Already a member of two straight NCAA Tournament teams as sidekick to Mike Glover, Scott Machado and Momo Jones, Sean Armand is unquestioned leader as Iona seeks third straight berth in field of 68. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)
If you've watched any Iona College basketball over the last two years, you are well aware of Sean Armand and the leadership the senior guard brings to the court.
Yet there are some who still underestimate the sharpshooter from Brooklyn, having cited Armand's supporting role on each of the last two Gaels teams, serving as a second or third option behind the likes of Scott Machado, Mike Glover and Lamont "Momo" Jones on the way to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for Tim Cluess' squad. However, nothing has changed in the eyes of the Gaels' new face as he prepares to lead Iona into battle during his senior campaign, which begins on November 9th when Iona meets Cleveland State to commence its MAAC championship defense.
"To me, (it's the) same role as last year," Armand told us after Iona held its "Meet the Gaels" event Saturday morning, which consisted of an intrasquad game followed by each player, from Armand down to reserves such as Grant Ellis and Dashawn Gomez, introducing themselves to the handful of fans in attendance at the Hynes Center in New Rochelle. "I was the vocal leader on and off the court, so guys have respected me for a while now. It's been a smooth transition, (and) it's a good feeling to be the face of the school."
For Armand, whose sweet, flawless shooting has helped Iona win 70 games over his first three years, anything less than a smooth transition; regardless of where or how it comes, would be a cause for concern. Fortunately for Iona, their leader has managed to build on the foundations he has laid in previous seasons, and is confident that this year will provide more of the same.
"I've been saying we've got to do it the right way," Armand said. "I want to win the regular season championship, then win the tournament, and get in the tournament just being the best team in our conference; and it's my last run, so that's what I really want to do."
Armand possesses the necessary pieces on the floor with him to do just that, with junior forward and walking double-double David Laury serving as his primary running mate this season, while incumbents Tavon Sledge and Tre Bowman; the latter of whom had a career performance in last season's MAAC championship victory against bitter adversary Manhattan, anchor the supporting cast. However, there are new pieces in the Iona ensemble, such as Rutgers expatriate Mike Poole, who the Gaels are somewhat familiar with by virtue of having played against him in last year's Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
"He's way better than I expected," said Armand of his fellow senior and new teammate Poole. "He had his best game of the season against us, and he brings a lot: Leadership, good morale, great motor, and he's playing point guard now. He played forward at Rutgers, so the transition he made, he's adapted quick, and he's going to play a key role."
After a stretch in which Iona had to fight their way through one of the strongest MAAC seasons in recent years after losing six of seven games by three points or less, Armand is grateful for the added leadership and deep bench that he can call on for support.
"It was 'either you fold or you keep going,'" he said when describing the mindset in the Gael locker room following the last of those six close losses, which came at the hands of Indiana State. "The key number was five, winning five games in a row to do what we had to do, and as a team, we believed it. Every day, I told these guys that it was going to keep getting better. We've got to keep fighting, don't feel bad for yourself, because nobody's going to show us any sympathy."
Now having put that stretch of adversity behind him, Armand is looking forward to a memorable encore similar to what his former teammates enjoyed before beginning their professional careers.
"I'm not really big on accolades, I'm big on team stuff, but the elephant in the room is that we've had back-to-back Player of the Year winners," he said. "I would love to keep that going three times in a row, making the tournament three times in a row, and God willing, the next level of basketball will be there for me. Let's just see what happens."
Regardless of how it ends, it should be one entertaining final ride this season.