Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ponds caps off sensational sophomore season with Haggerty Award, becomes third SJU winner since 2014

Shamorie Ponds' breakout sophomore season resulted in Haggerty Award for Brooklyn guard, becoming third St. John's player to be recognized as metro area's best in last five seasons. (Photo by the New York Post)

In the midst of an 11-game losing streak to begin Big East Conference play this past season, one constant remained as St. John's struggled to find its footing: The dynamic abilities of Shamorie Ponds.

Once the Red Storm did get off the schneid, with captivating victories over a pair of Top 5 teams in Duke and eventual national champion Villanova, Ponds' transcendent play was the primary catalyst behind the surge. A 44-point outburst against Marquette in mid-February only enhanced the nascent stardom, and cemented his claim as the best talent the New York metropolitan area had to offer.

The local basketball writers concurred Wednesday morning, voting Ponds as the winner of the Haggerty Award, presented annually to the best player in the New York area as judged by a vast cross section of local media. The Brooklyn guard becomes the 23rd St. John's player to receive the honor, and the third in the last five seasons after D'Angelo Harrison and Sir'Dominic Pointer were recognized in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Ponds is also the sixth sophomore winner, and second in three seasons, joining Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead, now a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

"It's big," Ponds told Zach Braziller of the New York Post upon hearing he had won. "It's big for St. John's, big for me. I was confident with what I did, even without the team's success. I think I had an overall solid year."

Overall, St. John's has seen one of its players win the Haggerty Award 27 times in program history, with Dick McGuire and the late Malik Sealy having won it twice; while Ponds' head coach, Chris Mullin, did so three times while becoming the then-Redmen's all-time leading scorer.

Mullin also becomes the second former winner to coach a fellow Haggerty recipient, following in the footsteps of his college teammate, Mark Jackson; who coached Hofstra's Charles Jenkins -- like Mullin, a three-time Haggerty winner -- for two seasons with the Golden State Warriors, the NBA franchise for whom Mullin played 13 of his 16 professional seasons.

Ponds' second season at St. John's saw him average 21.6 points per game, which led the Big East for the year despite finishing second in conference-only scoring to Butler's Kelan Martin. Ponds supplemented his offense with 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, and improved his two-way capability with 70 steals, second in the conference behind his teammate and backcourt partner, Justin Simon.

Even before Marcus LoVett's injury and eventual departure from the team, Ponds began to blossom after a freshman season that culminated in MBWA Rookie of the Year honors and a spot on the All-Met first team, reaching the 20-point plateau in six of St. John's first nine games en route to an 8-1 start. After shaking off a knee injury early in the Big East season, he reclaimed his spot on the conference's main stage with 37 points in a narrow loss to Villanova on January 13 at Madison Square Garden and followed that up with 33 points in a road game at Georgetown one week later, a harbinger of what lied ahead in a stretch of take-charge leadership not seen in New York or the Big East since Kemba Walker led the University of Connecticut on their dramatic run through the conference tournament and national championship in 2011.

Ponds' season-defining tour de force began with 31 points in a losing effort against Xavier at Carnesecca Arena on January 30, and intensified four days later with 33 points in the Red Storm's cathartic 81-77 victory over Duke before a capacity crowd at the Garden on February 3. Four days after that, Ponds managed only 26 points, but was equally as instrumental in St. John's defeating top-ranked Villanova on the road by a 79-75 final. His best -- and most memorable -- salvo came on February 10, when his aforementioned 44 points at the expense of Marquette broke a Carnesecca Arena record that had stood for nearly three decades when Sealy registered 43 points in 1990, and served as the highest point output for a Red Storm player since Marcus Hatten -- also a Haggerty winner -- recorded an equal amount against Rutgers in 2003.

Currently in the midst of testing the NBA Draft waters, a decision he announced last month, Ponds has workouts scheduled with the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, per Braziller, and is reportedly 60-40 with regard to leaving St. John's -- with the higher percentage leaning toward remaining in the draft -- although that figure can change based on whether or not he is invited to the NBA Draft Combine. The deadline to withdraw from consideration is May 30.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Seton Hall places four among All-Met teams, most of any local school

Seton Hall's leading scorer this past season, Desi Rodriguez was among four Pirates honored by MBWA Monday. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Seton Hall's senior class closed its collective book in South Orange by bringing home the school's first NCAA Tournament victory since 2004.

The individual careers of three of that quartet, plus a rising star two years their junior, added yet another honor to their resumes before the trio graduates in May.

Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, and Desi Rodriguez -- all part of Kevin Willard's program-changing group of recruits who arrived at Seton Hall in the summer of 2014 -- capped their tenure with distinctions among the metropolitan area's best Monday morning. The three, together with sophomore Myles Powell, give the Pirates four MBWA honorees, more than any other local school this season.

Delgado, last year's Haggerty Award winner who has a realistic chance of repeating and becoming the first two-time recipient since Hofstra's Charles Jenkins was recognized three years in a row between 2009 and 2011, was named to the MBWA first team along with Rodriguez, Seton Hall's leading scorer in a 22-win season that culminated with a valiant showing against eventual Final Four participant Kansas in the NCAA Tournament's round of 32. Carrington and Powell followed suit by procuring second team honors.

Not to be outdone, St. John's placed a pair of its own guards on the MBWA teams, as sophomore Shamorie Ponds picked up a second straight first team placement one year after capturing the All-Met Rookie of the Year award, while Justin Simon landed on the second team. Rutgers added to the high-major dominance with a second team nod for junior guard Corey Sanders, who announced earlier this offseason his intent to forgo his final season in Piscataway in favor of a professional career, and freshman Geo Baker earned Rookie of the Year billing, the first Scarlet Knight to do so since Mike Rosario in 2009.

