Local college basketball coaches joined Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 31 to preview the 2019-20 season, which tips off Nov. 5. Here’s what they had to say.
As Juan Dixon enters his third season as Coppin State head coach, the one player that stands out the most to him is redshirt junior guard Dejuan Clayton. The 6-foot-2 Clayton led the team last year in minutes (34.4) and scoring (14.5 points) while starting in all 31 games he appeared in.
Dixon has been enamored with Clayton since being named as the head coach back in 2017 ahead of Clayton’s sophomore year. Dixon believes Clayton’s abilities on both sides of the floor provide the Eagles with the necessary foundation for the team to take a step forward from last year’s 7-9 record in the MEAC.
“Dejuan Clayton is special. I say it every time I look at him to my staff. I said it to my boss, [athletic director] Derek Carter. Coppin State got a steal with Dejuan Clayton,” Dixon said. “He’s a guy that came from a prestigious high school in St. John’s in D.C. playing with some high-level players and Dejuan, he’s never been the guy.
“Dejuan has had the opportunity to be the guy since we’ve been at Coppin, and for us to have someone that we can lean on that we know is going to perform at a high level both offensively and defensively and set the tone, it makes our job a lot easier.”
Thanks to a breakout season for the Greyhounds last year, guard Andrew Kostecka has the entire Patriot League on notice entering his senior season.
Last year, Kostecka averaged 21.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists, shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Kostecka and current NBA All-Star CJ McCollum are the only two players in Patriot League history to average more than 20 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.0 assists in a season.
Head coach Tavaras Hardy believes it’s Kostecka’s ability to be a leader for this Greyhounds team that truly makes him a special player and person.
“Andrew is a phenomenal player. He plays with such energy, such a high motor, but he’s also great off the court,” Hardy said. “He says the right things to the guys, he makes them realize you can do it on the court but doing it the right way and everything we do is important and that’s a part of our culture. So, having a guy like that that’s getting it done on the court and in the classroom to be the example is critical for our success.”
After being an assistant on Mark Turgeon’s coaching staff at Maryland from 2017-2019, Kevin Broadus is now the new head coach at Morgan State. Broadus was hired back in May. Broadus came to Morgan with 20-plus years of coaching experience and has long been regarded as one of the better recruiters the country.
Broadus is now working to build back up a Morgan State basketball program that has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010.
“A lot of sleepless nights — you’re trying to piece together and build your program daily,” Broadus said. “It’s not like an every month, it’s an every second thing of building back up to respectable. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing. It’s been fun, it’s been challenging, kids are buying in and for me it’s been good because I have a really great staff.”
MOUNT ST. MARY’S
Mount St. Mary’s head coach Dan Engelstad takes pride in facing the best teams possible. The Mount went 9-22 last season, but the Mountaineers played in nationally televised games against top-level competition (Maryland and Minnesota). Despite losing by nearly 20 points in both of those games, Engelstad continues to maintain the tradition of taking on some of the top teams in the country. Mount St. Mary’s will take on Kentucky Nov. 22.
The Mount has been to the NCAA Tournament three times in the past 12 seasons, and Engelstad thinks it’s helpful to play some of the best teams in the country in trying to get back to the tournament.
“That’s the vision for what we want to do, and we think with Washington, D.C., area right in our backyard, we have an opportunity to do that here,” Engelstad said. “If you’re going to do that, you have to play against the best and play in those environments because that’s what it’s going to be like in March. So, we’re trying to get our program and elevate it to that point, and you’ve got to play against those teams to find out where you stack up.”
Forward George Kiernan and guard Hasan Abdullah, Navy’s leading scorers from a year ago, both graduated after the 2018-19 season, but Mids head coach Ed Dechellis sees this year as chance to show off his team’s depth. Navy enters the season ranked ninth in the Patriot League preseason poll after going 12-19 last season.
Senior Evan Wieck, junior Cam Davis and sophomores John Carter and Greg Summers return for the Mids. Dechellis has confidence that the combination of Wieck’s leadership and his team’s depth can help make up for the 22.5 points per game that the Midshipmen lost with the departures of Kiernan and Abdullah.
“I really like our team. I think we’ve got great chemistry. Evan Wieck has been an outstanding leader and the guys are doing what he asks them to do on the court and in the locker room,” DeChellis said. “I think we’re a team that will continue to get better and better as the year goes on. I like some of our freshman, and our sophomores have improved. I know where we’re picked in the league, we’re toward the bottom. But if we’re one of the bottom teams, this is one heck of a league.”
Tigers head coach Pat Skerry has won at least 18 games in five of his eight seasons at Towson, so last season was an anomaly. Riddled by injuries and roster turnover, the Tigers went 10-22 and ended the year on a five-game losing streak. The Tigers lost, 74-73, in heartbreaking fashion to James Madison in first round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Skerry takes the blame for the Tigers’ 2018-19 season despite the multitude of issues that contributed to the team’s struggles. More than anything, Skerry believes it’s on him to put his players in the right position to win games and that this team’s success this year will be based on its ability to close games.
“Last year for me, I just couldn’t help us get over the hump in close games,” Skerry said. “I thought with having 10 new players and injuries, our guys did a really good job of hanging in there. They played hard and we just couldn’t win close games. So, one of the big things this offseason, are we mentally tough enough to take on strain and find a way to win close games?
“In a league like ours that’s ultimately what it comes down to. There’s going to be six, seven really good clubs. It’s one of the top two or three mid-majors leagues in the country, that’s reality and you’ve got to win close games.”
The Retrievers have depth at the guard spot this year, and one player that stands out among the group is 5-foot-2 guard Darnell Rogers. Rogers, a Baltimore native, transferred from New Mexico Junior College this offseason. His father, Shawnta, is a Lake Clifton legend who played his college ball at George Washington.
UMBC head coach Ryan Odom believes Rogers can be an early contributor for this team despite his size.
“Darnell is different. Darnell is very compact and extremely strong. He’s 140-something pounds and he might be 5-[foot]-2, I think that’s what they list him at. But that’s OK,” Odom said. “He’s had that same body pretty much since eighth grade and he knows how to play. It’s really remarkable to watch him.
“When he’s out there playing and he’s playing really well, he attacks the rim, he finishes going to the basket because he gets it off before you can get to him. He’s a willing passer; he gets the ball to the other guys. He’s a pesky defender. He’s going to add a lot to our team without a doubt.”
For more from the coaches, click here.
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