Friday, October 28, 2016

Greg Herenda and FDU unfazed by specter of pressure to defend NEC championship

Greg Herenda sits with local scribe Robert Elkin, discussing his FDU team's chances to repeat as Northeast Conference champions. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BROOKLYN, NY - Winning a championship and defending are two distinct challenges.

Coaches will agree on the latter often being more difficult. In our ‘scripted’ coach-speak, we often hear the titlists of March, or April should one be as fortunate, talking about taking the floor in the new campaign with ‘a bullseye on our back.’ “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown,” a bard of lore warned us.

FDU coach Greg Herenda does not subscribe to those theories. Herenda realizes teams will take their best shot to dethrone the champion Knights. To Herenda, it comes with the territory and doesn’t bother him.
“Do I feel pressure?” Herenda repeated an inquiry during the Northeast Conference media day at Barclays Center. “No. I said from day one when we came into the program the day-to-day goal is to just be as good as we can be. Just improve as players and a (coaching) staff day to day.”

Herenda noted a championship was a goal when he took over three years ago. Getting it last March was quite a surprise to him, as well as fellow coaches in the conference. “A year ago we were picked for ninth and won it all,” he said. “The coaches were wrong. This year, I hope they are right.” Herenda was alluding to a preseason NEC coaches’ poll with FDU chosen as number one.

The title run of last year is over. Regardless, the entire team maintains a hunger. “In our intrasquad scrimmage, (last Saturday) it was evident we need to get healthy,” Herenda said, “but it showed our hungry our team is. Not just in the scrimmage but coming to practice everyday. That carries to our games, as those who see us know we value every possession and play every possession on both ends of the floor very hard.”

The FDU mentor admitted defense and rebounding need improvement this season. Last season, the defensive efficiency yielded by the Knights in NEC play was 107. A number of 100 is the cutoff, with over that mark showing a need to tighten up on defense. Even en route to the championship, all three opponents in the NEC tournament showed an offensive efficiency in triple figures. Rebounding numbers saw the Knights with a minus-3 average differential in conference clashes.
The group is without a senior. They are far removed from inexperienced, though, as four starters return, as do a host of veterans with appreciable minutes logged. In August, a two-game trip to Montreal proved invaluable, as the team had an early opportunity to jell. “We bonded as a team,” said junior guard Darian Anderson, the leading returning scorer (16.2 PPG). “We had the chance to get out and play two teams that were physical, similar to what we see in the league.” FDU came home with a split and an immeasurable asset in getting a late summer jump on the season.
Looking over his roster, Herenda realizes he has options. “We can drive and shoot threes,” he said. “Inside, we have Mike Holloway, who is a force (6-7, 250). “We have some really good guards giving us a lot of versatility.” Not just the aforementioned Anderson, but junior swingman Earl Potts Jr., a 14.7 PPG scorer and MVP of last March’s NEC Tournament.

The recent memory of the run, an NCAA trip and the excitement generated on the campus all remain a vivid and fond memory. For the coach, there was another honor to be proud of long after the basketballs were put in storage. Last spring, FDU finished with the highest team GPA in the NEC for the second consecutive year. From day one at FDU, Herenda preached excellence in the classroom as well as the court.

Due to hard work and diligence, he has both.

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