Keystone College men's basketball preview
La Plume, PA (11-10-11) – Last season the Keystone College men's basketball team (21-6) tallied their highest win total since the 2005-2006 campaign when the Giants reeled off 22 victories.
The Giants turned in a conference mark of 13-5, while also winning six of their final seven regular season games, securing the third seed in the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) playoffs.
After making easy work of Immaculata University in the quarterfinal round, the Giants found themselves in the conference semi-finals for the third straight season and for the third straight season Keystone saw their year come to an abrupt halt in the round of four.
Fast forward to the start of the 2011-2012 season.
Last season is a memory as the Giants enter this year with a new top man on the bench, as Nevada Smith begins his first season as head coach, following the departure of Jason Leone in August. The team also welcomes back 53ppg from a squad that averaged just over 71 points an outing.
Expectations are not only high within the program, but among opponents as well, as the Giants are ranked second in the CSAC pre-season men's basketball poll. Keystone tallied 85 total points, including one first place vote, finishing behind defending conference champion Cabrini College (97 pts.).
The Giants will field a great balance of experience, as they return four starters, and talented underclassmen in what Coach Smith hopes can be a memorable season. "I think we have a chance to have a special season. We continue to improve every day and we are becoming more comfortable with the new philosophies, stated Coach Smith. "With four starters back from a 21-6 season we understand that expectations are high. We expect to be a team that is fighting for a CSAC title and a bid to the NCAA tournament."
This year's team is boasting athleticism as its primary strength, with the ability to make things happen on both ends of the floor. "Offensively we are great in transition and really go after it on the offensive glass. Those will be two areas we really stress and they need to be a staple of Giants Basketball. Defensively our athleticism will allow us to put a ton of pressure on the basketball and also quickly recover if we get beat," boasted Coach Smith.
Newcomer Dan Candemeres, a freshman from Holbrook, NY, is expected to serve as the Keystone floor general, as he handles the point guard duties. Candemeres is a big guard that can shoot with accuracy, while making things happen for everyone else on the floor.
Alton Honors II (So., Plant City, FL), Alex Smith (So., Floyd, NY) and Myron McNeely (So., Upper Darby, NY) are also expected to contribute in the Giants game plan. As Coach Smith summarized, "Alton is going to be a defensive specialist and is also terrific in the open floor. He will also see time off the ball where he can look to make open jumpers and get to the rim. Alex is a great possession point guard who is strong and brings toughness. Myron is the quickest of all of them and will look to improve every day to crack the rotation."
Sharpshooting junior Tim Benedix (Mission Viejo, CA), who led the team with 67 treys last season, will be looked upon as the team's primary threat from beyond the arc. "Tim will be looked upon to carry the load at the shooting guard spot. He will need to get up double digit threes a game to spread teams out for us. If he can get shoot over 40% from three we will be successful," said Coach Smith.
Sophomores Miles Dargan, Orlando, FL and Rob Nelson, Highland Mills, NY, will be a pair of deep threats for the Giants. "Miles has a very quick release and can shoot from anywhere. I will never have to yell at him for not shooting. He is a streaky shooter who has the capabilities to hit seven or eight in a row at any time."
Senior Kenneth Hardnett and junior Mike Kelly will provide leadership, experience and plenty of offense.
Hardnett (Plant City, FL) led last year's squad with a 16.0ppg average, as he was named a CSAC All-Conference First Team selection for the second straight year. The former CSAC Rookie of the Year averaged a double-double last season by adding just under 11 boards a game, while shooting an astounding .627 from the field. His 1,040 career points rank him eight all-time in program history, while his 724 career rebounds are second all-time, just 112 behind Destin Scott's mark of 836. "Steve is as athletic a player as we have in Division III. He makes so many spectacular plays in practice I just expect it now. He is at his best in the open floor and should average over six offensive rebounds per game. He is another guy that will flourish when he gets an understanding of where his shots will come from in the half court," said Coach Smith.
Kelly (New Hartford, NY) was second on the team in scoring last year, coming in at a clip of 12ppg, while also boasting the team's top effort from the charity stripe at .705, marks that helped him earn an Honorable Mention nod on the All-Conference team. Coach Smith also has high praise for Kelly, "Mike is one of the toughest kids I have ever coached. He goes full tilt every second he is in the gym. He can do multiple things on the floor and will be looked upon to fill the stat sheet. I don't know if he has a weakness. As we move forward he will understand where his shots will come from and get more comfortable making plays."
The Giants will have plenty of depth to spell Hardnett and Kelly, with Duncan Lunsford (Fr., Marietta, GA), Keith Whitenight (Jr., Berwick, PA) and Gary Robinson (Sr., Brooklyn, NY) all vying for time. "Duncan is going to be a great player during his time at Keystone. He is our energy guy and will be looked upon for some big minutes. He has an old school game and never stops attacking on offense. Keith has improved every day of practice. He maximizes every rep he gets in practice and will be knocking at the door for minutes. Gary is currently injured but will bring athleticism and leadership when he returns. He is working every day at practice and he continues to be a positive voice on the sideline," commented Coach Smith.
Another senior, Malcolm Boone, (Sr., Sugar Loaf, NY) will be looked at to be the Giants go to guy in the middle. The athletic Boone was an Honorable Mention selection in the CSAC last season, putting up 10.3ppg and pulling in 5.3rpg, while also adding a team high 52 blocks. What sets Boone a part from other 'big men' is his ability to run the floor and make things happen. As Coach Smith remarked, "Malcolm has a chance to put up some big numbers this season. I have been around Division III basketball for 14 years and he is by far the most skilled big man I have seen. He has point guard skills and will be looked upon to create for his teammates as well as himself. I am excited to see how he flourishes in the new system."
When the call comes, the Giants also have a trio of big men at the ready in Mark Musumeci (Jr., Fulton, NY), Deion Bernard (Fr., Oviedo, FL) and Mark Cruver (Jr., Tunkhannock, NY). As Coach Smith explained, each brings a different aspect to the court. "Mus does all the little things that a team needs to win championships. He takes charges, makes the extra pass, dives after every loose ball and he is always vocal. Deion has a chance to be a special player. When he gets used to the college game and grows into his body the sky is the limit. Cruver is going to be needed in games when we play size. He is a strong, tough kid who is very athletic. He is feeling his way around the new system and is improving every day."
"We are going to play fast and look to attack teams at both ends of the floor. Offensively we are at our best in transition so we need to create misses and turnovers so we can run. We will take more threes than teams in the past and will go after it on the offensive glass. Defensively we will be a high pressure team and hopefully that will allow us to dictate tempo. If we can put pressure on the basketball we can be a great defensive team," explained Coach Smith.
Keystone will open its season on Tuesday, November 15 when they travel to Mount Saint Mary College, a team they defeated last season 69-56 at home on December 18th. The team will be traveling to the University of Rochester on the opening weekend for a tournament. There the Giants will play perennial power Ursinus College in the opening round, with a possible match-up against the host, seventh ranked Rochester on Saturday.
The team will also have a pair of early season conference games that will serve as a measuring stick. The first will be December 3rd when they travel to defending CSAC champion and nationally ranked Cabrini College. This season's home and home with the Cavaliers may go a long way in shaping the conference landscape, as the Giants also finish the regular season with the Cavaliers, February 15 at Keystone. A December 10 match-up at Neumann is also a circle the date game for Keystone.