Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bobcat backcourt emerges from roster turnover deeper and hungrier

With graduations of Giovanni McLean and James Ford, Daniel Harris enters his senior season as face of Quinnipiac's ever-changing backcourt, which has gained depth for 2016-17. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

As Quinnipiac struggled to an uncharacteristic 9-21 season last year, one thing was clear to head coach Tom Moore: The need for more bodies in a backcourt that endured peaks and valleys in its first season without four-year mainstays Zaid Hearst and Evan Conti.

"I think a year ago, a lot of our offensive problems could be traced to some inconsistency in the backcourt," Moore revealed when assessing exactly what it was that went wrong for the Bobcats last season. "We do need depth, obviously. I think we're doing a really good job right now of securing depth, and we're hoping that with some of the new faces, we'll emphasize some of those problems."

Gone are James Ford Jr. and Giovanni McLean, the former after four years in Hamden as a vital cog in the guard stable and the latter a one-year addition before receiving a waiver to use his final year of eligibility elsewhere, as are Dimitri Floras and Ayron Hutton after transferring. In their place stand a trio of incumbents that should see the majority of minutes in a unit that may enter the year underrated, but has room to not only grow, but stand among its contemporaries.

"Danny Harris had a fantastic season for us last year," said Moore of his newly minted senior, who becomes the backcourt leader with Ford and McLean having departed. "He just really impressed us with his consistency and how he shot the ball, how he competed and grew as a player last season. I think he went from being a one-dimensional kid to being multi-dimensional at the end of the season, and he was growing in leaps and bounds."

Twins Aaron and Andrew Robinson were not always the first names called off the bench a year ago, but as sophomores, both will see mounds of playing time, and not just because of their potential on game night.

"The twins didn't get a lot of opportunities last year on the court during games, but they grew a lot in practice," Moore admitted. "They are the two hardest-working kids that we have in our program, and they've remained that. With James Ford graduating, I think there's going to be a lot of opportunities for them just because of their work ethic."

Together with Harris, the Robinson twins form an experienced three-headed monster that welcomes two new members into the fold, freshmen Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss, both of whom have unique skill sets that bring a different aspect to the table.

"Mikey's very talented, very quick," said Moore. "He was the Delaware State Player of the Year and his team won the state championship. He can really score, he can play on the ball or off the ball, he can really shoot from deep and get in the lane. He's really good in transition and has a real good handle."

Kiss, a New York product by way of the powerful Notre Dame Prep program, comes heralded by Moore as an "interesting" player.

"Pete is going to be an interesting player, because he could play the three, two, or one for us," Moore intimated. "I'm excited to see which way his game takes him. He's a very competitive kid who has a lot of ability, he can shoot it, he can pass it well. I just like how he competes."

The quintet will certainly not be sneaking up on its competition this season, especially after the rave reviews they have earned for their offseason demeanor, which has their coach optimistic for what lies ahead.

"They're going to out-sweat and outwork a lot of people in our league and just continue to get better," said Moore. "The rest of the improvement is going to come from our new faces, and I think what I'm really excited about is the depth we're going to have next year."

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Reggie Witherspoon replaces Jim Baron as head coach at Canisius

Reggie Witherspoon, who spent 14 seasons as head coach at nearby Buffalo, returns to Western New York to be Jim Baron's successor at Canisius. (Photo courtesy of Today's U)

Canisius did not need to look very far to replace Jim Baron, hiring a well-respected native son to lead the Golden Griffins into the 2016-17 season.

Reggie Witherspoon, a Buffalo product who once played for former Griffs coach John Beilein when the two were at Erie Community College, was named head coach Saturday morning, just eight days after Baron announced his retirement, citing a desire to spend more time with his family and watch his sons play professionally overseas.

"I am incredibly excited for our men's basketball program, our college, and for Western New York to welcome Reggie Witherspoon as our new head coach," Canisius athletic director Bill Maher said in a statement. "Having known him for over 16 years, I am confident in his abilities and his fit for Canisius."

