[Editor’s Note: Post originally appeared on A Daly Dose Of Hoops, where I was a breaking news intern from Jan. to Aug. ’16.]
After experiencing an historic 2014-15 season, when St. Francis Brooklyn tied a program record with 23 wins and earned their first Northeast Conference championship since 2003-04; plus an appearance into the National Invitational Tournament for the first time since 1963, finishing off 2015-16 with a 15-17 record was a step back of sorts, and early indications from college basketball insiders seem to think another may be on its way this year.
The Terriers have six new players, replacing four graduated seniors in Tyreek Jewell, Chris Hooper, Amdy Fall and Antonio Jenifer from their main rotation. Additions to the team are freshman guards Rasheem Dunn, Gianni Ford and forward Robert Montgomery. Forwards Jahmel Bodrick, Darelle Porter and center Cory Johnson are transfers.
Terrier basketball has become known for its defense under head coach Glenn Braica, who now enters his seventh season at the helm. He said they’re teaching the team, since almost half the roster is new, how to play to their defensive mindset first. As for offense, that will come naturally, because that’s where most of the talent lies.
“This is a challenging team and a fun one to coach,” he said about how he’d describe the 2016-17 Terriers. “We have some guys who’ve established themselves and have had success in the backcourt like Yunus [Hopkinson] and Glenn Sanabria, who are very good players in the league. So we have those high-level players, and then we have some guys like Keon Williams, Gunnar Olafsson, Dagur Jonsson, who have experience and are kind of on the brink of being pretty good. We also have a couple of new really good recruits who have the chance to be special players, but they’re young: Rasheem Dunn and Gianni Ford.”
“On the perimeter, I’ll challenge anybody,” Braica continued. “I’m not saying right now, but in January. The challenge we face is that we graduated three big guys who played all the minutes for us last year. We have returning 75 minutes of Division I experience between five guys, that’s not a lot. But they have talent and they have to learn what it’s about. We’re going to throw them to the fire, and we may get beat up a little bit early. If they could figure it out, we have a chance to be a tough out come January, February, we’ll see.”
Upon entering the NEC, or any Division I league for that matter, Braica said freshmen don’t realize how hard it is. In high school, he noted that if you were lucky enough to be on a really good team, there was only five or six chances of losing. Now in practice they go up against Division I players, and during game time, if they don’t guard their man for even a second, you’ll be scored on.
“What we tell them, and we say it numerous times, ‘If our standards are way up high, and you want to work below that, some coaches may drop their standards a little to allow that. We’re not doing that,’” Braica said of his way of developing players. “Your job is to reach our standards and speed. Your speed, the one you’re used to, causes us to lose. If you play at our speed, you’ll be good, if you have talent.”
“We tell them the truth every day, we don’t drop out standards and we hold them accountable. That’s all we do. We don’t play mind games, we’re not belligerent towards guys, and if a guy is doing what he’s supposed to or not, we tell him. Simple formula.”
“You can’t give up. You have to go out there and give it all your heart,” Hopkinson said of his message to the freshman and underclassman Terriers. “A lot of young guys think they know it all, but high school and college are different. Learn as much as you can, play hard, don’t worry about making mistakes and everything will fall into place with work ethic.”
Once the new season is underway, Braica said he wants to move away from playing too big, which he said they’ve done the last few seasons. Instead, he’d like to balance the size, as they develop into scorers, along with their luxury at the guard position. With that style in mind, he mentioned maybe pressing the ball up and down the court more since they now have players who can play off the dribble and shoot at the end of a shot clock.
“I’m not excited about what our team is now; I’m excited about what our team can become,” he added. “There’s a high ceiling, we’re nowhere near it now and we may not be there for a while, but if they hang in there and keep the same right mindset, we could have a nice run.”
“The team is young, so we’re an underdog,” Hopkinson said, “but those can be a plus in some ways. I wish the season started yesterday, it’s taking its time, especially being a senior. We have to build that foundation with each other first before we can play. I’m just enjoying the process watching my teammates come into their own. I want to win a championship before I leave, I’m going to leave it all on the court.”