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Experienced veterans, talented newcomers mark 2010-11 Saxons
11/12/10

ALFRED, NY — Led by a pair of senior three-year starters, the 2010-11 Alfred University men’s basketball team will look to secure the program’s first-ever Empire 8 Conference championship tournament berth.

If AU is to improve on last year’s 11-14 record (4-12 Empire 8), third-year head coach Dale Wellman will need continued production from senior guards Mike Stopera (Scotia, NY/Scotia-Glenville) and Gary Kwiecien (Perry, NY/Perry), along with increased contribution from a handful of returnees and a solid group of newcomers.

Stopera was the Saxons’ leading scorer in 2009-10, averaging 15.5 points per contest (sixth in the Empire 8). He averaged 2.3 rebounds and his 2.1 assists were second on the team. Kwiecien was second on the team in scoring (9.1 points per game); he averaged 2.5 rebounds and his 2.8 assists (10th in the league) and 1.6 steals per game (sixth) led the team. Wellman said having Stopera and Kwiecien, team co-captains, has been invaluable to creating team chemistry, given the number of young players on the roster.

“They’ve been great leaders. We have a lot of freshmen and a transfer and they’ve been showing them what our program is all about, what they need to do offensively and defensively to have success,” Wellman said of Stopera and Kwiecien. “They come in and work hard every day and the new guys see that. On the court, I expect them to do what they’ve done in the past: play good defense and take good shots.”

Sophomore center Bryan Bobo (Ontario, NY/Wayne) is a third returning starter from a year ago. After missing the 2008-09 season with injury, the 6-5 Bobo returned last season and was inserted as a starter. He averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds (second on the team). Junior guard Josh Parker (Tonawanda, NY/Sweet Home) returns to the team after taking last season off. As a sophomore in 2008-09, Parker averaged 8.2 points and 2.9 rebounds. He is tabbed to start with Kwiecien and Stopera in the Saxons’ three-guard offense.

“With (Bobo) last year he was kind of knocking off the rust after an 18-month layoff. But he came in last year and averaged more than five points, which is good for a first-year player, and now he has to improve on that,” Wellman said. “He’s improved his post defense. Rebounding will be a big key for him.”

Parker “gives us that slasher, the guy who can get to the rim and score,” Wellman said. “And he’s unselfish enough that he’ll make the good pass.”

Other returning lettermen from a season ago include sophomore guard/forward Sean Curran (Honesdale, PA/Honesdale) and sophomore forward/center Gerald Colas (Houston, TX/Cypress Ridge). As a freshman, Curran played in 24 games and averaged 5.8 points while sinking 29 three-pointers (third on the team); Colas played in 22 and averaged 2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds.

“I expect Sean to continue to progress,” Wellman said of Curran, who is tabbed to be a starter. “He’s a good shooter; he needs to continue to improve as a better all-around player.”

Colas will play primarily as a backup to Bobo in the post. At 6-4, he’s a contrast to Bobo: quicker and more athletic, with a solid outside shot. “He has a much better understanding of our offense than last year. We’ll need Gerald to play great post defense and rebound for us,” Wellman said.

Other returnees include junior center Matt Borsz (Columbia Station, OH/Midview), junior forward Patrick Hollenbeck (Ontario, NY/Wayne), sophomore forward Brett Dennis (Webster, NY/Webster Schroeder) and sophomore guard Tim Costello (Windsor, NY/Windsor).

Costello will be the first guard off the bench, Wellman said. “He’s just a smart player who knows how to play defense,” the coach commented.

Hollenbeck and Dennis provide depth at the forward position and will counted on to play sound defense and rebound the basketball. In Borsz (6-7), Wellman has a third option in the post. “His role will be expanded from last year. He gives us great post defense and is an excellent rebounder,” Wellman commented.

Wellman welcomes in a sizeable recruiting class that includes seven freshmen and one junior college transfer, junior Derek Lewis (Horseheads, NY/Horseheads), a 6-5 forward/center who played two seasons at Corning Community College before transferring to AU. Freshman players include forwards Michael Branche (Schenectady, NY/Colonie), Sean Smythe (Peekskill, NY/Peekskill) and Jason Ruback (Pittsford, NY/Pittsford-Mendon); center Brennan Thurber (Greenwood, NY/Jasper-Troupsburg); and guards Michael Hill (Whitesboro, NY/Notre Dame) and Thomas Tsatsis (Queens, NY/Townsend Harris).

Lewis “gives us something different,” Wellman said. “He’s skilled enough to play on the perimeter and athletic enough to play down low. He’s very strong and goes after every rebound.”

Ruback will play primarily as a wing forward. “He’s excellent at getting to the rim and finishing and has a good outside shot. He plays solid defense and will be a good rebounder,” Wellman said. Branche “is a great athlete, a strong competitor who can post up and shoot from the outside.”

Wellman expects Hill to contribute immediately as a freshman. “He’s a terrific outside shooter and plays hard on defense,” he said.

To earn a top-four spot in the Empire standings, and a berth in the conference championship tournament, the Saxons will need to improve on defense. While AU forced 365 turnovers (14.6 per game), the Saxons allowed opponents to shoot 45 percent from the floor and were outrebounded, 39.4 to 32.2. Alfred will also need to improve its own shooting, as the Saxons made just 37.6 percent of their shots from the floor in 2009-10.

“Rebounding has been a big point of contention for this team,” Wellman commented. “We’re never going to be the biggest team, but to be successful, we need to block out and crash the boards. And we have to really pick it up on defense.”

“We have a few more scoring options this year, and our returnees are a year older. Our goal is to just keep improving and get better with every game. We have the personnel to do it. I really like the make-up of this year’s team.”