LIU Women’s Basketball Conversation w/ Gail Striegler and Letava Whippy

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LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball head coach Gail Striegler and senior Letava Whippy appeared at NEC Basketball Social Media Day at Barclays Center last week. (Photo Credit: Bob Dea -BHJ)

Last week at the NEC Basketball Social Media Day inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, all ten NEC women’s basketball coaches came out to meet with the media to discuss their team’s upcoming season. That included seventh-year LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball head coach Gail Striegler, who is coming off a 9-21 season and an appearance in the NEC tournament as an eight-seed after a disappointing 2012-13 season where they went 7-22 and missed the NEC tournament all together.

Joining her this year at NEC Media Day was fourth-year senior guard/forward Letava Whippy. Whippy is the only four-year player on this season’s LIU roster and is one of two seniors on the team. Last season, she was third on LIU in both scoring (8.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.0 rpg), second in assists (2.3 apg) and lead the team in steals (2.0 spg) as well as recorded two double-doubles.

Last season showed a slight improvement over the previous season for the Blackbirds but this season will once again bring in more change as for the second season in a row, seven newcomers enter the program. The Blackbirds were once again challenged offensively with an NEC-worse scoring offense of just under 60 points per game and a shooting percentage under 39 percent. Their defense played well, holding teams to 64 points per game. Now, they need to bring the offense up to par with the defense. That, along with other challenges, face this LIU women’s basketball squad.

I spoke with both Coach Striegler and Letava Whippy about last season and what should we look forward to from LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball in 2014-15.

Blackbirds Hoops Journal: This is the second year in a row where there is a lot of newcomers on the squad, what necessitated the turnover again this year?

Gail Striegler: Well, we had a lot of junior college kids that were only here for two years, so basically when you recruit those you have to replace them. I think we had three kids that were junior college kids that came in. So when you don’t sign freshmens, you have turnover pretty quickly off of that. We had one transfer and we had kids graduate. Our graduation class was a good graduating class. We graduated five kids so it wasn’t like we didn’t graduate people. Cleandra (Roberts) was basically the only one who was here for four years, so the other ones were only there for one or two years.

BHJ: You have a pretty young squad again this year, what are your concerns going into this year with this group?

Head coach Gail Strigler enters her seventh season at the helm at LIU Brooklyn. Photo: Bob Dea)

Head coach Gail Strigler enters her seventh season at the helm at LIU Brooklyn. Photo: Bob Dea)

GS: I think it is the same as it’s always is. You have to work on your chemistry. You have a lot of stuff you have to teach them. We’ve made some changes in a few of the things we’re running to. Even the upperclassmen are having to learn a few new things, which makes it exciting for us, it’s not the same thing over and over again. Whenever you have new kids, the chemistry is got to get consistent and then players have to buy in to what you’re doing. You got to make sure that they’re really getting the fundamentals. A lot of times you get the high school kids or the juco kids to come in, they don’t have the same fundamentals that you want to teach in your program.

BHJ: Your team loses a lot of scoring in Cleandra Roberts graduating, how do you go about replacing that kind of production?

GS: I think it will be the same of last year. Nobody expected Cleandra to average (close to) 20 ppg. We’ll have somebody step up and fill it. I think it is going to be more by committee though then it was last year. I’m not sure we have anybody that is coming in that is going to average 20 a game. I think we have more kids that is going to average 10 to 12 a game. We are going to be a different style of play. I think we are going to be a lot higher scoring team this year because we are going to press pretty much non-stop. We’re excited for the way we’re going to be playing. The kids are really buying into it and enjoying it.

BHJ: Are you happy with the progress the team made last season over the year before?

GS: I’m happy with the progress we made after Christmas. I think it took us a while to find ourselves. I think we starting playing well after Christmas and it continued to get better throughout the whole season. Every game was a fairly close game. We won almost half our games after Christmas. I was proud of our kids. I don’t think I ever had a team that really fought through like they did. We started off 0-9 and to end up with the record that we had, I think that is pretty good. It’s saying that your kids had some mental toughness and really bought in.

BHJ: Letava, what is your opinion of the team this season? What are you looking forward to coming into this year?

Letava Whippy: We’re very young which means that there is a whole new dynamic of play that has the potential to come up but I’m so excited because I never had to blend in with the new players as much being the only senior and playing in a system that I guess isn’t the same anymore, it is kind of different. I’m just excited I guess. All the girls who have come in are very talented and extremely excited about the season I guess so its makes my job as a senior easier when they are willing to do the work that needs to be done and makes coach’s job a lot more fun, not having to make people do stuff. We all love playing and we all love the work we have to do to get there.

BHJ: As a four-year senior, do you feel like a lot of the younger players come up to you asking you for advice?

Letava Whippy is the only four-year senior and returning starters on this years team. Photo: Bob Dea)

Letava Whippy is the only four-year senior and returning starter on this year’s team. (Photo: Bob Dea)

LW: Definitely. All of the time. It’s funny, they ask how I dealt with things that they are going through now. I kind of had to laugh because it is the exact same things that I went to my seniors when I was a freshman to ask. I think they kind of just told me that you just have to take it in stride and keep going. As much as I would love to say that to them sometimes, the younger girls I’ve learned to take them under my wing and to be with them more instead of saying suck it up, this is what you have to do. Not many people respond to that well. You find a way to communicate with everyone and everyone is different. It’s been a learning experience for me too. I’m just grateful to be able to lead these group of girls.

BHJ: Is it fair to say last year, the defense once again was ahead of the offense?

GS: Yeah, it was without a doubt and it is going to be that way again this year. We are putting in a new offense so we are even further behind offensively than we were. We’re working putting stuff in pressing-wise (on defense) that going to be different too so I feel like we are further behind on everything this year than last year. Hopefully, we are taking a little bit more time. I felt like last year, it had been a while since I had that many new kids and I think last year instead of taking time and putting stuff in and making sure it was right, I wouldn’t always get it all the way right and I would more on to the next thing. Before Christmas we had to go back and fix a bunch of things that the kids had not mastered. We moved on before they had really fix the problem so this year we are trying to move a little bit slower. That makes me feel like we are further behind but hopefully the stuff we are putting in, the kids will understand better.

BHJ: Letava is the only returning starter from last season, I’m guessing there will a lot of competition for minutes this season?

GS: This may be the most competitive group of girls that I have ever coached. They want to win if it’s Monopoly, they don’t really care what it is. They want to compete in everything that they do. They are competitive about who gets to the gym first, who leaves the gym last. They are competitive in everything that I can think of. I think that’s a good thing. A little bit of will die out when we start having to shift teams and kind of end up with our top eight, nine, ten. That is what you hope is going to happen, that the role players really buy in, if they don’t buy in then your team is not really all that successful.

BHJ: Who will be running the point guard position for your team this season?

GS: That’s a good question. It is still up in the air. We got Ashley (Brown) back, she had a concussion all of last year. We have a freshman, Paris Jones, who is from California and we have Shanice Vaughn, she is our only New York kid, she is from Brooklyn. She transferred in, she went to junior college in Texas and then came back. We have some kids that can do it. I think the only one you can say is a true point guard is Paris. The style of play we are going to be playing we are going to have a true point guard playing all of the time. To be honest with you, Letava was great helping. Kelly (Robinson) was the point guard (last season) but Letava helped bring the ball up a lot and she will be asked to do that again this year.

BHJ: Letava, is being a point-forward of sort, something you are comfortable doing? You like having the ball in your hands?

LW: Yup. I do what I need to basically. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’ll do it.

BHJ: Moving on to the front court, Fanny Cavallo and Cleandra Roberts are gone, what are the changes you need to make up front?

