staff reporter David Carty grades every position and takes a look at what to expect out of this year's Lions.
Will Dawkins could be one of the most explosive players the GNAC has seen in recent years. In his first two years in the Emerson program, Dawkins has shown the ability to be the go-to guy and to help lead his team down the stretch. He creates his own opportunities and always seems to finish strong in the lane. In his sophomore season, he finished second in scoring with 17.6 points per game and led the team in minutes, logging 32.4 minutes per game. Dawkins heads into this season as the number one scoring option and the focal point of coach Hank Smith's offense.
Alfredo Tovar progressed as last season went along and was second only to Dawkins in assists. Tovar is one of the few seniors on the Emerson squad and will also be depended upon to help lead an offense that likes to move the ball around in the offensive zone.
Junior Joe Boylan acts as an agitator on the court and creates a lot of turnovers with his physical style of play. Boylan and Tovar will most likely share time at the point as they did last season. The tandem offers two different skill sets and each player will benefit from getting rest on the bench.
Coach Smith's attributes much of his team's success to the fact that they are aggressive and fast.
"I love our speed and quickness," Smith said. "Despite our lack of height, defensively we're pretty hard to play against because of the type of pressure we can apply on the ball."
Without question, the backbone of the Emerson men is outstanding guard play.
Hank Smith runs an offense that doesn't entirely follow the concepts of staying bound to a particular position. Other then the center, players are often moving around the floor trying to create the best scoring chance. However, there is still a lack of size and depth at the forward position.
Ben Chase is the player every coach wants to have. He excels far beyond what can be recorded in stat columns and provides an energy and intelligence that is crucial to a young aggressive team. Smith chalks it up to good placement on the court.
"His positioning is very good and then he's seeing the ball to anticipate where he should be on the next play," Smith said. "He's probably the most improved player from day one that has come in here that has ever come in this program. Ben's improvement is based strictly on understanding how to play and his conditioning."
Beyond Chase, however, the team is vastly undersized and undermanned at the position. The team lost its two tallest players last season, 6'5" Steve Georgoulis and 6'3" Jay O'Connell. O'Connell helped to also stretch the offense as a proven long-range threat.
The Emerson men will get beat up on the boards and there's not much they can do about it. Luckily, a strong push on defense will create more turnovers and make it harder to penetrate.
Steve Georgoulis leaves a hole that no player is capable of filling this season. Georgoulis was, by far, the team's most consistent player on offense and one of the biggest defensive presences. His 21.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game were team bests and he was a perfect compliment to Dawkins, who was given more room to create scoring chances.
Nevertheless, there is hope on the horizon. Freshman Bryan Rouse has shown a lot of promise in the post and has proven that he can be a force in the middle if given a chance. Rouse was underutilized in the team's first scrimmage, but scored a team-high 28 points in an impressive offensive showing. The coaching staff is enamored with Rouse's early dividends and believes that he is capable of putting up similar performances during the season.
"What you see today we hope to see every game," Smith said. "We think he's capable of putting up a lot of numbers and we're going to go to him. He also passes well, so it's a big plus for us."
Another freshman, Mike Shea, is expected to see some time in the block as well. Shea, however, lacks the physicality, aggressiveness and overall feel for the position that Rouse has developed. Shea will also likely see time as a forward when the team wants to up-size.
Although two freshmen are taking over the rather large vacancy at the center position, Rouse plays well beyond his years. Yes, there will be a learning curve for the young player, but along the way he will be given every opportunity to put up the low post numbers that the Lions relied on last season. Expect big things early from Rouse and keep an eye on Shea over the next four years. If developed properly, this duo could prove to be a menace in the GNAC.
With such an aggressive team, depth is key for a team that will wear itself out in a hurry. Luckily, the pride can rely on its adequate bench to lighten the load and spell the go-to players.
Sophomore Morales Hendricks hinted at greater things after his transfer to Emerson for the spring semester last season. In his 20 games with the team, Hendricks showed good athleticism and proved to fit in well with the Emerson program.
Coach Smith wants big things out of Hendricks.
"We hope Morales can step it up a bit," Smith said.
Expect Hendricks to be one of the top scorers off the bench, if given the chance to excel.
Smith also raved about freshman guard Jeremy Shannon.
"He's really going to be able to help us with scoring and defense," Smith said.
Shannon saw a good chunk of playing time in the men's second scrimmage and will most likely be counted on for solid minutes off the bench.
Also coming off the bench will be returning players Will Sagar and Scott McGowan.
Sagar saw consistent action last season, even starting four games for the Lions. He has the speed to keep up with the Lions demanding pace, holds his own on defense, and can be counted on from long range if he gets the chance. McGowan plays a little under his size, but is a smooth shooter and could see more time if he proves that he is a more mature player.
All in all, the Emerson bench will hold its own. If Hendricks and Stevens can provide a spark on the second tier unit, it will do wonders for the Lions.
If there is one known commodity in the Emerson athletic program, it is Hank Smith. Since taking the head coaching position in 1994, Smith has turned the Emerson basketball program into a perennial GNAC contender. Smith inherited a team that won a mere 21 games over the course of five years. After implementing his style of play, the team won 17 games in Smith's first season as head coach.
Since then, the team has won two GNAC titles and has firmly placed itself amongst the conference's best. Yes, the Emerson athletic program has seen a greater influx of athletic talent in recent years, but Hank Smith utilizes that talent like few other coaches are capable of.
His fast paced, high-powered offense spreads the ball around and allows for contributions from all five members on the court. Being undersized has never been much of a hindrance for Smith's teams because he knows how to a
dapt and get the most out of his players.
Smith demands perfection. He gets very animated on the bench sometimes and is not afraid to have a friendly chat with an official or even one of his own players. His demeanor can come across as a bit abrasive to those who are not familiar with the way Smith runs things, but his players only seem to respond positively on the court.
He has the respect of the locker room and, often times, Smith's former players will stay connected with the basketball program. Shawn McCullion, who was a co-captain under Smith in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons, returned to the team as an assistant coach. Recently departed Jay O'Connell remains close with the team and has attended both men's scrimmages.
Smith understands what it means to be a successful coach and his players respond in turn.
The Emerson men have been to two straight GNAC championship games. Yes, they lost both games, but in both seasons the men showed the strength to persevere through struggles with injuries. The men lost two key contributors from last season, but they will find a way to win like they have in the past.
There will be a learning curve for rookies, who will play a prominent role this season, but they will also be given every chance to succeed.
The Lions find ways to prevail and with the level of talent they have this season, they won't miss a beat. Look for another finals appearance from the men's team and, perhaps, a different outcome.