Men’s Basketball ready to defend title
By: Zachary Gaylis
Senior Staff Writer
The 2014-2015 campaign will look to see the University at Albany men’s basketball team build on undoubtedly its greatest success in recent memory. Two consecutive America East Conference championships along with two straight NCAA tournament appearances have significantly strengthened the reputation of the UAlbany basketball program. The Great Danes put forth consecutive strong efforts against the likes of national powerhouses Duke and Florida. Although the Great Danes did not prevail either time, it certainly gained major recognition, and has set a precedent for the team moving forward.
Last year’s loss to the Florida Gators in the NCAA tournament was the final game for two of the Dane’s most valuable players, point guard D.J. Evans and center Jon Puk. Both players had major roles in the team’s success last season, particularly Evans, who shined on national television with his tremendous performance against the Gators. Puk, the team’s starting center the past two seasons, will be taking his talents even further. The 6-foot 10 defensive anchor and all-time leading shot blocker in Great Danes history earned himself a professional contract with the Durham Wildcats of the British Basketball League.
Certainly a new year means a brand new team. Head coach Will Brown offered some insight on his evaluation of his team thus far.
“Well, it’s a long season. It’s a process. We want to continue to get better every step of the way. Play our best basketball late in the year. We’ve got some talented veterans returning in [Sam] Rowley and [Peter] Hooley. I think we have an exciting group, some talented newcomers, and this team has to create its own identity because it is a new team from a year ago.”
With the departures of Evans and Puk, senior forward Sam Rowley will be taking on a massive leadership role this season.
When asked how he sees himself taking on the leadership role, Rowley replied, “I’m excited about it, I think there is a very clear cut group of old and new guys. The older guys are really embracing the role of guiding them at the moment. It’s a different role, but it’s been fun and fulfilling just being the guy that they turn to for advice and help.”
Rowley is the team’s best two-way player, but he stated it’s his offensive game that he’s been working on the most this offseason. “Just my outside shot, it’s been a limiting factor for me the past couple of years,” he said.
The new blend of old and new guys has created an exciting vibe around the team thus far.
“Very positive, very enthusiastic. There are a lot of new guys going for similar positions. It is very competitive and everyone is trying to see where they stand and bring lots of energy to practice. The vibe is also very positive due to our recent success,” Rowley said.
Head coach Will Brown was very forthcoming when asked about the atmosphere surrounding his team. “Competitive group, they play hard, and they play the right way. They want to be successful. There is a lot going on right now and they’re learning a lot in a short period of time, but I think it’s a group that is hungry and wants to try and carry on the legacy of a potential three-peat. Obviously easier said than done, but we have to play well and stay healthy, and we have to play well at right time of the year. This is a one bid league, so that’s the most important time to play well,” he said
Surely to be stepping into the fold for the Danes this year will be Mike Rowley, Sam’s younger brother, a 6-foot-8 forward with plenty of promise, and who gained valuable experience playing in crucial moments throughout the course of last season. Coming off two foot surgeries prior to, as well as at the end of last season, coach Brown says he is ready to take the leap into being a key contributor this season. “I think Mike [Rowley] is a lot like Sam. It took Sam a year to get acclimated to American college basketball. Other than Peter and Sam, those guys are the most impressive so far.”
Brown says sophomore guard Dallas Enema will also be one to watch for. “Well, I think Dallas Enema, who was actually second in America East Conference play in three point field goal percentage. He’s a 6-foot-6 wing who has the ability to take the next step.”
Finally, when asked to give the fans a preview as for what to expect from the Great Danes this season, coach Brown said, “I think you’ll find a hard-working team that competes at a high level, is very unselfish, wants to win, and will represent our university in a very fun manner. I think we have to use our non-conference schedule to see what we have so we are clicking on all cylinders headed to conference play,” he said.
Granted that the majority of the team’s core players from the past two seasons are all but gone, it will be interesting to see how this season ultimately plays out for the Danes. Currently, the Danes are entering training camp as they prepare for what should be an entertaining season.
The first test of the season will come on Nov. 15, when the Great Danes will travel to Rhode Island to take on an always-competitive Providence team.