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Fordham Struggles Unexpectedly

February 13, 2008 Columns No Comments

Fordham’s Season Not What Anyone Expected

by Phil Kasiecki

BRONX, N.Y. – This surely isn’t the script that Dereck Whittenburg wrote for the 2007-08 season. Nor, for that matter, is it the one many prognosticators (including this writer) put together.

Most figured that Fordham would be a contender in the Atlantic 10, even in a good year for the conference. Whittenburg has been steadily building the program up to this point, largely around a senior class that had growing pains early but always had the talent to one day contend. Add in solid younger players to back up the seniors, and they appeared to have the makings of a team that would contend. One head coach in the conference thought the team wasn’t getting enough publicity in discussions about the Atlantic 10 this season.

Eventually, it seems they started to get a little more pub, and that might not have been a good thing. As the Rams are 8-12 overall and 2-6 in Atlantic 10 play, the prognosticators don’t look good, and the team has had its struggles.

“Early on, I thought they were reading their press clippings a little bit,” said Whittenburg of his seniors. “They’re not used to that, because most of the guys we have on the team have never been the stars on their team. I was guarded against that coming in, there was nothing I could do about that. It went to their heads a little bit, we never got consistent.”

Sunday’s loss to Rhode Island is in some ways reflective of the season: close, but disappointing. Fordham held the lead for much of the game, even rebounding after Rhode Island scored ten straight points to take a 43-42 lead in the second half. They still had a chance in the final seconds, with Bryant Dunston getting a decent look from a couple of feet behind the three-point line that was short.

The loss to Rhode Island was the first time Fordham has lost a game decided by three points or less this season. But they have a 4-5 mark in games decided by ten points or less, games that often can turn on one or two plays and sometimes have a larger margin because of late free throws by the opponent. A couple of those losses were real stingers in non-conference play, ones that might have knocked this team back a bit as they lost by five to College of Charleston, six to Robert Morris and four to UNC-Greensboro, all at home.

“Everybody tried to tell them all year, and I tried to tell my team, don’t drink the poison,” said Whittenburg. “Everybody’s telling them, you’ve got five seniors, you’re going to be fine. Why is that so? If you’ve got five seniors, you’ve got a close game at home, the seniors are supposed to win the game.”

Whittenburg said he doesn’t have a feel for how his players took to the aforementioned losses or Sunday’s loss. His players are perfectly good people, but they don’t give a lot of indications as to how they’re dealing with it.

“I don’t know if it’s heart-breaking or not, I don’t know what they feel,” he said, adding, “they’re introverted about it.”

A steady improvement from Whittenburg’s first year at the helm, when they went 6-22, is largely behind the feeling that this season’s team had the makings of a contender. They steadily worked their way up to a .500 record two seasons ago that included a 9-7 Atlantic 10 record, the school’s first winning record in conference play since joining the Atlantic 10. Last season, they went 18-12 and improved by another game in Atlantic 10 play to 10-6. But this season has been a step backward in the win-loss columns.

Still, Fordham isn’t about to pack it in. Whittenburg still believes this season can be salvaged if they get it together soon.

“Eight ballgames is a lot more games left to go,” said Whittenburg. “A lot of things can happen, and we’ve just got to continue to plug along until we can close out the game.”

Whittenburg added that the team has a lack of leadership, which isn’t something one would expect of a team with five seniors. But that goes back to his mention that his players are introverted about things, as leaders are generally more vocal players. That’s not the makeup of this team, and it’s hurting them, one thing prognosticators surely did not figure before the season.

It’s easy for people to figure that having seniors will make the team a winner, but that hasn’t happened here. It goes back to what was said about them before the season, as Whittenburg explains.

“You’ve got to prove it,” he said of the projections of the team. “What you did last year doesn’t count. You’ve got to prove it, and right now our seniors are not proving it.”

They aren’t, and that doesn’t go with the script that was written for their season.


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