Senior guard and co-captain Jimmy Gray averaged more than 8 points per game and led the America East in steals last season.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Men’s basketball: Bearcats set for fresh startTweet
Turn the page.
Of all the metaphors that could describe the 2012-13 season, this one fits best. New head coach Tommy Dempsey inherits a Binghamton men’s basketball program that only four years removed from its historic NCAA tournament appearance, is eagerly starting a new chapter. Actually with the great number of changes throughout the program … it’s more akin to starting a new novel entirely.
New coaching staff. New AD. New President. New players. New energy. New outlook.
Dempsey, a 10-year collegiate coach whose experience belies his young age (38), took over the reigns of a slumping program in May. The Bearcats had just finished a tough 2-29 season that marked the end of a sharp three-year decline following the program’s 23-win championship season in 2008-09.
Insert Dempsey, who as one of the youngest Division I coaches in the NCAA, has orchestrated great success in his first three coaching positions. Plucking a sitting Division I head coach and one with Dempsey’s credentials was a coup for first-year Director of Athletics Patrick Elliott. The Binghamton faithful, who have led the America East in attendance for nine consecutive years, are starting to buzz, as is a strong contingent of Dempsey’s family and friends, who will be making the short drive across the state border from his hometown of Scranton, Pa.
At Rider, Dempsey led the MAAC-member Broncs to their finest four-year stretch (82 wins) in school history. In the last five years, his Rider teams made three postseason appearances, produced an NBA lottery pick (Jason Thompson) and churned out more wins than any program in the Metropolitan area, including Seton Hall and St. John’s. In addition, Dempsey garnered conference coach of the year honors for the fourth time in his young career and his program received NCAA Public Recognition four different seasons for having an APR score in the top 10 percent in the nation.
Dempsey hits ground running, starts rebuilding
In six months since arriving at Binghamton, Dempsey has assembled a young and energetic coaching staff, brought in five talented newcomers and made headway on instilling a new positive, forward-thinking culture within the program.
“One of our mottos is ‘Humbled and Hungry,’” Dempsey said. “We’ve talked to the guys about how we are down and have been kicked … and this season’s about standing tall and reestablishing ourselves as a respected program.”
The phrase “Tradition Starts Now” adorns team t-shirts, wristbands and the locker room wall.
“Tradition isn’t about having one good team but withstanding the test of time,” Dempsey has told the 2012-13 team. “Having a good product year after year and earning respect … we want to build a proud program – one that’s well positioned for future players. These current players can be part of something special – this building process – and when we win, they can look back and know they helped establish that tradition.”
Newcomers look to bolster roster light on scoring, experience
The 2012-13 roster consists of nine returning players and five newcomers. At quick glance, the nine total seems to represent a strong core of veterans but the number is a bit misleading. One of the nine is leading scorer Robert Mansell (14.0 ppg.), who will sit out the season as he rehabilitates from an injury suffered in the second-to-last regular season game last February. And of the eight other returning letterwinners, only one (senior guard Jimmy Gray) played more than 17 minutes a game. Four of the team’s top five scorers from the 2011-12 season are gone, leaving a gaping hole in the team’s offensive production, which only resulted in 56 points per game last year.
“We will need contributions from a lot of people,” Dempsey said. “We will need guys to step up their scoring production and our newcomers will need to score as well. But we will be a defensive-minded unit first. I want us to play great team defense and become a strong rebounding team. That’s our focus right now.”
Co-captains Gray, Moquete expected to anchor team in backcourt
Senior guard Jimmy Gray, who logged more than 34 minutes per game last season and led the America East in steals, returns to play a pivotal role in his final collegiate season. Gray has made his own path from unrecruited walk-on to scholarship captain and all-conference candidate and his steadfast grit and leadership through three lean years has been a source of pride for the program and his hometown fans. Gray had to distribute and score last year (112 assists, 8.4 ppg.) and Dempsey hopes to ease his point guard obligations and in return, gain more scoring in 2012-13.
“Jimmy can play both guard positions but we will count on him to score more,” Dempsey said.
As any area basketball fan can recall, Gray is certainly capable of carrying a big offensive load. As a senior at Binghamton High, he averaged 21 points per game and hit 70 three-pointers en route to all-state accolades. Last season, his resume included clutch late-game heroics in Binghamton’s upset win over Vermont (2 FT in final four seconds) and its postseason tournament win over UMBC (8 points in OT).
With Mansell’s absence, Gray’s backcourt partner will be junior transfer and fellow co-captain Rayner Moquete, a capable point guard whose own personal journey is compelling. Moquete played two seasons at Fordham before sitting out last year while earning his associate’s degree at Monroe College in the Bronx. Moquete played in 41 games at Fordham and his experience at the Atlantic 10 conference level will be an asset for the Bearcats.
