After a season of remarkable upsets that ended in an early playoff exit, Emerson’s men’s basketball team is focused on the future and its second year of competition in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.
After graduating last year’s captain Jon Goldberg, who led the Lions into the NEWMAC playoffs while wearing a plastic mask to aid a recovering broken nose, this year’s captain, senior Eli Kell-Abrams, said the Lions will need to become a tougher, grind-it-out team to compete with the heavyweights of their conference.
“We held our own last year, but in the games we lost, we got bullied,” Kell-Abrams said. “That had to do with our size and lack of toughness up front. This year, with Curley at the helm, we have a guy leading us that was that type of player. [Curley] brings grit that makes you want to rip someone’s head off.”
The Lions will rely on their returning players to continue leading the team on the heels of last year’s success, Kell-Abrams said, but will look to some of the squad’s incoming players to bring the extra edge to a team that finished its previous regular season at 13-12.
John Geary, a 6-foot-5 forward freshman, and Ryan Clinesmith, a 6-foot-6 forward transfer from Wheaton College, who led his team in scoring at 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore, have been described as tough and mature—a perfect fit for the Lions.
“Clinesmith has had a good career so far. He’s going to have a big impact,” said Bill Curley, who is entering his first year as head coach. “Geary is definitely in there too and may be one of our best shooters. All the new guys have a chance to really help us.”
When asked about the team’s mindset coming into the season, Kell-Abrams reiterated his coach’s motivation to see his team “strive for perfection.”
“Toughness and grit has a lot to do with it,” he said, adding that Goldberg’s attitude left a resounding effect on the team. “We are used to the higher level of competition. We can use our experiences from last year and build on that, and go all out this year.”
Although their team was the first at Emerson team to reach the NEWMAC playoffs last season, it was eliminated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
They did, however, defeat the defending NCAA Division III National Champion Amherst College 90-79, and Worcester Polytech Institute 71-67, which was No. 3 in the country.
Kell-Abrams said his expectations for his squad are much higher than they were last October.
“We know how close we were last year. We know that we beat the best team in the conference. We were in games with everyone else,” said the journalism major and point guard for the team. “Now, the expectation is to win the conference. We feel like we have the pieces to do it.”
Weeks after being bounced from the quarterfinals by MIT the eventual conference champions, the Lions’ head coach over the last three seasons, Jim O’Brien, announced his retirement.
Curley, who had been the team’s assistant coach since O’Brien arrived in 2011, was named head coach this summer.
Curley, 42, is a hero to any serious Boston College basketball fan. He was named Big East Rookie of the Year in 1991, and was part of the All Big East First Team while playing for the Eagles. He went on to play seven years in the National Basketball Association. Now he said he is focused on improving last season’s success.
“We are more mature. Our guys are now a year older and stronger,” said Curley. “That will be the biggest difference. They are not freshmen and sophomores anymore. A lot of them have played as many games as most seniors have.”
The Lions’ first game will be on Nov. 15 against Wentworth Institute of Technology.
Deputy sports editor Mike Lucas, a member of the men’s basketball team, did not edit this story.