Monday, January 7, 2013

Midseason Grades For Fordham

Branden Frazier has turned Chris Gaston's early-season knee injury into his own personal showcase for 4-11 Fordham, who hosts Duquesne to open Atlantic 10 play Wednesday.  (Photo courtesy of Hartford Courant)

Conference play has started almost everywhere, with the last batch of league openers being played this week.  Two local teams start their conference ledgers within the next 72 hours, with Hofstra hosting Georgia State at the Mack Center tonight to tip off their CAA schedule, with Fordham opening its Atlantic 10 slate against a Duquesne team that invades Rose Hill in head coach Jim Ferry's homecoming after leaving LIU Brooklyn this offseason.

At 4-11, the Rams have not been the brightest spot on the nonconference radar, but the Rams have shown more than just an occasional flash of brilliance through their first fifteen contests while simultaneously overcoming adversity when Chris Gaston missed four weeks recovering from a surgically repaired torn meniscus.  Head coach Tom Pecora has openly admitted that his team needs to improve in several areas, yet still believes his team is better than their record may indicate.  Having covered this team throughout the season, we have decided to evaluate each player individually; as well as the head coach, and what follows are the nonconference grades for the Rams going into their 2013 A-10 debut in 48 hours at Rose Hill.  Players will be listed in numerical order by jersey number for those of you scoring at home.

Branden Frazier: The junior guard from Brooklyn is without question Fordham's best ball handler, and has undergone a huge improvement from his sophomore to juniot campaigns. Chris Gaston's injury accelerated Frazier's maturation process and ability to be the unquestioned team leader, but Tom Pecora's first Fordham recruit has responded favorably to almost every challenge thrown at him.  With averages of nearly sixteen points and over five assists and four rebounds per game, Frazier has the tendency to do a little bit of everything; even sometimes take ill-advised shots, but even that facet of his game has improved as well.  Frazier's 20-point, 10-assist double-double performance in the Rams' win over Siena still ranks among the best games we have seen from an individual player this season, and without him, Fordham would not have come back to defeat Princeton at the Barclays Center.  Grade: A-

Travion Leonard: As is the case with most freshmen, Leonard is a work in progress.  In some cases, the burgeoning big man looks like a future all-league player, others not so much.  For him to be at this stage after losing at least 60 pounds in the offseason speaks volumes about his determination and conditioning, but what Leonard needs to work on is his ball handling.  Too many possessions for our liking have resulted in him not being able to catch a pass inside or somehow losing grip under the rim and turning it over.  Again, for him to be where he is now is an accomplishment in itself, but now he needs to work on his game just a little more to become the player Pecora envisioned him being.  Grade: B-

Devon "Fatty" McMillan: Fatty transferred just a few weeks ago in the aftermath of Fordham's Holiday Festival loss to St. John's, and didn't get enough playing time following his return from shoulder injuries to prove how much he had improved following a solid freshman campaign. Grade: Incomplete

Jeff Short: Speaking of injuries, Short is now on the shelf after seeing significant minutes off the bench at the start of the season, particularly when Chris Gaston went down.  However, Short attempted to do too much at times despite his impressive rebounding performance against St. John's, and his 2-for-16 outing in the loss to Manhattan was one in which he tried to carry the team early and often when Branden Frazier picked up three fouls in ten minutes.  Short is capable of making shots, but needs a lot of work and has to be used in the right situations upon his return.  Grade: C-

Luka Zivkovic: The Serbian swingman, whom Pecora mentioned specifically when talking about his frontcourt with us at Atlantic 10 media day, has only managed a grand total of 39  minutes through seven games, scoring seven points and has not been out there enough to show what he is made of.  Grade: Incomplete

Nihad Musovic: See Zivkovic and substitute 39 minutes through seven games with five minutes in two games.  The freshman guard hasn't scored, either.  Grade: Incomplete

Jared Fay: Fay's lone contribution to the offense was his late three against UConn, which fans on Fordham message boards have noted kept the Rams within 15 points against Kevin Ollie and the Huskies, but also has not played enough this season.  Grade: Incomplete

Mandell Thomas: Arguably the most underrated contributor to the Ram rotation, and certainly the most pleasant surprise on both sides of the ball.  After starting the year on the bench, Thomas is just now starting to see the fruits of his labor pay off by earning a spot in the starting lineup, and has backed it up with impressive contributions.  The Rochester native may only be averaging five points per game, but is capable of scoring in bunches, and his blocks in the Siena and Monmouth games had Pecora marveling in the press conference after each contest.  This writer for one is very excited to see what Thomas' future holds, as is everyone else associated with Fordham basketball.  Grade: B+

