With Desi Washington and Marvin Dominique having moved on, Trevis Wyche now becomes floor leader for Saint Peter's as point guard enters his junior season. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)
The true beauty of mid-major conferences is that of their sheer unpredictability. In one-bid leagues, it is more often than not the team that gets hot at the right time that ultimately cashes in on an NCAA Tournament bid than the team filled with all-league players which puts on a clinic over the course of the regular season.
John Dunne has lived this before at Saint Peter's University, with his Peacocks once being the beneficiary of such a timely hot streak. In 2011, Saint Peter's managed to win when it mattered most, knocking off the top two seeds in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference; first regular season champion Fairfield before runner-up Iona, to claim an improbable conference title.
Four years later, Saint Peter's is in a similar situation to its 2011 aftermath, when the Peacocks graduated a core of seniors in Wesley Jenkins, Ryan Bacon, Nick Leon and Jeron Belin. This time around, gone are starting lineup mainstays Marvin Dominique, Desi Washington, Tyler Gaskins, and high-energy reserve Kris Rolle, forcing Dunne to retool yet again in Jersey City as he enters his tenth season at the helm. Normally, the prospect of rebuilding a roster may bring on the expectation of having to sacrifice immediate success for the sake of a greater good down the road, but in the Peacocks' case, their coach is quietly confident that this year will be one in which the upward mobility achieved under the now-departed seniors is sustained.
"For us, our returners clearly all need to step up their games," Dunne cautioned when assessing what remains of his roster and how the incumbent players will need to assume leadership positions next season. "I thought Chazz Patterson made a big step forward this past year, and we need him to take an equally big step forward going into next year, as well as Trevis Wyche. I think he (Wyche) is working hard right now, and again, what he's good at, he's a good assist to turnover guy, takes care of the basketball, he's a good setup guy. If he continues to improve on his finishing in the paint and his three-point shooting, that will clearly help us a lot as well."
Aside from Patterson and Wyche, the latter of whom will most likely be the focal point of the offense as Saint Peter's junior point guard, the Peacocks are also counting on an increase in production from burgeoning big man Elias Desport, currently recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia suffered during the season, as well as swingman Rodney Hawkins. After being ineligible during the first semester last season, Hawkins arrived with a bang once able to suit up, scoring 20 points against eventual MAAC champion Manhattan and providing a valuable insurance option behind Dominique that will now be expected to contribute with the same regularity as his predecessor.
"It was a very up-and-down process for him," Dunne said of Hawkins' abbreviated freshman campaign. "After sitting out the entire year before, he didn't play for a year and a half, so we're definitely looking forward to seeing what he can do. He's got a good ability to finish around the rim, and then another one is Elisha Boone. I think he's just touching the surface of what he can bring to the table as a player. Now that he's got some experience and knows what it's all about, I anticipate him becoming a much better defender."
To supplement all who return to the Peacocks this season, four incoming freshmen join the flock as well, beginning with Mamadou Ndiaye, a 6-7 forward from the same Oakland Mills High School program in Maryland that Siena coach Jimmy Patsos was able to recruit Lavon Long out of. "He's a fantastic athlete," Dunne said of Ndiaye. "(He's) skilled, can make threes, can put it on the floor a little bit, he's got an ability to block shots while also willing to take a charge."
Texan Antwon Portley also joins the Saint Peter's roster. A 6-3 guard from Lancaster High School in the Lone Star State, he is a combo guard who Dunne envisions will see some time at the point guard position, as well as some minutes off the ball alongside Wyche. Cameron Jones, another 6-3 guard by way of Pennsbury High School in Pennsylvania, is a shooter that fills a glaring need within the Peacocks' program. "He and Antwon both have the ability to shoot the ball, and I think he's got a solid chance to get on the floor, just based on his toughness and his shooting," Dunne stated.
Samuel Idowu, a 6-7 forward from Brooklyn, completes the incoming recruiting class, and will go a long way toward filling the void left by Dominique up front. "I think his best days, his potential, is extremely high, and he's got the ability to finish around the rim," said Dunne. "He's got good hands, and he could also step out beyond the arc and make a shot. I think all four freshmen have a good chance to play."
In a MAAC where the league as a whole is getting younger, the infusion of fresh blood to join a group of established talent might be the right mix Saint Peter's needs to return to the upper echelon. As Manhattan loses its three-pronged core of Emmy Andujar, Ashton Pankey and RaShawn Stores, while Iona graduates David Laury and Siena sees Rob Poole and Evan Hymes depart among others, there truly is no time like the present for the inhabitants of the Yanitelli Center.
"I'm certainly excited about what these guys can bring to the table," Dunne proclaimed, the promising future clearly audible in his voice. "When you combine that with some talented freshmen coming in, I think we're going to be much more competitive than what I think people are going to expect us to be."