought people back from years ago, most people would be shocked, especially in that area. It's just transformed the whole area, and I think that's a result of Brooklyn getting better. It's a different place, a totally different vibe in the area, and it's a great opportunity for kids to play there and for people to experience games there. We're very fortunate to play there and our guys will be jacked up. It's just outstanding to have something like that in Brooklyn.
JD: Does having played at Madison Square Garden last year against LIU Brooklyn with most of that team coming back help them in terms of possibly getting past the jitters of a larger venue with a bigger crowd than they're used to?
GB: I don't know, we'll see tomorrow. I never know how that's going to play out. We played in the Prudential Center last year against Seton Hall and played very well in a similar environment, but this is a whole different deal. You just never know how kids are going to react, if they react the right way, but hopefully we're successful.
St. John's and St. Francis will unfortunately not be televised tomorrow, but we will have updates throughout the day on Twitter.