Despite loss of four key players, Warriors will try to maintain standard
By Brent Pelella/Sports Information Staff
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University head men's basketball coach Bill Geitner continues to raise the bar of expectations for his Eastern men's basketball team, and after last season's Sweet Sixteen appearance, the rest of the country does as well.
Above: Team captains with head coach Bill Geitner are (from left) Mike Garrow, Joe Ives, Chris Robitaille and Tyler Hundley.
The Warriors come into this season ranked 12th in one preseason Division III poll and won't sneak up on any of their opponents this year. However, Geitner knows that a national ranking isn't anything to be satisfied about, "That ranking is a testament to how good we were last year. It is a nice morale boost for our program, but it isn't indicative of where we will be come March (i.e. NCAA tournament time)."
The approach this season's team will have to take is much different from last year because of the departure of four impact players from a year ago, "We lost a lot in Nick Nedwick, Hamilton Levy, Jamie Kohn and Chae Phillips" - who constituted three of last year's four leading scorers and three-point field goal specialists, and two of the top three rebounders - "but that doesn't change my outlook for what we can do. Our strengths will have to start on the defensive end and produce offensive opportunities."
Despite six new members on the 14-player roster, Eastern returns starters Joe Ives (Avon), a senior guard, and Chris Robitaille (Canton), a senior forward, along with its sixth man in sharp-shooter Brian Salzillo (North Haven), a junior guard. Ives will have more of an opportunity to play off the ball this season due to the plethora of combo guards, highlighted by (injured) freshmen Trachone Preston (Enfield) and Kevin Leumene (Stamford). Preston set his high school program's career scoring record and was twice named All-State and Leumene helped his high school team to a state championship as a junior.
The Warriors will look to the 6-foot-5 inch Robitaille to be a leader on both ends of the floor after putting up 10.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game with a conference-leading .619 shooting percentage as a junior. Senior Tyler Hundley (Cheshire) and sophomore Brandon Yarborough (Stamford) will accompany him in the frontcourt and provide length and athleticism. At 6-foot-6, freshman Darryl Best (Hamden) should add depth to the frontcourt.
At right: Chris Robitaille
Yarborough is a forward who can offer production in several different aspects, especially on the defensive end with blocked shots and steals. Hundley does much of the same, and at 6-5-can be a matchup nightmare at either small forward or power forward, due in large part to his ability to sink a three-point field goal.
In the backcourt, the aforementioned Ives and Salzillo will be counted on to score after they combined for 12.2 points per contest last year. Their exceptional shooting percentage of 45.8 percent on 109 shots is revealing of the numbers they could put up with more shot attempts.
Although, Eastern lost a lot from last year, it gets back a talented wing player in 6-foot-4 inch junior Mike Garrow (Terryville), who missed the majority of last season with mono. Garrow
showed a glimpse of what he can bring to the team after averaging 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in only five games. "This will be a huge year for Mike. He plays hard and can really score the ball." Geitner said.
This year's Eastern team is very young with only three seniors on the roster, and as a result will take some time to establish an identity. Any young team will progressively improve as the season goes on, but that won't change this coaching staff's expectations, "It might take a few weeks to create the consistency we need on defense, but we expect the same attitude our program has instilled. I expect our team to convey energy and discipline every day, and the rest will develop along the way, added Geitner, who has emphasized defense in engineering three straight 20-win seasons - including last year's record 24 triumph en route to the Little East Conference regular-season and tournament championships and two NCAA tournament wins which carried the team to the Sweet 16.
Last year, the Warriors led all LEC teams in scoring and rebounding defense, scoring margin and three-point field goal defense and were second in field goal percentage defense. The team ranked 12th nationally in scoring defense by giving up less than 60 points per game.
Junior point guard Justin Nunez (Hartford) returns to provide defensive strength in the backcourt, with junior Tim Quinn (Vernon) also back for his second season after transferring from the Division III level.
Offensively, expect an outside-in scheme with perimeter shooting. Of course, Eastern will also look to find inside opportunities for its big man, Robitaille, of whom Geitner claims, "could be the best big in the league."
The defending LEC champions are going to have their hands full with another strong ballot of little east opponents this season; "There are no easy games in this conference. We have to play hard every game and be tough." Geitner emphasized, whose team was ranked third in the LEC coaches' pre-season poll behind the teams it defeated to win its first tournament crown in 12 years - Keene State College and Rhode Island College.
Keene State is a team that will contend with Eastern at the top of the league with a lot of returning talent, but as Geitner noted, every game will be important and every team has the ability to win games.