GS: Well, we have Jolanna Ford, she is junior college kid that has been doing a good job. Angel (DeAngelique Waithe), a freshman kid from Florida is extremely athletic. She is got a lot of stuff to learn. We have two returners in Jahmia Phillips and Mercedes Harris. It will be interesting because we are doing a four out/one in. Letava is actually going to be our four player. We moved a lot of three players to fours because we had an abundance of twos and threes. We don’t have a lot of point guards, we don’t have a lot of five players but we have a bunch of twos and threes so Letava and another young lady is going to play the four. It will be interesting to see how that works. I think it is going to be an advantage for us offensively, it could be a disadvantage defensively. If we take advantage of it, it could be really good for us.

BHJ: Is it fair to say the depth of this team is improved?

GS: There is a lot more depth. I think our five position is not real deep. I think our point guards, we have people who can play it but aren’t a lot of true point guards. But the two and threes and fours, I mean that is why they are competing so hard because there are a lot of people that can play those positions and play them well.

BHJ: How has Sophie Bhasin progressed from his freshman year up to now?

GSSophie has matured a lot. She has become a better basketball player, a better well-rounded player. She has always been a scorer, kind of hot and cold but she has put herself in a situation this year where she is going to be consistent. Her defense is still lacking but it is much, much better than it used to be. She can guard somebody, she can guard the ball a little better. She is rotating, when she gets beat, she rotates off. She knocked two balls down the other day in practice. She is playing a lot harder, a lot faster. Offensively, she has always been skilled. Hopefully she’ll be more consistent. She has been in practices so far.

BHJ: What do you think about the NEC this year?

GS: I think it is going to be extremely competitive. I would say the top three in the conference are Robert Morris, Sacred Heart and St. Francis Brooklyn. They got experienced players. They should be in their own little group. I think the rest of the league, throw the names in a hat and pick. Wagner also has some real good upper classmen. I would put them in the top four. All the other six of us, almost everybody lost seniors that were really, really good. It is going to be who gets the best chemistry, who shows up every night to play, who progresses from now until conference play start because I think everybody has got talented kids but none of us are very good right now because there are so many new kids. Where we’re at when conference play start will be most important. We are going to have some bumps in the road. We are going to have some close games. We are going to lose some games. This group is so competitive and we have more depth that I think it will be a little bit more different. I don’t foresee us going through the struggles we went through last year. We still are going to have ups and downs. I think this team will progress a little bit faster.

KenPom Projections for LIU Brooklyn and the NEC

Last night, Ken Pomeroy, widely considered the top expert in advanced and tempo-free statistics among those in the college basketball world, released his 2015 preseason rankings, projections and predictions for all of Division I basketball on his pay website, kenpom.com. (If you are a big-time fan and follower of college basketball, his site is a must-have subscription.)

The KenPom rankings has come to a point where it is nearly on par or in the minds of many has even surpassed the RPI computer rankings that the NCAA use in their team’s resume process when determining which teams get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament in March.

KenPom rankings puts into account almost everything you can think of which is why a lot of college basketball folks like referring to the KenPom above the RPI.

I took a look at KenPom last night once I heard the new data was released and here are several observations that I found regarding LIU Brooklyn and the NEC.

LIU Brooklyn is ranked 306 which is 16 spots better than the 320 ranking they finished up with last season. The 306 ranking puts them ninth in the NEC and just 4 spots above Fairleigh Dickinson which has a 310 ranking.

KenPom projects that LIU will have a 11-18 record this season with a 7-11 record in the NEC. The site also projects that LIU will be in a tie with Sacred Heart for the eighth and final NEC Tournament spot.

Oddly enough, although it projects 11 wins for LIU, their game predictor predicts just seven wins for the Blackbirds and with just three of those coming in the NEC. Although, it does predict that LIU will be in nine toss-up games (in which the margin of victory is just one point) in which LIU is given a 2-7 record in those games so KenPom probably believes LIU could win about four more of these toss-up games. Five of these toss-ups are NEC games in which KenPom predict LIU will go 1-4.

LIU’s best probability chance for a win this season comes on December 3rd when they go on the road to play New Hampshire (KemPom ranked 331). LIU has a 73% probability to get a win in that game. Their worst probability chance comes in their season opener at St. John’s on November 19th. They are given just a 4% chance to beat the Johnnies on the road.

In fact, in three of their first four games of the season, LIU is given single-digit win probabilities. The exception is just an 11% chance of a win against Stony Brook at Madison Square Garden.

In the NEC, LIU’s best win probability is against FDU at home on January 5th where are given a 69% chance to win. Their worst is against Robert Morris on the road on February 12th with a 15% win probability.

Another oddity is that KenPom doesn’t predict LIU will score at least 80 points even once this entire season. It predicts 78 will be the highest they will score all year in either a win or a loss.

As far as the NEC goes, Robert Morris was given the league’s top ranking at 177. RMU and St. Francis Brooklyn (190) were both projected to finished with league’s top record at 11-7. Also both these teams were the only two to get above a 200 ranking. Four teams (Bryant, Wagner, Central Connecticut and Mount St. Mary’s) were projected to finish with a 10-8 record while St. Francis (PA) were projected to finish at 9-9. KenPom projects a tight NEC race all season long with not much separating one through seven.

The NEC is projected as the 24th-best league in Division I college basketball just slightly behind the WAC and ahead of conferences like the Big South, America East, Big Sky, Atlantic Sun and Southland.

Only one NEC team is predicted to get a win in their season opener and that is Robert Morris who has a 70% win probability to beat Lafayette at home on November 14th. The only other team given a realistic chance of a win in their opener is Central Connecticut who has a 47% probability to beat Fairfield on a neutral court. Seven out of the ten teams have a single-digit win probability to win their season opener.

Mount St. Mary’s has a 93% win probability to beat Maryland-Eastern Shore at home in non-conference, that is the highest win probability for any game by an NEC team this season not including non-Division I opponents. They also have the distinction of sharing the lowest win probability of any game for an NEC team with just a 3% win probability in their season opener at Arizona. Sacred Heart also has a 3% win probability when they head to Ohio State for a game on November 23rd and FDU has a 3% chance versus St. John’s on December 10th.

Of course, this isn’t an exact forecast of how the season is going to go. KenPom is far from 100% accurate but it does give us a good feel on what this season has in store and which games will be considered upsets and which ones will be tight. It just adds more hype and fun to the much-anticipated college basketball season which is nearly two weeks away.

NEC Media Day Conversation with Jack Perri and Gerrell Martin – Part 2

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LIU Brooklyn’s Jack Perri and Gerrell Martin holding court at the 2014 NEC Basketball Social Media Day at the Barclays Center this week. (Photo Credit: Bob Dea – BHJ)

Today, we continue with the second part of our conversation with LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball head coach Jack Perri and senior guard Gerrell Martin from Tuesday’s NEC Basketball Social Media Day at the Barclays Center. If you missed Part One, you can find it here.

Q: What do you think your biggest challenges this season?

Jack Perri: Having so many new guys. We only have one guy who was here from our championship run so it’s really like completely starting over. You’re almost like building a culture all over again and it’s been fun and exciting. It’s being patient. I get it, you got to be patient this year especially early on, we have a monster schedule to start off. Don’t worry about that stuff, focus on getting better, getting better, getting better and then hopefully in January and February, you’ve had your ups and downs and you start getting more consistent and I think we have the right group to do that because it seems like they have a good mentality, at least at this point. We’ll see once playing time gets divvy up and how guys handle adversity.

Q: Gerrell, does it feel like starting over for you when you look around the locker room?

