Chris Bengel (@clbengel)
With point guard Tony Johnson having graduated, Lafayette’s backcourt has some big shoes to fill heading into the 2013-2014 season.
Luckily, the Leopards have the talent to do so.
Lafayette have a mostly veteran-comprised group–aside from freshman Nick Lindner–that includes junior Seth Hinrichs, junior Joey Ptasinski, sophomore Bryce Scott and sophomore Zach Rufer. Hinrichs, Ptasinski and Scott all played at least 24 mpg last year and have the experience to produce for the Leopards.
“We have a lot of good players,” O’Hanlon added. “It’s just trying to figure out what the combinations will be and who’s going to be the best. On the perimeter, we’re probably six-deep with quality players. Joey [Ptasinski] wasn’t starting at the end of last season, but he was a starter for us and played starter minutes. We’re going to try to find them minutes in the right rotations.”
Towards the end of last season, the Leopards ran with a three-guard set. The combination of Johnson, Hinrichs, and Scott seemed to work as Lafayette won 10 of their final 13 games.
Obviously with Johnson out of the picture, the Leopards will need a guard to run the point. It’s could be any combination of players, but that is currently unclear because Lafayette has only held a few practices so far this season.
“They’re going to have to get it done in a different way,” Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said. “They’re not Tony Johnson. That’s not to say that they can’t be real effective as time goes on and I don’t know where Zach and Nick are going to be right now. We’re hoping that they can continue to progress. Through a long preseason, I think we’ll get them to a point where they’re going to be able to run the show for us.”
Johnson earned First Team All-Patriot League honors last year after averaging 13.3 ppg and 4.6 apg, leading the conference in both assists and field-goal percentage (54.6 percent). The three-year starter was one of the best guards in the league, and his poise and experience are something that the Leopards will need to replace in addition to his production.
Despite being a freshman, Lindner is a guy that could definitely step right in and produce in the point guard role. The Germantown Academy star averaged 12 ppg to go along with eight apg during his senior season in high school. Lindner fits the role as a floor general, as is evident by his ability to distribute the basketball.
“It’s basketball,” Lindner told CoBL. “I’ve been playing my whole life. I just have to prepare for it like I always do and be ready when my time comes.”
Lindner isn’t the only guy that is aiming for the starting point guard spot.
Rufer is also a guy that is in the mix. As a freshman last season for Lafayette, the New York native averaged 2.1 ppg and 2.3 rpg. Rufer was also sixth on the team in assists, despite only playing 12.6 mpg.
“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure,” Rufer said about the prospect of playing big minutes this coming season. “I’m more excited about it. It’s a great opportunity for me to help the team and I’m excited to take it.”
Rufer is a combo guard that is capable of playing in several different spots, depending on what type of lineup the Leopards put out on the floor. He did have his freshman campaign to play behind Johnson and learn the tools of the trade from him.
“I would say overall his composure and just how he facilitated on the court,” Rufer added. “He had a real court presence on how to tell people what to do and where they should be. I really took a lot out of that and how to control the court.”
Obviously, it will be tough to replace the type of production that Johnson brought to the Lafayette backcourt. The California native almost single-handedly played the Leopards into a second place finish in the Patriot League standings. However, Lafayette definitely has a lot of capable bodies that are up for the challenge.
“Whether they’ll be Tony this year, we can only hope,” O’Hanlon said.