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As Usual, Baron is Guarded about Rhode Island

November 6, 2010 Columns No Comments

SOUTH KINGSTON, R.I. – Jim Baron has talked often about the process with building a program. He should know since he’s done just that throughout his career. If the past few seasons are any indication and the process moves forward like it has been, this season may mean the elusive NCAA Tournament bid finally arrives. If it does, though, it will likely to come with some potholes along the way.

The Rams are about as easy to figure as the Atlantic 10 as a whole, a conference that looks to be wide open aside from Temple being the favorites. But last season, no one figured the Rams would win 26 games, including a great run in the NIT to Madison Square Garden. And if the Rams’ second exhibition game is any indication, they’ve got some work to do.

Baron has often spoken, like many coaches do, about senior leadership. This season’s team has four who will play significant minutes and all of whom had a role in last season’s run to Madison Square Garden. That gives them a solid foundation, as does the athleticism this team has that fits the Runnin’ Rams style that Baron has had in place for a while.

The Rams played on Wednesday night without a couple of players who should figure prominently in this team’s season. Junior wing Jamal Wilson is out indefinitely with a broken foot, while senior Will Martell sat out with a bum ankle that should be healed enough for him to play in Monday’s season opener at Pittsburgh and freshman Levan Shengelia is also out. When you add that the backcourt is in some transition, it’s easy to figure why the team they have in a month will look a little different than that took the Ryan Center floor on Wednesday night.

“We’re going to have to work to get better,” Baron said. “You’re going to have portions of this team where you’re going to have to have another type of chemistry, because you’ve got guys coming back.”

One thing Rams won’t lack once they are fully healthy is overall size. They have eight players who stand 6’7″ or taller, including the tallest in program history in 7’3″ freshman Blake Vedder. Martell figures to start in the middle, likely flanked by senior Delroy James and one of two sophomores, Ryan Brooks or Nikola Malesevic. Martell has progressed nicely in his career and led the team in field goal percentage last season, while James has length and athleticism and is closer to fulfilling his potential.

Brooks and Malesevic both had nice stat lines in the second exhibition, but the bigger thing is that both were active at both ends of the floor and around the ball often. Malesevic was thought of as mainly a shooter last year, but he did much more than that in a concerted effort to be more aggressive. Still, though both look ready to take on added responsibility this season, Baron is guarded.

“They’re sophomores,” said Baron. “It’s quite a jump from freshman to sophomore year. Both guys have worked very hard in the off-season, and we hope that they can continue that.”

Senior Ben Eaves will be a valuable reserve, and junior Orion Outerbridge will be in the mix after he sits the first semester for academics. Eaves is a live body, while Outerbridge is long and athletic but has had to play behind older teammates thus far in his career.

The backcourt took a hit when Stevie Mejia transferred, as he was a solid backup point guard. But they aren’t lacking bodies, starting with senior leader Marquis Jones. After playing the point his entire career, Jones will play more off the ball, which will be an adjustment. He’s capably run the show to this point and looks to be in good physical shape. Sophomore Daniel West, a junior college transfer, could grab the starting point guard spot, although he needs to get in better shape. Sophomore Akeem Richmond was a big weapon off the bench last season and may remain in that role this season. He gives them a shooter, and Baron noted that the team’s perimeter shooting is likely to be up and down although Richmond is one they may be able to hang their hat on a little.

The Rams’ non-conference schedule has plenty of challenges, starting with Pittsburgh. They also host Drexel, Patriot League contender Lafayette and Boston College, while traveling to play arch-rival Providence and Florida.

The Rams were picked fifth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, which is higher than they were last year. As he often is, Baron is sounding a measured tone in talking about his team. It makes sense, because although the Rams appear to have the personnel to finish about that high in a wide-open conference, it doesn’t look like it will be a smooth journey.

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