Senior Gerrell Martin is last remaining Blackbird from LIU's three-peat era. (Photo: Bob Dea - BHJ)

Senior Gerrell Martin is last remaining Blackbird from LIU’s three-peat era. (Photo: Bob Dea – BHJ)

Gerrell Martin: Yes, definitely. I’m just stepping in, trying to be more of a leader. It is kind of new to me. Coach said before the Bryant game (LIU’s final game last year) when I was shooting on the gun that this would be my team and that I would have to lead. It is kind of like I’m watching over my kids almost you know. I do think the talent is there even though they’re youthful. They listen to me. I’m excited just to be with them and actually teach them and just be ready for a great season.

Q: Are you prepared to be a more vocal leader on the court this season?

GM: I definitely think I have to increase my vocalness. As coach tells me after every practice, even if I sometimes have to go hoarse just to get guys going (and) fired up. At the end, it is going to be all worth it. Like I said, these guys listen to me, they want their best interest. They ask me everything, ask me questions about a lot. I’m just happy to help them. I’ve been through it. I’m just trying to get them to the same level that they are trying to get.

Q: Does this team have the necessary skills you feel to play continue to try and play the up-tempo style that you would like to play?

JP:  I don’t think we are going to change that. I feel confident. Our point guards we have, Iverson Fleming, who I really haven’t talked about, he kind of stepped up his game this yearHe play some last year, he was inconsistent. Really skinny kid. Did a good job in the weight room so he has gotten stronger. He has some ability. He is really making shots consistently in practice right now. Making good decisions, playing fast. I like where we’re at with our point guards. We’re shooting lights out in practice. You wonder if it’s good offense, bad defense. You look at both ways. Anytime you shot at a high percentage, that’s a good thing especially the way we want to play. I’m hopeful we will be a better defensive team. Can’t get much worse. So I’m hopeful we’ll be a much better defensive team, much more disciplined and play the way we want to play defensively. Last year, we had to band aid things with the zone which in the end you look back, it wasn’t as good as we would have liked it to be.

Q: If you guys stay healthy, could you see yourself as the surprise of the conference?

Head Coach Jack Perri starts his 10th overall season with LIU (Photo: Bob Dea - LIU)

Head Coach Jack Perri starts his 10th overall season with LIU (Photo: Bob Dea – LIU)

JP: It depends on the development of some of these guys. It is so hard to tell right now. So new with these guys, some of these guys have to learn to compete every single day, every single play, every single drill. So you just kind of building that with some of these new guys but I do think there is talent yet if we are lucky enough to stay healthy, I think we can compete with anybody in our league.

Q: This season, you play a lot of relatively close games in non-conference play. Was your intent to cut travel and stay pretty close to home with this young squad?

JP: Yeah, that was by design. Keep it a little more localized, both academically and also just thinking, let not have these guys fly all over the place. Next year, we will go back to that but this year I wanted to do just more stabalizing. We were put into the preseason NIT. We didn’t know where we would end up. They didn’t tell us when we got into it. St. John’s was our original (pod) and then they change things on the fly. St. John’s and Saint Joseph’s and then playing in the Garden against Stony Brook.

Q: Gerrell, what do you expect for yourself this season?

GM: Honestly, I think I’m going to lead the NEC in three-point shooting. I want to be defensive player of the year. That’s my mindset. I know the offense is going to come but I really want to show that I can really defend and get after it on defense. Like coach said, don’t worry about the offense, that is going to come, just play within the team. But defense has really been on my mind these couple of practices.

Q: What is your overall take on the NEC this season?

JP: A lot of new pieces for a lot of teams. So there is a lot of unknown. You see where some teams were picked because Central Connecticut has a lot of guys returning, because St. Francis (PA) has a lot of guys returning, they are to be picked up a little bit higher. Then Robert Morris has kind of shown that they have been able to be consistent with staying at top so they belong up there preseason. We’ll see. Obviously, Mount St. Mary’s loses a lot. Wagner loses a lot. We ended up having a lot of turnover. FDU did. That is almost half your league having a lot of turnover. I think it will be wide open because of that reason and anybody can really take it home. Whoever is healthy. Whoever plays to their philosophy will have more success than others.

NEC Media Day Conversation with Jack Perri and Gerrell Martin – Part 1

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Head Coach Jack Perri and Gerrell Martin represented LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball at the 2014 NEC Basketball Social Media Day at the Barclays Center. (Photo Credit: Bob Dea – BHJ)

Third-year LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri has been through great ups and great downs in his first two seasons at the helm of the men’s basketball team. He has won a NEC championship as a first-year head coach and then saw injuries derail his chance of a winning season in his second.

Now, the Blackbirds enter this season as somewhat of an unknown. No more names that you recognize will be hitting the court for LIU. The Olaseweres, Garners, Boyds and Brickmans of LIU dynasty lore are history. Just one player remains on this LIU team who even owns any NEC championship hardware in senior guard Gerrell Martin.

I, along with several other area reporters, got a chance to speak with both Perri and Martin at the 2014 NEC Basketball Social Media Day at the Barclays Center on Tuesday to get a feel for what they felt going through what they went through last season in a 9-20 season and what is there to look forward to in the 2014-15 campaign.

Q: LIU was picked eighth in the preseason coaches poll which is a change from years past, what are your early thoughts on this year’s team?

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Jack Perri begins his third season as LIU Brooklyn head coach. (Photo: Bob Dea – BHJ)

Jack Perri: I thought were would be picked anywhere between 8 and 10. The reality is we have a lot of new guys. Eight new guys, so there is a lot of new pieces. Who knows? I don’t think any other coach in the league knows any of of our players. I wouldn’t expect them to pick us any higher than that. We talk about everyday, just dominating that day. I think I got from the Alabama football coach Nick Saban, he talked about that and I was like, that’s good. This is a good year especially for us to talk like that. Good things will happen if you just focus on being great on the day that presents itself and our guys have done a good job of that so far.

Q: Obviously, last season was a rough season for the team. Any positives can you take away from a season like that?

JP: Last season left a bad taste in (our) mouth. It was just more out of frustration than anything else. Not being able to get better, not being able to play the way you want to play. Then guys not being able to handle adversity great. There was just a lot of things that just made it a really frustrating year. It happens, it is what it is and you learn from it and you move on. We said good-bye to a few guys that probably didn’t fit the mold of us and we said hello to a bunch of guys that fit more to the kind of kids that I want and it has been really enjoyable and I think we are back in the right direction.

Q: Injuries dominated a lot of your season last year, how do you try to go about keeping your team healthy going into this season?

JP: You can’t control injuries. You can’t control those things even this year. Ok, who is on the floor today? Let’s get better. Let’s compete and as long as you have five guys, we’re playing a game. That is kind of our mindset. I’m excited. We talked about Gerrell, it has been a frustrating few months for Gerrell where he has been up and down with a heart ailment that he has had to deal with and do test after test after test and meet doctor after doctor. Thank God, he has been cleared (on Monday), now he can focus on getting back to having a great senior year that he wants to have.

Gerrell Martin: They pretty much said that one of my values wasn’t get enough blood pumped. That my heart was losing power and with that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen towards the heart but then they ruled that out. (The doctors) pretty much said it is an athletic heart and I can play. I just grateful and I thank God that they cleared me so I can play.

Q: Gerrell, how big of a disappointment was it last season for you and your teammates?

A sharp-looking Gerrell Martin working the microphone for the NEC. (Photo: Bob Dea -BHJ)

A sharp-looking Gerrell Martin working the microphone for the NEC. (Photo: Bob Dea -BHJ)

GM: Honestly, I think it was a huge disappointment. Going into last year, we had a good group of guys I believe and just to underachieve like that especially for Jason (Brickman) was kind of frustrating but certain stuff happen and you have to adapt and just keep moving. Like Coach Perri said, we have a good young group and I’m just excited.

