Men's Basketball Opens Season at Iona
ALBANY, N.Y. - The University at Albany men’s basketball team kicks off the 2018-19 regular season Friday with a trip to three-time MAAC champion Iona.
The Great Danes are coming off a 22-10 season in which they went 10-6 in the America East, placing fourth overall. They fell in the quarterfinal round of the America East Tournament to rival Stony Brook after sweeping the Seawolves in the two regular-season meetings.
This year’s team features six returning players, only three of which saw playing time last season. The six returners will anchor a squad that features nine newcomers to the program.
UAlbany was hit hard by graduation and transfers, and will only return 10.7 points per game from last year’s squad, amounting to 14% of last year’s scoring. The team returns just one starter from last year.
The backcourt this season will feature two players who earned significant minutes last season in Devonte Campbell and Ahmad Clark. Campbell started all 31 games in which he played last year and earned his second-consecutive America East All-Defensive Team selection. Clark appeared in 29 games, making one start, and averaged just under four points in 10 minutes per game. This year, Clark is expected to move into a primary starting role.
“Ahmad has played very well in the preseason,” said head coach Will Brown. “He’s put in a lot of time in the spring, summer, and fall. He was really talented last year, he just didn’t get much of an opportunity. This year I think he’s taking advantage of the opportunity he’s had so I expect him to play well and play a lot for us this upcoming season. Devonte has done a good job of being that defensive stopper we need him to be. He has spent most of his offseason and preseason working on his jump shot. He’s shooting the ball well and he’s been a great leader.”
Bolstering the backcourt will redshirt-freshman Cameron Healy, who is one of three Australian players who redshirted last season and already has a year in the program, as well as transfers Ray Miller and Reece Brooks.
“Cameron can really score the ball,” said Brown. “He redshirted for us last year, and expectations are high for him. We have a transfer from UMass in Ray Miller, who started 20 games for UMass in the Atlantic 10, so he brings experience playing at a higher level, and he brings toughness. Reece scored over 1,000 points in junior college, and this is a whole other level he’s getting used to. But he has shown flashes of really being able to put the ball in the basket.”
Among the newcomers in the backcourt are two highly-touted freshmen in Antonio Rizzuto and Malachi De Sousa.
“Rizzuto and De Sousa are highly regarded, talented freshmen,” said Brown. “They’re learning what this level is all about right now and I expect them to be major contributors at some point this season.”
Campbell brings the most experience to the squad with two seasons as a regular starter under his belt. He will be asked this season to fill the leadership void left by the players who have moved on from the program.
“I asked Devonte in the spring and the summer to lead this team,” said Brown. “I gave him an awful lot of responsibility for one person. The coaches will be there for him and have his back in each situation, but he’s really embraced the responsibility. The guys have great respect for him and appreciate what he’s done the past couple of months to help the group. He’s been a lot better than I ever could have anticipated.”
Of the returning depth, most of it lies in the backcourt. The frontcourt roster features no players who have received playing time as a Great Dane in their careers, though two players, Adam Lulka and Brent Hank, have already spent a year in the program for their redshirt seasons.
“We lost some good frontcourt players,” said Brown. “There’s a good chance we’re going to start an all-Aussie frontcourt. I think Adam has a chance to be a really good player. He’s very versatile, has great size, and can score from behind the arc and at the rim. He reminds me a lot of Sam Rowley when he got here a few years ago, just happy to be a part of it. We want Adam to not be satisfied, to dare himself to be great. Brent reminds me of Greig Stire in his sophomore year when he anchored our defense. He was always in the right spot, always had everybody’s back, and did a great job on the glass. So I think Brent will be that defensive anchor for us. He’s still evolving offensively, but with his size and what he bring to us defensively, he will be a huge asset for us.”
Projecting to support Lulka and Hank are newcomers Kendall Lauderdale and Sasha French, both transfers.
“We have two talented newcomers in Kendall and Sasha,” said Brown. “Both are getting acclimated to this level and the intensity of it. Kendall can score in a variety of ways, but like most new guys he has to catch up on the defensive side of the ball. But as he gets comfortable in our system I think he’ll be really good. And Sasha is versatile. He needs to get stronger but for a big guy he moves really well. One of those two guys, early, has to provide quality minutes and production for us. Hopefully both can do that.”
Looking at the roster as a whole, Brown likes the level of talent on display but understands how inexperienced the group is.
