Last week at the NEC Basketball Social Media Day at the Barclays Center, I got my first chance to talk with LIU Brooklyn head men’s basketball coach Jack Perri and preseason All-NEC conference team selection point guard Jason Brickman before the start of the 2013-14 campaign. Perri returns for his second season as the Blackbirds head coach and for his ninth season overall at the program. Brickman is the only four-year senior on the LIU Brooklyn roster and is looking to be the only player in NEC history to win four NEC championships in four straight seasons as well as having an opportunity to break several LIU and NEC milestones. LIU Brooklyn is coming off an unprecedented third straight NEC championship seasons while winning at least 20 games in all three championship runs.
Blackbirds Hoops Journal: Before we begin talking about this upcoming season, give me your synopsis of last season for yourself and your team?
Jack Perri: Last year was an unbelievable experience. To have as much adversity as we had and to be able to overcome that with Jason (Brickman), Jamal (Olasewere) and C.J. (Garner) and all the other guys, I felt so good about them and how they became leaders and take a situation that could have been really bad and turned it into a positive and they kept grinding it out and handled it. To go to the NCAAs again and do it for a third year in a row and to be able to accomplish something special like we did was a wonderful accomplishment. Doing it in my first year was a great culmination after all those things.
BHJ: Jason, what is your synopsis of not just last year but the last three years at LIU since you’ve know nothing but championships?
Jason Brickman: I’m lucky to come to LIU at the right time. Getting to a great team and a great coaching staff. Last year especially was really exciting for us with losing Julian Boyd and going through all that adversity and giving ourselves a chance to win a championship at the end of the NEC tournament. It was just a great accomplishment to win it with everything that we went through.
BHJ: Jack, now turning the page to this year, first thing with Julian Boyd who is trying to come back from two ACL injuries in a short period of time. Is January still the main target date for his probable return?
JP: It’s the target date but you know, who knows. I can tell you this, he is working his tail off. He is getting rehab as much as he possibly can. He’s got an unbelievable mindset to accomplish this. I’ve never seen somebody so positive through a rehab process and having to do it a second time within that year, usually you would see that there would be emotional ups and downs, he has been positive through it all. So if anyone can accomplish it and be back by January, it’s him. Am I positive that he is going to get there, who knows. That is a quick turnaround. The doctors say that he can if things go well and if he doesn’t have anymore setbacks then we’ll see. Obviously once January comes if he is able to play then it’s going to take its time. It is not going to be, ok lets insert him into the lineup, play thirty minutes and everything is going to be great. There is going to be issues there. We’ll see. We’re taking it week by week, day by day. Right now, things are going well.
BHJ: Up until hopefully he comes back, what is your solution to who will play in his place?
JP: It’s ongoing. Everyday is different. We’ve talked about competition in practice. I was excited we had Nura Zanna for the summer. Obviously, he is not going to be playing this year. We are going to redshirt him because he tore a ligament in his wrist the first day of preseason. He is going to have two surgeries. He was a guy that I was going to lean on regardless whether Julian was able to play to not. He is a physically strong kid with a great motor that has some great ability. With him out, we are really thin up front, really thin. To this date, guys have worked really hard but it is an adjustment. They are all new. E.J. Reed is the only kid that had played any minutes in the front court. He has had a great fall. He has been a great leader. He has really come on. He has done a tremendous job in practice with energy and enthusiasm, teaching the young guys and new guys what they are suppose to do and how they are suppose to act. I’m excited about E.J. Landon Atterberry has been a pleasant surprise. He is a little undersized, he’s only about 6’5″ but in our level, he can do that. He is a versatile kid that is really athletic, has a great second jump, he can rebound, he can finish, he can catch. I feel good about Landon where he’s at right now. Glenn Feidanga had been hurt. He had been hurt for a while so he has been in and out of the lineup sort of speak for the first month and a half. He is back right now and he has made some strides. He’s got a good motor and he is a legit 6’8″ and he is really the only guy that has some girth in my whole front court. He is a strong kid. He is going to have to play some minutes. After that Chris Carter is another guy who is 6’8″ who runs really really well. He’s got some skill where he can step out and shoot. He can drive a little bit. He’s been up and down. I think the change from junior college to Division I has been hardest on him. He’s got the most growth to go. We’ll play small some too.
