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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Men’s basketball aims even higher: 2008-2009 Season Preview

Published: November 14, 2008
Section: Sports

Having spent so many years playing the hunter, Coach Brian Meehan’s squad find themselves playing the role of the hunted for a second straight year as they look to justify their preseason top 10 ranking from and will look to surpass last year as they saw their second straight 20-win season reach it’s conclusion in the Elite 8 at the hands of eventual Division III runners up Amherst.

“You know, rankings are useless,” Coach Meehan said, not allowing any premature inflation on preseason praise. “They were useless last year when they ranked us high and they’re useless this year too. It’s based on what we did last year and this is a whole different team. You know, it gives people something to be excited about but the reality is we’re not anywhere near the team that we were last year. So you know I just don’t know how this is going to play out.”

The road will not be easy as last year’s with the graduations of last season’s leading scorer, emotional leader and all-around clutch shooter Joe Coppens ’08 (15.1 points, 5.2 rebounds per game). Joining Coppens into the real world is the career assists leader in Kwame Graves-Fulgham ’08 and a proven inside presence in Stephen Hill ’08 not to mention a proven bench spark plug in Florian Rexhepi ’08. For Coach Meehan, the impact of the graduations will be felt especially on the defensive end of the court.

“We don’t defend nearly as well as we did last year, not even close. We lost our best interior defender in Stephen Hill, we lost our best perimeter defender in Coppens and losing Kwame took away the best guy we had to pressure the ball coming up the floor so you know those are three big hits on the defensive end. As of now, we haven’t found anybody close to replacing those three guys in that part of the game.”

Assisting in the transition in a big way is co-captain Steve DeLuca ’08, the preseason All-American was granted an extra year of eligibility after sustaining a season-ending injury last year. The six-foot six dynamo however will have his work cut out adjusting to the new cast of characters that will surround him.

Andre Roberson ’10 will serve as the new floor general for Coach Meehan, Roberson will look to continue his success from last season, averaging 9.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game and his heroic 20 point effort against Plattsburgh helped the Judges advance past the Sweet 16. He’ll get to test his leadership chops, being named co-captain this year. Another returning starter is co-captain Kevin Olson ’09 who averaged 10.8 points per game and will find his long range touch greatly appreciated though with Coppens gone, he’ll have to be ready to fight through more double teams aimed his way. His 53 three pointers .398 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, both were ninth in the UAA. It will be interesting to see how the new three point line will impact Olson and the rest of the team.

“Actually I think it helps us a lot because our shooters have range,” co-captain and forward Terrell Hollins ’10 said about the new three point line. “what it does is opens up lanes for penetration and opens up the post a little more so there’s more space for us to make things happen for us offensively. Hopefully we can get our spacing down and get our timing right and everything else will fall into order in regards to the three point line.” Coach Meehan took a more restrained view, citing the adjustment period that usually occurs until the shooters grow used to the new distance.

Any chance of surpassing last season however will be determined by how other players respond with more time and experience under their belts. Kenny Small ’10 took a step back last year, averaging 2.4 points in 14 games thanks mostly due to being held out the first semester. The high flying Small is a more than capable scorer but defensive improvement will be vital for him if he wants to secure the number two guard spot along side Roberson. Looking to provide depth will be Beau Bonness ’11 – the Omaha native lost his rookie year due to injury.

At the forward positions, Coach Meehan has quite a few options at his disposal. Terrell Hollins had a big year for the Judges, exploding for 13.6 points and a team leading 5.9 rebounds per game. Hollins will start off the season as the first man off the bench as the team will look to keep him and out of foul trouble. Classmate Rich Magee ’10 declined statistically from his rookie year but solidified his role as a defensive presence off the bench. Whether Magee can take his game to a higher level remains to be seen. Rounding out the main forward rotation is Christian Yemga ’11. The Cameroon native averaged 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game and showed great promise with his athleticism and intense presence.

Among the rookies, one player to keep an eye is Vytas Kriskus. The six foot six Lithuanian was a McDonald’s All-American nominee as a senior and is seen as a deadly outside shooter. He could really be a complete all-around forward assuming he fills out his frame.

Ultimately, the keys to success will come down to how well the young players adjust to pace of the college game and who can step their games up to replace players like Coppens and Graves-Fulgham. Having DeLuca back helps but ultimately, the success of the season and the program will likely come down to the continued maturation of Roberson and Hollins as well as seeing who among the rookies – whether it is Kriskus or Tyrone Hughes ’12 – whom Hollins is high on, can rise up to the level of competition that is expected in the UAA, home of the DIII champions and number one ranked Washington University.

“It’s just a matter of them learning and gaining experience and understanding the different roles.” Meehan explained. “Although we want to continue doing the things we’ve done in the past because they’ve been successful, we also understand that we have to try different things and find things that we do well and try to incorporate that.”

“Our key thing is not get caught up in the hype and just kind of play basketball, we’ve got work to do.” Terrell Hollins explained, “We’re not as good as everyone thinks we are yet but potentially we are. It’s not going to be easy; guys are just going to have to put in the effort as our six seniors did over our last year.”

The men open the season on the road at Lasell. The last time the two sides faced off, Brandeis bounced the Lasers out of the NCAA opening round 80-59. Assisting Coach Meehan is Eric McKoy, former Wentworth Institute of Technology head coach Harry McShane, Jay Johnson and Shawn Bloom.