Thomas Shea/The Mirror
For any team, it would be difficult to rebuild after losing one of the winningest senior classes in program history. In most cases, there would be a large contingency of seniors and upperclassmen to fill the void.
Fairfield University Men’s Basketball doesn’t have that luxury. There is one returning senior, Maurice Barrow. The two juniors, Sean Grennan and Malcolm Gilbert, are both transfers who are playing their first season with the Stags.
The captain, Amadou Sidibe ‘16, is a sophomore charged with keeping his team together on and off the court.
With this team, leadership is not going to be a ‘senior thing’ or an ‘upperclassman thing.’ It’s going to be a ‘team thing,’ coming from everyone on the team when it’s needed from them the most.
The biggest hole that needs replacing by the Stags this year comes from the departure of Derek Needham ‘13. Needham graduated the program as the all-time leading three-point shooter with 277 three-pointers made in his career. He was also third all-time with a total of 1,875 points and third all-time with 535 assists in his four years as a Stag.
The consistency of Needham’s classmates, Colin Nickerson ‘13 and Desmond Wade ‘13 will also be missed by the Stags this season, as Nickerson and Wade were some of the most dependable players on the team.
“We had to rely a lot on Derek, Colin, and Des for leadership and scoring, to get the energy there. Now it’s more dispersed — Mo’s been a big help, Amadou’s doing a great job as leader, but they’re not the only ones,” said Coleman Johnson ’16.
The team as a whole had a decent 2012-2013 season, ending with an overall record of 19-16, a conference record of 9-9 and a trip to a postseason tournament for the fourth consecutive season. The season had its memorable moments, such as Needham’s three-point game winner with 5.5 seconds left against Iona in Webster Bank Arena.
The Stags are looking to build off the last season among a conference with a new look to it. Gone are our rivals at University of Loyola, and in are Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University. While neither of the schools are predicted to be the threat that Loyola was, both will still be challenging, if for nothing more than our inexperience in playing them.
The old MAAC foes will still put up a good fight as well. Iona will always be one of the toughest games of the season, even after Momo Jones graduated. Senior Sean Armand of Iona will still be one of the best players in the league, and a player who will be tough to keep contained.
There is no clear cut prediction for how the MAAC season will play out. Manhattan will threaten for the title, and Iona will have their hat in the ring as well. With two new teams joining the mix, it’s not clear how the teams will fall come MAAC Tournament time.
However, one things is clear: Without leadership and cohesiveness, Fairfield cannot hope to finish at the top. Luckily, two games into the season, the Stags have already been improving and the leadership among the team is palpable.
“This year, I think we have much more chemistry and I think we just click as a team together and we just share the ball. There’s no selfishness with the individual,” said Marcus Gilbert ‘16.
The starting five has remained the same in both games played so far, except that Lincoln Davis ‘17 was switched with KJ Rose ‘17. The rest of the starting five consists of Barrow, Sidibe, Grennan and Marcus Gilbert.
There have been a lot of uncertainties heading into this season, about whether there would be a prolific scorer, or a defensive standout to help lead the team to victory. On offense, points have come from everywhere. Against Sacred Heart, Barrow led the team scoring with 14 points. He was followed by Marcus Gilbert, who contributed 13 points and Sidibe and Rose who contributed nine points apiece to the 67-54 victory.
What came as even more of a surprise than the widespread scoring was the huge defensive effort from Malcolm Gilbert coming off the bench. Malcolm contributed a huge eight blocks and 11 rebounds in the game. If Malcolm can continue to be such a defensive force, he will be a huge factor in helping the Stags to wins.
“I was really happy when we got him. He can play … He’s a nice option to have coming off the bench” said Head Coach Sydney Johnson.
Marcus Gilbert has proven himself to be one of the strongest players on the squad, coming in with points and assists when his team need him most. It will be interesting to see how he plays with his older brother, Malcolm, as the season goes on. Look for Marcus to be an impact player throughout the entirety of the season.
The freshman class as a whole is going to need to make a big impact on the team right from the start. Coach Johnson has never been shy about giving the start to freshmen who have earned it. Rose and Doug Chappell ‘17 showed they were ready to play in the Sacred Heart game, never showing that it was only their second career college game. In order for the Stags to be able to compete all season, they are going to need consistency out of their whole freshmen class, a tough feat for guys in their first year, but not at all improbable with this freshman class.
The only really worrying statistic for the Stags was the 26 turnovers they had against Sacred Heart. After the game, Coach Johnson mentioned that it is a stat that would have to go down before they played a team the likes of Louisville on Nov. 23.
“Tonight we got away with it, but that can’t continue … We have to seriously address that at our next practice,” he said.
With more time playing together and more comfortable communication, the kinks, such as the turnovers, will work themselves out.
By the time the first MAAC game rolls around on Dec. 6, against Monmouth, the Stags will have quite a bit of experience under their belt, that will hopefully help translate into a win. By MAAC season tip off, the Stags will have taken on old MAAC powerhouse Loyola (Nov. 16), new home to Fairfield’s old Head Coach Ed Cooley, Providence College (Nov. 29), either UNC or Richmond in the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip Off (Nov. 24) and defending NCAA champions Louisville in the opening of the Naismith Tournament (Nov. 23).
It’s a big preseason for the Stags, the crux of which being the game against Louisville. The preseason will arguably allow the Stags to be the most ready for the regular season than in recent seasons.
In MAAC play, the Stags look like they have the skills and potential to finish in the top five. If Malcolm Gilbert continues to lead defensively, while Sidibe, Barrow, Marcus Gilbert and the freshmen lead offensively, the Stags could also be poised to make their fifth consecutive postseason tournament.
The biggest goal for the Stags this season is to make it to the MAAC Championship.
“You know something that we talk about often in the locker room and on the court is we want to get to Monday,” said Grennan about the final game. “We want to be MAAC Champs and we want to do it for each other and especially for our lone senior, Mo.”
Malcolm Gilbert agreed with Grennan, adding, “We have to continue to grow, and continue to learn from each other.”
It’s going to be a learning process with this year’s team, but once they’ve gotten it all together, they’re certainly going to be a team to look out for in the MAAC.