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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.