BHJ: Since you mentioned some of the newcomers already, what have you seen so far from the freshman guards in the preseason?
JP: Joel Hernandez has been hurt. He has been out since the beginning of preseason, he hurt his hip. He still has another three weeks to go. He’s had no practice. He needed to practice as a freshman. It is going to take some time for him to adjust. He’s got a lot of talent and he’s got a lot of ability but I don’t know what is going to happen with him. Iverson Fleming, I’m excited about. He’s got some pop to him. He’s a guy that can play the point, play the two. I think he is going to play a part.
BHJ: What in your mind is going to be Jason Brickman’s role on this team to help guide them as the only senior during the first half of the season?
JP: He has done a great job of it especially in practice. He’s got such an unbelievable IQ and ability that he’ll grab them and say ok you need to roll this way, this is where I need you to be. He has been really able to grasp that. Last year when you have Jamal and Julian, he didn’t have to do that. Now he needs to and he has realized that right away and he has done a good job with that with our young guys…He is my Peyton Manning. That is what he is. (Brickman) is so focused every single day. He only cares about the team, he is never about himself. You can’t stress him out. He is never too high, never too low. He is a machine. He is my quarterback. He is going to keep us in every game, he is going to give us a chance in every game and that is unbelievable luxury to have going into the season especially with so much turnover. I’m really fortunate to have someone like him.
BHJ: Jason, how has adjusting to being more of a leader on this team and having to be more vocal been so far for you?
JB: It has been a tough adjustment. I think Coach Perri thinks I need to do it more, talk more and just be more vocal out there. I’m trying to talk to guys individually and tell them where I want them. The past few years I had Jamal and Julian and they know how I play. Just getting used to new guys and getting chemistry with them so they know where I want them on the floor.
BHJ: Jack, with the graduation of five seniors last year and the front court injuries you suffered through preseason this season, expectations have tapered off from what it has been in recent years, what are your expectations with your team?
JP: Things are getting better everyday. We are not talking championships right now. That would be silly to be honest with you. That is something that I can’t do. We can’t talk about championship when you have one guy that played over 20 minutes a game. E.J. Reed is my second guy and he played 19 minutes a game. Then you have Troy Joseph and Gerrell Martin who played ten minutes a game, that’s it. Nobody else played any minutes last year so that’s a lot of turnover. We have to continue to compete everyday. We talk about competition, who is going to step up? I need Troy Joseph and Gerrell Martin to step up. I think Gilbert Parga is going to be a big part of what we do, he has done a really good job so far. But it is hard to say, once the lights turn on, these guys haven’t done it yet. Are they going to be able to do it, is it going to be an adjustment that way. Somebody is got to step up. I’m confident that they will but we’ll see. My expectation is just to get better. Our guys has done a really job with playing as hard as they can every single day. They’re wide eyed, they are looking at us (coaches), they are taking teaching well and hopefully they can sustain it. When do we hit that wall? We started early this year so expectations are what they are. We are hoping to be playing our best basketball in February and I think we will. What our ceiling is, I’m not sure yet?
BHJ: Even with everything, LIU Brooklyn was picked to finished fourth in the NEC this season, what is your thought on that?
JP: We were picked fourth because of what we have done the last few years, I’ll be honest with you. You look at it, you have this much turnover, it is irresponsible to be honest with you to think that we should picked first or that we’re at that point yet. It is a different team. I’m looking at it as being patient. I keep telling my staff, we have to be really patient this year. We have to teach. Effort should never be an issue with a team you need to teach and that has been a good thing right now. Now we got to teach them how to be a Division I athlete and what it take to accomplish something special. It is a constant teaching thing every single day.
BHJ: Jason, you are very close to several individual milestones for your career including breaking the NEC career assist record, become a 1000 point career scorer as well as possibly being one of the rare 1000 career assist men in NCAA history, how much do these milestones enter your mind if at all or do you just go out there on the court and just focus on your game?
