Khallid Hart has carried Marist out of starting gate this season, as has freshman Brian Parker, but head coach Mike Maker needs third option to step up for Red Foxes as year progresses. (Photo courtesy of Marist College Athletics)
When asked at the beginning of the year how his Marist team would replace Chavaughn Lewis, who concluded his four-year career in Poughkeepsie as the Red Foxes' all-time leading scorer, Mike Maker's answer was succinct, and brutally honest.
"You don't," the second-year head coach bluntly stated before adjusting to life without the swingman who, for the duration of his career, lived in the shadows of his Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference contemporaries, mainly because the lack of success in the program's win-loss record was enough for casual observers to overlook a supporting cast with a promising future.
Months later, Marist treads the MAAC waters with a new alpha dog in point guard Khallid Hart, who spent his first two campaigns as the Tonto to Lewis' perceived Lone Ranger. But even when one sees a dropoff in productivity, the ancillary options remain strong enough to convince those close to the team that brighter days are ahead.
Freshman guard Brian Parker did not receive the hype some of his rookie brethren arrived on their respective campuses with, but is perhaps the most consistent to date. With an average of 17.6 points per game and a torrid start that has seen him shoot 61 percent from the field, the Cleveland native has become an integral part of opposing teams' game plans just five games into his career.
"He's more than solid," Maker solemnly said after Parker continued his stellar first month with 16 points in the Red Foxes' 101-66 loss to Iona. "I think he's spectacular. I think both these guys (Parker and Hart) are two of the better players in our conference, I really do."
While Parker has done an exceptional job complementing Hart and supplementing the offense from his backcourt partner, there are still times where Marist has needed a third scorer to join the tandem with productive outings, and although Maker conceded that finding a consistent option was not something that would happen immediately, he was optimistic in his assessment that one would soon arise.
"They're both wearing Superman capes for us right now," Maker said of Hart and Parker. "I think we need to find some other guys who can help alleviate some of that burden that they may feel, and I think we have enough guys, as they get more game experience."
"I would be remiss if I didn't mention Ryan Funk," he continued, referencing the nine points and four rebounds that one of his other freshman guards tallied against the Gaels' high-octane attack. "Every time his number has been called, he's performed very well. We had a scrimmage where he was our leading scorer this year, and he's making it very, very hard not to play him."
Marist's next game comes against shorthanded Manhattan Sunday afternoon at Draddy Gymnasium, and for the Red Foxes, it is an opportunity to put together a solid game against the two-time reigning conference champions, who have limped out of the box to a 1-4 start after being ravaged by injuries to several of their core players.
"I'm looking forward to that opportunity," said Maker of meeting the Jaspers less than 48 hours after taking on Iona and bearing witness to an offensive clinic in which Tim Cluess' Gaels shot 63 percent from the floor. "I'm not embarrassed at all. I'm really proud of how our guys kept playing through a difficult night with regard to playing a team of that talent this early in the season."
Again, such a comment can be easily dismissed on the heels of back-to-back losses of 26 and 35 points, respectively. Yet in the laconic and articulate Maker, Marist has a leader who recognizes the value of the young men on his roster, one who sees diamonds in the rough but is also aware of the need to mine them.
"I wouldn't trade any of my players for anybody else," Maker proclaimed with a sense of fatherly affection. "We just have work to do. We need other players within the program to step up to alleviate some of the burdens that Khallid and Brian are carrying as far as scoring. They're doing the other things. We need scoring."