Oswego State sets sights on returning to NCAA Tournament in 2011-12
Following the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament and the loss of just two seniors, the Oswego State men's basketball team has some high expectations for the 2011-2012 season. The Lakers open the season ranked in three preseason national polls, including No. 18 in the D3hoops.com Preseason poll, while senior Chad Burridge (Hannibal, N.Y.) has been named to three Preseason All-America lists.
"The bar has been raised very high, but getting back to the NCAA tournament is a logical goal," said first-year coach Jason Leone. "However, I don't want our focus right now to be the NCAAs. I want it to be 'How do you make the NCAAs?' It's a by-product of your everyday habits, your practice habits and execution of the system. Those habits have been more of my focus right now."
Leone takes over the head coaching job from Adam Stockwell, who led the Lakers to a 24-5 overall record, a 17-1 SUNYAC record, and a NCAA Division III tournament first-round win last season.
"It's something I can't take credit for; the culture that has been set here," said Leone. "Our older guys have played in some big games and they have personalities that allow them to be very good leaders. It's made my job that much easier."
Burridge led the Oswego State with 18.5 points per game and 50 blocks last season. The center also was second on the team with 6.6 rebounds per game. Burridge enters the season ranked second all-time in school history in blocks (189), eighth in rebounds (661) and ninth in points (1,361).
"We've had a couple of bad practices, but the next day they responded very well," said Leone. "That starts with our best player, Chad Burridge. He is the most even-keeled guy. A lot of times a team takes on the personality of their best player and I feel very comfortable going into the year with that."
Burridge is not the only weapon the Lakers have, though, as three other returners averaged over 10 points per game last season. "We have four or five guys that can hit 20 points in a college game and they are willing to give that up to be a part of something bigger and that takes a very special personality to understand and buy into that," said Leone.
Senior guard Conor Monaghan (Brooklyn, N.Y.) is among that group, scoring 10.2 points per game and adding 3.5 rebounds per game, 41 assists and 27 steals a season ago. Classmate Sean Michele (East Rochester, N.Y.) was the quarterback of the offense and set the tone on defense, posting 120 assists and 46 steals last season. The third-year starting point guard also scored 5.8 points and grabbed 2.0 rebounds per game.
"I want to try and give these seniors that have played for three coaches in four years, some continuity within the program," said Leone. "I wanted those seniors to take ownership of the program and I think it's worked really well. They've appreciated it and I appreciate it."
Two juniors are expected to round out the starting line-up to open the season. Forward Hayden Ward (Montauk, N.Y.) led the team in rebounding last season with 8.1 per game, and was second on the team with 10.6 points per game and chipped in 22 steals and 19 assists. He was rewarded for his efforts at the end of the season by being selected to the All-SUNYAC Third Team. Guard Chris Gilkes (Syracuse, N.Y.) scored 10.0 points and pulled down 4.2 rebounds per game last season to go along with 34 steals and 24 assists.
The Lakers have plenty of depth on the bench to step into the rotation and provide quality minutes for Coach Leone. Senior Ryan Sheridan (Blauvelt, N.Y.) started all 29 games last season at the guard position, scoring 7.4 points per game to go along with 56 assists and 38 steals. Classmate Brian Gebhardt (Fairport, N.Y.) was second on the team with 62 assists last season and added 2.0 points per game. Alex Mirabito (Jr., Oneonta, N.Y.) is the other returning guard, who saw limited minutes in nine games last season. The new guards on the roster this season include sophomore Jeff Barrett (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and freshman Kevin Davis (Shoreham, N.Y.).
Junior forward Brenden Nollet (Hannibal, N.Y.) recorded 2.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, while sophomore center Andy Falvey (Cicero, N.Y.) played in 22 games last season and added 18 rebounds and five points. Freshman Rashawn Powell (Johnson City, N.Y.) hopes to get minutes as he adjusts to the pace of the collegiate level at the forward position.
The first-year coach has a plan to reach the teams the goals. "I try to split the season up into mini-seasons," said Leone. "Our goal right now is implementation of our system and getting to know strengths and weaknesses and things like that with me being a new coach." The progress of the first step will be put to the test on November 15 with a trip to Canton, N.Y. to face St. Lawrence.
"As we move into the start of the regular season, we want to see some steady progress," said Leone. "Wins and losses are part of that because of the season we had last year. St. Lawrence will be a difficult game to open up with. They have a culture of winning and it's a difficult place to play at," said Leone.
The home schedule begins with the Max Ziel Basketball Classic on November 18 and 19 with games against Wells and Ithaca, which were both NCAA tournament qualifiers a year ago, and the conference schedule begins December 2 with the Lakers hosting Potsdam.
"When the conference season starts, that ultimately determines where our season will go in the post-season," said Leone. "Buffalo State will be good and Brockport is very talented and they play in a way that is very different and can be challenging. The biggest difference from this league compared to many conferences is that the bottom teams in this league are good enough to beat the top teams if they don't play well, so you have to ready every night." Buffalo State is also ranked in the preseason Top 25 and will be the second-to-last conference game for the Lakers this season.
"At the end of the season, we want to be playing in big games that determine if we will make the NCAA tournament," said Leone. "The good thing is if you are able to compete at a high level in this conference, the conference is good enough you should be able to do well in the NCAA tournament."
Between conference games during Winter Break, the Lakers also have a date at Division I Texas-Pan American on January 3. "The kids are looking forward to the Division I game and that will be a fun trip for them," said Leone.
All told, Leone expects the attitude of this team to take them where they want to go. "Our attitude and effort and the consistency of it, is certainly a strength of this team," said Leone. "We have some individually talented guys that understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves."