Dec 14, 2005
"Parity Rules The Region At Season's Outset"
By Christopher Granozio for northeast10.org
Paul Tagliabue would love the Northeast Region of Division II Men's hoops. After all, there's no clear-cut, pre-ordained frontrunner heading toward the holiday break, as all 38 programs have suffered at least one loss and only three others have just one setback. We're certainly nowhere near the NFL commissioner's ideal of having 30 teams go 8-8 and decide the playoff seedings via tie-break scenarios but it only takes a close look at the games played over the first month to realize there is no goliath in our midst. There are plenty of nice stories out there, so let's review the season's five most pleasant surprises thus far:
1.Holy Family: At 8-1, the Tigers sport the best record and longest winning streak (eight) among the three conferences. Head coach Alfred Johnson possesses one of the most potent backcourts in senior shooter Ryan Haigh and high-scoring classmate Chris Kozole expertly handling the point. There's plenty of size and firepower on the front line, as well, making match-ups difficult for opponents as 6-10 Division I transfer Edward Greene-Long flanks 6-11 shot-blocking center Dan Welch. The Tigers' strong defense begins with second-year player Hazin Harris, who drives foes crazy with his pestering style. Now ranked a school-record #12 in the country after knocking off two nationally ranked opponents, Holy Family is quite a story, though the squad will further be tested at the upcoming Bryant holiday tournament, facing off against the tough hosts and fellow Northeast-10 power St. Anselm. And the best part of the story is that the Tigers will not play a game in their home gym until January 10, having already suited up in three time zones as part of a 13-game stretch away from campus. The good news is that 13 of the final 17 games are in Philadelphia (and maybe more if they keep winning).
2.Stonehill: Already with victories on the road vs. St. Anselm and UMass-Lowell (no small feats), the Skyhawks are off to their best start since a similar 7-1 opening in 1997, when the former Chieftains made it all the way to the Sweet 16, nearly missing their first trip to the Elite 8. With the departures of graduating seniors Dezmond Morgan and Evan Pellerin, it appeared on paper that this might be a rebuilding year for David McLaughlin's program. But senior center Sean Nelson has stepped up his game tremendously at the five spot, making nearly every shot over the last two weeks. Likewise, senior forward Marquis Taylor has averaged nearly a double-double with quick baseline moves and an effective jumper. Senior playmaker Chris Kraus is his reliable, steady and generous self, and the bench though not tremendously deep has provided big boosts in recent games (freshman forward Nick Smith vs. LeMoyne, senior guard Mike Lauricella at Lowell). The nickname may have changed, but the winning ways certainly haven't thus far on the Hill.
3.UMass-Lowell: Prior to their Monday loss to Stonehill, Ken Barer's River Hawks began the campaign with seven wins in eight outings, and are showing the kind of experience needed to win in the rugged NE-10. Senior leadership has proved most valuable as defending conference Player of the Year Stacey Moragne has once again lifted his game, scoring and rebounding at will despite a big target on his back and less protection up front. Moragne is a miracle to watch a 6-4 bull who is as skilled around the basket as any center, yet can step back and drain the three with alarming consistency. And even though he's a truly nice kid, the mouthpiece further perpetuates the accurate persona of a true fighter on the floor. Speedy, sure-handed guards Carl Benn and Brandon Arnette dictate the tone and pace of the Lowell team, and new junior wing Stace Garrick (nephew of former Rhode Island star Tommy Garrick) offers yet another viable option on offense. There may not be another Elad Inbar in the mix (wait another 25 years for his peer to come around again), but the River Hawks continue to churn out wins and remain in perpetual contention.
4.Godey-Beacom: With only seven seasons under its belt, the youngest program in the Northeast has never even flirted with double-digit wins. But under the stewardship of former Philadelphia assistant Chuck Hammond, the Lightning are no longer pushovers. Their 4-3 record may not appear daunting, but take a closer look. The three losses were at Philadelphia in overtime, to two-time defending conference champ Bloomfield (also in OT) and to NJIT by a deuce. New acquisitions Ben Slater in the post and junior guard D.J. Stanberry at the point have meshed well with senior guard and returning leading scorer Nate Lewis to provide a formidable nucleus, with experience and depth off the bench, spearheaded by 6-9 Grambling transfer Tim Polk. Confidence and strong man-to-man defense are reaping rewards at Goldey-Beacom, whose name to opponents no longer equates to easy wins.