The 55-year-old Witherspoon is best known for his 14-year stint as head coach of the University at Buffalo, where he guided the Bulls to 198 career wins and four postseason appearances out of the Mid-American Conference. Most recently, he was an assistant on Matt McCall's staff at Chattanooga; who reached the NCAA Tournament this past season, and also at Alabama under former head coach Anthony Grant.

"I am excited to take over Canisius on a number of levels," he said. "Having grown up here in the area, I remember going to see a lot of Canisius games as a kid and then as I grew older, I started to become friends with guys that played or were playing at Canisius. I want to thank President (John) Hurley and Bill Maher for giving me this opportunity to return to Western New York as a head coach, and I am really looking forward to building on the long history of the men's basketball program."

Witherspoon, who signed a five-year contract that will run through the 2020-21 season, will be officially introduced Tuesday in a 10 a.m. press conference inside the Koessler Athletic Center.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Breaking down Monmouth's non-conference schedule

Monmouth begins encore to record-setting season on November 11, when Hawks host Drexel in West Long Branch. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

A 28-win season that set a program record for victories, yet saw a somewhat egregious NCAA Tournament snub, was only the beginning for Monmouth.

The Hawks, undeterred by their oversight at the hands of the selection committee, still advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, and head coach King Rice proclaimed; boldly and defiantly, that his team would return undaunted and stronger than they were.

Monday afternoon marked the first step in Monmouth's encore, with the team's non-conference schedule being released. An 11-game slate that features four contests at the Multipurpose Activity Center and road games against two reigning Final Four participants that serve among six postseason teams on the Hawks' ledger, will be the test that last year's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season champion will face before resuming league play in January.

Starting with their season opener against Drexel on November 11, and reaching its conclusion against North Carolina on December 28, we preview each game in-depth, highlighting what awaits Monmouth in their road to what the Hawks hope will be an NCAA Tournament, which would be the program's first since 2006:

Friday, November 11 vs. Drexel: The Dragons, and new head coach Zach Spiker, head to West Long Branch to return Monmouth's 82-74 victory last November, but will be a completely different unit. Both of their leading backcourt scorers must be replaced, leaving senior Rodney Williams as the focal point of Drexel's offense. Major Canady, who redshirted due to injury last season, will be returning, and should be expected to carry the load in the absence of Terrell and Tavon Allen.

Tuesday, November 15 at South Carolina: Like Monmouth, Frank Martin's Gamecocks were also among the first four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament, relegated to the NIT despite winning 25 games. The good news for the Hawks is that South Carolina will be younger than they were this past season, needing to replace four-year warrior Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas up front. However, each of the Gamecocks' three guards returns, with Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice going into their senior seasons alongside sophomore PJ Dozier. Also of note is the presence of sophomore Chris Silva, who played alongside Monmouth's Pierre Sarr in high school at Roselle Catholic.

Friday, November 18 at Syracuse: The Orange shocked the world en route to arguably the most unlikely Final Four appearance in program history last season, and will need to replace each of their guards after Malachi Richardson remained in the NBA Draft while Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney graduated. Nevertheless, Jim Boeheim's front line will cause matchup problems for everyone next season, with Tyler Lydon and Tyler Roberson anchoring the patented 2-3 zone defense while freshman Tyus Battle is entrusted with running the offense.

Tuesday, November 22 vs. Cornell: The second of four non-conference home games will see Monmouth welcome Brian Earl, a former Princeton assistant who takes over the Big Red following the dismissal of Bill Courtney. The new head coach will not have as much to work with in Ithaca following the graduation of several pieces in a senior-laden roster, but junior guard Matt Morgan will no doubt be Cornell's focal point after averaging nearly 19 points per game a year ago. Finding a steady rebounder will be critical to their success.

Friday, November 25 at Holy Cross: Last year's Patriot League champions will seek a march to the NCAA Tournament that will not border so much on impossible this season, projecting to be much improved. Five of the Crusaders' top six scorers return for head coach Bill Carmody, including guard Robert Champion and 6-7 wing Malachi Alexander, who shot 44 percent from three-point range last season.