Q: What is the challenges of having to mesh seven returnees with seven newcomers right now?

JP: It is enjoyable because they are all a good group and they all kind of get along, certainly off the court and competitive on the court. That is all we’re talking about is just competing. There is no starting five right now, there just isn’t. I’ve said that from day one. You have to compete and whoever comes out on top will be the guys that start and if you are in the rotation and all that stuff. It has really been competitive. We’ve had our share of injuries up to this point even this year, that has not allowed up to go up and down. We’ve had about eight or nine guys consistently. Somebody comes back, somebody gets hurt. It is what it is. The guys that are out there are competing, are playing hard and I think we have some talent.

Q: Let’s talk about some of the new guys. One guy who is not really new is Nura Zanna who missed all of last season for you guys, how is his recovery and how he is looking so far?

JP: Nura was a guy that we had penciled in last year as being a huge key for us after losing five guys the previous year. He was going to play a lot of minutes. He tears a ligament in his wrist and is out for the whole year last year. They did something wrong in his first surgery so he had to have the surgery over again and he doesn’t get cleared after having three surgeries until the end of April. He finally comes back, has a good summer and then his knees are bothering him a little bit and he ends up finding out he has a defect in his knee. He was out for another three weeks. We just have had him back for about a week and you can see he is a big, strong, physical kid with great athleticism and is going to be a good player for us. I’m excited about Nura. He gives us a different dynamic that we didn’t have last year but what we had in the past. Whether it is Julian Boyd, Kenny Onyechi, Jamal Olasewere, he has that kind of athleticism and that kind of ability.

Elvar Friðriksson is a point guard similar in the mold of Jason Brickman in that he is a great passer, really good vision to see things most point guards don’t. He just has been tremendous. He is a little bit more offensive minded than Jason was. He is further advanced than Jason was as a freshman. I’m really excited about Elvar. Is he going to make mistakes? Absolutely, but I think he is a very competitive kid that has some ability to score as well as get guys shots.

Martin Hermannsson was the MVP of the Icelandic professional league. Really talented kid, we got him late. Those two kids are best friends. Its kind of helped those two kids adapt to New York being together. They’re wonderful kids. Martin has been tremendous. He is a kid that knows how to play. He understands where to be on the court. He is going to play a lot of minutes. I’m really excited about him and can really shoot the basketball also. Between the two of those guys, they are not normal freshmen and I’m going to have expectations for them because they are going to have to come in and play quite a bit.

Jamil Hood is another freshman, kid from Albany. I can say, since I’ve been here about ten years, he is probably the most athletic kid that we had, certainly in the backcourt. He is a freak athlete. He has the ability to play point, play two and even play the three some because of his athleticism. He is more like a normal freshman, he has his good days and his bad days. I think he is going to be a kid that as you see progress and figures it out, he’s got a lot of talent and a lot of ability.

I have a set of twins from Texas (Trevon and Trevin Woods). We took them early. One of them was recruited to the Big 12 but they wanted to go to school together and I thought they were both worth it to take them together. They also have their good days and bad days on the court. They’re both talented and have seven-foot wingspans and they listen and they can both shoot threes and drive the ball a little bit.

Jonathan Tshibuy was a kid that we took late. He is a junior college kid. He is a little undersized at 6’5” but he is a tough kid. He weighs about 230 and he can really drive the ball, could be a little bit of a mismatch. The last kid who is sitting is Jerome Frink from Florida International who I think has a chance to be a real superstar in our league. He is a big physical kid, he has some Julian Boyd potential.

Tomorrow, we will bring you Part 2 of the NEC Media Day Conversation with Jack Perri and Gerrell Martin. 

2014-15 Northeast Conference Men’s Basketball Preview

This is what all ten NEC men's basketball teams are trying to get, the NEC championship trophy. (Photo: Bob Dea - BHJ)

This is what all ten NEC men’s basketball teams are trying to get, the NEC championship trophy. (Photo: Bob Dea – BHJ)

We have come to our final Northeast Conference preview as we look at all ten NEC men’s basketball teams and place them in our predicted order of finish from ten to one.

Last season, an eight-man Robert Morris team did pretty much the unthinkable and finished the conference season 14-2 and got all the way to the NEC Championship Game before getting upended by a surging Mount St. Mary’s team who for the second season in a row caught fire at the right but this time completing the job with a championship.

This season is all about new top tier talent emerging as the conference returns only five of fifteen All-NEC players from last season. Some teams will rise with new blood and new opportunities while others will find it difficult to replace some of the great players that propelled up the league standings in recent years. Every season is a new chance to find out which teams will has the skills and the talents to be a contender to lift the NEC championship trophy come March and which ones will be looking at long season ahead of them.

So here we go, here is the third annual Blackbirds Hoops Journal NEC preseason preview:

photo10. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (Last season: 10-21; 6-10 NEC, 8th) – Last season, FDU was unanimously picked to finish last in the NEC and surprised pretty much everyone when they won six NEC games and finished eighth and earned the final NEC tournament spot. A lot of that was due to out-of-nowhere play of Sidney Sanders Jr. and his over 19 ppg as well as top three-point shooter and rebounder Mathias Seilund. Both have graduated and now FDU have to go into this season with just one experienced senior in second-leading scorer Mustafaa Jones (9.7 ppg) and a roster mostly made of sophomores and freshmen. Shooter Matt McDonald (8.6 ppg) should improve on his freshman numbers. Junior Xavier Harris and sophomore Malachi Mix should see an increase in minutes this season. Head coach Greg Herenda also brings in a five-player freshmen class in which freshmen Marques Townes and Earl Potts Jr. may get significant playing time. Overall, this team lost three of their top five scorers from last season so it could take a while for this team to get going and get some cohesion. I look for this team to be the team they were suppose to be last season, a team on the rebuild track.

NEC Prediction Record: 3-15

9. Sacred Heart Pioneers (Last season: 5-26; 2-16 NEC, 10th) – It was a struggle last season for first-year head coach Anthony Latina winning just two NEC games in a five-win season. Their defense struggled all season long, allowing 76.7 ppg and giving up 111.4 points per 100 possessions. Their new up-tempo offense didn’t yield more offense, in fact their offensive points per 100 possessions went from 99.4 two seasons ago to 98.9 last season. They had a tough time replacing sharpshooter Shane Gibson and missed his offense. This season, the Pioneers returning leading scorer senior Evan Kelley (12.9 ppg) and senior three-point threat Steve Glowiak (11.1 ppg/38.4 3FG%) who will have to lead the offense. They do have an emerging star in All-NEC rookie teamer sophomore De’von Barnett (11.0 ppg) who will need to step up to fill some of the loss from departed Louis Montes. One of the best distributors in the nation returns in senior Phil Gaetano (6.5 ppg/6.3 apg) who will likely league the NEC in assists with the departure of LIU’s Jason Brickman. After that though, there is plenty of question marks on this team. They are going to need these top four guys to have big seasons if are to get back to the NEC tournament this season after missing out last season. I believe this team will be better than a two-win team but I don’t know if they will be that much better. Kelley will need to stay healthy all season if they are to have any shot at the NEC’s. If injuries hampers this team then look for similar results once again.

