Danes switching focus to defense
Losing its top two scorers, including the nation’s seventh-best point producer, means the emphasis shifts from offense to defense for the University at Albany basketball team this season.
All of the talk on the first official day of practice at SEFCU Arena Friday was about preventing baskets, rather than making them. The points will take care of themselves.
“This team will definitely be a better defensive team,” said senior point guard Mike Black. “But we will still be able to put the ball in the basket. We’ll just be concentrating more on defense this year than we did last season.”
“We can still score, but I think we’ll score off of transition baskets because of our defense,” said senior swingman Jayson Guerrier. “We also have more experience this year, so we won’t have to spend as much time teaching the new guys all the plays. All the drills in practice should run a lot more smoothly.”
The Great Danes posted a 19-15 record a year ago, and were ousted from the America East Conference tournament semifinals on a last-second shot by Stony Brook. The Danes also appeared in postseason play by participating in the Collegeinsider.com tournament against Manhattan.
But that was with Gerardo Suero, who scored 21.6 points per game, and Logan Aronhalt, who added 13.8 ppg. Both are gone prematurely. Suero left school to play pro basketball, while Aronhalt transferred to Maryland.
That leaves Black as the team’s best returning scorer. Not only was he the team’s point guard, but he also averaged 13.4 ppg.
“I’ll probably score more points, but the coaches have told me not to change my game,” said Black.
“Mike Black is as good a player as there is in the league,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown, who will begin his 12th year with a 148-180 overall record. “He’ll definitely be our top scorer and our go-to player, but I’m not expecting him to score 20 points per game. We want him to score 16 or 17 points every night instead of 20 or 25 points one night and five or six the next.
“I’m sure Mike will take more shots, and he might be forcing more shots, but that’s what happens when your role changes a little bit.”
Black is the only player Brown would admit to be in his opening-day starting lineup, but others are quite obvious.
Jacob Iati, who averaged almost 15 points per game over the last eight games of the season after playing sparingly the first three-quarters of the year, is one player who should start.
Another is 6-foot-8 junior forward Luke Devlin, who is healthy after battling various injuries all of last season.
John Puk, a 6-10 junior, lost 30 pounds and could take the starting center position away from 6-9, 235-pound senior Blake Metcalf or even play alongside him to give the Danes better size.
Guerrier, a 6-5 senior who averaged 6.5 points but really came on at the end of the season after injuries to Suero and Aronhalt, is also a possibility, as is redshirt freshman Peter Hooley, who missed virtually the entire season with a knee injury. Black, Guerrier, Iati and Hooley are alll good perimeter shooters.
“Peter was our leading scorer in last year’s exhibition trip to Canada, but he was injured and wasn’t cleared to come back to practice until last April,” said Brown. “I don’t want to put too many expectations on him.”
The Great Danes open the season Nov. 9 against visiting Duquesne.