Iona, the area's most consistent winner over the last several years, only saw one of its players -- point guard Rickey McGill -- recognized with a spot on the All-Met second team, but head coach Tim Cluess received his first Peter A. Carlesimo Coach of the Year honor, a well-deserved testimonial for arguably his best coaching job over eight years in New Rochelle, one that saw the Gaels become just the third program to win three consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships. The Gaels will also be honored off the floor on Wednesday at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, as longtime director of athletic communications and men's basketball media contact Brian Beyrer will become the latest recipient of the Mike Cohen Good Guy Award, bestowed annually upon an individual whose contributions to the college basketball community go above and beyond the routine call of duty.

The Haggerty Award, presented to the best player in the metropolitan area, will be announced Wednesday morning. The remainder of All-Met honors and teams can be found below:

MBWA All-Met First Team (in alphabetical order)
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn
Tyler Nelson, Fairfield
Shamorie Ponds, St. John's
Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall
Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra

MBWA All-Met Second Team (in alphabetical order)
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
JoJo Cooper, Wagner
Rickey McGill, Iona
Myles Powell, Seton Hall
Corey Sanders, Rutgers
Justin Simon, St. John's
Dimencio Vaughn, Rider

MBWA All-Met Third Team (in alphabetical order)
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham
Blake Francis, Wagner
Rokas Gustys, Hofstra
Mike Smith, Columbia
Anthony Tarke, NJIT
Rich Williams, Manhattan

MBWA Rookie of the Year
Geo Baker, Rutgers

Peter A. Carlesimo Coach of the Year
Tim Cluess, Iona

Monday, April 23, 2018

Band Together: A closer look at the St. John's pep band

By Andy Lipton
Special To Daly Dose of Hoops

The game may be the thing, but for college basketball fans and the players themselves, having pep bands, cheerleaders, and dancing teams perform before games, between halves and quarters, and during timeouts, adds excitement, electricity and motivation that can seep into us or be a shot of adrenaline. They are an important part of the landscape of college basketball and our enjoyment of the games.

The St. John’s University pep band, under the direction of Courtney White, has been part of my college basketball experience for a long, long time. I thought it was time for fans to get to know them a little bit better. As a collective, the band members are dedicated and loyal to St. John’s University and have a camaraderie amongst each other. And although at games we may take their talents for granted, watching them rehearse brings their wonderful musical talent into focus. It was hard not to be impressed by the individual band members of the band with whom I spoke. They are intelligent, nice, well-spoken, passionate, enthusiastic, and hard-working.

Besides doing their schoolwork, band members have to perform at roughly (it may vary from year to year) 90 school events a year, which includes rehearsals. They perform at basketball, soccer, and some lacrosse games, events related to upcoming games, and student recruiting events. And if you have ever tried to play an instrument, you know you have to practice a lot by yourself.

Here is a closer look at the St. John’s University pep band:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Year No. 9 keeps us on Cloud No. 9

Iona's third straight MAAC championship was among highlights of what turned into a productive ninth season for this site, which shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. (Photo by Jaden Daly/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

It's a long way up, and we won't come down tonight.

Every year, April 17 is among the highlights of my offseason, as it affords me the opportunity to extend a simple -- yet heartfelt -- thank-you to everyone for making this site what it is and continues to be, and 2018 is no exception.

The regulars among us know of the backstory, of how a backup plan in the event of a flameout in the on-air part of the business was formulated inside the tiny offices of WSJU inside St. John's University, and how it has mushroomed into a life unto its own in the years that followed. I won't mention the page views or the Twitter following, because I don't want to blow my own horn as much. Therefore, I will keep it simple and thank everyone involved in helping make this endeavor into the fruitful labor of love it is.

Beginning last October, when Iona hosted an exhibition with proceeds donated to hurricane relief efforts -- something several other schools in the area soon followed suit with -- and ending with the National Invitation Tournament final nearly three weeks ago, 92 games were covered, and hundreds of stories were told. From New Rochelle to midtown Manhattan, Philadelphia to Piscataway, Albany to Boston, and everywhere in between, I did my best amid a promotion at the day job and a lengthened commute to keep the content as frequent as possible, and I apologize if I left anyone out.

To the sports information directors and media contacts who went out of their way to make sure everything was taken care of and that my staff and I got whatever was needed, no words can justify the job that all of you do. I can't thank the likes of Brian Beyrer, Pat McWalters, Tom Chen, Kevin Ross, Steve Dombroski, Joe DiBari, Mike Kowalsky, Casey Snedecor, Brian Morales, Miles McQuiggan, Bryan Jackson, Hamilton Cook, Mike Ferraro, Gary Kowal, Greg Ott, Matt Reitnour, Derick Thornton, Jack Jones, Jeremy Kniffin, Mike Demos, Kevin Lorincz, and Mike Sheridan enough; not to mention Rob DeVita and everyone in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference office, John Paquette, Kristin Quinn, and everyone at the Big East, plus Larry Torres and the Madison Square Garden staff for maintaining professionalism and helping us above and beyond the minimum to make sure our coverage was fresh and engaging. Again, if I missed anyone, I humbly apologize.