NEC Prediction Record: 5-13

8. Wagner Seahawks (Last season: 19-12; 12-4 NEC, 2nd) – There is no denying the success Wagner has had the last three seasons. 63 wins in that span. Three straight #2 seeds in the NEC tournament. Yet, all three seasons ended in upset losses at home in the semifinals. Now gone are three-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz, 13.8 ppg career scorer Latif Rivers, and the best shot blocker in the NEC last season in Naofall Folahan. Add the surprise transfer of Mario Moody, the non-surprise transfer of Jay Harris after one year, and the Seahawks return back just two impact players from a season ago. One of them is senior point guard Marcus Burton (11.0 ppg) who didn’t start a single game last season but was third on the team in scoring. Burton will certainly start this season and will likely have to carry this team offensively. The other is junior guard Dwaun Anderson (5.5 ppg) who career-averages are 4.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 36.3 FG% and 20.7 3FG% for the former Michigan Mr. Basketball. He is now at the crossroads of his college career and he won’t have a better opportunity than this coming season to finally put up the numbers that was expected of him from when he first arrived after transferring from Michigan State. After Burton and Anderson, there is not another established player on this team. The only exception could be Rhode Island transfer Mike Aaman who could give them a huge lift in the front court but he is still waiting to see if the NCAA will give him a waiver to play this season. If Aaman plays, I believe he could be a factor and Wagner will get their share of wins because they’ll play hard and play good defense. But if Aaman doesn’t play, I can’t see Wagner seriously being better than an eight-seed team. Either way, their championship window has closed and it is time for them to start over.

NEC Prediction Record: 6-12

7. LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds (Last season: 9-20; 4-12 NEC, 9th) – As noted on this site many times, last season couldn’t have been more disappointment and more frustrating for head coach Jack Perri and his players. A rash of player injuries took away any realistic shot of LIU Brooklyn defending their three straight NEC championships. They watched two of their all-time greats in Julian Boyd and Jason Brickman say good-bye after last season and the feeling among many is LIU is now destined for the bottom of the NEC. The thing is LIU got proactive after the season ended to make sure that last season was just a result of horrible luck and not a spin back to the lean years of losing basketball. EJ Reed who was a disappointment in his sophomore year even though his 12.3 ppg led the team in scoring is now gone. Four players in total transferred or decided not to return meaning only five players return who played in at least 17 games last season. In arrives seven new players to this team plus two returnees who played in a total of seven games last season in Chris Carter and Nura Zanna and Zanna didn’t play in any. Yet, even with all the turnover, there is promise to this team. They should be fun and exciting to watch and could surprise some folks in the NEC. Senior Gerrell Martin (12.2 ppg, 44 3FG%) returns as well as senior Landon Atterberry (10.8 ppg/4.1 rpg). Zanna will be one of the promising young players in the NEC this season if he comes back at 100 percent from his wrist injury from a year ago. The questions will be who will start at point guard as LIU has two talented freshmen points in Elvar Friðriksson and Jamil Hood. Also, can they stay healthy this season? If the answer is yes, with the depth they have added across the board, they could end up being a team some of the top teams don’t want to see make the NEC tournament.

NEC Prediction Record: 9-9

6. Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (Last season: 16-17; 9-7 NEC, Tied 4th) – Only two current NEC head coaches has taking their teams to the NEC championship games in their first two seasons. One of the them is Mount St. Mary’s Jamion Christian. Yet he is only three games above .500 in his first two seasons at the Mount. That is because for two seasons running the Mount have peaked at the right time of the season and carry that momentum to two consecutive NEC championship game appearances. This season though, that could be a tougher task for the Mount to accomplish as they lose their three top scorers from last season in Rashad Whack, Julian Norfleet and Sam Prescott which amounted to 60% of their total scoring. Their top returning scorer is 7’0” center Taylor Danaher and his 7.1 ppg average. There is a lot that needs to be replaced at the Mount if they are to repeat as conference champs. The Mount do return a nice core group who can win games with players like Danaher, Byron Ashe (7 ppg), Gregory Graves (6.5 ppg), Will Miller (5.6 ppg) and Khalid Nwandu (2.5 ppg) along with sixth-year senior Kristijan Krajina. Add on another good recruiting class with players like big man Mawdo Sallah and small man Lamont Robinson, the formula looks set for the Mount to learn how to play and win in November and December and get things rolling again in January and February and be the team nobody wants to play in March. It looks like another year of Mount Mayhem is in store for the NEC once again.

NEC Prediction Record: 9-9

5. Bryant Bulldogs (Last season: 18-14; 10-6 NEC, 3rd) – Bryant this season is a difficult team to figure out what they are going to become. They lose an all-time great in Alex Francis and his career 17 ppg. Not only do they lose his scoring but his rebounding and his toughness as well. They also lose point guard Corey Maynard. So now it will be up to high-scorer Dyami Starks (18.8 ppg) to carry this Bulldogs offense. He will have a full green light to shoot at any point and I will be surprised if he doesn’t score over 20 ppg this season. Senior Joe O’Shea (9.1 ppg) should also have a good season for his uncle Tim O’Shea, Bryant’s head coach. Junior Shane McLaughlin (4 ppg) returns after starting in the team’s final 14 games and will be the main man at the point. With Francis gone, it will be sophomore Dan Garvin’s (6 ppg/4.8 rpg) time to shine as he likely moves up into a starting role. Junior Curtis Oakley (3.8 ppg) should also see an increase in minutes. There is talent on this team but the wins and losses will likely be based on how well Starks plays. Teams will game plan to slow down Starks and make someone else beat them and on some nights, Starks shot is not going to fall and it is going to be tough for them to pull those games out. I see Bryant taking a small step back this season after two straight terrific breakout seasons.

NEC Prediction Record: 10-8

4. Central Connecticut Blue Devils (Last season: 11-19; 7-9 NEC, Tied 6th) – Last season, CCSU were able to get themselves into the NEC tournament by winning five of their last seven games. Once again they can thank the heroics of All-NEC superstar Kyle Vinales for making it happen. Vinales is back for one more go-around in his senior season. He played in only 20 games last season due to injury and started in only half those games. Yet he finished with a 17.3 ppg average. CCSU will go as far as Vinales can take them which can be pretty far if he has the season he is most certainly capable of having. Behind Vinales is all-NEC third teamer Faronte Drakeford (13.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) who was a big lift for the Blue Devils in the front court. Point guard Malcolm McMillian (10.8 ppg) is also back for his senior year and will once again pair up with Vinales in the backcourt. CCSU returns back all six of their top scorers which is a big reason why a lot of experts are picking CCSU to do a lot of damage in the NEC and have a legit chance at a championship this season. The thing that worries me about this team is that they had plenty of difficulties on the defensive end last season and with basically the same cast of characters again this season, I can’t see how they guys will play better defense this season. Their offense will have to be ahead of their defense if they are to have a realistic shot at a NEC title. As long as they have Vinales, they have a chance. They is not a more clutch player right now in the NEC than Vinales but I don’t think this team will take off like many expect.

