Two years ago, St. Francis had a strong 12-6 record in the Northeast Conference, but finished with a disappointing loss to Quinnipiac after the Terriers had already beaten them twice during the season. Last season the same thing happened, they made the NEC playoffs, but lost to a team, Robert Morris, that they had already beaten in the playoffs.
This year, junior Jalen Cannon is determined not to let the season end in disappointment again.
“Any team can really beat anybody in this conference, and Robert Morris is tough at home, but that was not a good feeling walking off that court,” Cannon said. “I think we can use that as motivation this year though. Being in those situations, even when you lose, it teaches you a lot.
“Of course you always have high expectations, but I’m really impressed by the team we have right now. There is a lot of depth and athleticism, which we didn’t have in the past, so I’m excited for the season to start.”
Senior guard Ben Mockford agreed with Cannon, “It was a tough one. We didn’t play the game that we wanted to play. All credit to Robert Morris, but we fell short. We try to use that and come into this season with a bit of a chip on our shoulders.”
A more athletic team and a more defensive team should help this year’s squad compete. Swingman Kevin Douglas will be back from an arm injury, which should add to their athleticism, and Amdy Fall, a Wings Academy product from the Bronx, should make a big difference on defense.
“Amdy has increased our toughness,” said head coach Glenn Braica. “That was an issue last year. He’s tough, he plays hard. He’s much better offensively than I thought now that I’ve seen him play. He gives us a shot blocker and another rebounder.”
Fall and Douglas will likely be among the starting five along with Cannon, Mockford and Brent Jones. Although, with five new players on the roster, Braica said that the rotation, even the starting five, is somewhat up in the air still.
“I still don’t know who our starting five will be,” Braica admitted. “Call me in a couple of days and we’ll see. It’s hard because we’re very deep and there is not much difference between the players. We don’t have any bad players. It’s going to be very hard to find the right rotation because I don’t know if there is a right answer.
“When you put it all together I don’t know who is better than who so it’s going to be very difficult to figure out. I’m almost positive that it won’t be the same by the end of the year.”
Jones will be handling most of the point guard duties with freshman Yunus Hopkinson as his backup. Although it sounds like Hopkinson will be brought along slowly and may not get a lot of playing time early in the season.
“Yunus Hopkinson can be a tough player too, he’s a good little point guard,” Braica said. “The point guard position is a very tough one to learn as a freshman though so he’s got a more difficult transition than the other three because of the responsibility of the point guard.”
Mockford, who shot 40 percent from behind the arc last season, will be at the two along with Douglas. New comer, Sheldon Hagigal will likely see some time at guard as well.
“Sheldon Hagigal has a chance to be big,” Braica said. “He has the right makeup and the right work ethic. He can shoot the ball a little bit and score. He’s trying to get the feel for it still. He plays so hard that I have to get him to tone it down a bit which is nice because it’s usually the other way around. I think he has a chance to be a special player.”
Freshman Wayne Martin had many choices of where he could have gone to college, but struggled to qualify. St. Francis propped him though and the move paid off because now he’s eligible to play and should make a big impact. “Wayne Martin has a lot of talent,” Braica agreed. “He’s adjusted to the level of play, the intensity of every possession. He’s tremendously talented.
Guards Aleksandar Isailovic and Anthony White as well as forwards Lowell Ulmer and Matt Milk should be apart of the rotation too.
“It’s not just the starting five that’s up in the air, but the top eight or top 10,” Braica said. “And if we foul like we did on Saturday we’re going to need 13.”
This team was picked to finished seventh in a coaches poll, but with the talent that Braica sees and a tough non-conference schedule, he expects that they could end up surprising quite a few teams this year.
“I think it will be an exciting team as it goes on,” Braica said. “I’m not sure where we are at right now, but as the year goes on we have a chance to be a decent team.”