Shown here addressing his Fordham team during practice, Jeff Neubauer is pleased with effort during Rams' 3-1 start, but recognizes value of every game, not just upcoming Battle of the Bronx Saturday against Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)
The honeymoon period for an incoming coach usually lasts a full season, but if Fordham keeps up their winning ways long enough, the perennially moribund expectations at Rose Hill will soon rise to Lazarus-like levels.
Winners of three in a row after a hard-fought loss on the road to UT-Arlington in the season opener, the Rams have confidence and swagger aplenty heading into Saturday's 108th Battle of the Bronx against borough rival Manhattan, who seeks its fourth victory in the last five years of the series. But while the hoopla reaches a crescendo heading into the Thanksgiving weekend tilt, their leader recognizes what matters most as he navigates his first season at the helm of his new program.
"The most important thing is where our team is," Jeff Neubauer calmly assessed after Fordham's third consecutive victory, an 84-58 rout of Colgate Tuesday evening that saw the Rams hold their opponent under 60 points for the first time this season. "We're trying to build a program. When we play Manhattan, is it an important game? Yeah, but right now for our program, having freshmen on the court, having guys that are new to each other, every game's really important and every minute's important."
The development of the backcourt has been the biggest takeaway in just four games since Neubauer officially succeeded Tom Pecora, with the emergence of freshman Joseph Chartouny into an all-around point guard who is equally adept at passing and rebounding as he is at scoring the basketball. Together with Mandell Thomas and a rejuvenated Jon Severe, the Canadian has made the motor run for the Rams while Christian Sengfelder and Ryan Rhoomes do the dirty work down low, with Ryan Canty capable of a dominating effort at any given moment.
"We're still growing," Neubauer conceded. "We have a long way to go as a team, so it's not necessarily about one opponent. It's about our team."
As Manhattan makes their way to Rose Hill Gymnasium for the first time since 2011 to serve as the fourth opponent in an unprecedented nine-game homestand for Fordham, the Rams have set various goals in terms of valuing the basketball and placing a premium on defense, something that is instantly noticeable when contrasting to the five years under Pecora. One thing that has not been bandied about in a similar vein, though, is an emphasis on the team record, and there is a method to the madness there.
"It can't be about that," said Neubauer, dismissing the notion of a particular record as a proper barometer for the performance of his team. "When I get caught up in that as a coach, I'm not as effective as a coach. Right now, we're still learning our individuals, so whether it's Joseph Chartouny or Ryan Rhoomes, I don't even know what I'm going to get out of those guys because we've only been together seven-and-a-half months. So it's not about 'how many games can we win right now?' It's about preparing our team, being able to tweak our game plan to fit the next opponent, and then finding a way."