5.C.W. Post: After losing his entire starting five from last year, veteran coach Tom Galeazzi has rewritten the script and discovered favorable early results. Among the new faces are junior wings John Morris, who's leading the team in scoring at 17+ ppg and rebounding with 38 total, and Raul Mercedes, the transfer from the DII Juco champion Hostos squad, who is the leading 3-point shooter. But the diamond in the rough is freshman guard Jonathan Schmidt, who is an assist machine and has already won NYCAC Rookie of the Week honors twice. Savvy senior forward Ryan Heller has returned from an extended Pioneers football season and has hardly missed a beat, filling up the stat pages and adding some welcome experience to a club that returns just two players from last year's outfit. At 3-0 in the conference already, Post only looks to get better each time out on the floor.
There may be no region in the country with as many outstanding, accomplished coaches than the Northeast. Topping that list is Philadelphia icon Herb Magee, who joined elite company last Thursday by becoming just the eighth man to reach 800 NCAA coaching victories as his Rams drubbed Wilmington in the same gym where he began his coaching run in 1967 when the school went by the moniker Philadelphia Textile. But the story dates back even earlier. Back in 1959, when the Philly native first stepped on the court at Althouse Hall as a freshman, John F. Kennedy was still alive, "Ben-Hur" was the big hit at the box office and the Dodgers and Giants were settling in to new homes out in California. Over the next four years, the West Catholic High product shot the lights out, racking up 2,235 points (with no 3-point line, no less) and became a two-time All-America, setting the school record with a 29.1 scoring average his junior year and helping the team go 75-17 with a regional title his senior campaign. After assisting head coach Bucky Harris (for whom the gym is now named) for four years, Magee became head coach and has strung together 35 winning seasons in 38 years, including 21 NCAA appearances and a national championship in 1970. There were plenty of DI and NBA offers along the way, but the onetime Boston Celtics draft pick wanted to stay close to his family and friends in the City of Brotherly Love and he hasn't regretted it for a moment. An expert on the art of shooting, Magee is on demand nationally as a speaker and teacher, offering his expertise to NBA stars from Charles Barkley to Sebastian Telfair. Now, his name is on the same short list of legends as Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp and Bobby Knight.
Having followed regional hoops since 1982, and watching may of Magee's wonderful teams over the years, it was especially gratifying to have the honor to broadcast his 800th win last week. And the university's handling of the event was first-rate all the way. In what Magee called "the longest day of my life" prior to tip-off, the gym was resplendent with "Go 800" placards and red velvet ropes holding back the invitation-only crowd. In what was a risky call, the school transformed the downstairs "Common Thread" restaurant into a catered banquet hall just in time for a post-game party that rivaled a small wedding reception (hard to imagine what would have happened to all that food had the Rams lost, since the team's next two games were on the road). There was media from all over the country, including ESPN and the Associated Press, while many of Magee's coaching brethren came to shake his hand. Everyone from St. Joseph's Phil Martelli to Villanova's Jay Wright to Penn's Fran Dunphy. Even NBA veteran Jack McKinney made an appearance in what turned out to be an evening no one who was present will soon forget. Magee was genuinely moved by the sight of his two granddaughters Carly and Katie Steck unfurling the "800 Wins" banner following the final horn. At a healthy 64 years of age, here's hoping Herb Magee keeps doing what he does best straight through to 900 and even 1,000 teaching the game he loves, clad in his Rams sweater-vest, and not stopping for a moment until the Hall of Fame comes calling.
Almost miniscule in comparison, but no small feats in themselves, we recognize the following head coaches for their recent milestones, with similar doffs of the proverbial cap:
To Mark Corino, who put Caldwell men's basketball on the map as an NAIA power and has now shepherded the transition to NCAA, kudos for the 300th win at the helm of the Cougars program. Though he has 395 career wins counting his five years at Bloomfield, number 300 at his current school was actually accomplished at his prior place of employment.
Same can be said about NJIT head coach Jim Casciano, whose Highlanders snatched victory from the hands of defeat in a wild comeback vs. St. Michael's on opening night at the West Chester tournament. The victory was Casciano's 200th and also came against a team he coached in a former life.