To the coaches, the same gratitude needs to be exhibited. Those who follow us closely know how much Steve Masiello has meant to our growth over the years, but he and his Manhattan team were not the only ones who boosted us. Kevin Willard, Chris Mullin, and of course Tim Cluess were the other pieces of our core this year, as was John Dunne, who we wish the very best of luck in his new position at Marist. If I named every coach, I'd be here all night, but be advised that you all meant a great deal to us this year in helping chronicle the tales of your respective programs. On that note, I need to thank Mike Maker and Jimmy Patsos in particular for the courtesy and professionalism they showed us over the years, and wish each the best in their future endeavors. To Shaheen Holloway and whomever is fortunate to take over the reins at Siena, we look forward to working with you in the coming months.

My contemporaries in the media are -- and will always be -- special to me, and not a moment goes by where I am not grateful for the support and warm welcome I have received in your family over the years. Jerry Carino has become one of our biggest allies and sounding boards, and the conversations in the Prudential Center media room as night turned to morning are among some of my greatest memories this season. Alongside Jerry, the same can be said for Zach Braziller, John Fanta, Chris McManus, Josh Adams, Jeremy Schneider (we miss you on the Seton Hall beat, homie), Jim Hague, and so many countless others we come across every night.

I have also been blessed to have the backing of one of the greatest staffs I can employ, and their loyalty despite not being compensated speaks volumes as well. Jason Guerette just wrapped up his third season as my indispensable wing man on Seton Hall coverage, and he remains a strong tag team partner. The same can be said for Jason Schott, who made his return to the St. John's scene and brought back memories of the old Row C days in the process while helping me out on more games than I can count when we needed to pull double duty. Bob Dea came on board this season as our photographer and enhanced our ability to tell a story through the art of timeless images, and I look forward to a second season together. Ray Floriani is a true Renaissance man of our industry, and covers a non-conference women's basketball game as if it were the national championship. Tell me, what more can you ask for in that regard? Andy Lipton's freelance contributions and videos have helped cover some parts of the game that often get overlooked, and the special contributors -- of which there are many -- only add to our bottom line. We're always looking for more people to come on board, too. Reach out to us on Twitter, or via e-mail at if you're so inclined, and we can go from there.

Finally, I have to thank the readers, because without you, there would be no us. Your support means more to me than any of you will ever know, and the impact you've had on my life is truly immeasurable. It goes beyond sharing our pieces on social media and telling your friends about us, as just the mere inclusion of this site into your everyday routine is why we do what we do.

As we wrap up our ninth year as an outlet, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the influence the now-shuttered NYC Buckets had on helping this site evolve. Some may think John Templon and I were rivals, but nothing could be further from the truth. John and his team inspired me to reach down deeper, to tap into new areas, and expand my own brand in much the same vein he and his staff did theirs. It goes without saying that the college basketball landscape will not be the same without the NYC Buckets staff on hand to share some of the sights and sounds along the way. Our sister site College Hoops Digest continues to be a source of motivation as well, and who knows, maybe we'll be able to add a Southern imprint the way Josh Adams did with Brian Wilmer, who still contributes for us on occasion as well. Long story short, we've tried to stay humble and keep a good head on our shoulders, and it is that mindset -- coupled with the genuine appreciation for every kind word directed our way, as well as the criticism that is sometimes well-deserved -- that keeps the dream that was born on April 17, 2009 alive to this day, with a full flame underneath it to ignite the future. If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.

In closing, may we all enjoy the offseason, and I hope you all keep spurring us on to keep our passion so full and so strong. May the possession arrow always be in your favor, may you never have to sit through too many trips to the monitor, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

There ain't no place that I'd rather be, and we can't go back, but you're here with me.

I thank you all for everything you've done, and for keeping us atop cloud number nine for the foreseeable future. All the best, always.

Jaden Daly
Founder and Managing Editor

Monday, April 16, 2018

In the end, Patsos a victim of circumstance and impatience

Jimmy Patsos resigned Friday amid suspicion of verbal abuse and other misconduct at Siena, but if Saints had a better record last season, this may not have even been news. (Photo by Richard Restivo/NYC Buckets)
Five years ago, Jimmy Patsos addressed the media for the first time as head coach at Siena College in a wide-ranging press conference filled with his inimitable style of basketball intellect sprinkled with an unmatched sense of history, name-dropping Angela Merkel and Eva Perón in his opening remarks after being introduced as Mitch Buonaguro's successor.

Five years later, Patsos is no longer the prince of the Capital Region, forced to abdicate his throne amid a cloud of allegations of verbal abuse to a student manager and an investigation by Siena into possible misuse of per diem payments. But if one simply reads between the lines, one can uncover that the affable and gregarious Patsos may have been done in first by Siena's desire to win -- and win now -- before any possible inquest into what he may or may not have done.

The Siena fan base, for those unfamiliar, can be a rather eccentric one, passionate about its basketball and expectant of insatiable success at all costs. The back-to-back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships under Fran McCaffery at the back end of the 2000s spoiled Saints fans so much to the point where anything less would be considered failure. This is an admirable quality in fans more often than not, but Buonaguro's three years at the helm in between McCaffery and Patsos; coupled with the rise of Iona in Tim Cluess' first years in New Rochelle, turned the drive of Saints fans into borderline delusion with each early March exit.