Bryan Smith: As noted in this space throughout the season, Smith has been somewhat of an enigma this year, stepping up in some games, (Siena and Monmouth come to mind right away) but disappearing in some others, namely the Battle of the Bronx against Manhattan where he scored just one point and fouled out.  Pecora has been equally critical of the sophomore from Brooklyn, intimating that he needs to be more confident when taking shots, and his season high 18-point tally against Monmouth is Exhibit A.  Grade: C+

Ryan Rhoomes: Fordham fans rejoiced when it was announced that the one-time Cardozo High School star would be cleared to compete this season just shortly before the season opener against Texas State, but the freshman hasn't had much to celebrate since.  Much like Travion Leonard, there are times where Rhoomes looks like a star in the making, but others where he leaves most fans scratching their heads.  With averages of three points and four rebounds that complement a 6-of-18 free throw stat line, Rhoomes' numbers make him out to be a poor man's Ben Wallace, and his expanding skill set should allow for Rhoomes to improve his numbers in A-10 play.  Grade: C

DC Gaitley: The son of the Rams' women's basketball coach has played as much as we have this season.  Grade: Incomplete

Chris Gaston: The all-Atlantic 10 forward and face of the Fordham program still looks half a step behind sometimes since returning from his knee injury against Princeton on December 15th, but has returned to the level we saw him at before the injury.  Gaston's 25-point effort against Siena ranks as his season high, and what impressed us most about that was his willingness to be unselfish in the second half after the Saints double-teamed him following a 20-point opening stanza.  Chris sat through much of the second half against Mississippi Friday night, but hopefully this stint on the bench was not due to medical reasons.  Although his rebounding numbers are down from his first three campaigns, Gaston is still a dynamic offensive player and a threat whenever the ball is in his hands, and all Fordham can do is hope for the best as one of their all-time greats closes out his career.  Grade: B+

Jermaine Myers: The freshman from Canada was brought in as a prospective point guard, but has also yet to put it all together consistently.  After playing 30-plus minutes a night through most of the first part of the season, Pecora has finally given him more time off and benched him in favor of Mandell Thomas, and with the losses to Georgia Tech and Mississippi aside, the move has been beneficial to Fordham as a whole.  Sometimes Myers will show that he gets it, others not so much.  His game on New Year's Eve against Monmouth was arguably the best of his young career.  Grade: C

Khalid Robinson: Now injured, Robinson was seeing a handful of minutes immediately after Gaston's injury, but still not enough for a fair appraisal.  Grade: Incomplete

Ryan Canty: Aside from Mandell Thomas, he wins the "Most Improved Ram" award through the first half of the season for Fordham.  Consecutive double-doubles against St. John's and Princeton that followed a career night against Manhattan proved just how vital the sophomore is to Fordham's rotation, and he had another yeoman's effort on the glass against Monmouth last week.  If his back, which has been somewhat of a concern this year, can hold up, his presence alongside Gaston on the Ram front line is going to be more of a blessing than a curse down the stretch.  Grade: A-

Tom Pecora: At 4-11, Pecora has gone backward in terms of his record through the nonconference portion of his third season, but the biggest reason for his record is an incredibly ambitious nonconference schedule that included extra games by virtue of Fordham participating in the Preseason NIT.  With eight of the Rams' first nine games either on the road or on neutral courts, Pecora stressed a need to get back home before conference play started.  Since their Barclays Center skirmish with Princeton, Fordham is 3-3, with the other two wins aside from Princeton coming at Rose Hill.  Some of his early-season problems have been fixed, (see overplaying Jermaine Myers through the first month) but there are other issues that need some work.  Pecora may be the object of affection for the wrong reasons with some people, but until he completely loses control, he'll get the benefit of the doubt from us for the most part.  Grade: C+


  1. Duquesne could be biggest game of season

    1. They definitely played like it was. Hopefully they give us all more of the same on Sunday against UMass...I'll be back at Rose Hill for that one.

  2. Hate to tell you Pal, the real grade, top to bottom is F minus.

  3. Big win over Duquesne; Expect big crowd for UMass. Rams will need more than 4 minutes from Jermaine Myers and expect Mandell Thomas to be guarding Chaz Williams