You’re going to be young again, but five of seven freshmen from last year are back. Does that indicate that guys are buying in to your program?
Yeah, I think so. I thought the freshmen class this year is a really good class for us. I think we’ve brought in a point guard who’s very fast, athletic and can score. We’ve brought in wings who can shoot the ball. We’ve brought in post guys who can face up and score, and play with their backs to the basket. We tried to bring in a little bit of everything. I think the guys we’ve brought in are skill players who have the opportunity to help us. Other players on the team and in the program have improved. They’ve done a good job working out in the spring and summer. They’ve improved, so I think overall, we’ll be a much-improved program. Hopefully that will show in the win-loss column. I think we’re much better than we were. That’s a positive, but it’s not where we want to be. We want to be Patriot League champs and go to the NCAA tournament. It’s going to take some time for these classes to grow up and develop. This year, we don’t have any seniors – not one senior on the entire team. So for any level of basketball, it’s hard to be where you want to be with no senior leadership on the team. Usually the best teams are junior and senior dominated. We’re just not there yet. We’ll let the classes mature, develop and grow up.
Were you surprised last season was so rough?
After watching our workouts in the fall, I thought we would be challenged. I didn’t think we were very skilled. And I thought if guys didn’t play really well, we were going to have a hard time winning games. I don’t think these guys had great years. Jordan Sugars, our senior, did not have a very good year. Isaiah Roberts, who was our Player of the Year, did not have a very good year. He played well toward the end of the season. But we weren’t a very good passing team, not a very good shooting team. We were one of the worst teams in Division I shooting the basketball. We were [the worst] from 3. We were very, very young. That was a concern for me. We only had Jordan – he was our one senior. Teddy [Connolly] and Carlton [Smith] were sort of walk-on players for us, JV players moved up. We had one senior among the scholarship guys, didn’t have any juniors, and then had sophomores and freshmen. And then we lost some games early – lost a close one to Tulane, lost at Elon on a buzzer beater – that if we made a play here or there, we would have won. But guys weren’t in a position to make a play. We just didn’t have guys who have been in the game and made those plays before. Having a youthful team is very much a concern. I think the skill level is really a concern as we work with the guys in fall practice.
How difficult was it to lose J.J. Avila (academics) midseason?
I thought once we lost J.J., the chemistry of our team changed completely. We had a guy leading us in scoring, rebounds and assists, and you take that guy off the floor. Now that’s one less guy someone has to guard, and it puts [more pressure] on other guys who could potentially score. Did I expect us to win three games? No. But once we got into the season and saw where we were, I thought our guys were going to have to really play well for us to win.
Are there any returners ready to make the leap?
Worth Smith has had a good summer. He played really well in our workouts. Isaiah Roberts played well in our workouts. Those two guys in particular will have to play better. Jared Smoot is a big kid who played last season and played better throughout the summer. Thurgood Wynn from Georgetown Prep has played better. Our two point guards, Brennan Wyatt and Kevin Alter, have played against each other all summer. I think they’ve improved. Overall, a lot of our guys have impressed. I know I can’t wait to see them get back here and get going in the fall. We’re looking forward to it. The staff is looking forward to getting guys back on campus.
I couldn’t help but notice that Donya Jackson (Calvert Hall) wasn’t among the returners you mentioned. What’s the latest on him?
Donya, he’s a great kid. He works hard. I think he’s still in the midst of trying to figure out the military lifestyle. Academically, he’s still working extremely hard on that end. When he takes care of those things, the basketball stuff will come. He has to spend a lot of time on things away from the court, and that time takes his focus from the court. That’s what we’re trying to [relate to him]. Take care of your business in the classroom and take care of your business military-wise, and that allows you to play with a free mind, so you’re not worried about the other things all the time. He’s a great kid, I love him. He always smiles, works hard, and has the potential to be a very, very good player. He just has to take care of the little things.
What are the overall expectations for this season?
Well, we want to be better. We better be better. We should be better. To me, I guess our major concern is leadership. At the Naval Academy, you [think about a leadership void] and go, ‘Wow.’ But we don’t have any seniors. So that’s a concern, as I sit here in August. We tried to develop some leadership with guys over the summer. In terms of leadership on the court, who can guys depend on to get a big basket or get a big defensive stop or a big rebound? In terms of leadership, who can you turn to? That’s kind of the million dollar question going into the season – who’s going to step up and be a leader on the court.