This past Thursday, I was fortunate enough to attend both LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams practices through generous invitations by LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball head coach Jack Perri and LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball head coach Stephanie Oliver.
I got to observe both teams go through their paces in practice as they prepare for the upcoming college basketball season. The LIU men’s basketball team is looking to make a deep run into March while the women’s basketball team will be hoping to build on what has to be considered a positive first season for them under Stephanie Oliver.
First, here are five thoughts from LIU men’s basketball practice:
1. The strength of this year’s team will be in the front court.
Who would have thought anyone would say this even just a couple of seasons ago in which 6’3″ Joel Hernandez had to play heavy minutes at the four position due to injuries and lack of front court depth. Well, the times have changed. LIU’s biggest strength this season should be in the front court especially with three experienced starters like senior Joel Hernandez at the three, All-NEC first teamer Jerome Frink at the four and redshirt-junior Nura Zanna at the five. Those three could make up one of the best starting front court in the NEC this season. Off the bench, Perri has sophomore Julius van Sauers back and he looked good in practice. If he shoots with consistency this season, watch out. Senior Glenn Feidanga should give LIU solid minutes off the bench spelling Zanna and redshirt freshman Kwe Askew and sophomore Ganlandou Cisse both looked like they made advances to their bodies in the weight room over the summer which should give Perri more options if LIU gets hit with foul issues or injuries. Also, don’t be surprised if you see walk-on Raiquan Clark on the floor at times this season. He looked pretty good in the practice I saw and his size and strength really impressed me. I would not be surprised if he got some fill-in minutes at the 3.
2. The starting point guard position is definitely up for grabs.
Perri is looking for a new starting point guard and from what I saw, it looks like the competition is going to be between the two freshmen, Julian Batts and Jashaun Agosto. Both have different strengths. Batts looked like the better shooter right now while Agosto easily looks to be the faster of the two. Both, as expected this early, were at times careless with the ball, both dribbling and passing. Batts looks a little more poised right now then his counterpart which might gives him a slight edge as the competition goes along. Batts appearance-wise looks like a sophomore or junior rather than a freshman. Agosto though looks like a player so either way Perri should be able to go to either guy at the point.
3. Joel Hernandez is primed for a big senior season.
Obviously, Jerome Frink is the first player you think of when mentioning the LIU Brooklyn roster, with very good reason. But watch out for Joel Hernandez this season. He looks primed and ready to have a huge year for the Blackbirds. Perri will likely play him for the most part at the three but Perri has plans to use whenever he needs him this season and that is including at the point guard spot at times. Perri has made no bones that he feels Hernandez will be his most versatile player for him this season and in talking with Hernandez, he thinks he is ready to have an All-NEC type season. Hernandez has made strides in his game every single season so I have no doubt he is capable of being LIU’s do-it-all player.
4. The loss of Martin Hermannsson hurts, but it is not all doom and gloom.
At times last season, Martin Hermannsson looked like the best LIU player on the floor in particularly in the last month of the season. When Hermannsson declared he would leave LIU to go pro and play in Europe, many experts quickly dismissed LIU’s chances as a NEC championship contender. Although the loss of Hermannsson was a big one, LIU should be alright at the off-guard spot. Senior Iverson Fleming looks like he will get the first crack at the two and his shooting looked much improved during the practice session I watched. Consistency will be his biggest challenge. Also, sophomore Raul Frias looks like he going to be a solid contributor and was consistently knocking down outside shots. You can tell he focused on his shooting and getting stronger over the summer. Freshman Ashtyn Bradley could also see minutes at both the 2 and 3 positions.
5. The Blackbirds seemed to be very focused.
Of all the times I watched LIU practice in the preseason, this time was the best practice I’ve seen from start to finish. The practice had a lot of energy. A lot of encouragement from teammates. Plenty of physicality, probably the most I’ve seen in the times I’ve watched them practices. Just much more focused and engaged, led by the seniors on this team. None of the seniors I felt had a bad practice as you would hope from seniors but even the younger guys as well as the walk-ons practiced with a real meaning. Cohesion was a question on last season’s team and at least in the early going, the team looks like a united group.
Now, here are five thoughts from LIU women’s basketball practice:
1. Finally, this team has some size and depth.
When I first saw the members of this season’s team warming up for practice and saw 14 players in practice uniforms, I had to take a quick double-take. Last season, Stephanie Oliver had to go into actual games with just six available players. That shouldn’t be a problem at all this season. With 13 of her 14 players eligible to go when they hit the Steinberg Wellness Center floor for the season opener against Army on November 12th and the 14th player (Kandance Satterwhite will be eligible after the first semester) available in late December, having enough bodies shouldn’t be an issue in 2016-17. Also, Oliver brought in some size, adding two more players 6’0″ or taller. Last season, LIU had just two players available who were 5’10” or above, this season they now have six.
2. Year 2 in Oliver era but in reality it is Year One-plus.
Yes, this is technically year two for Stephanie Oliver but I would call it more like year one-plus for the LIU head coach. Last season was a basically a foundation year, a season in which she can show everyone she is here to turn around a program that has had few winning seasons and just one NEC championship to its name. Now, Oliver was able to bring in her first true recruiting class and has eight players who will be stepping on to floor for the first time as Blackbirds. Now, the real building of this program begins and she is going to have her hands full this season which leads me into my third observation.
3. This team is definitely a work-in-progress.
With eight newcomers coming in this season, five of them being true freshmen, there is a lot of work ahead for Coach Oliver and her coaching staff. Every single coach was seen talking to the entire team, giving instructions, giving them strong criticism when certain individuals or the entire team needed to hear it but also giving out praises when it was earned. The mistakes, as you would expect with a team with some many new faces on it, was plentiful. It looked like a team that started practice a couple of weeks ago. But it was just their sixth or seventh practice together so things will get better as times goes along. I would not at all be surprised if this team doesn’t beginning hitting their stride until mid-season when NEC play begins.
4. Two newcomers that impressed me.
I left this practice session really impressed by two players, both newcomers. One was grad student guard Dionne Coe who transferred to LIU from Weber State and the other is freshman guard Victoria Powell. From my point of view, both players had a strong practice, making the most out of each and every drill. There were others who looked good in practice but these two just stood out to me.
5. Who is going to be the starting five when the season opener arrives?
Right now, that is probably the million dollar question. Honestly, I have no clue even after watching them practice. I’m not sure if the coaching staff currently has a good idea. I would guess Shanovia Dove will be starting when LIU plays Army November 12th but that is no certainty. Maybe in a couple of weeks by NEC Media Day, there will be a little more clarity but I think it could take every practice up until that season opener to determine a starting five and don’t look for any certain starting five to be set in stone this season. I will guess there is going to be players in and out of the starting lineup all season long.