Jon Severe lived up to his massive hype and potential in Fordham's practice this afternoon, establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in Rams' backcourt. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)
Head coach Tom Pecora on makeup of Fordham's roster:
"You're always cautiously optimistic before the season starts. I think we should be, with the greater depth and the product we can put on the floor. That's the way it should be after three full seasons, because now you have your guys and you can go after it a little bit, but still, not everyone's seen it."
On senior guard Branden Frazier and whether he has put last year's late season struggles behind him:
"Oh, yeah, very much so. I just think he got exhausted. We were asking him to do so much last year, especially with the injuries and him having to pick up the slack in so many departments on the floor, but now with the evolution of Mandell Thomas at the end of last season, bringing Jon Severe in, Bryan Smith has really elevated his game as a junior and has had a great few weeks of practice here. Our young bigs are getting better every day, so all of a sudden, the pressure of him trying to do everything isn't there. I think Ryan Rhoomes has done a great job of sharing leadership qualities with him, and they'll be co-captains probably. So, I think all of those things add into it, but he's been exceptional. He's been real good."
On sophomore guard Mandell Thomas as he enters his first full season as a starter:
"The sky's the limit with him. He's capable of being an all-conference player in the Atlantic 10 without a doubt. I think his confidence is better after a freshman year like that, physically, he looks great. There's no glaring weakness in his game, he shoots the ball much better than he did last year, and he was a good shooter last year, so he's shooting the ball well. His physical skills allow him to be a great defender, and he could put the ball on the floor. He's got great balance in his game, and he's one of the hardest working guys...he's always here early and stays late, he loves to play."
On what to expect from freshman guard Jon Severe for those who have yet to see him, and whether he is more than just a pick and pop scorer:
"Today as we were running cuts, he was doing a lot of that, but I think in the open court is where you see his exceptional speed and his explosiveness in transition. I think we have with Jon, and with Branden and Bryan and Mandell, four perimeter guys who can be really tough in the open floor, so you see that with Jon. The other thing people don't realize is how great of an athlete he is. At times, he'll just go get a rebound above the rim, he'll attack the basket and throw it down on someone 6-1, you know? There's a lot of layers to his game, especially on the offensive end. He's still struggling a little defensively, but every freshman does, they don't realize the intensity of it, the physicality of it, but that'll come in time."
On junior guard Bryan Smith now that he has recovered from a broken hand:
"He used his talent, and his inconsistency was difficult last year. Like I've said in the past, anytime we've had a major win, Bryan Smith has had a lot to do with it, he's been a big part of it. He's shooting the ball with great confidence, he's actually down about 10 pounds to about 198, so he's even bouncier. We were kidding with him when he had a windmill dunk last night in Ram Town, we were saying, 'all of a sudden, you got your hops back now that you're down 10 pounds!' but still, he's physically strong, he's doing a great job with what we're doing."
On sophomore Jermaine Myers' and junior Chris Whitehead's chances in backcourt:
"They're battling, you know, and that's why we brought them in. We wanted for them to come in and battle for minutes, and we don't know how this is going to evolve. Will one of them become a backup to Branden? Will one of them take that spot and then all the other four guards will be splitting minutes at the two other spots? It's all about competing, they both got off to kind of tentative starts in practice, but Jermaine has kind of elevated his game recently. Chris is still trying to learn the system, but he's got the ability to really pressure the basketball, he's a tough little sucker, so he can go out and have a defensive presence even at 5-10, 5-11."
On freshman forward Jake Fay:
"If we started a game tomorrow, I'd start Jake Fay at the four. He's the perfect stretch four for our system, he's got a good basketball IQ, he's not a great shooter yet, but he's a good shooter who can get really hot, and all it takes is a game where you get your four man making three, four threes in a game, you know? Everyone sees that tape, and now you have great space on offense because everyone's coming out to play him at the four spot. It's difficult for guards to find gaps when defenses can space your perimeter forward, and we ran into that problem last year a bit. So he'll definitely get a lot of minutes at that four spot, and so will Travion Leonard once he's back."
