With third straight America East championship in tow and five of top six players returning, Will Brown and Albany will once again be among favorites in America East. (Photo courtesy of the University at Albany)
One shot, with 1.6 seconds on the clock.
The situation that provided a storybook ending for Albany, and sent Stony Brook to another heartbreaking near-miss, did more than just write the conclusion to a fairy tale. More importantly, it clinched a third consecutive America East championship for the Great Danes, further solidifying the state capital of New York as the home of winning basketball and, with the bulk of the roster coming back for a repeat next season, positioned Albany among the region's elite mid-major programs.
"What I learned about this past year is how resilient of a group I had," head coach Will Brown intimated when reflecting on a season he admitted was one of the more difficult campaigns to pilot, especially given the circumstances surrounding shooting guard Peter Hooley, who returned to his native Australia in January to be with his ailing mother, Susan, who sadly passed away from colon cancer. "Their willingness to deal with adversity and fight through it, especially with the passing of Peter's mom and Peter having to go home to Australia, and Peter coming back and us having to re-acclimate him to our team as we were making the stretch run, I thought our guys showed how resilient they were, and how much they cared for each other and how well they played together, and more importantly, how much they accepted their roles."
"Our guys very rarely wavered from what we needed them to do," he continued. "They were consistent, and the group was really about just one thing, and that was winning."
The Great Danes showed their winning ways early and often, going 24-9 on the year and capturing all but one game in conference play, their lone setback being a three-point home loss to the Stony Brook team against whom they avenged that defeat in the America East championship. In addition, Albany was in nearly every game regardless of the outcome, with only four losses of ten points or more on the year, and played No. 3 seed Oklahoma to a hard-fought 69-60 decision in the NCAA Tournament.
Albany's encore will pick up right where it left off, in essence, with five of the top six players on the Great Danes' roster returning, the lone departure coming from Australian forward Sam Rowley. With that said, his younger brother, Mike, is ready to fill the void along with the incumbents from last season's championship squad; a group including Hooley, guards Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders, as well as a pair of key cogs in Richard Peters and Dallas Ennema.
"I think we'll also do some things a little differently this upcoming year," Brown said with regard to how Albany's on-court product will look. "We'll play four guards at times, or we'll slide Dallas down to the four spot and play him as an undersized stretch four and make him a tough matchup for other teams' power forwards. We'll be a little more creative, and I think losing Sam will hurt in some areas, but we'll be able to do a few more things in other areas that will allow us to be successful. I just want to make sure that we don't fall in love with shooting jump shots in Sam's absence."
Brown confirmed the reports that made the rounds across the Internet and social media earlier this month of Albany opening their season against Kentucky on November 13, (the game will be a preliminary round contest in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic) and rather than the pilgrimage to Rupp Arena being the token early game against a high-major, it is a chance for the nation at large to once again see what the Great Danes bring to the table.
"I think our team is always going to be prepared," Brown stated as he gave a preview of what the casual fan can expect from his team. "I think we're going to play extremely hard, and we're going to play unselfish basketball on both ends of the floor. We pride ourselves on defending, rebounding, and getting a shot every time down the floor."
As far as his team's prospects next season, one in which Albany will likely be positioned once again alongside Stony Brook, Vermont, and even a resurgent New Hampshire team among the upper echelon of the America East, Brown had this to say:
"We're committed about the future," he reassured, "but we also realize how difficult it is to get to the NCAA Tournament from a one-bid league. Our goal every year as the season progresses is to get better and better, and be playing our best basketball in February and March, and I think in the last few years, we've done that, and I don't expect that to change moving forward."