|The NEC Coaches assembled at Media Day at Barclays Center, with LIU Brooklyn's Jack Perri (back row, second on left) and St. Francis Brooklyn's Glenn Braica (front row, second from right). (Photo by Ray Floriani)|
By Jason Schott of BrooklynFans.com - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19
For the first time in their history, the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers are the favorite to win the NEC in the preseason coaches' poll. Conversely, LIU Brooklyn; who won the NEC three straight years from 2011 to 2013, was chosen eighth in the poll. This was announced at NEC Social Media Day on Tuesday morning at Barclays Center.
St. Francis head coach Glenn Braica has stressed defense and rebounding, and it paid off last year. They led the NEC in scoring defense (66.8) and ranked second in the following categories: field goal percentage defense (.410), three point percentage defense (.333) and blocked shots (5.3). St. Francis finished with a 18-14 record and were 9-7 in conference play.
|St. Francis Brooklyn Head Coach Glenn Braica. (Photo by Ray Floriani)|
Braica said of St. Francis entering the season as the target in the NEC, "(It) doesn't feel any different because I think the only pressure is the pressure you put on yourself. We put pressure on ourselves every day in practice just to have a good practice, so to me we're gonna disregard all that stuff. We appreciate the compliment, but it does nothing for us and it's almost like being up at halftime, doesn't really matter and we'll just go from there and try to be as good as we can be, whatever that is."
St. Francis is led by two dynamic seniors, forward Jalen Cannon and guard Brent Jones. Braica said of them, "They're two of the more established players in the league, and this will be their fourth year playing together and they've developed very good chemistry. They've also gone through some good times and some tough times and learned how to fight through them. I think we're blessed to have two guys like that at two different positions with that type of experience and guys that we can rely on. As a coach, you want to have guys you can trust and rely on. I trust these guys."
Braica has been at St. Francis for five years after being one of Norm Roberts' assistants at St. John's. On what makes this team different, Braica said, "One thing about our team this year I think we've had pretty good players and we've had a lot of them, but here hasn't been much separation in their ability or in what they have done. This year, there's a separation because of what some of the guys have already accomplished. If you're a new guy coming into our program, you can't look at Jalen Cannon, Brent Jones and not respect what they've done and not understand their role on the team and I think that's something that's established early on our team this year which we have not had in the past."
St. Francis forward Jalen Cannon said of being picked to win the conference, "The ranking is just a ranking." When asked if they wanted to go after the team that was chosen No. 1 in prior years, Cannon said, "Yeah, pretty much, I mean, you gotta go after everybody. The ranking is just a ranking at the end of the day, from the best teams to the worst teams, you just gotta come out and play because this conference is really tight." Braica said of weighing the past season's results against the preseason poll, "There's a lot of turnover in the league so I think there's gonna be a lot of good players that no one's ever heard of yet, but they're going to establish themselves as the year goes on. That happened to us two years ago. We won twelve league games and we were picked last I think, and then we were picked higher the following year and we finished below that, so you just never know."
St. Francis has three freshmen: Glenn Sanabria, a guard from St. Peter's in Staten Island; Keon Williams, a forward from John Hardin in Elizabethtown, NJ; and Gunner Olafsson, a guard/forward from Reykjavik, Iceland. On if we might know more about them as the season goes on, Braica said, "I think they all have the potential to be contributors. It's a big jump from high school to junior college to this level. It's not necessarily about talent, it's about just learning different things, the grind and stuff like that. I think whoever catches on quickest and whoever can do it on a daily basis and not give in to anything are going to be the guys who can contribute more. I think they're all capable of being contributors during the year."
LIU Brooklyn only has two remaining starters, forward Landon Atterberry, who averaged 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game; and guard Gerrell Martin, who had averages of 12.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Head coach Jack Perri said of having to mesh eight new players with six returning players, "It's enjoyable because they're a good group and they all get along, certainly off the court and then it's competitive on the court. That's really all we're talking about is just competing. There is no starting five right now, there just isn't, and I said that from day one, 'hey, you guys are gonna compete and whoever comes out on top will be the guys that start,' and then if you're in the rotation and all that stuff, so it's really been competitive. We've had our share of injuries to this point even this year that have not allowed us to go up an down. We've had about eight or nine guys consistently (injured), somebody comes back, somebody gets hurt, so it is what it is, but the guys that are out there are competing, playing hard, and I think we have some talent."
|LIU Brooklyn Head Coach Jack Perri. (Photo by Ray Floriani)|
Nura Zanna is one of those players Perri hopes to have healthy. Zanna is a 6-7 240-pound forward who was a McDonald's All-American nominee in high school, who had to redshirt, or sit out, last season due to injury. Perri said of Zanna, "Nura was a guy who we had kind of penciled in last year as a huge key for us after losing five guys the previous year, that he was gonna play a lot of minutes. He tears a ligament in his wrist and is out for the whole year last year. They did something wrong in his first surgery, so he had to have the surgery over again, and he doesn't get cleared, after having three surgeries, until the end of April. He comes back, has a good summer, and he finds out he has some kind of defect in his knee, so he was out for another three weeks, so we just have had him back for about a week now. And you can see, he's a big, strong, physical kid who has great athleticism and is gonna be a good player for us. I'm excited about Nura. He gives us a different dynamic that we didn't have last year, but that we've had in the past, whether it's Julian Boyd, Jamal Olasewere, he has that kind of athleticism, that kind of ability, so I'm excited about Nura."
LIU has two new players from Icleand, Elvar Fridriksson from Reykjanesbaer, and Martin Hermannsson from Reykjavik. Perri said of them, "I'm really excited about Elvar. He's not gonna be a normal freshman. He's gonna make mistakes, absolutely, but I think he's a very competitive kid that has some ability to score, as well as get guys some shots. The kid, Martin Hermannsson, was the MVP of the Icelandic Professional League, really talented kid, we got him late. Those two kids are best friends, and it's kind of helped those two adapt to New York, being together, they're wonderful kids. Martin, he's been tremendous, here's a kid that knows how to play. he just understands where to be on the court, he makes the game look very easy, drive and kick, shoots threes very well, is a competitive kid, he's gonna play a lot of minutes, I'm really excited about him."
Recruiting players from Iceland has to be different than recruiting a kid from Albany. Perri said of that, " You're right. It was unique, and recruiting, sometimes you get lucky. I knew a guy that was coaching over there, it was his first year and he had mentioned them, and an assistant coach that I'm friendly with, he went out there from James Madison, and he saw the point guard (Elvar Fridriksson), and I called him on it, and I said 'this guy says something on him, what do you think?' and he says, 'oh, yeah, I really like him, maybe not James Madison, he's a little small because he's 6-feet, we like our point guards a little bigger, but I'd love to coach him, I'm like 'okay, good,' so I get about 12 to 14 DVDs on him, I'm like, 'wow, he's like Jason (Brickman), zipping passes crosscourt, making good decisions off ball screens, the way we play, yes! So we bring him out, we work him out while he's here, and again I'm like 'okay, this is easy,' nobody's really recruiting him, so we took him. His best friend, he ended up having an unbelievable year, and it was us and Winthrop, and he thought New York City was great, and we had a scholarship open up late, and it's just been tremendous. We were really fortunate and lucky in a lot of respects to get those kids, but that's what recruiting is, keep digging, keep turning over every rock until you find something that fits."