On sophomore forward Travion Leonard and his health status:
"He's got a herniated disc in his back, but not a severe one. He saw the surgeon, and the doctor felt comfortable, he said two weeks, and then we'll get him into a few days of non-contact. I imagine he'll be ready to play sparingly a bit in our exhibition game on the 1st." (against Northwood University)
On Leonard's conditioning and weight loss:
"I don't even ask, (how much weight he's lost) he looks so darn good, I'm jealous. I would think he's down at about 265 coming from 341, so it's a real number and he's tightening his body up. Look, if he was still at 341 and he had a herniated disc, he'd probably be done for the season, so that's one of the things that is a huge advantage for him being in the kind of shape he's in, having worked as hard as he has. We've made a point of making sure that a lot of that work is done in the pool, you know, to take the strain off the big guys' backs and legs when they're rehabbing. He's been great."
On potentially seeing a four-guard lineup this season:
"There could be times for us to look like Villanova did at one point, and it would be like Bryan Smith at the four. That could happen, but I think Jake's doing a good enough job to be that stretch four, I mean, we're still a little light in the frontcourt. We've got Manny Suarez trying to get cleared, but that makes us a little light in the frontcourt. If there was an injury and we had to play small, that would be the route we would go, but that would give us even more firepower on the offensive end. Your concerns would be defending the post and rebounding, but we'll do what we have to do. We're going to put out a team that's going to give us the best chance to win, and the big guys know this. If they're not doing what they're capable of doing and playing within their roles, and it's advantageous for us to play small, I'll play small. I'm not worried about that."
Nuggets of Note:
- Freshman guard Antwoine Anderson was held out of practice along with Travion Leonard, but for different reasons. While Leonard is still nursing a herniated disc in his back, the NCAA is investigating the description of one of the courses Anderson took in high school after previously clearing him for practice earlier in the year. Tom Pecora did mention that he and his staff are confident that the dilemmas surrounding Anderson and Manny Suarez will be cleared up before the Rams open their 111th season against Saint Francis University on November 8th.
- When Travion Leonard returns to the court for Fordham, fans will see a much slimmer power forward, who has dropped approximately 75 pounds since arriving at Rose Hill last season. Limited to stretching on the bench during today's hourlong session, Leonard looks as though he is in great shape, and should be back to his midseason form within a few games once he does step on the hardwood again. In addition, junior forward Ryan Canty is back at 100 percent after a nagging back injury slowed the Massachusetts native down during the stretch run last season.
- Multiple sources have stated that Ryan Rhoomes has refined himself this offseason, and indeed he has. The former Cardozo High School standout has also lost some weight, becoming more of a muscular forward in the process, and looked like he had the makings of a potential all-Atlantic 10 player today, especially with his mid-range jumpers.
- Like a typical Tom Pecora team, Fordham comes packed to the brim with mounds of backcourt depth. The Rams will likely start three guards as they usually do, with Branden Frazier, Mandell Thomas and Jon Severe most likely getting the nod for the opening tip, but after that, a handful of players have the potential to be just as effective in the guard stable. Plagued by ball control problems as a freshman last season, Jermaine Myers has made noticeable strides in correcting that, and his mid-range shot should give him enough of an offensive boost needed to serve as Frazier's backup at the point guard spot. Despite his short stature, Chris Whitehead has a deceptively strong outside shot, which he should be able to use in his favor to earn his share of minutes in a crowded group of guards.
- Bryan Smith, who was an enigma for much of his sophomore season even before it was revealed that the Brooklyn product had suffered a broken hand in February, has gotten most of his confidence back. Smith's all-around game was on full display today, from setting up ball screens to his patented three-point shots from the "Estwick corner," which have helped Fordham win many a big game over his first two seasons.
- Finally, to quote our friend Zach Braziller of the New York Post, who covers high school basketball and recruiting better than arguably anyone else in the area: If you haven't seen Jon Severe yet, where have you been? The Christ the King superstar and reigning New York State Mr. Basketball put on a show in our first look at him as a Ram, doing most of his damage off catch-and-shoot plays, becoming partial to the left and right arcs while draining one three-pointer after another, even celebrating a couple of them to some degree. However, a one-trick pony he is not, as Severe also made plays inside the paint and past the foul line, demonstrating his Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year potential. Make an effort to see him as soon as you can, as he will become something special early and often.