by: Chris Granozio
Stefan Bonneau. Nigel Munson.
John Petrucelli. Khalil McDonald.
Justin Brown. Josh Malone.
The names are splashed across the East Coast Conference stat pages, and are highlighted with red marker on every coach’s scouting report. And with good reason, for they are talented leaders capable of taking over a ballgame.
But what about the other guys that no one really identified back in November? Who are the impact players that flew under the radar prior to the season? We asked each of the nine coaches in the conference to single out their unsung heroes… their pleasant surprises to whom attention must now be paid.
Perhaps the most dangerous of these breakout performers is
Darian David, the junior transfer from Delaware
State who is the crown jewel of Bridgeport’s latest roster
makeover. A native of The Bronx, the 6-0 David has averaged over 20
points a game while shooting 46% from the floor in his first year
of Division II ball. But coach Mike Ruane says it
isn’t the numbers that define the man.
“He’s an energy guy,” Ruane states. “He doesn’t look very strong but he plays through a lot of contact. He’s tough, and he has carried the load. Night in and night out, he scores the basketball, which is the most important thing. We need him to score 20 points a game, and he had the quietest 38 points you’ve ever seen in our game at Southern Connecticut. He’s a leader by actions, not vocally. A quiet leader – a silent assassin.”
Especially from long range, where David’s team-leading 39 threes are fifth most in the conference. Scoring isn’t the only facet of the left-hander’s game, though. He is among the Top 10 in the conference in assists, and is #1 in steals, proving he is just as menacing on the defensive end of the floor.
The Purple Knights’ chief rivals – the C.W.
Post Pioneers – are setting the pace atop the conference
standings yet again, and one of the main reasons has been a
formidable frontcourt that has perfectly complimented the lethal
guard combo of Bonneau and Tobin Carberry. Coming
into the campaign, everyone knew the body of work Vaughn
Allen brought to the table, and he has made a seamless
transition to the starting lineup as a sophomore, nearly averaging
a double-double. However, another young forward has simultaneously
emerged, and has thrived playing in Allen’s shadow.
True freshman Tyuan Williams is a St. Anthony’s (NJ) product whose exposure to the legendary Bob Hurley coaching scheme has more than adequately prepared him for the travails of ECC hoops action. His first collegiate mentor – Chris Casey – says Williams definitely filled a gaping hole.
“We lost a big bullet, having lost Aaron Hall (a senior who anchored the frontcourt the last two seasons),” Casey admitted. “We were hoping Ty would be able to step in and make a major impact as a freshman and he has. It’s not surprising because of the Hall of Fame coaching he received. He has given our frontcourt a lot of stability. An exceptionally hard worker, he brings the same energy level to ever practice and every game. That’s something you need to do to be good and he certainly does.
As of press time, Williams was averaging 7.7 points and 7.9 rebounds for C.W. Post in just over 23 minutes per game. The rebounding average is good enough for third-best in the ECC, two behind Allen, giving the Pioneers the most formidable – and youthful – frontcourt in the circuit. Casey also singled out Terry Coleman – a Division I transfer from Portland State – who has stepped into the starting point guard role after incumbent playmaker Billy Butler blew out his ACL two days before the season began. Despite the setbacks, the Pioneers continue to lead the pack with the only undefeated league record in the East Region.
District of Columbia
As imposing as C.W. Post’s backcourt is, it is
arguably second-best behind the District of Columbia’s
terrific trio of Nigel Munson, Brandon Herbert and
Dishawn Bradshaw. Those three seniors have
accounted for 67% of the Firebirds’ scoring load this season,
including 85% of their 3-point attack. The roster is loaded with
upperclassmen, which has presented something of a roadblock for
young talent trying to break into Jeff
Ruland’s rotation. Still, the former NBA All-Star
and third-year UDC head coach was able to single out a player who
has exceeded expectations – at least somewhat.