NEC Prediction Record: 10-8

3. Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash (Last season: 10-21; 7-9 NEC, Tied 6th) – Saint Francis (PA) took advantage of having no expectation and no pressure put upon them and got better as a team as the season went along. It proved valuable come March when they upset Bryant on the road in the NEC tourney quarterfinals. This season, the expectations have risen and they will be among the hunted instead of being the hunters. This team is still relatively young but they also feature several seniors that should have a big impact if they are to get to the top tier of the NEC. Nearly everyone returns from last season’s team so they should have great team chemistry from the outset. It all starts with all-NEC senior forward Earl Brown (14.4 ppg, 8 rpg). His veteran leadership should be on prime display this season and will be one of their go-to guy inside for Rob Krimmel’s team. Brown has been largely overlooked through most of his career (due to playing on some bad teams) but that won’t be the case for him this season as he is listed on almost everyone’s preseason All-NEC first team list. Brown has a good supporting cast around him starting with sophomore point guard Malik Harmon (8.7 ppg, 2.9 apg) who was NEC Rookie of the Year last season. Junior Ronnie Drinnon (7.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg) could have a breakout season as he finished out last season strong. Also, the Red Flash are very deep in the back court with Ben Millaud-Meunier (8.3 ppg), Dominique Major (6.9 ppg), Stephon Whyatt (5.4 ppg) and Ollie Jackson (5.1 ppg). The Red Flash seems to be primed to make a move up the standings in the NEC and become a legit contender for a conference championship. They are also playing a tough non-conference schedule to prepare them for the conference grind. They are going to be fun to watch this season if they all stay healthy. I like the trio of Harmon, Brown and Drinnon. I think if they don’t get double-digits wins in the NEC, it would be a disappointment.

NEC Prediction Record: 11-7

2. St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (Last season: 18-14; 9-7 NEC, Tied 4th) – If there is a team that should come into this season with a chip on their shoulder, it is St. Francis Brooklyn. They blew a 19-point lead second half lead at Mount St. Mary’s in the NEC quarterfinals. They also had to deal with controversy when five players were suspended right when things were starting to peak. Of those players only senior point guard Brent Jones returns. St. Francis Brooklyn is looking to put last season well behind them and they will do it on the shoulders of NEC Player of the Year candidate Jalen Cannon. The 6’6” senior forward has had a tremendous career in Brooklyn Heights. He led the Terriers in scoring (14.9 ppg), rebounding (8.2 rpg) and minutes played (30 mpg) and had eight double-doubles. Amazingly, he fouled out of only one game last season. Cannon will likely take his game to another level in his senior year. If wasn’t for Sidney Sanders Jr. at FDU, Brent Jones (7.5 ppg, 6.0 apg) might have won the NEC Most Improved Player award. He improved his numbers greatly from his sophomore season and the Terriers will need an even better season out of him this season. Senior Kevin Douglas (4.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg) had a bit of a down season last year and will need to return to the form he showed his sophomore season where he looked like he was about to become a breakout star. Look for junior forward Amdy Fall (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.7 bpg) to have much bigger role this season and be a defensive stalwart. The Terriers also two big time transfers in 6’2” juco guard Tyreek Jewell and 6’7” juco forward Antonio Jenifer. This team relied on their strong defensive play last season and they will likely have to do the same this season although they’ve added more weapons offensively. I believe they will finally make their first NEC finals appearance since 2003 and have a good chance of getting their first-ever NEC title.

NEC Prediction Record: 13-5

1. Robert Morris Colonials (Last season: 22-14; 14-2 NEC, 1st) – I struggled for weeks and months with an internal debate of whether I would pick Robert Morris or St. Francis Brooklyn as my pick to win the NEC. For almost the entire summer, I was on board with St. Francis Brooklyn. Then in the last month, I started to waver. I was slowly convincing myself that it was hard not to pick RMU to win and eventually I gave in. It is hard to argue with the success that RMU has had in the last seven seasons. They have won at least 18 games every season since 2007-08. They’ve averaged 23 wins in that span. They’ve been to the NEC finals five times and won two NEC titles as well as having two straight seasons with at least one NIT postseason win. Yet, there is also a feeling about them that makes you feel they have underachieved especially during NEC tournament time since head coach Andy Toole took over in 2010. They have not won an NEC title in his tenure although he has guided them to back-to-back NEC regular season championships. What they did last season was miraculous. They finished the season with just eight players after suspensions and defections from their roster and still won. This season, six of those guys are back plus another good recruiting class. Senior forward Lucky Jones (13.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is the star of this team and probably in the minds of most, the preseason favorite for NEC Player of the Year. Jones played second-fiddle to Karvel Anderson last season but will be the man on this season’s RMU team. Even though Jones is the only returnee who averaged double-figure last season, the Colonials bring back plenty of experienced guys who will make major contributions this season. Those include seniors Charles Oliver (6.3 ppg) and David Appolon (4.2 ppg), juniors Aaron Tate (3.1 ppg) and Stephan Bennett (formerly Hawkins) (4.6 ppg) and sophomore Kavon Stewart (4.9 ppg). Toole has once again replenished the depth with newcomers Lionel Gomis, Marcquise Reed and Elijah Minnie. The Colonials hang their hats on defense and that won’t likely change this season. If they can get consistent point guard play from their young crop, they will find themselves back at the top of the NEC once again. What they do in the postseason once they get there will be what to look for.

NEC Prediction Record: 14-4

2014-15 Northeast Conference Men’s Basketball Awards Predictions

Preview week continues on as it is time to dust off the crystal ball from the closet and channel its inner power and make some preseason predictions on who could possibly find their way on to some All-NEC teams and who will take home the major awards at the end of the season.

Only five players from the fifteen players named to the 2013-14 All-NEC teams are returning back for this season meaning there is going to be a lot of opportunities for some new names to get some notoriety for their play. There will also be a new players of the year in all categories with three seniors and a freshman winning the awards last season.

So here are the Blackbirds Hoops Journal’s prediction for the 2014-15 NEC awards beginning with the All-NEC Rookie Team.

All-NEC Rookie Team Predictions

(Photo Credits: LIU Athletics, RMU Athletics, FDU Athletics, MSM Athletics)

Martin Hermannson – Guard – LIU Brooklyn
Marcquise Reed – Guard – Robert Morris
Marques Townes – Guard – Fairleigh Dickinson
Mawdo Sallah – Forward – Mount St. Mary’s
Nura Zanna – Forward – LIU Brooklyn

It’s never easy to predict who is going to be named to an All-NEC Rookie Team because there is just too many factors going into it. You can predict who is going to get consistent playing time and who is going to make the most of their opportunities. These five for me project to have the most impact for their teams going into the season.

All-NEC Third Team Predictions

(Photo Credit: silive.com/SHU Athletics/nycbuckets.com/Bryant Athletics/rmusentrymedia.com)

Marcus Burton – Sr., Guard – Wagner
De’von Barnett – So., Forward – Sacred Heart
Malik Harmon – So., Guard – Saint Francis (PA)
Joe O’Shea – Sr., Forward – Bryant
Charles Oliver – Sr., Guard – Robert Morris

Barnett and Harmon both were on the 2014 NEC All-Rookie team so I believe both will take the next step as sophomores. Burton will likely led Wagner in scoring and assists. O’Shea will be the number two guy at Bryant behind Dyami Starks. Oliver is my surprise pick. I think he gets the starting nod at shooting guard at RMU and thus finished second in scoring behind Lucky Jones.

All-NEC Second Team Predictions

(Photo Credit: Bob Dea-BHJ/SHU Athletics/nycbuckets.com/YouTube.com/CCSU Athletics)

Gerrell Martin – Sr., Guard – LIU Brooklyn
Phil Gaetano – Sr., Guard – Sacred Heart
Brent Jones – Sr., Guard – St. Francis Brooklyn
Ronnie Drinnon – Jr., Forward – Saint Francis (PA)
Faronte Drakeford – Sr., Forward – Central Connecticut

Gaetano will lead the NEC in assists in his senior year. Martin will lead LIU in scoring and lead the NEC in three-point shooting. Drinnon will finish second in scoring and rebounding for Saint Francis (PA). Jones might have been picked on the first team if there wasn’t already a log jam. Drakeford will increase his 13.4 ppg scoring average from last season.

