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?
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?
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.