After a disappointing end to the men’s basketball 2013-14 season, Head Coach Sydney Johnson enters his fourth year at the helm of the Stags with optimism for his team. Though the team only lost one senior from last year’s team, Maurice Barrow ‘14 was a fan favorite and one of Johnson’s go-to guys last season. Barrow has since struck a deal with a professional team in Austria, making him the fifth Stag to ink a professional basketball contract under Johnson’s tenure at Fairfield.
Though Fairfield lost on a gut-wrenching shot against Saint Peter’s in the first round of last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, Coach Johnson believes that close games such as that one can serve as a learning experience for the players. When it comes to experience, Coach Johnson believes that Captain Amadou Sidibe ‘16 has the experience necessary to lead this team to success.
“Amadou’s our leader,” said Coach Johnson. “He certainly helped us out last year as a co-captain, and he’s got a lot of experience.”
Other leaders of this team will be Steve Johnston ‘15 and Malcolm Gilbert ‘15. Though Gilbert will only be playing in his second year of eligibility at Fairfield, Johnston has been with the team since his freshman year as a walk-on, and has redshirted as well. Johnston’s grasp on Coach Johnson’s schemes and the dynamics of the team will be a good fit.
“Steve has actually played a fair amount, even in a walk-on role. Steve will provide us with some leadership,” said Coach Johnson. “Then, we have a core group of guys who played a lot of minutes last year.”
This core group of players consists of Marcus Gilbert ‘16, Coleman Johnson ‘16 and Sidibe. All three of them received a great amount of playing time last year and the year prior, either as starters or in bench roles. Though Sidibe is the captain, the other two look to play big parts on the team this year as well.
“I’m excited about [the juniors],” said Coach Johnson. “I’m excited about this team because I feel like as a whole, we have a bit more fight. That is reflected in some of the juniors.”
However, Coach Johnson also has the utmost confidence in some of his other players, namely the transfer students Demarcus Threatt ‘16 and Mike Kirkland Jr. ‘16, as well as the freshmen and sophomore team members.
“I think that as a whole, we’ve added some competitiveness and that’s really important,” said Coach Johnson. “The transfers bring experience because they have played some college ball and our four freshmen were recruited for a reason. They have high basketball IQs and the whole deal. I really do expect contributions from them this year.”
As far as the team is concerned, Coach Johnson seems confident about the season ahead and is sure the team will work out any kinks to develop a solid sense of team chemistry.
“Going back a year, we didn’t get as much out of our non-conference schedule as I wanted. Also, our spirit and fight wasn’t as strong as I would have wanted,” said Coach Johnson. “Our greatest improvement will be having a bit more fire, a bit more spirit and the group as a whole will do a much better job of closing games.”
When it comes to closing out games, Fairfield will have to do so against a variety of out-of-conference opponents including Duke, a yearly National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament competitor. In the MAAC, Coach Johnson has also pointed out a number of teams that he sees as tough opponents.
“Most people are talking about Siena. They have a core group of guys who are returning this year. You have Iona and Manhattan who have put together strong programs and continue to add young pieces to veteran guys,” said Coach Johnson. “Those are the three teams people are talking about the most. But it’s a tough league; they’re not the only good teams.”
Regardless of all the tough MAAC competitors, Coach Johnson ultimately feels that the Stags are going to have to test their strength before any predictions can be made.
“We have a lot to prove to ourselves in terms of how much our fight and competitiveness will be there,” said Coach Johnson. “I do think we are going to be better. I’ve already seen signs of us being different, but we need to test ourselves. So circle back in December.”
As his fourth season nears, Coach Johnson is sure to fine tune the program by December to strengthen the team’s unity and create the best squad possible.