BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Media day seems far removed. The season is upon us, with the opening tip reduced to hours as opposed to weeks or days. There is a significant task ahead in this new season. Jeff Neubauer knows this and accepts the challenge. The new Fordham coach realizes the road ahead and admits, among all that is facing him and the staff, job one for his team is defense. The Rams were subpar on offense last season posting a 96 offensive efficiency in Atlantic 10 play. On defense, the efficiency was 103, a figure over the norm of acceptability to moving up in this competitive conference.
“We are challenge our team to take it up and become an Atlantic 10-level defensive team,” Neubauer said back at the conference media day. “We want our defense to be a man to man and become a aggressive in half court.”
You can sense the new coach’s emphasis on the defensive end even in discussing Jon Severe. Besides discussing the great relationship he has with Severe, the Fordham mentor praised the junior guard’s ability to defend. “His athleticism on defense is at a high level,” Neubauer says, “just what we want.” That defensive theme also surfaces as Neubauer discusses the conference in general. As he notes, “every successful team in this conference has shown they have the ability to defend.”
In early practices, Neubauer senior guard Mandell Thomas as “terrific”. He believes Thomas could emerge in this his final go round, as an elite player in the conference. Nemanja Zarkovic, a sophomore guard from Montreal, has practiced well in the early going.
While the Atlantic 10 provides a distinct challenge of its own, Neubauer’s first concern is non-conference. The Rams have 11 non-league meetings prior to A-10 play, which begins just after New Year’s. Nine of those contests are in the friendly confines of Rose Hill. Home courts do not guarantee a “W” but all things considered the familiarity of home is better than taking to the road. Among those venturing into the Bronx are Queens College, FDU, Colgate, Manhattan in the “Battle of the Bronx”, LIU and St. John’s.
“The non-conference schedule gives us a great chance to develop individually and as a team,” Neubauer said. A good non-league showing can boost the morale heading into Atlantic 10 play.
The Rams lost leading scorer Eric Paschall (15.9 ppg) to a transfer to Villanova. Neubauer makes no mention of this, choosing to concentrate on developing the personnel reporting to practice on a daily basis. He does concede the offense will be “more of an equal opportunity, sharing the ball and cutting down on turnovers,” he notes. If a “go-to” guy can emerge, fine. For now the focus will center on balance.
In a decade at Eastern Kentucky, Neubauer built one of the most formidable mid-majors in America. There were five twenty-win seasons, including the last three. Five post season tournaments were on the resume; including the memorable 2014 NCAA where the Colonels threw a scare into second-seeded Kansas in the second round of the tournament.
Neubauer realizes the life blood of the rebuilding effort is recruiting. An offensive/defensive system may border on flawless, but without players, you are in a struggle to tread water. “We believe in New York players and the talent here,” Neubauer said. “We want to recruit in New York, but we will recruit in Philadelphia, overseas, wherever we can find players.”
The newest mentor to accept this daunting challenge keeps plugging, undeterred by the struggles of the past at Rose Hill. Good coaches coming in with missionary zeal only to come up short and/or not being allotted time by the administration. Neubauer’s vision is on the road ahead, looking toward what Fordham faithful hope will be a bright future. “I love New York,” Neubauer says. “I love the city, just walking around it is so exciting, it’s just a great place to be.”
For Neubauer, this appears to be a dream job. And challenge as well.