“ Dyrek Jones has been our best rebounder and defender,” Ruland said. “Now that (senior center) Diyaaldin Kelley is out, he’s our starting center, and in his last game he had nine rebounds and six blocks. He’s a little undersized for the position, but he’s a great student and a great kid… a pleasure to be around.”
Jones is a 6-7 junior hailing from Brooklyn who missed a good chunk of last season due to a wrist injury, but his hands have been very active this season as he leads the ECC in blocked shots (2.6 per game) and checks in at #6 with a 6.7 rebounding average. Not bad for a player who came off the bench the first 12 games of the season.
In the Easternmost outpost of the East Coast Conference,
Dowling has steadily improved over the course of the winter,
upsetting Chestnut Hill and nearly springing similar surprises
against C.W. Post and UDC. One of the primary reasons for the
progression has been the point guard play of sophomore Leon
Taylor, who has advanced from spectator to instigator.
“Leon played very little last year,” said his head coach, Steve Hayn. “He came into this season unproven and has done a fine job for us. The last few games, his shooting percentage, assist-turnover average, defense and leadership have all improved. He has stepped in and really stabilized the point guard position. We don’t have the success we’ve had without him. He’s developed into a kid we rely on now, which has been kind of a surprise.”
Taylor ranks among the league leaders in assists and is tied with backcourt teammate Josh Malone for third in the steals category. Hayn sees him as the key to any current and future success for the Golden Lions.
“His greatest asset is his ability to run our team offensively,” according to Hayn. “Whether it’s in transition or the half-court, he’s done a fabulous job. And he’s becoming a more consistent shooter.”
Like Dowling, Mercy College has taken steps in the right
direction this season and is no longer a pushover. Gone are the
days when five guards on the floor would get hammered on the glass,
sometimes by 30+ boards a night. There are frontcourt pieces now in
place, and second-year head coach Adam
Parmenter‘s greater emphasis on rebounding and
defense has already begun to pay dividends as the Mavericks are
outworking their opponents on the boards by more than two a game,
the third-best differential in the league. Two of the chief reasons
beh ind that turnaround are recent transfers Joseph
Pope and Jordan Lee, both of whom have
helped provide a presence in the paint, on both sides of the
“No one knew in the league knew who Joe was when the rosters came out, but he’s shooting 54% from the floor (good for second-best in the loop) and doing a nice job defensively. He’s also the first guy from out of the area in a long time that’s made an impact.”
A 6-4 junior, Pope hails from Akron, Ohio, and comes to the Mavs from Suburban Community College. Lee - another JUCO transfer with three years of eligibility left – measures 6-7 and has an unusual hobby:
“Jordan has a million pairs of sneakers,” Parmenter said with a chuckle. “He collects them. His home in Jersey is wall-to-wall with sneaker boxes. He can wear a different pair every day the rest of his life.”
As for what Lee does when lacing up for the games, the coach likes what he sees.
“He’s going to have a nice career for us, from rebounding to scoring, he gives us a presence inside. He’s starting to score with both hands in the paint, and that’s a facet we haven’t had since I’ve been here.”
Sometimes it’s the intangibles that make a
difference on a team. Such is the case with Molloy’s freshman
guard Matt McLeod, who has jumped right into the
fray as a starter alongside some exceptionally talented guards by
the names of John Petrucelli and Jimmy Nolan.
“What Matt has brought to us is a nice unselfishness,” according to head coach Charles Marquardt, who can boast his fair share of standout backcourt players through his 17 years at the helm. “He gets it more than most freshmen. He’s very coachable and is all about team unity. He’s the type of player that helps a program. He’s very funny and has a great personality… very likeable.”
The Pre-Dental student from Greenlawn, NY is already making Lions fans smile, averaging double figures in scoring while pulling down over five rebounds a game and ranking second on the club with 32 steals (good for 6th in the ECC).
