The 2012-13 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds: The Journey to the Unchartered, a NEC three-peat
Winning back-to-back Northeast Conference championships is extremely tough. Winning three straight NEC championships is unprecedented. The 2012-13 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds have a chance to do something that no team in the 31-year history of the NEC has been able to accomplish. Although the NEC Coaches and a large majority of folks who follow the NEC believe the Blackbirds are the favorite to “three-peat”, it definitely won’t be a walk in the park to a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The coaching staff and the players are well aware of the major challenges that face them this season. But they are ready to meet these challenges head on. “It has never been done before. They have the chance. It really has motivated them. I think they’re ready.” said first-year LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri when I talked to him at NEC Media Day. With a mostly veteran team of six returning seniors and a returning junior in which four of them are returning starters, this group has won 32 NEC games and 52 total games in the last two seasons. “I may never have that again, that kind of experience.” said Coach Perri regarding his upperclassman. “They know what it takes, the blueprint is there and now there is a sense of urgency because it is their last year. It helps having six seniors and a junior to really lean on and have them help motivate the younger guys.”
With all that said, it’s time to introduce ourselves to the 2012-13 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, let’s start with the newcomers:
#33 E.J. Reed – Freshman – Forward – 6’6″ 200 lbs. – Signed on to play for the Blackbirds during the early signing period last season. Originally was look as someone who can add depth to the roster, probably wouldn’t get a lot of playing time his freshman year. Then highly-touted recruit Taurean Waller-Prince decides to leave LIU to go to Baylor and that has opened the door for Reed to see some quality playing time this season. Reed has impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and ability. Jack Perri said of Reed, “I want to get him as many minutes as I can because I think he is got a chance to be a special player in this league. He has a great motor. He finishes well. He also has a really good skill package at 6’6”.” Look for Reed to spell both Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere for periods during games this season.
#00 D.J. Griggs – Freshman – Guard – 6’0″ 170 lbs. – Signed on to play for LIU during the late signing period last season. Looks to be the heir apparent to C.J. Garner at the combo guard spot. From watching a couple of his highlight videos on YouTube, he and Garner has very similar games. Both are quick, love to dribble penetrate and can finish shots around the rim. One difference though, Griggs has a nice looking jump shot and looks like he can hit a three with some regularity. His senior year stat line was outstanding. Averaged 22.6 ppg, 5.7 apg and 2.3 spg while shooting 79% from the free throw line. Look for Griggs to come on off the bench and play any of the guard spots. It will be fun to see Griggs and Garner on the court together although it would make for a rather small back court.
#24 Kedar Edwards – Freshman – Guard – 6’4″ 190 lbs. – A late summer signee by LIU, Edwards looks to be a nice wing addition to the LIU roster. At 6’4″, he can play at either small forward or shooting guard for the Blackbirds but SG looks to be the more ideal position for him. In watching some of his YouTube videos, Edwards has some explosiveness. Will look to put on a dunk show in the open court. Definitely has plenty of athleticism. He shows that he can drill the outside shot even with a defender all over him. Hard to tell right now where he is going to fit in head coach Jack Perri’s rotation. As of now, Edwards is not yet cleared by the NCAA as the school is still waiting to hearing back. Very possible he will at least miss the first few games of the season.
#34 Khalil Murphy- Redshirt Sophomore – Forward – 6’8″ 235 lbs. – Murphy came over to LIU over the summer. He is transfer from the University of San Francisco. At USF, in his freshman season last year, Murphy played in 16 games getting only 76 minutes of playing time for the season. He averaged 1.8 ppg. On October 15, he received a residence waiver from the NCAA allowing him to play immediately this season. Tallest player on LIU’s roster this season. Jack Perri said of Murphy,”He is really versatile. He is a front court kid that can step out and shoot. He can drive it, he can post up. He is in the lines of Julian and Jamal that way.” Will provide additional depth to the front court for the Blackbirds.
#23 Brandon Parga – Junior – Guard/Forward – 6’4″ 205 lbs. – Parga also came to LIU over the summer. He is a junior college transfer who played his last two seasons at Citrus College in California. Parga put up some pretty impressive numbers at Citrus College last season. He averaged 17.8 ppg in 29 games, all starts. He was a 50% field goal shooter and an equally impressive 45% from three in 116 attempts. **Update: I just learned that Parga will be sitting out the entire 2012-13 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Parga enrolled at Iona for summer school before coming to LIU before the fall semester thus making him ineligible to play for LIU this season. His ineligibility is noted in the 2012-13 LIU Brooklyn Record Book.
