ARLINGTON, Va. – The Colonial Athletic Association held its annual Media Day on Tuesday, and it was sure to be an interesting day. The conference is in some transition, and commissioner Tom Yeager admitted that they weren’t sure what to expect as far as turnout goes. But the turnout still looked to be up there with some prior years, and it was a busy morning with all of the activity.
Here are some notes from the day’s conversations.
Last go-round for Georgia State and Old Dominion
Ron Hunter naturally coaches with a chip on his shoulder. It’s served the Georgia State mentor well, and he wants his players to have an edge to how they play. Now a more healthy coach – his hip had bothered him for a couple of years and it got so bad that he finally had to have surgery on it right after the Final Four – he enters the program’s last season in the CAA with even more of an edge to him and one he is very much imparting to his team.
“Even walking into this Media Day today, it increased it, it amplified it by 12,” said Hunter, who added that he scheduled a practice later in the day after not planning on having one initially. “Every game for us this year is a conference tournament game.”
Hunter has had that kind of edge for years, starting in Indiana, where he had to get IUPUI going. He had to do it from scratch, but as he noted, in Indiana “you’ve got glorified programs,” so he had to do it very much under the radar. He sees some similarities to Georgia State in the CAA, as they are a geographic outlier, and last season the results showed as he led a team that had a lot of experience but had not won to a big year. With the team ineligible for the conference tournament, that has only added to the edge he has.
Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor has probably been asked about the impending move to Conference USA and this season’s CAA Tournament more than he would like to admit. It was a move not made for basketball reasons, but basketball makes the move nonetheless. About to embark on the team’s final season in a conference they have been in for 22 years, Taylor gave a little perspective on it.
“I’m real reflective about the friendships, the competition, the accomplishments and the achievements that we’ve had,” said the Old Dominion mentor. “We’ve got 17 Division I sports that have had 22 years in the league, and now we have an 18th that wants to go Division I, and so it kind of led us down that path.”
The Monarchs have been one of the premier programs in the conference, making postseason play in each of the past eight seasons. That’s probably a big reason they were picked fourth in the preseason poll, as this year will be a bigger challenge to keep that streak going and not just because they are ineligible for the conference tournament. A very well-run program, they are much less experienced this time around, so it will be more of a challenge. The intangibles are very good right now, but the real test comes when the games start, and Taylor noted that seven of their 12 players have never checked into a college basketball game.
Hagins becomes a leader for Delaware
It’s not really surprising that Devon Saddler is a leader for Delaware. The junior guard, one of the conference’s best players, has it in his personality as he competes all the time and being vocal comes naturally. For Jamelle Hagins, it’s a little different story, but he’s embraced being a leader for this team.
Every season, Hagins has made a big leap from the prior year. Last year, that leap included becoming a solid offensive player, and the senior center is now trying to add a mid-range jumper so he can step out from the post on occasion and still be a threat. His work ethic has never been questioned, but leadership is also about personality and some players, even great ones, just don’t have it as part of their makeup.
“Jamelle was always a guy that led by example, he was always a quiet type of leader,” said head coach Monte Ross. “He has grown into a vocal leader for us because he’s so confident in his game and he understands how good he is, how good he can be and how good his teammates can be. He is a vocal leader for us now, and that’s just tremendous.”
With Hagins and Saddler leading the way, the Blue Hens have a team that should contend for the conference title. The Blue Hens have talent, depth, experience, chemistry and now some winning experience. Leadership doesn’t appear to be a concern, either, and that bodes well with a daunting non-conference schedule that includes a trip to Duke and a spot in the NIT Season Tip-Off, where it wouldn’t be a shocker if they made it to New York.
Rendleman could have redshirted, but will play
With UNCW ineligible for the NCAA Tournament (and thus the CAA Tournament) due to an APR ban, most would have understood if Keith Rendleman transferred for his final season. He almost certainly would have received a waiver to play right away because of the circumstances and could go for the NCAA Tournament in his final college season. But that was never really a consideration, although redshirting was so that he would have a chance next year. Instead, the senior forward will play, and it all follows from the young man that he is.
UNCW head coach Buzz Peterson has noted that Rendleman is very business-like at all times. In fact, you might not think he enjoys the game much because he doesn’t project an image of a guy having fun. But he’s thoroughly enjoyed the campus, the teammates he’s had and the entirety of his time in Wilmington, and that comes through in his decision to play this season.
“He comes to practice, there’s no smile, no smirk,” said Peterson. “He’s getting ready to go to study hall, it’s the same way.”
Rendleman, who averaged a double-double last season, will graduate next spring from a school he wants to get his degree from. He won’t have to put it to use right away, as he will surely get an opportunity to play professionally somewhere. When he does, it will come when it should – just like the way his life is proceeding right now.
- Taylor added that Richard Ross is still out for a while after having surgery for a broken wrist back in the summer. Ross has always been a “potential” player, but with so many new contributors this season is his chance to start living up to that potential. He may miss game action, and Taylor noted that they aren’t going to rush him back since he won’t be 100 percent right away and could easily re-injure it.
- With all the headlines that Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee get, it can be easy for some to forget that Drexel also has Chris Fouch back. Head coach Bruiser Flint had an excellent note about the fifth-year senior, who has been through quite a bit in his college career but has done a great job of being the same young man he always was and continuing to play. Through it all, Fouch could end his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer since joining the CAA, as he enters the season needing 329 points to catch Phil Goss.
- Towson head coach Pat Skerry noted that Kris Walden may play off the ball this year, which at first glance might seem odd considering he led all CAA rookies in assists last year. But Walden can play off the ball and was mainly pressed into point guard duty because he was one of the few players on the team who could handle and pass well.
- Matt Brady has been high on his freshmen often, and it’s understandable since he recruited them for a reason. But even on this team with five fifth-year seniors, he said Ron Curry will simply be too good to keep on the bench for long, and the others – Charles Cooke and Andre Nation – will get minutes as well.