JB: I just focus on the team. I think it is more important to win championships and win games. At the same time, it would be nice to get to 1000 assists. I think that’s a goal for me this year but I’m not going to try too much passing. I just want to go out and play and read the defense and not worry about the individual stats.
BHJ: With so much of the team’s scoring now having graduated, there is an expectation that you will need to be more scoring-minded this season. How do expect your game to change because of this?
JB: I’m not sure how this season I’m going to have to play. Obviously we lose Jamal and C.J., Before I could just give them the ball and they can go score. We don’t have as much scoring I don’t think. I’m not sure how it is going to change. I’m still going to find the open guy but I might to be more aggressive to score this year so I’m not really sure.
BHJ: How happy or awkward you are going to feel when you play Bryant and your brother (freshman Justin Brickman) this year?
JB: I don’t know how I’m going to feeling against him. I played against him in high school my senior year. It was kind of tough. I didn’t know if I wanted to guard him really hard or let him score.
BHJ: Jack, of the newcomers this season, who is a name you think we will all know by season’s end that you think will have a big impact this season?
JP: One of the guys that has established himself is Gilbert Parga. He was kid who had to sit out last year (transfer student). He can really shoot the basketball. He is around 6’3″, 6’4″. He is kind of unique in that he does have a little bit of an ability to play off the bounce, doesn’t look really attractive or pretty but he does have a unique ability to get to the rim a little bit and get fouled. I’m excited about him. I think that is the one thing that we are going to have more so than we have had in the past. These guys can make shots. Gerrell Martin can really shoot the basketball. Troy Joseph is another guy that can really shoot threes and he’s got good size to him. E.J. Reed as a four man has the ability to make threes so I think we are going to be able to spread the floor out a little bit more than in the past. Jamal was more of an attack guy than anything else. We’ll see how that plays out. Obviously, you don’t want to rely on three point shooting but at the same point that is a great weapon especially for a guy like Jason to get guys involved.
BHJ: There are some new rule changes in the NCAA this season in particularly with the charge/block fouls and the hand-checking fouls, what impact you see that having?
JP: It was interesting, we had referees in (a couple of Saturdays ago), and you almost touch a guy or look like you are about to touch a guy and the whistle blows. There are trying to figure out, the refs are trying to figure it out too. Obviously, it is going to be a change that they are really focused on. I think they are going to try and sustain that. You got to adjust to it. Our whole thing has always been about not fouling and that is part of our whole philosophy. Even us, we do talk about ball pressure and being a little bit more physical and that is going to have to change a little bit.
BHJ: How was it like playing at the Barlcays Center in your team’s first season there last year?
JP: That was great to play the first game ever played (at Barclays Center). It was an awesome experience. We ended up losing that game. That was unfair for where we were at, Jamal, Julian and C.J. were just back (from their preseason suspensions), Julian cramps up in the second half so he’s done. That was a difficult game. After that, I think we felt more comfortable. Everyone was jacked up before that game, Jamal was jacked up. He missed some layups he never miss and foul shots and stuff like that. It was what it was that way. By the time we played Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis Brooklyn, our guys felt really comfortable. We were able to practice (there) a few times also. It was a great experience and obviously something that we really enjoy.
BHJ: This year, looking at your schedule, your going to be playing Indiana and you’re also going out west to Irvine to play in the 2K Classic where you guys will play in three games in three days. What do you think playing at an environment like Indiana is going to be like and also how tough playing three games in three day is going to be?
JP: That will be a major test. When we made the schedule, we had Julian, we had Nura, they were in our plans. It will still be really, really exciting playing at Indiana. There is obviously great tradition there. We got a chance to play at Kentucky (last season), to play at Indiana is another great experience for these guys and our coaching staff. Playing in California, that is going to be really difficult because playing three games in three days is going to really test our depth. Three games in three days for a guy like Jason and as many minutes as I play him is going to be difficult. I think Cal-Irvine is really good, they have three seven-footers and are one of the best teams in their league. Boston U. is supposed to be really good in the Patriot League and Eastern Washington, they have a lot of guys returning too. It will be a great challenge.
Thanks to Jack Perri and Jason Brickman for their time. LIU Brooklyn will open the season on Saturday, November 9 in a noon time tip at the Barclays Center against St. Peter’s.