Despite key losses, AU men’s basketball team poised to build on last year’s success
ALFRED, NY — Despite the loss of four key players from last year’s squad, several top performers and some solid newcomers are ready to help the Alfred University men’s basketball team build on a successful 2011-12 season.
AU will miss the contributions of its four departed seniors (two starters) from a team that went 15-11 (6-8 Empire 8) and played in the ECAC Upstate championship game. The ECAC game was the first postseason appearance for the Saxons since 2001 and the 15 wins (the most in a season in Dale Wellman’s four seasons as head coach) were the most by an AU team since the 1998-99 team went 18-10.
Lost to graduation were two starters -- guard Josh Parker, who averaged a team-best 14.7 points and six rebounds and led the team in assists and steals, and forward Derek Lewis, who contributed 9.6 points and 5.9 boards per game – and two solid reserves in forward Pat Hollenbeck and center Bryan Bobo.
Still, two starters and four other players who saw significant time return, and will be joined by a host of newcomers expected to step in and contribute right away.
Senior shooting guard Sean Curran (Honesdale, PA/Honesdale) is the Saxons’ top returning scorer. As a reserve last season (25 games, three starts), Curran averaged 10 points and 3.6 rebounds (23 assists, 22 steals). He was the team’s most reliable long-range shooter (team-leading 56 three-pointers made, 37.1 percent shooting from behind the arc) and will again be counted on to provide the Saxons with a perimeter scoring threat.
“We need Sean to do what he’s done for us the last three years, and that’s shoot the ball and score,” Wellman said.
Two starters – senior forward Brett Dennis (Webster, NY/Webster Schroeder) and sophomore point guard Tim Pacheco (Mt. Pocono, PA/Pocono Mountain East) – also return.
Dennis averaged 5.3 points and three rebounds per contest and Wellman is counting on him be a presence in the post, both offensively and defensively. “(Dennis) brings toughness to our team,” Wellman said. “He can rebound the ball and really battles down low.”
Pacheco turned in 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per contest and his 44 assists were second on the team. Last year, he often shared time at the point with senior Tim Costello (Windsor, NY/Windsor), who played in 26 games (one start) and averaged 2.6 points and 1.7 boards while dishing out 40 assists. They will split time again this year, but Wellman also envisions them on the court together more often this season.
“With (Parker) gone, they’ll be called on to run our offense more this year,” Wellman said of Pacheco and Costello. “They’ll see more time on the floor together, and take on more of a scoring role. The thing about (Pacheco and Costello) is they handle the ball so well, which will limit our turnovers, and they are such good on-ball defenders.”
Other key returnees from a season ago include sophomore center Dalton Walsh (Stockton, NY/Cassadaga Valley) and juniors forward Jason Ruback (Pitsford, NY/Pittsford Mendon) (2.1 points, 1.5 rebounds) and Thomas Tsatsis (Neponsit, NY/Townsend Harris).
The 6-7 Walsh is one of five centers on the team and will compete for a starting job this season. “He’s stepped in and shown a lot in the preseason and will be a big factor for us in the middle,” Wellman said of Walsh, who played in seven games as a freshman.
Ruback, at 6-5, is a good outside shooter who will present matchup problems to opposing defenses . “For a guy his size, he can do a lot of things,” Wellman commented. “He can play down low or take it out on the perimeter. He’s very smooth with the basketball.”
Tsatsis, a guard his first two seasons, moves to forward. Despite his size (6-1), Tsatsis is one of the better rebounders on the team, Wellman said. “This is the year he plays more meaningful minutes for us.”
Other returnees include sophomore guards Ryan Mahon (Oneonta, NY/Oneonta) and Mike Snyder (Pulaski, NY/Pulaski).
“Ryan knows our offense as well as anybody,” Wellman said of Mahon, who played in eight games as a freshman and averaged 1.5 points. “He’s a smart player who can come in and knock down the jumper. He’ll see his minutes.”
The Saxons welcome the return of junior center Gerald Colas (Houston, TX/Cypress Ridge). Colas, who averaged 1.8 points and 2.5 rebounds as a sophomore in 2010-11 and 2.3 points and 1.7 boards as a freshman the previous year, rejoins the Saxons after taking last season off.
Several new faces mark the 2012-13 Saxon roster. They include a trio of centers in 6-8 junior center Steve Lothridge (East Syracuse, NY/East Syracuse-Minoa), a transfer from Onondaga Community College; 6-5 sophomore Jeremy Johnson (Martinsburg, WV/Shepherd); and 6-8 freshman Matt Curtis (Gloversville, NY/Gloversville).
“(Lothridge) is probably our best rebounder. He plays good defense in the post and has a good back-to-the-basket (offensive) game,” Wellman said. “(Johnson) has the type of athleticism we haven’t had in a post guy. He plays hard and has a great attitude.”
Junior guard Terrell Rankin (Buffalo, NY/Sweet Home), a transfer from Genesee Community College who sat out last year with an injury, returns. “He’s a little rurty coming back from injury, but he’s a guy who can score the basketball,” Wellman commented.
Other newcomers incude freshman forwards Antoine Johnson (Watervliet, NY/Watervliet) and Jay Norris (Loudonville, NY/LaSalle Institute); and freshman guard Jerry Kicel (Moosic, PA/Riverside).
“(Johnson) plays really hard all the time and he’s strong driving the basketball and rebounding,” Wellman said, “(Kincel) is a strong guy who can has good touch on his shot and can drive to the basket. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
Wellman said this year’s team is different from last, but the expectations are the same: continued improvement and a chance to play beyond the last scheduled game.
“We want to go out and battle, work hard every day and get better,” he said.
The Saxons will run a two-tempo offense that pushes the ball in transition and settles into the half-court set if a fast-break opportunity doesn’t present itself.
Wellman said this year’s team, like last year’s, will stress defense and rebounding. “We had success last year because of great man-to-man defense. We want to hang our hat on that again this year. It’s important that we go out and play tough defense and outrebound the other team.”
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