Enter Patsos, who immediately quenched the thirst in Albany with a College Basketball Invitational championship in 2014, another appearance in the same tournament two years later, and an improbable run to a MAAC championship game in 2017 that ended just one point short of what would have been an even more improbable NCAA Tournament berth for a team that finished 17-17. Having to replace four 1,000-point scorers who graduated, plus junior guard and face of the program Nico Clareth after his unexpected transfer in January, should have been enough to give Patsos, a proven winner with a track record indicative of more positives than negatives, a longer lease on life. However, going 8-24 in a city with no professional sports franchise to quell the cynics tends to magnify any situation, even one as mundane as going to the corner store for a cup of coffee.

And so it is that Patsos -- who had three years remaining on a contract that was extended in the wake of the aforementioned CBI title -- saw his proverbial hot seat reignited, his every move placed beneath the microscope as fans took to social media to voice their displeasure, some even going so far as to consistently tweet Siena's official athletics account and media who cover the Saints to pull the trigger and make a coaching change.

Yes, Patsos has said and done some unorthodox things over the years, such as his comments about defending Stephen Curry ten years ago, or the unforgettable imaginary handshakes following a game against Rider in which a late-game skirmish took away from the action on the floor. But all coaches are not without their flaws. This is not Mike Rice, whose basketball-turned-dodgeball antics got him deservedly fired at Rutgers. Nor is this Billy Gillispie, who overworked his players and forced them to practice while injured. Patsos may be a little more theatrical than some of his other contemporaries, but behind the histrionics and demonstrative nature lies a man interested in developing his players both on and off the floor, committed to bettering his pupils both in basketball and in life.

Now had Siena done better than 8-24 this past season, the chain of events that transpired over the past several weeks may not have been newsworthy happenings. Winning is almost always a panacea for even the slightest of evils. Look no further than Bob Knight and Rick Majerus, both of whom were also not without their warts -- Majerus' alleged verbal abuse of players during his reign at Utah has been well-chronicled -- yet managed to maintain their jobs because their programs succeeded on the court.

There is also the specter, an unproven one, of Patrick Beilein -- currently the head coach at Le Moyne College and a rumored target to take over at Siena -- looming over the fallout from the Patsos divorce. Just days after his Le Moyne team was eliminated from the NCAA Division II Tournament, Beilein unexpectedly rejected an offer from Marist, who was also in the process of filling its own head coaching vacancy. Conspiracy theories immediately popped up between Marist hiring John Dunne and the Albany Times Union report that Patsos was being investigated, assuming Beilein may have had contact with Siena and that the school was attempting to find a way out of Patsos' contract. Again, any speculation surrounding Beilein and any kind of involvement in the Siena job is untrue; and has not been confirmed or corroborated, but that has not stopped the wheels from turning in both ends of the spectrum, from those arguing a change was necessary and that Patsos had run his course, as well as those who feel the coach was the fall guy.

At the end of the day, Patsos will take away $350,000, his buyout as reported by WNYT in Albany, or approximately one-third of what he was owed for the remainder of his contract, and his reputation tarnished. It is easy to say that this situation could have been handled better, in hindsight, but it does not change the fact that one down year and a cry for a new regime ultimately served as the prime catalyst for costing a coach his job.

Marc Mitchell brings infusion of energy and enthusiasm to moribund Saint Peter's program

Posing with men's basketball coach Shaheen Holloway, Marc Mitchell (left) takes a winning pedigree from Division III FDU-Florham with him to Saint Peter's, who seeks a jolt to its women's basketball program. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

The distance from Madison, New Jersey, to Jersey City, is roughly twenty miles. 

Given the situation, it may as well be twenty time zones. 

FDU-Florham, in Madison, is home to one of the most successful Division III women’s basketball programs this past decade. Saint Peter’s is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The most recent winning season at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school occurred in 2007-08, when the Peacocks won 19 games.

Last month, Pat Coyle resigned after five years at the helm, on the heels of a campaign that saw Saint Peter’s win just four games overall, only one in MAAC play. Several days following Coyle’s resignation, athletic director Bryan Felt turned to Marc Mitchell, presenting the prospect of yet another challenge, one that critics fear is near impossible, but a challenge the seasoned mentor accepts with a palpable excitement.

Mitchell turned around a down-on-its-luck program at FDU-Florham. During his nine-year tenure, he posted a 187-67 record, also capturing six straight Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom titles and making six consecutive NCAA Division III Tournament appearances. The highlight of that run occurred in 2014 when the Devils went 33-0, winning the Division III National Championship. Attaining the heights of a Division I coach was the long-range goal for Mitchell, a New Jersey lifer who began his career in the high school ranks at the place in which he resides today, Elizabeth.

“We need to change the culture,” Mitchell said. “We had to do that at FDU, and that is an initial consideration here at Saint Peter’s. This is a place that has not had a tradition.” 

Mitchell was politely reminded of the 1980s and 1990s, when Saint Peter’s virtually ruled the MAAC, and immediately proved to be well-versed in his new employer's history. 

“Mike Granelli,” was his response. 

Mitchell showed a knowledge and true appreciation of the women’s game by mentioning Granelli, the architect and keeper of that great Saint Peter’s run. The new coach’s point in saying Saint Peter’s was devoid of tradition was that in the minds of many observers -- and certainly 18-year-old recruits -- what happened two decades back is ancient, if even realized.

Culture is a word frequently used is discussing the difference between pretenders and contenders, but what really constitutes a successful culture?

“It’s having everyone on the same page,” Mitchell observed. “It starts with the head coach, the entire staff, all the players, everyone associated with the program, a vision (of) where we are and where we want to be.” Mitchell’s philosophy from culture to results on the court sounds simple, yet it is very effective. 

