O.D. Anosike winces when the he hears the four words.
“Player of the Year.”
It’s the one phrase that is likely to draw a short answer from Siena’s otherwise voluble 6-foot-8 senior power forward, who led the nation in rebounding average last season and is poised to ratchet his game even higher this year.
Not only does Anosike have a strong distaste, on sheer principle, for wasting good oxygen talking about individual awards, but any success Siena has this season will be the product of a vastly deeper supporting cast from the meager numbers the Saints had at their disposal last season, anyway.
Despite three-game suspensions to guard Rakeem Brookins and small forward Trenity Burdine, the Saints will start the 2012-13 season on Friday at home against Vermont with a diverse roster of scoring options, some proven, some in need of experience.
“I’m pretty happy with where we are,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “We have a dominant player in O.D. Anosike, we have more depth. Our key guys, Evan Hymes, who’s been injured, I’m a little concerned with his Achilles’, but he’s going to play Friday. Rob Poole is playing better. Rakeem has played well in the preseason.
“I expect those four to keep playing the way they’re playing. Now, what do we get out of the other guys? That’s the key.”
The Saints won’t be getting anything out of redshirt sophomores Brookins and Burdine until the fourth game of the year, against Northern Kentucky on the second day of the NUCDF Basketball Challenge in San Diego.
They were suspended on Tuesday for violating athletic department policies, each having missed all of last season with injuries after promising freshman seasons.
As Brookins did in 2010-11, the 5-foot-8 Hymes emerged as a force at point guard last season, but the start of his season will be hampered by a sore Achilles’ heel, for which he missed practice on Wednesday.
He’s expected to play on Friday, but Buonaguro said that the Saints will need walk-on freshman Chris Leppanen from Christian Brothers Academy to play some minutes so Hymes doesn’t have to play the whole game.
Otherwise, the Saints are healthy and well-stocked, unlike 2011-12, when they played most of the season with just six players in the regular rotation and somehow still managed to finish near .500, at 14-17, in Buonaguro’s second year as head coach.
In the frontcourt, Anosike will get help from Davis Martens, who missed last season with a hip injury, and the two African players, Imoh Silas from Nigeria and Lionel Gomis from Senegal, who had to sit for the year due to NCAA ineligibility rulings.
“They all bring something to the table, and that’s what makes it exciting,” Anosike said. “Davis is the more skilled player and more athletic frontcourt player, while we have Lionel and Imoh, who are more bangers inside who are able to rebound and defend. It’s just a matter of getting the chemistry going and figuring out what’s best for the team.”
Anosike had double-teams thrown at him on a regular basis last year, especially once the Saints got into the meat of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule.
Siena didn’t have many outside shooting options, and were the worst three-point shooting team in the 10-team MAAC, at a percentage of .307.
Hymes and Brookins can both hit that shot, and Poole made it a point of emphasis in the offseason to get his percentage up after making just 27.4 percent as a freshman.
“The issue with him is his consistency,” Buonaguro said. “I think he’s a really good player. In that 10-minute stretch in the Skidmore exhibition, he took over. He’s got to make threes, but Rob does a lot of other things. He’s 6-6. I think he’s going to really fit in well with this team, he’s going to be playing with two really good guards, so that’s going to make it easier for him.”
Freshman Ryan Oliver, from Inglewood, Calif., is expected to start, with Brookins and Burdine unavailable, and he’s a good three-point shooter, too, so Siena is relying on the deep perimeter game to prevent teams from packing in on Anosike.
The conference will announce its preseason individual awards on Friday, but don’t expect Anosike, who said he wants to make Academic All-America, to say much about it, especially on game day.
In the offseason, he worked on making himself a more complete player, not for his own personal goals, but to raise the program back to where it was when he was a freshman and the Saints went to the NCAA tournament.
“Off the court, I want to be a better leader,” he said. “I need these younger guys to follow my lead and try to get back to a level of prominence. If the pro thing comes along someday, so be it, but right now, I play for Siena, and that’s all I’m really interested in.”
(Home games in caps)
Friday — VERMONT, 7:30; Sunday — at Navy, 2; 16 — vs. Cal State Northridge (at NUCDF Basketball Challenge, San Diego), 7; 17 — vs. Northern Kentucky (at San Diego), 10:30; 18 — at San Diego, 4; 25 — at Maine, 2; 28 — MASSACHUSETTS, 7.
1 — UALBANY, 7:30; 4 — at St. Bonaventure, 7; 7 — RIDER, 7; 9 — at Manhattan, 2; 23 — at Fordham, 1; 29 — LASALLE, 7.
4 — IONA, 7; 6 — at Rider, 2; 11 — CANISIUS, 7; 13 — SAINT PETER’S, 2; 17 — at Niagara, 7; 19 — at Canisius, 2; 25 — NIAGARA, 7; 27 — at Marist, 2.
1 — MANHATTAN, 7; 4 — FAIRFIELD, 7; 8 — at Loyola, 9; 10 — at Saint Peter’s, 2; 14 — at Fairfield, 8:30; 16 — LOYOLA, 7; 23/24 — ESPNU BRACKETBUSTERS, TBA.
1 — MARIST, TBA; 3 — at Iona, 2; 8-11 — MAAC tournament (at Springfield, Mass.).