“Rayner will be a good guard in our league,” Dempsey said. “He can score and can get into the lane. He’s also a great leader and is one of our best players right now.”
Moquete was a starting point guard on the Dominican Republic Junior National Team before playing high school ball at Our Savior New American on Long Island. He averaged 15.0 points and 6.5 assists as a senior and also sported a 3.95 GPA.
Freshman guard Karon Waller begins a promising collegiate career and his size and scoring ability could translate into quality minutes. Waller, 6-foot-4, led all of South New Jersey with a 25.8 scoring average as a senior at Collingswood High before attending Mont Clare Academy last year.
“Karon is a smart basketball player and can get his shot and also get into the lane,” Dempsey said.
Rounding out the backcourt are returnees Mike Horn, Chris Rice and K.J. Brown. Horn played in 19 games last season and his defensive tenacity has impressed Dempsey.
“Our backcourt will be the team’s strength,” Dempsey said. “Led by Jimmy and Raynor, we will be able to compete with most of the better backcourts in the league.”
Freshman Reed leads group of wing players
Lofty expectations accompany freshman guard Jordan Reed, who will likely play the bulk of his time at the “3” spot. Reed was a second team all-state player at Wissahickon High across the border in Pennsylvania and he poured in 24.5 points per game as a senior. Dempsey considers Reed a key contributor right away and is excited about his future at Binghamton.
“Jordan is a great, versatile athlete who has a scorer’s mentality,” Dempsey said. “We have big expectations for him.”
Senior Taylor Johnston and sophomore Jabrille Williams both return on the wing and have the chance to embrace new roles in the offense. Johnston, an all-in team player, has appeared in 79 collegiate games and earned 13 starts last season, where he shot 45% from the field including a sizzling 63% from three-point range. A lean 6-foot-7, Johnston was asked to bang inside a year ago and may benefit from a return to the perimeter for his final campaign.
Williams averaged nearly 14 minutes of action as a freshman and showed glimpses of his potential with 11 points in Binghamton’s America East tournament win over UMBC. Dempsey likes his upside.
“Jabrille can play a couple of different positions and can stretch the court and be a matchup problem,” he said. “He rebounds well and is a good fit for our style.”
Newcomers Brown, Freeman bolster frontcourt
Junior transfers Roland Brown and Brian Freeman give the Bearcats a much-needed boost after the program lost two talented freshmen, Ben Dickinson and Omar Richards, to offseason transfers.
Brown, a big 6-foot-8, 240-pound body, will likely get the start at center. The former Christ the King standout comes directly from Gulf Coast CC (Fla.), where he averaged 7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds last season. His scholastic achievements included three-time All-Queens honors and captaining his senior team to a NYS Federation championship.
Brown began his collegiate career at Hofstra before coaching changes there altered his plans.
“Roland has a great basketball IQ,” Dempsey said. “He possesses a good mid-range jumper and is an excellent passer for a big guy.”
Junior Alex Ogundadegbe returns in the post and Dempsey hopes the hard-working 6-foot-8 forward is able to take the next step in his development. Ogundadegbe earned 14 starts in 2011-12 and had a handful of big games, most notably a 10-point performance against Hofstra.
Freeman will set up at the power forward slot and his potential is intriguing. Sporting a chiseled 6-foot-8 frame, Freeman started his career at Fordham and played last season at Harcum College in Pennsylvania. He is a former double-double scholastic player for The Potomac School in Virginia.
“Brian will be one of the best athletes in the America East,” Dempsey said. “He has a great body and can run the floor, block shots and rebound.”
Like Gray, returning starter Javon Ralling has blossomed from a walk-on to a scholarship player and his grind-it-out mentality resulted in quality time (16 minutes per game) last season.
Schedule features 14 home games, matchup at No. 5 Michigan
The 2012-13 schedule is comprised of 13 non-conference games and the traditional 16-game America East slate.
The Bearcats will play six home games in November and December and face three postseason teams from a year ago, highlighted by an away matchup at reigning Big Ten champion and preseason top-5 Michigan. Five first-time opponents dot the schedule.
“I like that the schedule features several home games for our community and students as well as many opportunities to take our team into some hostile road environments against quality basketball teams,” Dempsey said.
The regular season begins with a tough road test against defending MAAC champion Loyola on Nov. 9. The Greyhounds went 24-9 and advanced to the NCAA Championship, where they lost to Ohio State.