Saturday, November 26 vs. South Carolina State: This neutral site game against the Bulldogs will be played at Holy Cross as part of the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Invitational, which also explains Monmouth's trips to South Carolina and Syracuse. South Carolina State returns four of their top six scorers from last season, headlined by guards Eric Eaves and Ed Stephens.

Tuesday, December 6 at Wagner: The Hawks make the trip up the Garden State Parkway and over the Outerbridge Crossing to Staten Island, renewing their series with the Seahawks, their former Northeast Conference rival. After winning 23 games and scoring the first postseason win in program history when they took down St. Bonaventure in the NIT, Bashir Mason brings a talented group with mounds of upside back to Grymes Hill, led by junior guard Corey Henson and perhaps the most underrated player in the area, senior forward Michael Carey, a double-double threat who was surprisingly left off the NEC's first team last season. While Wagner must replace the likes of Dwaun Anderson, Henry Brooks and Mike Aaman, they get some relief up front with the arrival of AJ Sumbry, who sat out last season after transferring from Quinnipiac.

Saturday, December 10 vs. Army: In retrospect, the loss to the Black Knights at Christl Arena last December may have been the one that Monmouth fans want back from last season, as the setback; coupled with conference losses to Canisius and Manhattan, were the three sub-200 RPI losses that ultimately left the Hawks on the outside looking in. However, this will be a different Army team that new head coach Jimmy Allen will guide, and is one that must replace five senior starters. Junior forward Luke Morrison is the team's top returning scorer after playing in just 21 games off the bench last season, while Kennedy Edwards will be counted on to provide a boost to the rebounding efforts in his senior campaign.

Tuesday, December 13 at Memphis: Monmouth scored a winnable guarantee game with the Tigers, who have a young roster for new coach Tubby Smith to work with. The greatest news for the former national champion tactician is that Dedric Lawson returns for his sophomore season after an impressive freshman campaign of nearly 16 points and nine rebounds per game, good enough to earn the homegrown talent Rookie of the Year honors in the American Athletic Conference. Markel Crawford, who developed into a high percentage shot taker last season, will be in line for a productive senior year as graduate transfer Christian Kessee arrives from Coppin State to anchor the backcourt.

Tuesday, December 20 vs. Princeton: This could be the game of the year in the area, a battle of two likely Top 50 RPI teams if both the Hawks and Tigers replicate their 2015-16 form. In winning 22 games and earning an at-large spot in the NIT, Mitch Henderson and Princeton went a long way in validating their tremendous future promise, returning almost everyone from a team that gave Yale all it could handle in the Ivy League championship race. Henry Caruso and Pete Miller are both solid scorers and rebounders for the Tigers up front, with Steven Cook and Amir Bell able to knock down shots on the wings while Spencer Weisz threads the needle with his exemplary passing skills. Remember this name, though: Devin Cannady. The Tigers' sophomore sixth man has already displayed a knack for making clutch shots, playing the hero in both regulation and overtime during a pivotal overtime road win against Columbia late in the season.

Wednesday, December 28 at North Carolina: The final test for Monmouth before MAAC play resumes comes against Rice's alma mater, and a likely Top 10 team in the nation by the time the Hawks travel to Chapel Hill. While Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson have graduated, the Tar Heels are by no means incomplete, returning junior wing Justin Jackson on the wing to serve as their long distance specialist while Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks protect the rim for last year's national runner-up. In the backcourt, Joel Berry II emerged as a steady ball handler last year, and will be one of the best players in the country at his position going into his junior season. Nate Britt joins him off the ball, with Theo Pinson ready to make an impact on the wing as well. Of note will be how Roy Williams works his talented incoming freshmen into the rotation, as both forward Tony Bradley and guard Seventh Woods come to UNC as Top 100 recruits.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Isaiah Whitehead to remain in NBA Draft

With NBA Draft's early entry deadline hours away, Isaiah Whitehead has opted to remain in consideration, ending his career at Seton Hall. (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

The decision has been made, and for Seton Hall fans, it is not the one they were hoping for.

Isaiah Whitehead, who led the Pirates to their first Big East championship since 1993 and first NCAA Tournament since 2006, has hired an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, opting to forgo his final two seasons of eligibility.