And we give props to the aforementioned Ken Barer, whose River Hawks edged LeMoyne last week to land the Long Island native his 100th triumph, against only 32 losses. With regional championships already under his belt, Barer has assembled quite a resume in little more than four years.
And, lastly it's time for AROUND THE RIM thoughts and observations from a traveling hoops junkie:
What's with the 3-point explosions, lately? Already this season, we've seen two players Philadelphia's Mike Dunn and St. Michael's James Sorrentine bury 10 triples in a game. And speaking of Philly, how about that 53-point performance turned in by sensational, two-time All-America Tayron Thomas at the Disney Classic? Even though his Rams lost in OT to Presbyterian, the point total represented the highest in the region since 1991, when Sacred Heart's outstanding shooting guard Darrin Robinson lit it up for 55 vs. Husson. Thomas also came within one point of the all-time school record Adelphi's defense has limited its last two foes to fewer than 40 points, which begs the question: When are they going to get their act together and get that number below 30 already? Whose hair is redder, Assumption's Justin Hotchkiss or Stonehill's Sean Nelson? I go with Hotchkiss I LOVE the new kids at New York Tech. Just wait until they get their sea legs After a year saddled with injury, Merrimack's Kent Leahy has come back from the dead stronger than Schwarzeneggar's Terminator Who had Goldey-Beacom in the pool of last Northeast team to lose this year? There may not be a better inside player thus far than Bridgeport's Mike Rosario. He's a beast St. Anselm recently won an abbreviated game over Queens after moisture on the Stoutenburgh Gym floor caused a few players to take a tumble. A volleyball game on the same court had to be scratched due to similar conditions just weeks before. So I guess the good folks at St. A's could, you know, kinda rent out the place as a new Slip N' Slide attraction when the humidity spikes Herb Magee's WORST season was 10-14 in 1973-74 Who doesn't think Bentley is going to turn things around before it's all said and done? In a world of great basketball names, Nyack's John Van Dunk may be the best around. Though I have to admit I'm partial to NYIT's Miguel Pierre-Fanfan If you keep track of these kind of things, the Northeast-10 is 17-5 vs. the NYCAC and 4-2 vs. the CACC, while the NYCAC sports a 9-6 mark vs. the CACC Nice to see more and more teams broadcasting games on the Internet. May the trend only grow There are lots of nice uniforms out there, but something has to be said about the traditional blue and whites of Assumption and Mercy classic There has never been a player ever who givers 100% every second on the floor like Bloomfield's Andre Dabney. And he's playing with a bad wrist that has to be iced and wrapped after each game. There are better players out there, but none more fun to watch I know it's only Division II, but it's highly unprofessional to cheer and editorialize on the public address system. Sorry, but it needed to be said Tayron Thomas could play in the NBA, he's so good So let me get this straight: NJIT is jumping up to Division I next year without a conference affiliation? I only hope that the higher-ups at that institution have a plan in place, because after switching leagues as often as they have over the past decade, the skeptics are ready to pounce St. Rose continues to play exciting, winning basketball without a true star. Same with Adelphi Herb Magee can tell you the final score of just about any of his 801 wins University of the Sciences may not have a win yet, but the Devils certainly lead the region in near-wins John Williams of Bryant seems to be playing in his seventh year, he's been so good for so long Had a chance to see Pace play at Bowie State, and can I just tell you, you have NEVER heard a band as good as Bowie's Symphony of Sound. Under the direction of Adolph Wright, this 50-some-odd piece ensemble, along with the accompanying dance teams and cheerleading squad, put on the absolute BEST show I have ever seen at this level. And it ain't even close! The USC Trojan Marching Band could learn a thing or two from this stylish, high-energy troupe. And when they blasted out the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" and the Commodores' "Zoom" on back-to-back timeouts, I was in musical heaven I remain a neutral observer at most games, but there is no guy I want to see succeed more than Concordia's John Dwinell. He's earned a measure of good karma by now, don't you think? I can't wait until February 20 to see seven-footers Alex Gambino of Southern Connecticut and Dan Cromwell of LeMoyne match up Herb Magee on his ascent to the 800-win plateau: "I'm whizzing by the dead guys."