Peter Caty/The Mirror

While most of the Stags were sleeping off the shenanigans of Friday night, the Fairfield Men’s basketball team was preparing for the upcoming season Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Head Coach Ed Cooley led the Stags through a series of drills and then watched and took diligent notes during a controlled scrimmage.

With the season opener only a few weeks away, Cooley must make decisions on which players will start and which others will make the rotation.

About 150 alumni showed up to the early morning open practice, along with a few students who managed to make it out of their beds in time.  A male alum could be overheard saying, “This is the deepest team in years.  We are short on size, but I was very impressed with the athleticism.”

The Stags will be one of the favorites to come out of the MAAC this season and represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.  According to a MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Fairfield is the preseason favorite to win the 2011 MAAC Men’s Basketball Championship. If they succeed this will be Fairfield’s first league title since 1997.

Saturday’s practice was one step of many in hopes of reaching that ultimate goal.

The squad was split in half for the majority of the practice into “red” and “white” teams for a 40 minute scrimmage.  Sophomore guard Derek Needham came out firing with two early three-pointers to get his squad off to a good start.

The scrimmaged featured a lot of uptempo offense and balanced scoring from both sides.

It may have been Saturday morning, and the gym may have been near-empty – but the intensity by all said this team was hungry and anxious to get the season underway.

Senior forward Greg Nero showed his all around game with dependable shooting, sturdy rebounding, and cerebral court awareness.  Nero is returning from a season-ending injury last year but will man the paint for Fairfield this year.

Senior swingmen Yorel Hawkins and Warren Edney went at each other throughout the scrimmage.

Hawkins showcased his consistent mid-range game while Edney showed his top athleticism with smooth finishes on several fast breaks.

Both of these seniors are returning from an injury-plagued junior year, and their collective health will go a long way in determining the fate of this year’s men’s basketball team.

Senior Lyndon Jordan had a standout performance.  He created countless turnovers with his pesky on-ball defense and knocked down a handful of threes.

Lyndon is going to be counted on to contribute in both of these areas throughout the year, as well as being a leader both on and off the court.

Jack Meagher ’11 said, “Lyndon was very active on the defensive side of the ball and also served as a threat from downtown.”

This year, the Stags recruited three freshmen to the team: Keith Matthews, Jamel Fields and Maurice Barrow. All three showed glimpses of their potential for the future while also staking a claim for some immediate playing time this year.

Matthews showed his versatility with some rebounds in traffic as well as tough finishes in the lane.

Fields handled the ball confidently under pressure and drove strong to the rim.

Barrow took a charge midway through the scrimmage that had Coach Cooley particularly fired up.  Whether these efforts prove to be enough to garner playing time remains to be seen.

Two more additions to the Stags come in the form of transfers Rakim Sanders from Boston College and Desmond Wade from the University of Houston.

While neither can play this year due to NCAA rules, their contributions in practice will certainly help the unit as a whole in the short and long terms.

Sanders is a 6’ 5” powerhouse swingman who comes from one of the best conferences in the nation.  He patrolled the paint with authority and had the highlight of the day with a thunderous one hand dunk from midway through the lane.

Wade is an electric point guard who can break down a defense with his handles seemingly at will.  He also showed a nice step back three and tight on-ball defense throughout.

Wade also brings the experience of playing in the NCAA tournament last year.

The entire coaching staff seemed happy with everyone’s efforts throughout the two and a half hour practice. This team is hungry and determined to live up to the expectations of winning the MAAC.  This year we will be the hunter, not the hunted.

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