All-NEC First Team Predictions

(Photo Credit: www.post-gazette.com/www.onebidwonders.com/www.philly.com/bleacherreport.com/blackbirdshoopsjournal.com)

Lucky Jones – Sr., Forward – Robert Morris
Dyami Starks – Sr., Guard – Bryant
Jalen Cannon – Sr., Forward – St. Francis Brooklyn
Kyle Vinales – Sr., Guard – Central Connecticut
Earl Brown – Sr., Forward –  Saint Francis (PA)

If these five aren’t on the All-NEC First Team at year’s end then one of these five either got an unfortunate injury or underachieved. These five are a near unanimous pick by almost every NEC expert to be on this first team. All five could likely be the top five scorers in the NEC.

NEC Rookie of the YearScreen Shot 2014-10-13 at 4.42.36 PM

Nura Zanna – R-Fr., Forward – LIU Brooklyn

Zanna was a popular pick for this award last season before a wrist injury knocked him out for the entire season. He is got to sit and watch a year and now that he is healthy, I believe he will be the best freshman in what will be a pretty good NEC rookie class.

NEC Most Improved Player of the Year

(Photo: silive.com)

Dwaun Anderson – Jr., Guard – Wagner

I made this exact same pick last season and Anderson had another underwhelming season. Anderson has the talent and the ability but has yet to become the player everyone thought would take the NEC by storm when he showed up two seasons ago. If it doesn’t breakout this season then it is likely will never be that top line player most people thought he will be. It can’t be all about highlight dunks, his team needs him to produce and I believe he finally will this season.

NEC Defensive Player of the Year

Amdy Fall – Jr., Forward – St. Francis Brooklyn

Fall finished third in the NEC in blocks last season with 1.7 blocks per game. He only play 16.8 minutes per game. He had a 10 block game against Robert Morris last season in one of two games he started. His minutes will likely increase with the departure of Wayne Martin which means more blocks and rebounds for Terrier forward. If he gets starter minutes, he will get this award.

NEC Coach of the Year

Glenn Braica – St. Francis Brooklyn

Braica won this award three seasons ago when he guided the Terriers to a fourth-place finish when they were picked 11th in the preseason coaches poll. Braica has a much better team then he had then but if he gets them to a top two finish, I believe he will once again win this award.

NEC Player of the Year

Jalen Cannon – Sr., Forward, St. Francis Brooklyn

I think this will end up being a two player race between Cannon and RMU’s Lucky Jones and I believe Cannon’s numbers will be good enough to just edge out Cannon for the award. I think Cannon will lead the NEC in rebounding and score over 16 points per game. I predict he will be the first Terrier since 1999 to win the award.

(Photo Credits: LIU Athletics, RMU Athletics, FDU Athletics, MSM Athletics, silive.com, SHU Athletics, nycbuckets.com, Bryant Athletics, rmusentrymedia.com, Bob Dea-Blackbirds Hoops Journal, SHU Athletics, YouTube.com, CCSU Athletics, post-gazette.com, onebidwonders.com, philly.com, bleacherreport.com, brooklynheightsblog.com, brooklyneaglesports.com)

2014-15 LIU Brooklyn Men’s Basketball Preview

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LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri looks to guide a youthful Blackbirds team back into the NEC tournament this season. (Photo: Bob Dea)

It has been quite a first two seasons at the helm for LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri. Two seasons ago he inherited a two-time defending NEC championship team and through many trials and tribulations, he helped guide them to a third consecutive NEC championship.

Last season, as preparations began in defense of those consecutive championship, the injury bug bit. And it bit hard and with unmerciful venom. First, they lost former NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd and then they lost NEC Rookie of the Year candidate Nura Zanna. One by one seemingly, players kept going down to the point where assistant coaches and walk-ons were desperately needed just to conduct a practice. There were more players on the sidelines watching practice than participating in practice.

Soon the season started and the losses mounted. Just when things were starting to look up and Perri was starting to get guys back, someone else would go down and then another and it was seemingly back to square one.

Add the injuries along with bad defense and the Blackbirds would go on to win just nine games and get just four of those in the NEC and find themselves on the outside looking in on the NEC tournament for the first time in seven seasons.

After the season, changes to the roster were made. LIU’s NEC championships foundation piece Julian Boyd exhausted his eligibility after six seasons. Jason Brickman, the NEC championships finishing piece, graduated. E.J. Reed, Troy Joseph, D.J. Griggs and Gilbert Parga are now gone.

In their place arrives seven new players to Downtown Brooklyn and in the hopes of helping LIU Brooklyn quickly return back to championship prominence. Perri brought in five freshmen, one junior college transfer and another transfer to go along with four players who were brought in last season. Now he has a young team in which he can mold, teach and coach up to go along with three seniors who are looking to finish their college careers out in a winning way.

Let’s take a look at the 2014-15 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds:

Returning Guards

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Senior guard Gerrell Martin (Photo: Bob Dea)

One thing is for certain going into this season, this will be senior Gerrell Martin‘s team. Perri proclaimed it after the final game last season and he showed evidence of that with his play during the team’s final two weeks of season. Martin is LIU’s top returning scorer (12.2 ppg) and was among one of the top three-point shooters in the NEC (44%). Martin has been working on his body and his game all spring and summer in anticipation of being LIU’s go-to scorer. I expect Martin to finish with at least 15 ppg in his final season and be on one of the All-NEC teams by year’s end.

After Martin, there are only sophomores guards returning back. Joel Hernandez (4.8 ppg/2.6 rpg/41.3 FG%) will be the backup shooting guard to Martin. Hernandez played in only 17 games last season after missing the first 12 games of the season with a hip injury. He started seeing an increase in minutes the final three weeks of the season, playing around 20 minutes per game and scoring 10 ppg. He will likely get a good chance to see a lot of playing time this season.

Iverson Fleming started last season as the third-string point guard as injuries also plagued him in the preseason. He had a breakout performance at NJIT where he scored 22 points in 19 minutes to save LIU from a terrible loss. Started seeing more playing time after that but he was inconsistent most of the season, playing well at times and then at other times looking very much like a freshman. When he is on, he can get to the basket and finish at the rim. He will need to improve his three-point shooting (27.7%) if he wants to stay on the court this season. It is hard to figure out what his role will be for this season’s team with the depth at both guards spots.

Returning Forwards

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Senior forward Landon Atterberry (Photo: Bob Dea)

One positive out of last season was the play of Landon Atterberry. He had to play out of position all season long at the 5 spot instead of playing in the more fitting 4 position. He acquitted himself well offensively, finishing fourth on the team in scoring (10.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (4.1 rpg). He shot a respectable 52% from the field and 31.9% from three but was poor from the free-throw line at 54.4%. He should be more comfortable this season playing along side either Nura Zanna or Glenn Feidanga in the front court.

Speaking of Glenn Feidanga (4.1 ppg/3.8 rpg), he played in all 29 games in his freshman season, starting in six games while battling nagging injuries all season long. Played more minutes than probably it was planned for him to play last season due to all the injuries in the front court. Even though he was less than 100% for most of the season last year, he showed some glimpse of what he is capable of doing. He picked up a double-double against Mount St. Mary’s and can rebound the ball pretty well. Only shot 43% from the field last season, would need to get that number above 50% from a guy whose game is exclusively inside the paint.

Senior Chris Carter played in just seven games last season after suffering a season-ending foot injury. He saw limited playing time but did have two good games including one against Seton Hall when he had a season-high 12 points. He has a wiry frame for a 6’7″ forward. Could be in line to be a backup behind Atterberry at the 4 spot but there is a lot more competition for minutes behind Atterberry this season.