“Right now we’re very young and inexperienced,” said Brown. “I don’t know that we understand right now as a group how hard you have to play at this level, and how long you have to play hard at this level. The biggest adjustment for new guys is recognizing that a lot of guys can play at the Division I level. But the best teams compete at such a high level, and they do it consistently. And that’s what I’m trying to get the guys to understand. In all reality, I want this team to get to a point where we can rely on our defense and rebounding to win games. I’m hoping the non-conference schedule serves its purpose and gets us ready to compete with and win against anybody in our conference. We’re young and inexperienced but we’re not lacking in talent, so I’m anxious to see how this group performs when the lights are on.”
The game at Iona on Friday kicks off a fifteen-game non-conference schedule that features a selection of opponents with varying styles of play as well as consistent postseason experience.
“I like our non-conference schedule this year,” said Brown. “I think we have some really good balance. Providence has been to six NCAA Tournaments in a row. Yale will compete for an Ivy League title. Boston University will compete for a Patriot League title. Kent State two years ago was in the NCAA Tournament. Iona has won three-straight MAAC titles. Canisius and Niagara played in the poststeason last year. For as young a group as we have, I think it’s a challenging schedule. We’ll see a lot of different styles of play. If we’re not ready to go and not ready to play we’ll be in trouble, but I think it will get our team ready for conference play.”
Standing out on the non-conference schedule is a week-long trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland right after Thanksgiving. The Great Danes will play two games in Belfast as part of their three-game Belfast Classic slate which starts on Friday, November 23 at Milwaukee. The following Sunday, the team departs for Belfast where they will play LIU Brooklyn on Thursday and either Marist or Dartmouth on Sunday, depending on the results of the two games.
“I think the trip to Belfast is awesome,” said Brown. “I’ve never been there myself. A lot of our guys have never been out of the country before, and we have some international guys who have never been outside their own country and the United States. And none of the guys on the roster have been to Ireland. As much as you’d like to say it’s a business trip, and we want to go there and win two games, I think we have to make sure we get the full cultural experience as well. It’s a huge educational opportunity for our guys to experience another culture and learn from it. I want it to be something our guys tell their kids and grandchildren about years down the road. We want to maximize our time that we’re there.”
America East play begins on January 5, when UAlbany will host preseason conference favorite and last year’s regular-season champion Vermont. Last season, the America East made waves when conference champion UMBC became the first 16-seed to upset a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament when they knocked off top overall seed Virginia 74-54 in Charlotte.
“I think the league is going to be good,” said Brown. “The teams that have normally finished up top have stayed fairly consistent. I think the teams near the bottom have all gotten better. I think it’s safe to say Vermont is probably the favorite because they’re usually good and they have the best player in the conference in Anthony Lamb. Hartford has seven or eight seniors on their roster, so they have a chance to be very good. And a lot of other teams in the league including ourselves have a lot of moving pieces. It will come down to what teams can put it together sooner than later, and what teams can stay consistent with their approach and how they play. I think there’s parity in the league and I think the league is as good as it’s been in years. The league got a lot of attention last year with the success UMBC had, and I think that raises the profile of the league.”
Iona was picked third in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll alongside Quinnipiac. The Gaels feature two players named to the preseason All-Conference teams in Rickey McGill and E.J. Crawford. Iona similarly features a sparse returning roster, bringing back just three players from last year’s squad, one of whom redshirted. The Gaels have won 20 games or more for nine consecutive seasons.
Following the game against Iona, UAlbany will host its home opener on Wednesday, November 14 against Boston University at Albany as part of a double-header with the women’s program. Friday’s game can be viewed on ESPN3.
THE OUTLOOK: IONA (0-0) │ Friday, November 9, 8:00 p.m. │ New Rochelle, N.Y.
Last we met: W, 69-67, November 10, 2017, Albany, N.Y.
Tale of the Tape
- UAlbany was 7-7 on the road last season
- Iona was 8-3 at home
- This is the second straight season UAlbany will open against Iona
- Iona returns its top two scorers from last season, but only 33% of total scoring
Series History: Iona leads 2-1
2017-18 Record: 20-14, (11-7 MAAC); fourth place MAAC, MAAC Champion, NCAA First Round
Top Returning Player: Rickey McGill, Sr., G, 13.4 ppg / 4.0 rpg / 5.6 apg)