First confirmed by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Whitehead's future had been a hot topic for the past week following his stellar showing at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. The Brooklyn native wowed several NBA scouts, and has continued to schedule workouts with teams during the draft process, including one with the Indiana Pacers on June 2 that was reported by SNY's Adam Zagoria, and upheld his intentions late Tuesday night via Twitter.

According to Zach Braziller of the New York Post, who has covered Whitehead since his career took flight at Lincoln High School in Coney Island, the guard has signed with Andy Miller of ASM Sports. Miller, who will also represent Syracuse's Malachi Richardson, boasts a list of clients that reads like a Who's Who of NBA talent, counting the likes of Kevin Garnett, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Kristaps Porzingis among those in his stable.

Braziller further reports that Whitehead and his family decided Friday that he would remain in the draft after heavily debating both sides of the decision throughout the week. The news comes on the same day in which two of his Big East counterparts announced they would withdraw from the draft, as Xavier's Trevon Bluiett and Villanova's Josh Hart are both returning to their respective programs.

In Seton Hall's 25-9 season, Whitehead averaged 18.2 points and 5.1 assists en route to being named a first team all-Big East selection. Currently the No. 58 selection in Draft Express' mock draft, he would be the first Pirate to have his name called since Eddie Griffin and Samuel Dalembert were both first-round selections in 2001.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monmouth non-conference schedule podcast with Josh Newman

Tweeted earlier tonight, here is the podcast I recorded with Josh Newman of the Asbury Park Press, which breaks down Monmouth's non-conference schedule, released Monday afternoon:

Quinnipiac front line grows stronger entering an opportunity for redemption

Going into junior season, Chaise Daniels has already made great strides at Quinnipiac, and head coach Tom Moore is hopeful that he can continue upward mobility among Bobcat forwards. (Photo courtesy of Quinnipiac University Athletics)

For every bit of good their guards have done over the years, if there is one thing that Quinnipiac has come to be known for under Tom Moore, it is the physical front line that the Bobcats have sent out onto the hardwood year after year, leading the charge in their aggressive rebounding tactics.

Just think of the great forwards that have come out of Hamden since Moore took over the former Division II program in 2007. Names like Justin Rutty, Ike Azotam, and Ousmane Drame, players that; although not household names at the national level, echo through the New England basketball landscape like a Who's Who of the mid-major level.

This season, a new group of big men have already laid their names into the cement hoping to etch their own imprint on the legacy authored before them, and will seek to take the next steps toward enhancing their respective marks.

"The lessons they learned this year, some of them were hard lessons, but they battled really hard," Moore said of a frontcourt led by soon-to-be junior Chaise Daniels. "They showed a lot of positives and did quite a few things that, as a coaching staff, we're really, really excited about what they will do now with a year under their belt in primary roles."

Daniels, whom Moore has raved about since the day he stepped on the York Hill campus, was Quinnipiac's third-leading scorer last season, averaging nearly ten points and just over six rebounds per game. Of even greater significance is the fact that he returned to top form immediately following a knee injury that shelved him through the early part of the Bobcats' non-conference schedule. Freshman Abdulai Bundu showed just as much of an impact in his rookie season, going for better than seven points and six rebounds per contest in a first-year campaign that saw him take on greater responsibilities as the season went on. Along with junior college transfer Donovan Smith, (7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game of his own) Moore now has a three-headed monster that can rival preseason Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference favorites Monmouth and Siena among the more superior interiors in the league.

"I think those two, (Chaise and Abdulai) and Donovan Smith, we're expecting quite a bit from right now," said Moore. "I'm very excited about them, where they are in their growth and their challenge. Their work ethic, I'm really happy with."

"I do think there are some terrific frontcourts in the MAAC, but I think they should look at themselves as somebody who can compete to be one of the better frontcourts in the MAAC," he elaborated, "not just because of their experience and their talent, but the opportunity that's ahead of them as well."

Friday, May 20, 2016

Canisius head coach Jim Baron announces retirement

Jim Baron announced retirement Friday after four years at Canisius and 29 years as a head coach. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

Canisius College will have a new head coach for the first time since 2012, as Jim Baron announced his retirement Friday morning, following four seasons at the helm of the Golden Griffins.