“We don’t run any plays for him specifically,” Marquardt admits. “But somehow by the end of the game he ends up with 10 points. He gets offensive rebounds (seven his last game vs. Queens) and extends possessions. He’s gotten a great opportunity this year and knows he can improve, especially in his shooting, ball-handling and transition offense. He’s capable of getting 13-14 points a game and he stays 40 minutes after practice working with us toward that. He’s a great kid with great grades. We’re very happy with him.”
New York Institute of Technology
The other Long Island school – New York Institute of
Technology – is experiencing a season of transition, with no
fewer than nine new faces on this year’s roster. And with
leading scorer Kayvon Roberts beleaguered by
injuries, head coach Sal Lagano pinpoints the
evolution and maturity of junior point guard Dominic
Scurry as the key to his team’s success.
However, with Scurry already having established himself as one of the better returning players in the conference, Lagano selected junior transfer Azel Prather, Jr. as his “sudden impact” performer this year. The native of Glenarden, Maryland was an elite rebounder during his stint at Prince George Community College in his home state and has continued to blossom in Old Westbury.
“We beat out a couple of CIAA schools to get Azel,” Lagano said, referring to the top-flight Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which boasts perennial powers Virginia Union and Bowie State among others. “He has a very big family spread out all over, and when they researched the academic level of the school, it helped us.”
The left-handed forward is the ECC’s third most accurate shooter and #2 rebounder… evidence that he has transitioned to a higher level of basketball with little problem.
“He needed a little coaching and guidance early,” Lagano claims. “Now he has handled the rigors of Division II basketball every night and has increased his maturity level. He gets elbowed in the face and he’ll take it. He’s a wonderful kid – he says hello to you when he comes in every day and goodbye when he leaves. And he’s a great locker room guy.”
Though it has only been a small sample, Queens head coach
Kyrk Peponakis likes what rookie point guard
Abe Akanmu brings to the table.
“He’s a tough kid,” the 17-year Knights mentor said. “He’s a physical guard who doesn’t back down… he takes the hit and is not afraid of the contact on either side of the ball. He’s a true point guard in that he makes other guys better. Once he gets into the paint, he’s a little taller and tougher, and his outside shot is better than I thought it would be.”
A graduate of Xaverian High School on Staten Island, Akanmu has been limited to just six games, hobbled by an injury that helped compromise the Knights’ depth and undoubtedly played a factor in the club’s recent struggles. Still, the coaching staff is very encouraged by Akanmu’s perseverance.
“It took him a long time to get to Queens,” Peponakis said. “He went to a JUCO (Borough of Manhattan Community College) for one year to get his grades up because he wanted to come so bad. He got over a 3.4 GPA and attended summer school so he could get more credits. I am impressed with how mature he is and I’m confident with his moving forward.”
Peponakis thinks Akanmu can eventually evolve into the type of player Anderson Labase was the past couple of years – an unrelenting, hard-nosed floor leader.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Though Omar Kellman has taken big steps
toward becoming the big man in the middle for St. Thomas Aquinas,
head coach Dennis O’Donnell is even more
impressed with the progress of junior forward Dane
“As Coach (Lou) Carnesecca would say, he’s not an aircraft carrier,” O’Donnell said of the lean, angular, 6-6 native of Uniondale, NY. “He struggled his freshman and sophomore years but he’s coming into his own. His head coach at Uniondale (High School), Tom Diana, described him as a sleeper and he has been a pleasant surprise. He’s been lifting and is so much stronger than he was as a freshman. He scores points, has a nice 12-foot jumper, helps us in rebounding, and defensively alters other people’s shots.”
Dixon gets his paws on a good chunk of those shots, too, according to his 5th-place ranking on the ECC’s blocks-per-game list. But as intimidating as he is on the court, Dixon is just a regular guy when he steps out of the gym.
“He’s a great student and an even better kid,” O’Donnell said. “He’s a real sweetheart.”
Thanks to all the coaches for contributing to this column. Next week: an amazing tale of survival that will warm your heart. Until then, Happy Hooping to all!