Redshirt freshman Nura Zanna looks to be healthy after missing his entire freshman season with a wrist injury he suffered in preseason. Zanna was a popular pick of many who follow the NEC to finish the season as the league’s Rookie of the Year. Expectations have been probably tapered down going into this season but Zanna will no doubt be a huge part of this team. He could likely be starting big man in the middle for the Blackbirds from game one unless Perri and the coaching plan on bringing him along slowly.

Transfers

The LIU coaching staff added a pair of late additions in transfers Jonathan Tshibuy and Jerome Frink. Tshibuy is a junior college transfer from Missouri State-West Plains where he played the last two seasons. He only played in 9 games last season in averaging 10.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He played in 25 games as a freshman where he averaged 9.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. At 6’5″, 235 lbs. Tshibuy has nice size and can possibly fill the role left behind by fellow Canadian Troy Joseph. He shot only 38% from the field and 17% from three last season but had better shooting percentage as a freshman where he was a 41% shooter and hit 33% of his threes.

Jerome Frink will sit out this season as he transfers over from Florida International University. He played for two head coaches in two seasons at FIU. He started in 56 games of 63 games for FIU and averaged 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds during his two seasons.

Freshmen

Twin brothers Trevin and Trevon Woods continues LIU’s Texas Connection. (Photo: Fort Bend Austin High School)

It seems like every season, LIU Brooklyn brings in talent from the Lone Star State and this season is no different. LIU were able to land twin brothers Trevin Woods and Trevon Woods from Houston, Texas. Trevin played in just 11 games last season for Fort Bend Austin HS and averaged 14.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. His brother Trevon played in 24 games and averaged 13 points and 5.5 rebounds as well as handed out 2.1 assists per game. At 6’6”, both brothers can play the 2, 3 or 4 positions on the court. Both will add size and length and provide added depth at both the guard and forward positions.

LIU also landed 6’1” point guard Jamil Hood out of Albany, New York. Last season was a big season for Hood as he averaged 16.7 points, 8.1 assists, 7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game for Green Tech Charter School. He led his team to a NYSPHSAA Class AA championship and was named the tournament MVP. He finished third-team All-State and also was a 2014 McDonald’s All-American nominee. Hood has great quickness and tremendous leaping ability. He will be in the running for the starting point guard spot.

The LIU coaching staff also went international in their recruiting, landing not one but two recent members of Iceland’s Senior Men’s National Team in point guard Elvar Friðriksson and combo guard Martin Hermannsson.

LIU freshman trio: Jamil Hood, Elvar Friðriksson, Martin Hermannson (Photo Credit [L to R]: timesunion.com/Snorri Örn Arnaldsson/karfan.is)

Both were also players in Iceland’s top basketball league although on different teams. Friðriksson is a 6’0” point guard who averaged 20.8 points, 7.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals for his club Njardvik last season. He shot 48% from the field and nearly 42% from three. This summer he played in two games for Iceland at the 2014 FIBA European Championship Qualifying group stage where he averaged 3 points and 2.5 rebounds playing 12.5 minutes per game as a backup point guard. Friðriksson will turn 20 years old a week before LIU begins their season.

Probably no incoming freshman had more success last season than Martin Hermannsson. The recently turned 20 year old 6’3” combo guard not only help lead his club to a Ieague championship but lost only one game during their regular season. He was also named league MVP as well as Young Player of the Year. He averaged 18.4 points, 4.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.9 steals for his hometown club Reykjavík. His play earned him a spot on the Iceland National Team over the summer where he played in four games and averaged 9.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game coming off the bench. He went for 22 points against Great Britain in an Iceland win. Both Friðriksson and Hermannsson help lead Iceland to their first-ever qualification to the FIBA European Championships that will be held next summer.

Coaches

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LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri (Photo: Bob Dea)

Head Coach Jack Perri enters into his third season at the helm. It will be his tenth season overall as both an assistant and head coach at the Downtown Brooklyn campus. Perri’s record is 29-34 in his first two seasons as LIU’s head coach. LIU’s record since Perri arrived on campus is 162-199. Last season was LIU’s first single-digit wins season since Perri has been at the school.

Mark Calzonetti returns for his third season as an assistant coach. Long time assistant coach Jason Harris returns back for his seventh season. This will be his fifth season as an assistant. Assistant coach Chuck Bridge enters his third season on Perri’s staff. This is fifth season overall with LIU Brooklyn after spending two seasons as Director of Basketball Operations under former LIU head coach Jim Ferry. New Director of Basketball Operations Jim Mack enters his first season at LIU. He replaces former DOBO Yusuf Abdul-Ali.

Season Outlook

First and foremost, coming into this new season, LIU Brooklyn’s main priority is to stay healthy. Last season, they were devastated by injuries. LIU’s injured players missed over 100 games a season ago and it destroyed their chances of even being able to defend their three straight championships. Now with all but one player from the recent championship era gone, LIU is looking to set an new foundation to start another championship era in short order.

It will be up to senior Gerrell Martin to take it upon himself as a leader to pull this young team together and help them win games. I expect for Martin to have a fantastic final season, setting new career-highs across all his numbers. It will be extremely important for him that he stays healthy and on the court the entire season.

Redshirt Freshman Nura Zanna (Photo: LIU Athletics)

There is no question one of Perri’s main focuses was adding depth to the roster. At times, with all the injuries LIU had just eight players at their disposal and only three front court players. Perri and his staff worked hard to add depth in particularly in the front court to avoid the situation they came across last season. Getting back a healthy Nura Zanna and Chris Carter and adding the 6’6” Woods twins along with Jonathan Tshibuy will help the Blackbirds front court depth tremendously.

Perri would like to return to running more on offense. Even though, LIU scored over a point a possession on offense, for the first time in nine seasons, they didn’t finish in the top three in the NEC in possessions per game. It would fun to see LIU go back to scoring in the high 70’s or low 80’s once again. Perri may have the players once again to get that play the fun run and gun style Blackbirds fans had grown accustomed to.

Another huge concern that needed to be rectified is the defense. LIU had one of the worst defenses in the nation. Their defensive efficiency numbers were in the bottom ten in the nation. They were terrible at defending the three and also allowed 52.5% shooting on two-point shots. It was a nightmare. The Blackbirds were never a great defensive team even when they were winning but they were always adequate. Last season, the bottom completely fell out and this season they hope to defend the paint better and get out at shooters quicker and not give up as many open looks. If they clean things up defensively, they will be vastly improved.

Five Games To Look Out For

1. Season Opener at St. John’s – Wednesday, November 19
2. vs. Stony Brook at Madison Square Garden – Thanksgiving – Thursday, November 27
3. vs Hofstra at Barclays Center – Sunday, December 28
4. vs Robert Morris – Thursday, February 12
5. The Annual Battle of Brooklyn game vs St. Francis Brooklyn – Thursday, February 26

BHJ’s Projected Opening Night Starting Five

Guard – Elvar Friðriksson
Guard – Gerrell Martin
Guard – Martin Hermannsson
Forward – Landon Atterberry
Forward – Nura Zanna

Prediction

The popular notion so far among NEC prognosticators is that LIU Brooklyn will finish outside the top eight and miss the NEC tournament for the second season in a row. With all due respect to those people, I don’t think this will be the case. I believe this LIU will be a fun and entertaining team to watch this season and I think they will be back in the NEC tournament with this relative young team. They will have their ups and downs as a young team will have but at the end of the day, I believe they will be good enough to be around a .500 team in the NEC. I think they will go 14-15 for the season and earn a bottom four spot in the NEC tournament.

If you want to check another LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball preview, go check out Ryan Peters’ LIU preview on Jack Perri’s first two seasons as head coach and a look at this season’s Blackbirds at Big Apple Buckets.