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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The Next Gonzaga?
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
When I arrived at Hofstra University as a Freshman in the fall of 1996 there was only one thing anyone knew about Hofstra sports, Wayne Chrebet. Nearly ten full years have passed, Chrebet is retired from the Jets and the Hofstra sports program has become one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Not only is the football team constantly a force (as is the lacrosse team), but the basketball team has quickly developed into a consistent winner, too. This year, in fact, the Pride b-ball team finished up the regular season 22-5, its second best record in school history (trailing only our 2000 – 2001 23-4 season). Once only known for my former classmate and current NBA standout Speedy Claxton, the Pride are now on the verge of becoming a top tier mid-major team no one wants to face in the NCAA Tournament.

If Adrian Uter scores 14 points in our first round game of the CAA Tourney he will join all our other starters in having a scoring average of 10+ PPG. That’s right, the entire starting five averages double digits. Uter’s also been especially hot of late, at one point hitting 18 straight shots from the floor. This feat is doubly impressive when one realizes he’s a center, a position not typically known for shooting prowess. Scoring is contagious at Hofstra, though, as we’re the only team in the nation that has five different 25 point scorers this year. Stats like that lead to stats like this, we also have the second longest home winning streak in the nation, only Gonzaga has more consecutive wins at home.

Hearing the name Gonzaga associated with Hofstra is something I think we’ll see more of in the future. This year Hofstra only loses two players to graduation, Uter and Aurimas Kieza. Both are key big men who do the bulk of the rebounding, but Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera all return. The trio averaged just over 45 ppg on their own this year. Give them another year to work together and the average for just those three players could reach the 50 point plateau, at which point the players who replace Uter and Kieza, likely Chris Gadley and Mike Davis-Sabb, will only have to focus on picking up the slack in the rebounding department while developing their shooting skills as the season goes on.

With the team in place for a solid NCAA run this year I completely expect the Pride, who’s RPI ranking is in the top 40, to be somewhere around a ten seed come March Madness and if they can pull of a run like Gonzaga had a few years ago, and then build on it next year with three of the starting five still in place, the obvious perks of recruiting in New York City will come into play. Yes, everyone in NYC, no matter how tall, thinks they’re a point guard. The good news is many of them actually are and if they see a local school like Hofstra making some noise in the big dance they’ll want to go to school there. This would be the best possible scenario for Hofstra and it’s one I can very easily see happening. There is definitely some work to do, the team has to make a run at the Sweet Sixteen this year and then keep up the winning next year, but as we proved in 2000 – 2001, the year after Speedy Claxton (and I) graduated, we can lose key starters and not only be OK, but improve on our win total.

So when you fill out your brackets this year take a good hard look at who Hofstra’s playing. Are they matched up against some fifth or sixth place team that only got in because they’re in a supposedly “tough” conference? Expect Stokes and company to roll right over an opponent like that. Make no mistake, this is not the start of something big, this is a continuation of what was set in motion by the likes of Coach Jay Wright (now kicking ass at Villanova), Speedy Claxton, Norman Richardson, Jason Hernandez, Roberto Gittens and Rick Apodaca. Now names like Stokes, Agudio and Uter have the torch and they’re not just running with it, they’re building with it. Isiah Thomas should take note, this is how you build a great basketball team in New York, and that’s realer than Roger Clemens throwing a brush back pitch to his own son.

Here’s looking at Hofstra, and yes it’s an incredibly biased look, to be one of the next great mid-major teams to make an impact in the NCAA Tourney and earn a ranking in the Top 25.
posted by Adam Bernard @ 10:25 AM  
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