“Work hard,” he said, “and everything will take care of itself.”

Looking over his roster and watching some tape, Mitchell already has ideas. He calls Zoe Pero, a MAAC All-Rookie selection her freshman year and a junior this upcoming season, his pillar, someone he can build around and go to. The coach also likes what he sees in 5-foot-10 sophomore Dajiah Martin. Another sophomore, D’Aviyon Magazine is a versatile guard who can play either on or off the ball, depending on the situation. Junior Sammy Lochner returns with backcourt experience, but was a turnover machine this past season. 

“Unacceptable,” Mitchell said of Lochner's ball handling. On the other side of the token, however, Mitchell realizes Lochner is a veteran, and can contribute providing her turnovers are significantly reduced. 

Coaching in New Jersey, Mitchell was able to follow the MAAC closely. He knows the women’s game thoroughly on all levels and is well aware of what is ahead regarding his new conference. 

“Quinnipiac has ruled the last few seasons,” he said. “Marist did before that and is still strong. Beyond that, there are a number of teams competing for the next spots.”

In simple terms, challenging the top two is a stretch at the moment, but upward mobility is something that can be quickly achieved.  

Last season, Saint Peter's was at the bottom of the MAAC in offensive efficiency and second-to-last on the defensive end. In terms of style, Mitchell makes no bones about wanting to present an uptempo attack on both ends. Defense will be a priority, with that end featuring pressure, half or full-court variety. Offensively, Saint Peter's, under Mitchell’s watch, will get out more in transition. A year ago, the Peacocks played at a 68 possessions-per-game pace, a deliberate to moderate tempo. Expect that to chance significantly. It is a style he employs, and realizes its attractiveness to prospective recruits. 

Mitchell has wasted no time during his first few weeks in Jersey City. A new staff is in place. As noted, he has evaluated the returnees and the recruiting trail is being negotiated in earnest. Personable, Mitchell is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm exuding confidence. 

“It is an exciting time here,” he gushed. “It’s going to be an exciting year. Please come down and see us.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Orlando's Khem Birch on playing center in the NBA

By Andy Lipton
Special To Daly Dose Of Hoops

NEW YORK -- Four years ago, on a trip to Las Vegas I decided to see the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels play a home game at the Thomas & Mack Center against Utah State. A lot of ink was spilled in the early 1990s over the UNLV basketball team and its coach, Jerry Tarkanian, based on their prowess on the court and troubles with the NCAA.

Although many years had passed, given the opportunity, its history compelled me to watch them play in person. Coming from New York, I had not spent much time watching teams from the Mountain West Conference play. The Runnin’ Rebels were 12-7 at the time, and ended the season with a 20-13 record.

Four years ago and more so today, in both in the college and pro game, less and less centers play the way they did years ago -- back to the basket in the low post receiving entry passes, taking hook shots and three-foot contested jumpers, drawing other defenders, passing out of the post, and defending low-post opponents -- you had other players cutting without the ball off the post or playing give-and-go with the center, and in the case of really good low-post centers, passing to cutters away from the ball. I have missed those parts of the game.

I was taken with UNLV’s center, junior Khem Birch, who played the center position in a more traditional sense: Back to the basket, and low post on offense. Birch defended Utah State’s star center, Jarred Shaw, who also played the low post on offense. Birch did a great job of denying Shaw the ball in the second half of that game.

As a sophomore at UNLV, Birch was the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He wound up winning that award again in his junior year, also averaging a double-double that year with 11.5 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game. It was easy to also see that Birch had terrific athleticism going for him -- good hands, ability to get down the court fast, and leaping ability.

In his fourth year since leaving UNLV, Birch had his dream come true: He made the

NBA with the Orlando Magic. Although I really appreciated Birch’s low-post play in the Utah State game, he proved that he could play in today’s NBA – an NBA that has gone away from low-post center play – and he believes his strengths are suited for today’s NBA.

Last week, the Magic was in New York to play the Knicks. After the Magic’s morning shootaround, I spoke to the 6’9” Birch about playing the center position:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Jimmy Patsos resigns amid allegations of verbal abuse and investigation by Siena

Jimmy Patsos' reign at Siena came to an end Friday amid allegations of verbal abuse that came on heels of 8-24 season, his worst in five years at the helm. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

After a quiet beginning to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference offseason, the league is now looking at its third head coaching vacancy in less than six weeks.

Just over 24 hours after Shaheen Holloway replaced John Dunne -- who left Saint Peter's for Marist -- in Jersey City, Siena has become the latest rider of the carousel after Jimmy Patsos resigned from his post atop the Saints' program after a five-year reign that began with a College Basketball Invitational championship and ended in a cloud of alleged verbal abuse to a student manager.

Patsos, 51, compiled a 77-92 record in his five seasons at Siena, concluding with an 8-24 mark this past year, the worst of his campaigns since replacing Mitch Buonaguro in 2013. In his defense, though, the Saints were one of the youngest teams in the nation during the 2017-18 season, having to learn on the fly in the wake of graduating four 1,000-point scorers last May and then mitigating the circumstances of Nico Clareth's midseason departure.

"I am resigning my position as basketball coach at Siena College as of April 16, 2018," Patsos said in a statement issued by his attorney, Richard Walsh. "I have denied and continue to deny any accusations of wrongdoing, but it is clear that it would be impossible to coach and recruit for Siena in this atmosphere, and I would never want to do or say anything that would be harmful to the team or to the school."

