Sunday, December 4, 2016

Reggie Witherspoon preaches calm, steady approach in maiden voyage at Canisius

Reggie Witherspoon imparts words of instruction during Canisius' road win over Manhattan in MAAC opener. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Six months can be both an eternity and a cup of coffee in the college basketball world. By the same token, it can allow for a heightened sense of learning, promoting patience and commitment to the long-term greater good.

Such describes Reggie Witherspoon's situation at the helm of Canisius, having been introduced as the replacement for Jim Baron on May 31 and essentially being thrown into the fire, navigating a truncated offseason with a young roster picked ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Yet Witherspoon, a household name in the Western New York area from his near-decade-and-a-half tenure at Buffalo, has proven adept at guiding his new charges, competing for most of the first half against a Kentucky team ranked No. 1 in the nation; and most recently, winning his MAAC debut this past Friday after wiping out a 15-point deficit on the road to knock off perennial league heavyweight Manhattan.

"The transition happened so fast, but we're getting accustomed to it," junior forward Jermaine Crumpton, whose 26 points Friday were instrumental in the Golden Griffins starting conference play with a victory, said of the change in leadership and the subsequent undertaking of a new philosophy. "He's trying to bring something out of us that we didn't have, that defensive mindset: Grit out wins, stops, rebounds. I like what he's doing, what he brought here when he came."

Canisius, while largely competitive in Baron's four-year stint at the reins, had dropped off in recent years, finishing fifth and seventh in the MAAC over the two seasons following a fourth-place showing in 2013-14. In Witherspoon, they add a battle-tested veteran who can be the perfect complement to a developing cast of characters, and while opening the league schedule against Manhattan and preseason MAAC favorite Monmouth does the Griffs no favors in the short term, it will drive home the skill enhancement that is certain to be felt and observed come March, when the league descends upon the Times Union Center.

"It's good," said Witherspoon of Canisius' preamble to conference play, despite the challenges prevalent both on paper and on the court once the ball is tipped. "We've got a long way to go. I know that we've played better on the road, and that's good. That's kind of where we are with our development, just to see how good we can be the next day in practice and see how we carry that into the game."

"What happens with players sometimes is, it's kind of like you get a good pie and you try to not eat the whole thing in one night," Witherspoon proposed. "Our guys sometimes want to eat the whole pie at one time instead of little bit by little bit by little bit. We get anxious. It tastes good, we hit a three, it tastes better, let's eat the whole thing. Then we stop completing passes, we start taking chances."

And as Canisius progresses further along the road, so too will the intimacy with which Witherspoon will know his personnel. Until then, though, he is still educating himself on the fly; managing each combination, managing the respective appetites of his players, to use a culinary parlance he himself referenced Friday evening.

"I think I've got a good feel of that," he said of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of his stable. "We're still trying to figure our way through rotations, and that's going to take some time because there are some guys who will show something on one day and then show something different on another day. Sometimes it's a step forward, a step back, two steps forward, a step back. As we're trying to get a feel for them, I think they're trying to get a feel for us; and probably just as importantly or more, a feel for each other."

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