The team’s home opener is Nov. 11 against Ivy League member Brown – the beginning of a four-games-in-eight-days stretch for Dempsey’s squad. Back-to-back road games against U.S. Service Academies and Patriot League members follow with a first-ever visit to Annapolis and Navy on Nov. 14 and a trip to West Point to face Army two days later.
A home game against MAAC member St. Peter’s on Nov. 18 bookends the flurry of games. The Bearcats stay put for Thanksgiving and will host Marywood on Nov. 24. The Pacers are coached by local product and former Binghamton assistant coach Eric Grundman.
Binghamton will close out the month of November with an away game at Ivy League power Penn on Nov. 28. The Quakers went 20-13 last season, finished as Ivy runner-up and reached the second round of the CBI, where their season ended with a 63-53 loss to Butler. The Bearcats will be making their first-ever appearance at the historic Palestra arena.
The team will open December with back-to-back home games in a three-day span when Northeast Conference members Mt. St. Mary’s (Dec. 1) and Monmouth (Dec. 3) pay a visit to the Events Center. Monmouth, which went 10-8 in league play last winter, is coached by Binghamton native and former North Carolina standout King Rice.
After a Dec. 8 game at NEC foe Bryant, Binghamton heads to Ann Arbor to face the No. 5 Wolverines on Dec. 11. Michigan went 24-10 in 2011-12 and earned a share of the Big Ten regular season title for the first time in 26 years before winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NCAAs for the third time in the last four years.
Games against in-state rivals Colgate (Dec. 28) and Cornell (Dec. 30) finish out the non-conference slate before the New Year.
The 16-game America East schedule culminates with the first two rounds of the conference championship held March 9-10 at Albany.
Dempsey wants to play up-tempo style
Dempsey’s Rider teams historically pushed the pace and the Broncs averaged nearly 72 points per game last season. The 2011-12 Bearcats were limited to less than 57 points per game so Dempsey knows his preferred style may take some time to implement.
“I like to play an up-tempo offense, spread the court and use the three-point shot as a weapon,” he said. “I want to share the ball and lead the league in assists. But we have to know who we are too,” he admitted. “When I look at the numbers, this team was last in the league in points allowed (70.7 in 2011-12) so defense has to be the focus from Day 1. The scoring will come over time but it’s better for us to be a great defensive team right now.”
He expects to use up to nine players in his rotation and will use the early season games to establish a unit that can tackle the rigors of the America East slate in January and February.
“It’s a long season and we have to get guys minutes early to give them a chance to show me they deserve to start or to be in the rotation,” Dempsey said. “By the time conference play begins, we will have defined roles.”
New assistant coaches bring experience, energy to program
Dempsey has hired an impressive group of assistants who have injected energy and a positive vibe into the program. The staff includes former Penn State point guard Ben Luber, who coached with Dempsey at Rider the last three years, former Florida State player and College of Charleston assistant Andrew Wilson and former Syracuse standout Lazarus Sims, who made the short transfer down I-81 to join Dempsey’s staff. Director of basketball operations Herb Courtney, another former elite collegiate player, starred at Delaware.
“This is a young staff from a coaching standpoint but they are experienced in basketball and very energetic,” Dempsey said. “Each guy has played at a major college basketball level and they all have a wealth of ‘real world’ basketball experience. Two guys served under Hall of Fame coaches (Sims under Jim Boeheim, Wilson under Bobby Cremins). It’s a bright spot for us to have a terrific staff that is fully committed and capable of getting this program going in the right direction.”
Bearcats picked last in America East Preseason Poll
Opposing coaches understand Dempsey’s uphill climb from a two-win season and picked Binghamton to finish ninth out of nine in the America East Preseason Poll. But Dempsey isn’t getting caught up projections and also doesn’t believe the team will press for an early-season win after withstanding a 26-game winless streak to start last season.
“Last year was last year,” said Dempsey, who made a point of not viewing any game tapes from the 2011-12 season. “We haven’t talked about last season and our guys know it’s a long process and we have to keep grinding and focusing on building a foundation and doing it the right way.”
The 2011-12 team was competitive in most of its 31 games, losing 10 games by single digits - six of which came by six or fewer points. That level of competitiveness raises the possibility that with increased focus and preparation and an infusion of talent, the 2012-13 Bearcats could surprise some with their final record. What Dempsey is sure of, is that his team will look the part.
“We’re going to put on a good show the minute we take the floor,” Dempsey said. “We are going to compete really hard, dive for loose balls, play good defense and play a brand of basketball that is a lot of fun to watch.”
If the Bearcats can follow Dempsey’s proven road map for success, that new novel being written just might wind up being a best seller.