The news was first reported by Shawn Stepner of WKBW-TV in Buffalo, and soon confirmed by a Canisius official. A press conference will be held at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon to formally announce Baron's departure.

The 62-year-old Baron replaced Tom Parrotta in 2012, and went 73-61 in his tenure, guiding the Griffs to three consecutive postseason appearances before finishing 14-19 last season. Associate head coach Pat Clarke will serve as interim head coach until a permanent successor is named.

Baron compiled an overall record of 462-430, also coaching at Saint Francis University, St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island before arriving at Canisius. During his stint with the Griffs, his youngest son, Billy, developed into an all-conference point guard and was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year in the 2013-14 season.

The sudden retirement comes after Baron, who had signed a contract extension immediately following the MAAC tournament and Canisius' loss to eventual conference champion Iona, returned from a trip to Europe to watch his sons compete in Belgium. The coach cited a desire to spend more time with his family. Both Jimmy and Billy Baron play for the same team overseas.

More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Whitehead to postpone draft decision

Originally scheduled to make announcement on his future yesterday, Isaiah Whitehead will instead wait as he continues to work out for NBA teams and weigh his decision. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

As Tom Petty once said, "the waiting is the hardest part."

Seton Hall fans are now experiencing that foreboding lyric firsthand, as sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has decided to postpone his impending announcement on whether he will remain in South Orange next season, or bypass his two remaining years of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft.

Exactly when Whitehead will declare his future plans is still up in the air. The Brooklyn guard tweeted on Wednesday that a verdict would be reached on May 24. However, ESPN's Jeff Goodman would later report that the announcement would be made the following day, stating that Whitehead and his mother, Ericka Rambert, "needed more time" to fully analyze the pros and cons of the draft process.

Whitehead had been scheduled to work out for the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics, but scrapped those workouts to both nurse a sore hamstring and continue to receive more feedback following his impressive turn at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

At this point, despite the conflicting reports on both ends of the spectrum, the future is still largely uncertain, with the New York Post's Zach Braziller reporting that a source close to the budding superstar said he had "no idea what will happen."

The Most Outstanding Player in the Big East Tournament after helping Seton Hall emerge from Madison Square Garden victorious for the first time since 1993, Whitehead is still slated to work out for the Chicago Bulls on Monday, and will most likely make his decision shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tom Moore reflects on last season, admits much at stake for Quinnipiac in 2016-17

Following an uncharacteristic 9-21 season, Tom Moore has put last season's struggles behind him at Quinnipiac, where he is hopeful for a reversal of fortune with a more seasoned roster next year. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

When you're a coach who has been accustomed to winning, and winning consistently, for over two decades, a nine-win season can be an unnerving dose of culture shock.

So it was for Tom Moore and Quinnipiac last year, as the Bobcats sought to reclaim their spot in the top half of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after each of their four leading scorers in the 2014-15 season graduated. But for all the promise and upside prevalent in Hamden, the results were unfortunately not as abundant as those in the program had hoped when all was said and done.

"It was obviously a disappointing season," Moore lamented, putting to rest what had been an unusual experience for the longtime assistant to Jim Calhoun at the University of Connecticut, where he had helped deliver a pair of national championships before building his own successful program at Quinnipiac. "It's the first year myself and my staff have really ever experienced losing that much. We've been fortunate that if we had a sub-.500 season, it's been one game under."

"There were quite a few things that contributed to us being as ineffective offensively as we were," he said of the Bobcats' maladies with the ball in their hands, "and the shame of it is that for, I think three-quarters of the season, it really undercut what was a really good defensive team and a really good rebounding team."

Quinnipiac remained true to itself on the defensive end with its aggressive rebounding principles, and their philosophy did indeed keep them in the majority of their contests through Moore's ninth season at the helm. However, the youth that the coach was hopeful would make their mark while tasked with the responsibility of replacing first team all-MAAC talents in Ousmane Drame and Zaid Hearst, as well as role players in Evan Conti and Justin Harris, proved to be more of a factor than anticipated in the Bobcats' growing pains.