"I am still not sure how we got to where we are today, but at this time, I believe it would be best for all concerned if I was to leave Siena and pursue the next challenge in my lifetime of helping boys become men through college athletics."

Patsos resigns just nine days removed from the Albany Times Union releasing a report that indicated that he verbally abused a student manager suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, allegedly referring to the manager as "the next Unabomber." The Times Union later reported that Siena had begun an investigation that also looked into potential withholding of per diem payments by Patsos and his staff, as well as a supposed incident in which Patsos shoved guard Kadeem Smithen -- who is graduating and is rumored to be transferring to another university this summer -- during a pregame film session, causing Smithen to be thrown from his chair.

In 14 years as a head coach at Loyola (Maryland), where he won a MAAC championship in 2012, and Siena, Patsos is 222-227 lifetime. A search for his successor will begin immediately, with the rumored top candidate being Le Moyne head coach Patrick Beilein, who was under consideration for the then-vacant head coaching position at Marist before unexpectedly declining an offer two weeks ago.

"I wish everyone at Siena the best and thank all of my players, coaches and managers for their dedication to me over the last five years," Patsos continued in his prepared statement. "I also want to give a heartfelt thank-you to the community that has treated me and my wife, Michele, so wonderfully during our time in the Capital District. Siena is fortunate to have an amazing, dedicated fan base. Hopefully, we will meet again."

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Holloway introduced as head coach at Saint Peter's

Shaheen Holloway addresses media for first time as Saint Peter's head coach, replacing John Dunne and coming to Peacocks after eight years on staff at Seton Hall. (Photo by Jerry Carino/Asbury Park Press)

It did not take long for Shaheen Holloway to command the Yanitelli Center. 

Introduced as the head coach at Saint Peter's Thursday afternoon, the New Jersey legend wasted little time unveiling the same vision he honed to perfection as an all-Big East Conference point guard at Seton Hall and later executed as an assistant under Kevin Willard as a committed mentor on each of the Pirates' last three NCAA Tournament teams.

"This is a long time coming," Holloway remarked shortly after being christened as the successor to John Dunne, who left the Peacock program after twelve years to take over at Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rival Marist last week, and Saint Peter's 15th-overall head men's basketball coach. "Sometimes in life, you've really got to believe in yourself, and that's what I did. I chose myself. I've prepared a long time for this, but this is really not about me."

"This is about these student-athletes right here," he continued, gesturing toward his new players in attendance for his first press conference at the helm. "I'm here to try and guide these guys, not just on the court, but also in the classroom and in life."

Holloway takes over a Saint Peter's team fresh off a semifinal appearance in the MAAC Tournament for the third time in four seasons, but also one losing both of its senior leaders in Nick Griffin and Nnamdi Enechionyia. However, a young core anchored by forwards Sam Idowu and Quinn Taylor, as well as a pair of scrappy guards in much the same vein as Holloway himself was early in his career -- Elijah Gonzales and Davauhnte Turner -- return to Jersey City to take the next step in a story that adds a nascent head coach to its fabric at a time in which many believe he was destined to set out on his own.

"I am incredibly excited for Shaheen and his opportunity to lead his own program," Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, who also counted Holloway among his staff at Iona, said in a statement. "He has been by my side for eleven years, and he has been instrumental in the program we have built and the success we have achieved here at Seton Hall. He is a dedicated student-athlete mentor, ace recruiter, a terrific skill development coach, and an even greater person."

"With his outstanding experience as a Division I coach and student-athlete, Shaheen Holloway is the perfect fit to take our men's basketball program to the next level," said Saint Peter's University president Dr. Eugene Cornacchia. "This choice further solidifies our deepened commitment to the Saint Peter's athletic program as a whole."

Based on his initial foray into hiring a men's basketball coach, athletic director Bryan Felt -- who worked with Holloway at Seton Hall and is as aware of his choice's credentials and potential -- seems to have answered the bell in that regard, bringing in a well-respected native son who is eager to hit the ground running in his new capacity, even displaying a confident swagger when answering a question posed by a student reporter of whether his team would end its eight-game losing streak to three-time reigning MAAC champion Iona in the affirmative.

"I hope to bring a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of passion, determination, and hard work," Holloway said when asked of his intended mindset. "But there are only two things I care about: I care about doing things the right way and playing hard. If you do things the right way and you play hard, take no shortcuts, build a foundation, everything will go well. That's what I hope to bring."

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Shaheen Holloway named head coach at Saint Peter's

Shaheen Holloway (third from left, between Angel Delgado and Kevin Willard) is leaving Seton Hall to begin head coaching career, having accepted vacant position at Saint Peter's. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

In recent seasons, Shaheen Holloway's star blossomed as a potential head coach just as it had two decades prior as a point guard at Seton Hall. It was not necessarily a matter of if the former Pirate and current associate head coach would get a chance to lead a program of his own, but rather one of just when such an opportunity would come.

Tuesday evening provided the first answer.

Holloway has accepted the vacant head coaching position at Saint Peter's, replacing a fellow former Seton Hall assistant in John Dunne, who left Jersey City exactly one week ago and was introduced this past Thursday as the new head coach at Marist. A press conference to introduce the Peacocks' new leader is slated to be held Thursday at noon, per sources.

Saint Peter's did not need to look very far in their addition of Holloway, who at 41 years of age, becomes the third-youngest head coach in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, with only Manhattan's Steve Masiello and Quinnipiac's Baker Dunleavy his juniors. The Seton Hall legend and Pirate Hall of Famer is also the latest branch of Kevin Willard's coaching tree, having spent the past eleven years on his staffs, both in South Orange and also at Iona for Willard's three-year tenure there before returning to his alma mater in 2010.