Now let’s look at the returnees. Starting with the bench:
#5 Troy Joseph – Redshirt Sophomore – Forward/Guard – 6’6″ 200 lbs. – Joseph has been plagued by injuries since arriving in Downtown Brooklyn in 2010. Has yet to step on the court for the Blackbirds. Was redshirted his freshman season and then a preseason injury cost him another season. All signs looked to Joseph making his LIU debut this season. Word was he was having excellent workouts over the summer and look ready to finally step on to the court. Then he was one of four LIU players who was arrested and later suspended by LIU for being involved in an on-campus fight in mid-September. Joseph and his teammates were reinstated on October 8 but will have to serve a two-game NEC suspension in January once NEC play begins. Look for Joseph to be a key contributor off the bench this season. Should provide rebounding and scoring inside. Will help tremendously in LIU’s front court depth.
#4 Gerell Martin – Sophomore – Guard – 6’2″ 175 lbs. – Martin last season showed flashes of what he is capable of doing. He can definitely shoot the ball. Shot over 48% from three in 29 attempts last season. In the first 3 games last season, he went 6 for 7 in three-point attempts last season including a game at Penn State where he had a perfect shooting game and scored 13 points in 14 minutes. Unfortunately, that November game was the high point of his season. He just couldn’t get things going after that. He showed bad decision-making, bad shot-selection and proneness to turning the ball over when given the opportunities in games. That with the fact he was third on the SG depth chart played into his limited minutes last season. This season though, he is going to get a chance at some major minutes playing behind Brandon Thompson at the SG position. This could be his time to shine. If he cleaned up his game over the summer, I wouldn’t put it passed that he could have an outside chance of eventually becoming the starting shooting guard at some time during this season.
#20 Booker Hucks – Senior – Forward – 6’6″ 210 lbs. – Hucks is a player who is always ready when the coach calls upon him. Last season, he proved to be a defensive menace with his ability to draw charges and get some crucial rebounds. The two biggest games I felt he played last season was undoubtedly the nationally-televised game at Wagner where he only played 5 minutes but he played a key five minutes and made a big 3 pointer when LIU needed it to cut into a Wagner lead and eventually help win that game and the performance he had in the NEC championship game versus Robert Morris where he played some huge 2nd half minutes drawing fouls on the defensive end and getting to some big rebounds once LIU lost Boyd to fouls. He is not the most prettiest of players at times but he plays his butt off when he is in the game. He is nice role player to have coming off the bench. He currently has an shoulder issue but he may be available for the start of the season on November 9.
#32 Kenny Onyechi – Senior – Forward – 6’7′ 230 lbs. – A player who would in all likelihood be a starter on most other teams, has played the role of sixth man for the past two seasons and will be in that role again this season. Onyechi is a physical specimen. He could have played linebacker if he wanted to. He takes up a lot of room on the inside. Last season, his numbers took a step backwards from the season before. Still needs to work on his free throws and improve on his 50% free throw percentage as teams will continue to foul him and send him to the line. He got to make these teams pay more for their fouling at the line. Teams that sleep on Onyechi on the offensive will soon find out he is capable of having a double digit scoring night on them. He did it six times last season. I think Onyechi is primed for good senior year and will see his number return more to form of his first two seasons. He is currently suffering from a foot injury and may miss the first month or so of the season.
Finally, let’s look at the potential starters for the Blackbirds:
#15 Jason Brickman- Junior – Guard – 6’0′ 165 lbs. – There might not be a more underrated pure point guard nationally than Jason Brickman. Locally, a lot of people have witnessed what he is capable of doing and if you haven’t then you better make an appointment to catch an LIU game this season to watch this kid work. After a slow start last season, Brickman turned it on and didn’t shut it off for the rest of the season. He was fifth nationally in assists last season. He had 9 games in which he had double-digit assists including an 16-assist game vs Quinnipiac. He scored double-digits 18 times including in all 3 NEC tournamant games. In the NEC tournament, he averaged 16 ppg and 9.6 apg. Yet, some people still don’t list him as one of the best PG in the country this season. His court vision ranks in the top tier. He has a calm and cool demeanor on the court, makes clutch threes and free throws, and finds the open man at crucial times. ”He’s a special point guard. His vision is uncanny. He controls the tempo no matter what. He controls the game on the offensive end. Nothing bothers that kid.” said Jack Perri of Brickman. Critics to Brickman says he defer to his teammates too much, he doesn’t look for his shot enough and that his sometimes a little too home-run happy, making a lot of bad rainbow-looking long-court passes that get intercepted by opponents. All in all, LIU is lucky to have a player like Jason Brickman on their team.