"I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on our sophomore class just because we lost the four seniors from the year before," said Moore. "I was hopeful that that sophomore class would take a big step up in production and maturity with the opportunity that was ahead of them."

Even in adversity, though, there were noticeable bright spots.

"I thought Chaise Daniels did as best as you can expect," Moore said, heaping praise on his burgeoning forward, "especially when he lost about five games to a knee injury in the middle of the year. I thought James Ford did a nice job for us defensively and leadership-wise, but he was the only real seasoned sort of veteran in our program that was playing meaningful minutes."

Ford has since graduated, and point guard Giovanni McLean; who was approved for a final year of eligibility by the NCAA, will transfer elsewhere as a graduate student, Quinnipiac announced on Tuesday via Twitter.

Despite the losses, Quinnipiac still returns nearly all of their major rotation players up front, and will lean on sharpshooter Daniel Harris to anchor a transitioning backcourt in a season that Moore admits he is eager to see unfold, although he is aware of what is at stake for the program.

"I think the main thing is we have to get more of our swagger back internally," he revealed. "There's no way of sugarcoating it: When you have a losing season, you lose some of that. There's going to be a lot more pressure on me as a head coach and on my staff to make sure we instill that, but also on the older guys to be really on top of their game on and off the court as far as establishing that."

"There are a lot of things at stake with us, because we entered the league a lot higher than people thought," he warned. "We came in through the front door and didn't crawl in through the bottom, and then in year three, we finished lower than we would have thought. We have to first find ourselves this year. This will be our fourth season, (in the MAAC) and I'm excited about going through it."

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Isaiah Whitehead to make announcement regarding his future on Thursday

After an impressive NBA Draft Combine, Isaiah Whitehead is set to announce Thursday whether he will remain in draft or return to Seton Hall for his junior season. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

The deadline for underclassmen to decide whether to remain in the NBA Draft is one week from Wednesday.

Seton Hall fans, however, will find out the result of their important decision six days prior.

Following a performance in last week's NBA Draft Combine that impressed many pro scouts, Isaiah Whitehead will ultimately announce on Thursday if he will remain in South Orange for his junior season, or take his burgeoning talents to the professional level.

"Will make a decision on May 19th whether or not to stay in the draft," the Coney Island guard and Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player tweeted Sunday afternoon. "Overall, had an unbelievable experience at the NBA Draft Combine. Thanks for having me and making a dream come true."

Whitehead, whose tour de force at Madison Square Garden this past March led Seton Hall to its first Big East championship since 1993 and first NCAA Tournament since 2006, is projected as the 58th overall pick in next month's NBA Draft by DraftExpress, which puts him at the tail end of the second round.

However, after having already met with at least ten teams over the past week, with additional workouts yet to come, he insists that he will forgo his final two years of eligibility if promised that he will be a first-round selection.
"Oh yeah, 100 percent," Whitehead told SNY's Adam Zagoria at the combine when asked if he would sign with an agent under the proviso that a team guaranteed to take him in the opening round. "You can't give up opportunities like that."

Whitehead's next workout comes on Monday with the Philadelphia 76ers, who presently have three first-round selections, and could win the NBA Draft Lottery for the No. 1 overall pick. According to Zach Braziller of the New York Post, Whitehead will also showcase his skills for the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in the coming days.

Should he return to school, Seton Hall will almost certainly be ranked in the Top 25 to start the season, as the Pirates would return everyone except graduating senior Derrick Gordon to a team that won 25 games last season under head coach Kevin Willard. Without him, though, Seton Hall will still be projected among the top tier of the Big East next season, with fellow juniors-to-be Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Ismael Sanogo leading the way as the Pirates look to defend their Big East crown.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pink Whistle: Hoop Heaven Spring League


Allendale, NJ - The return to action after the completion of a busy winter of officiating and coverage. The Hoop Heaven Spring League utilizes the Hoop Heaven facility in Waldwick, NJ, as well as several locations around Bergen County. Late April saw four games, three of them girls’ games, all contested at Brookside School in Allendale, NJ.

