Michael Kelley (@hmmm_mikekelley)
Coach Fran O’Hanlon has made it abundantly clear. He needs somebody, anybody, to step up and be “the man” this season if his team is to succeed.
There are options, yes. But the pickings are slim. Gone are the days of Ryan Willen, Jim Mower, and Rob Delaney, all of whom graduated last year.
Featuring just four upperclassmen–two seniors and two juniors–the Lafayette men’s basketball team enters the 2012-2013 season with question marks that will have to be answered by a young, inexperienced, and largely untested roster that is dominated by nine underclassmen. And it is those underclassmen O’Hanlon expects to perform, whether they’re ready or not.
“It’s going to evolve,” said O’Hanlon, who is entering his 18th season as head coach. “Last year, the (underclassmen) always had papa bear to kind of lean on and now, we don’t have that. A lot of it is going to be how quickly they grow up. We’re a work in progress trying to find our identity.”
In the weeks leading up to Friday night’s 8:30pm home tip-off against St. Francis, Lafayette participated in two scrimmages against Division I teams, one, which “went well,” and the other where “our youth was exposed.”
“Coach O’ told us that we looked like we were dependent on Ryan, Jim, and Rob in that scrimmage. We didn’t step up,” said sophomore forward Seth Hinrichs, who earned Patriot League All-Rookie Team honors a year ago after averaging 8.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. “We’re going to have to play as one unit and we’re going to have to be the leaders.”
Now a seasoned sophomore, Hinrichs knows that is his responsibility, along with sophomore forward Dan Trist (5.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and sophomore guard Joey Ptasinski (5.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg), to show the freshmen the way.
“Coach O’ always says know your plan. We have to pass on that plan to the younger guys,” said Trist, who, as a forward, joined Hinrichs on the All-Rookie Team. “We can’t have that slow transition out of being freshmen to sophomores. We have to play like upperclassmen.”
And for good reason—as point guard Tony Johnson (8.0 ppg, 4.3 apg) is the only member of this year’s roster to have started a full season in O’Hanlon’s system. The captain is pivotal to the Leopards’ success and staying healthy is a necessity, which is why his recent injury is of great concern.
Two weeks ago in practice, Johnson suffered a sprained ligament in his foot, but a recent MRI came back negative, meaning Johnson can begin practice and possibly play tonight.
“I practiced (Wednesday) a little,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, if it’s not too sore, I’ll do some contact. I want to play Friday but I don’t know how much and then I’ll go from there.”
Junior guard Les Smith (2.0 ppg, 0.7 apg) will start if Johnson is unable to play.
Through his career, Johnson has often looked to pass to the array of offensive weapons that Lafayette possessed. But understanding that he is the key to this team’s engine, Johnson will be much more aggressive this season.
“All aspects,” Johnson said, when asked about specifics. “Whether it’s getting into the lane and trying to finish or passing off to our better shooters, it doesn’t matter as long as I feel I am helping the team to be successful.”
Joining Johnson in the senior class is forward and fellow captain Levi Giese, whose career has been riddled with injuries. In last season’s opener against LaSalle, Giese suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss the next 22 games. This season, a healthy Giese will be needed to provide scoring and contribute to the rebounding efforts. Last season, Lafayette was outrebounded by almost six rebounds per game.
Five freshmen–guards Zach Rufer and Bryce Scott, forwards Ben Freeland and Billy Murphy, and center Nathaniel Musters–join O’Hanlon and Lafayette this season.
Lack of depth may force the freshmen into action early and often.
“I don’t know what to expect for playing time,” Rufer said. “But if I do get in, I’m going to come out hard. I think we [the freshmen] have the ability to contribute.”
All these questions will be partly answered against St. Francis (N.Y.) an NEC team that boasts a wealth of experience and talent.
But the big question may still linger long after the night is over: who will be the man?
Kevin Doyle’s look at St. Francis (N.Y.):
Conference: Northeast Conference
Against the CoBL: @ Lafayette (11/9)
2011-12 record: 15-15 (12-6 in the NEC)
Head Coach: Glenn Braica (30-30 with St. Francis (NY))
- Top Player—Ben Mockford (11.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.2 APG)—The transfer from Iona became an immediate impact player after sitting out a season. His 83 3PT made ranked first on the team, and he will become an even bigger threat on the offensive end if his game evolves from being exclusively outside shooter.
- Everything in two Tweets…because one isn’t enough—The Terriers have been a game away the last two years from finishing about .500 for the first time since 2004. With their top five players returning, they have the pieces to make some noise in the NEC. Sophomore Jalen Cannon (8.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG) is poised to have a breakout year.
- Picked to Finish—5th in the 12 team league.