Known as a stellar recruiter and developer of the next generation of guards, Holloway comes to Jersey City having tutored a pair of floor generals who have gone on to ply their wares in the NBA, working with Scott Machado for two years at Iona and then helping to turn Isaiah Whitehead into a professional at the highest level. Holloway's latest success story saw Khadeen Carrington make a seamless transition from playing off the ball to running the Seton Hall offense this past season, a move that paid off in the form of the Pirates' first NCAA Tournament win since 2004. Both Whitehead and Carrington took to social media in the wake of the New York Times' Adam Zagoria breaking news of the hire to laud Saint Peter's and athletic director Bryan Felt -- who, like Holloway, worked at Seton Hall before taking over the department last September -- for making what appears to be a shrewd and inspired choice. Several others connected to the Seton Hall community did the same.

Saint Peter's loses seniors Nick Griffin and Nnamdi Enechionyia from a roster that reached the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament last March, but will return three starters to a team expected to be picked near the middle of the conference next season. Guards Davauhnte Turner and Elijah Gonzales, the latter a 5-foot-9 dynamo whose speed and hustle earned him the starting point guard spot midway through the year, are prime candidates to become Holloway's latest projects for the Peacocks, who return five of their top six scorers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Marist's uphill climb becomes more attainable with hiring of John Dunne

John Dunne's move from Saint Peter's to Marist turned unfavorable situation into a winning hire for Red Foxes, who should make progress in MAAC after decade-long morass. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Four weeks ago today, Marist athletic director Tim Murray put himself and his men's basketball program into an admittedly tough spot, relieving Mike Maker of his duties hours before the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game and then going through a search process in which no candidate emerged as the clear frontrunner, at least until Patrick Beilein reportedly rejected an offer to coach the Red Foxes last weekend.

Monday morning, Murray pulled a rabbit out of his hat, pressured a lump of coal long enough to turn it into a diamond, attracting John Dunne to Poughkeepsie -- where he will be introduced in a Thursday press conference -- as Maker's successor.

If the announcement comes out of left field as you read this, it is easy to understand why. Dunne, who MAAC fans have gotten to know very well from his dozen years at Saint Peter's, is the first coach -- unless you count Jimmy Patsos leaving a Loyola team headed for the Patriot League in the 2013 offseason to replace Mitch Buonaguro at Siena -- to leave one MAAC program for another. But unprecedented coaching carousel moves aside, his arrival in the Hudson Valley gives Marist its most accomplished coach since Dave Magarity's 18-year run at the helm ended in 2004.

For those unfamiliar with Dunne's teams at Saint Peter's, they can be best described as methodical, fundamentally sound -- and in the minds of several MAAC experts -- the most bought in with regard to the concept of team defense. Dunne's Peacocks were masters at suffocating opposing teams and taking them far enough out of a groove offensively that it became a tall order to dictate the terms of games. In other words, think Wisconsin or Virginia, but on the mid-major level. And if you are a Marist fan who hasn't heard the phrase John Dunne special, it would be wise to acquaint yourself with the concept of it.

The under-the-radar move, which Rich Thomaselli did an excellent job chronicling for Hudson Valley Sports Report, comes at a time where Marist basketball may have reached its nadir, mired in a stretch of mediocrity that translates to a record of 81-233 in the ten seasons following Matt Brady's departure in the spring of 2008. Dunne's record may not carry the bells and whistles of a Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams, but his 153 wins at Saint Peter's -- including two 20-win seasons that produced a MAAC championship and Postseason Tournament championship -- border on miraculous considering the facilities in Jersey City and location of the university. In simple terms, Dunne has been able to accomplish a lot with what is perceived to be a little. Give him Marist's sprawling campus, aesthetically pleasing gym in McCann Arena, and a geographic base that places him just over an hour and a Metro-North train ride from New York, and the results will pay off almost instantaneously.

Anyone who knows Dunne will immediately vouch for his salt-of-the-earth nature, a gentleman and a class act who will represent anyone he affiliates himself with to the highest possible standard, and a worker akin to a master craftsman who will not stop improving his project until he can no longer recognize an apparent flaw. The same people who champion his work and character off the court will just as quickly give him his just plaudits for what he does on the hardwood, taking notice of his ability to develop both sides of a player's game, as well as prepare each of his young pupils for life after basketball.

Murray took an 0-2 count, to use baseball parlance, and hit his next pitch out of the park by luring Dunne away from Saint Peter's. The time now arises for the Red Foxes and the Hudson Valley community to put on their hard hats and get to work. And at the end of the day, and every day to come thereafter, Marist's men's basketball program will be in a better place than before under the patient and watchful eye of its new leader.

Bryant consummates what will be a successful marriage by hiring Grasso

All smiles upon being introduced as Bryant's next head coach, Jared Grasso will be providing similar sentiment for Bulldog fans sooner rather than later. (Photo by David Silverman Photography via Miles McQuiggan/Bryant University Athletic Communications)

"He had me sitting on the edge of my seat. He had me pumped up."

Those words -- spoken by Bryant University athletic director Bill Smith Monday morning -- define the ethos of Jared Grasso, the man in whose hands Smith placed his trust and his men's basketball program, concluding a search to replace the retired Tim O'Shea with a basketball lifer who spent eight years waiting for a second chance to lead at the highest level.