April 21: Allendale 26, Gryphon 16
I do not know what Gryphon is or stands for. They are a sixth-grade team from Bergen County in Northern New Jersey. Here they are facing Allendale, playing in their home gym at Brookside School.

I have often noted how I am against teams at this level pressing the entire game. It is better to learn the game, especially on defense, at half court. Allendale pressures, but utilizes it like a blitz in football, not for the whole game but as an element of surprise.

The script is repeated several times. Gryphon trails and uses their size to get it to a one-possession affair. Allendale pressures and gets the lead back to double digits. The pressure plus sound dribble penetration on offense are too much for Gryphon to overcome.

Allendale finishes a solid win. In their defense, Gryphon set solid, fundamentally sound screens. Commend the coach on her team setting better screens than some high school teams. She enjoyed the compliment, but went on to list the things her club needed to work on. Every group has that list. Some longer than others.

Ring City 34, Hoop Dreamz 28
The teams are warming up. Coach Billy Armstrong is watching his eighth-grade Hoop Dreamz club from center court. Billy is one of my favorite coaches to work for. He played for Bob McKillop at Davidson in the late nineties, and to this day, speaks regularly with his former coach. To no surprise, he employs the Davidson offense, tailored to the level of eighth-grade girls.

Upon saying hello, I mention to Armstrong his alma mater edged mine in the Atlantic 10 tournament. “What school?,” he asked. “St.Bonaventure,” I replied. Armstrong noted he was at that game.  I mentioned I was as well, on press row covering a heartbreaking yet thrilling contest. “Hey,” he said. “Your (Marcus) Posley kid could play.” My reply: “Your Jack Gibbs did quite the job as well.”

Perception: I spent a few minutes with Armstrong and you do not know if the opposition’s parents and/or coach notice. To devote ‘equal time,’ I introduce myself to the Ring coach and chat briefly about her team before wishing the best of luck. Perception can be huge in officiating.

Early in the game as Hoop Dreamz runs their offense, I think back to that Bonaventure-Davidson game. Quick reminder to myself: Put that Friday night at Barclays behind, as there is a competitive game here demanding 100 percent effort and concentration.
Hoop Dreamz leads by four at the half. In the second half, Ring City abandons the dribble handoff offense to go into an attack-the-basket mode. That seems to ignite Ring City, as they post a hard fought 34-28 victory.

Armstrong exchanges postgame pleasantries with us, the Ring City coach and team. After meeting with his team briefly, he is on the way out. A stickler of fundamentals, Armstrong had to be upset over two deciding factors. One, the inability to close out on Ring City’s No. 13, who buried three second-half three-pointers; the other, several unforced turnovers, very uncharacteristic of Armstrong’s teams. Rest assured those points would be addressed at the next practice.  

April 28: Allendale 19, Saints 15

The Saints hail from Essex County. St. Catherine of Siena, based in Cedar Grove and a school for whom I have enjoyed working better than two decades, is involved in several spring leagues. On this night, they have made the trip to the Hoop Heaven League with a game in Allendale. The sixth-grade competition has the Saints up against Allendale Travel. The Saints coach, a personable lady in her forties, puts the team through a few pregame offensive sets. The Saints use their size to build an early 8-2 lead. Allendale has only five players at the start. Gradually, the latecomers arrive. With girls also playing in soccer and softball leagues in the spring, late arrivals are more the norm. The addition of the additional players allows Allendale to regroup and close out the half with a one-point lead.  

The second half sees Allendale, as they did last week, use the press as an element of surprise. The pressure allows the home team to maintain a lead. The Saints have difficulty on defense stopping Allendale’s penetration. The visitors incur a number of reach-in fouls. The game is aggressive, with players sometimes hitting the deck. Coaches are looking for a call on every sequence. Bottom line: They are competing, we as officials are taking care of business, and basketball is a physical game. Allendale is far from perfect from the line in the stretch. They hit enough to keep the Saints at bay and close out the win.

After the game, both the winning and losing coaches do commend us for our work. Our scorer suggests the tape of this game might not end up in Springfield. At any rate, the teams competed, which is what it’s all about.