#3 C.J. Garner – Senior – Guard – 5’10″ 160 lbs. – Garner moved over to the combo guard spot and let Brickman handle most of the point guard duties last season after starting every game at point guard the season before. Garner’s game didn’t miss a beat, in fact he excelled last season in his new role. He either matched or excelled his numbers in every category. Garner is one of the fastest player on this Blackbirds team. He is an excellent ball handler, who can dribble out of nearly any situation. For a 5’10″ player, finished around the rim like a 6’6″ forward, it is pretty amazing to watch sometimes. Worked on his free throw shooting and became a 81.5% free throw shooter after being a 64% FT shooter the season before. Even showed that if he left wide open, he is afraid to shoot and make a three although he won’t force one up there. Garner leaves his passion on the basketball court and sometimes it gets him into trouble. He isn’t afraid to say what is on his mind and demonstrate his frustration with the officials which doesn’t help him much. If he stays level-headed and out of foul trouble, he can take his number to even loftier heights this season. He will have to serve a two-game NEC suspension in January.
#11 Brandon Thompson – Senior – Guard – 6’1″ 185 lbs. – Thompson is the only new player to the Blackbirds’ starting lineup. He was primarily Michael Culpo’s backup at the shooting guard position. Thompson had his moments last season but overall struggled with his shooting. Shot only 37% from the field and was just a 32% shooter from three-point land last season. Was a much better than anticipated player on the defensive end. Will need to get off to a good start I feel to hold onto his starting position especially if Martin shot lights out. According to Jack Perri, Thompson has been preparing himself for his new role. “Watch out, I’m telling you, he has been tremendous. Good kid, worked hard. Since the spring, he’s been on a mission and I tell you what, he had the best spring, summer and fall of anyone in our program. I’m excited about his potential to help fill that Mike Culpo role. He has kinda been the first one to step up and take over.” He doesn’t need to exactly produce like Michael Culpo did with his 9.4 ppg but he can’t produce the 4.4 ppg he did last season. We’ll see if his strong offseason pays off dividends during the season.
#1 Jamal Olasewere – Senior – Forward – 6’7″ 215 lbs. – If there is a player in the NEC who has become an impossible matchup, it is Jamal Olasewere. He can drive to the rim with no fear, has tremendously ability to finish around the rim, is one of the fastest players in the NEC, he can dribble the ball when he has to and last season started hitting the three with more regularity. He shot an outstanding 57% from the field, had 9 double-doubles and scored in double-digits in all but four games last season. If there is one thing he can improved on is working to stay out of foul trouble. He fouled out of 9 games last season and had 4 fouls in another nine. In fact, there was only six games where he had 2 or fewer fouls. Olasewere is too important to keep getting himself into foul trouble in particular early in games. Perri said of Olasewere, “He is such a competitive kid. He exudes his passion every single day and it sometimes gets him in trouble because of fouling. Our whole philosophy is built on not fouling and he is one guy that has trouble with that. Hopefully he figures that out. We work on that everyday in practice. As far as his game, he has gotten better. I think he is ready to breakout a little bit more like Julian did last year.” If he cuts the fouls and plays his game, he will no doubt be in the running for NEC Player of the Year in my mind.
#42 Julian Boyd – Senior – Forward – 6’7″ 240 lbs. – Boyd is the reigning NEC Player of the Year. Most publications and websites including this one predicts he will finish the season as a two-time NEC Player of the Year. Boyd took his game to new heights last season. His fourteen double-double lead all NEC players and missed another five by just one rebound in each occasion. This season he is on pace to brake numerous LIU records. Boyd has turned himself in an inside/outside threat making himself a difficult matchup to whoever is assigned to guard him. Last season, he shot 42% from three and an outstanding 58% from within the three-point line. Similar to Olasewere in that, he often finds himself in early foul trouble that lands him on the bench, if he finds the formula of defending without getting himself into foul trouble early in-games, LIU will be hard to beat. Boyd has the talent to take over a game through his offense and rebounding. The key for Boyd is health, last season he played with a nagging wrist injury he sustained early in the year. If he stays healthy and stays out of foul issues, and takes his averages over 18 and 10, he will not only run away with the NEC Player of the Year award but will have some pro scouts taking a nice, long, hard look at him.
“We have a starting five that is as experienced as any.” Jack Perri believes and it’s difficult to argue. It is one of the most experienced and successful starting five in all of the country. Yet, it will have to navigate through their toughest non-conference schedule to date and then face what could be the most challenging conference schedule they have faced in their current run because of the improved level of play of the NEC which is listed as the 19th-best conference in Division I according to advanced statistic guru Ken Pomeroy in his preseason conference rankings. The 33-game journey to a hopefully third straight trip to the NCAA tournament begins on Friday.