The son of the late Fred Grasso -- a coach in his own right -- Jared has always been wired differently, despite the 1-22 record as interim head coach at Fordham in 2009-10 and despite everyone's attempts to discredit him as the mere recruiter for Tim Cluess' Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship teams at Iona. Yes, the younger Grasso is quite adept at attracting incoming transfers, and was able to cast a wide net across the country during his time as a lieutenant in New Rochelle. But it is what goes on behind the scenes, without the fans in the stands and the cameras capturing the ball and the players, that showcases the true makeup of Smithfield, Rhode Island's newest resident, a charismatic 37-year-old leader who pours his heart and soul into every project he undertakes, from cultivating relationships to developing skills and ultimately succeeding in the win column.

Bryant has itself a tireless Energizer bunny to call a head coach, one who will be unafraid to spend 18-hour days in the office and envelope everyone around him into his world. Not a moment went by in all his years at Iona -- be it with players, fans, or media -- that Grasso did not look to include someone else to share in his joy. A naturally extroverted personality with a fervor to compete and win above all else, he brings a brand that the Bulldog program, and the Northeast Conference on a larger scale, needs just as strongly as the bear hug in which he has embraced his new home.

A head coach again for first time since 2010, Jared Grasso brings his track record of recruiting and developing players to Bryant, who hired former Iona assistant to rebuild from 3-28 campaign. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

"I promise you, I won't let you down," he intoned Monday shortly after his hire was officially consummated, doing so with an expression and body language that conveyed full commitment and sheer determination. 

Never has Grasso made a promise he ultimately could not keep, never has his mouth written a check his skill set could not cash. For a program now having just begun its second decade at the Division I level and about to enter its seventh year as a full-fledged member of college athletics' highest stage, such an emboldened leader is exactly what is needed to break through and reach the heights enjoyed by two of Bryant's biggest in-state rivals in Providence and Rhode Island -- both of whom, coincidentally enough -- hired young firebrand coaches in Ed Cooley and Dan Hurley, the latter having since moved on to UConn, that match the big dreams and track record of success Grasso carries with him into his new endeavor.

Still motivated by his past failures, speaking of the NEC championship game in which he competed as a senior at Quinnipiac sixteen years ago, and referencing his winning ways with the piece of Iona's MAAC championship net that he carries with him as a reminder of the rewards that come with success in the sport, Grasso laid the foundation for which it all starts today, and every day thereafter as the Bulldogs look to add their own name to a growing list of conference parity where four different schools have represented the league in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past four seasons.

"We are going to win a NEC championship here," he said, steadfast in his conviction. "We are going to cut down nets here. We are going to put this program on the map here."

Bryant fans need only to get ready and get on board. The bus for the promised land is about to depart, and if Jared Grasso's past and present is any indication, it will arrive in a fruitful future sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Chambers vindicated in Penn State's NIT triumph

Pat Chambers validated trust of administration by leading Penn State to NIT championship, capping off most successful year in Nittany Lion basketball history. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEW YORK -- Coaches betting on themselves, so to speak, has become a recent trend in college basketball, where the leader of a program projects enough confidence in the collective ability of he and his team to pull through with its back against the proverbial wall, leading to a payoff for all parties involved.

Kevin Willard is a popular example of such an instance, urging athletic director Pat Lyons to stick with him one more year at Seton Hall following a tumultuous 2014-15 season that would have been enough to show some others in his shoes toward the exit. With a rejuvenated lease on life and a burgeoning sophomore class, Willard rewarded Lyons' faith with a Big East Conference championship, the program's first since 1993. Clemson's trust in Brad Brownell when it appeared his tenure was on shaky ground led to a Top 25 ranking and the Tigers ending the season in the Midwest Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. And in the case of Pat Chambers and the commitment of athletic director Sandy Barbour, Penn State now has a seat at this common table, bringing its newly-won National Invitation Tournament championship trophy as a centerpiece.

"I've been on the hot seat for seven years," the former Jay Wright assistant and head coach at Boston University declared in the afterglow of Penn State winning its second postseason championship last Thursday, and first since a prior NIT victory in 2009. "You've just got to try to do it the right way, try to bring in big-time players, and you've got to have an administration that supports you."

Such advice is easier said than done in a Big Ten Conference where perennial heavyweights such as Michigan State, Michigan, and Indiana continue to reign supreme, with Ohio State joining the fray this season under new head coach Chris Holtmann. Far too often -- especially at schools where football takes a greater precedence than its hardwood contemporary -- the building process can be arduous, and at times, thankless if done under the large shadow cast by the gridiron. For Chambers, he has managed to pull off this feat with a bang, blending veteran leaders the likes of Lamar Stevens and Shep Garner with dynamic younger players such as point guard Tony Carr, Josh Reaves, and burgeoning forward John Harrar, and taking on a proven mentor in Jim Ferry -- who won a pair of Northeast Conference championships at LIU Brooklyn -- to serve on his staff to accelerate the growth process, which now adds Selection Sunday to its list of expectations.

"It's a springboard for us," said Chambers of the NIT victory. "To win 26 games, to cut down some nets, that means winning. You're winning, you're finding success, and that helps everything out. We've created a lot of excitement, but it's definitely a validation of how hard the staff has worked and the risk -- the trailblazing -- that a lot of these players took to say yes to us. I think we've proven to a lot of people across the country that Penn State basketball is here to stay. It's not just a stepping stone, it's a destination."

"When all that is aligned and you partner up, and you just keep working, you know eventually, it's going to swing your way. And it finally did."