Monday, March 27, 2017

Several Proven Candidates Surfacing At Quinnipiac

This past week, word of Baker Dunleavy reaching a deal as Quinnipiac University's next basketball coach has circulated the internet.

Drexel coach Bruiser Flint has also permeated the walls of the conversation, though a number of other viable candidates are being considered.

Whether realistic or not, Quinnipiac has long entertained the idea of putting basketball on the same plateau as the nationally ranked hockey team.

 Quinnipiac's perennially potent women's basketball team and dazzling NCAA tournament run garnered the school heavy publicity and maximized fanfare.

 And so the men's basketball team is now the downtrodden product, in need of a quick and promising resurrection.

Ten years later the program is out there again, moving aggressively to up the ante (an 800k salary is word around the campfire) to one proven and decorated  coach capable of altering the culture of an underachieving program.

They certainly have the pieced to work with in promising freshmen guards Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss.

Chaise Daniels, a stud forward out of nearby Meriden, Conn., is widely regarded as the best big in the MAAC next year. Should all three stay, the quality and the chances are definitely there.

 That entails an NCAA tournament berth and sustainable 20+ win seasons in the MAAC.

Though it can't be done overnight, Quinnipiac will take a candidate with the influence and capabilities to make it happen sooner than later.

 Remember, Quinnipiac has a high-end, damn near Big East caliber 3,600+ seat arena.

The school has the highly competitive education, the scenic campus, the no-secret reputation of scintillating women.

Yes, the place is far from a tough sell. This is not Duquesne or Rutgers we're talking about.

The lifestyle there is comfortable and the money is flowing and being spit around like water.

Villanova's Dunleavy, the brother of NBA veteran Mike Dunleavy Jr. and son of famed Tulane (and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy) certainly has the inner circle, resume, and the brand name to bring talent in.

He possesses the national reputation as a recruiter and tasted true NCAA  success as a reserve on the "four guards" team of 2006, a memorable squad with Allan Ray, Mike Nardi, Randy Foye, and Kyle Lowry. 

As an assistant under Jay Wright, he tapped into the area's richest recruiting markets.

It is hard to gauge how serious the interest is with Flint, who was a four time CAA coach of the Year and has been at Drexel since 2001.

 Flint comes in carrying a 331-289 record and was the eventual successor to John Calipari at UMass.

Dunleavy is supposedly a dun-deal. He has the shiny souvenir working in his favor, with a 2016 NCAA championship ring.

 Yet Quinnipiac quickly jumped to net high-major product last time and didn't exactly reap the rewards of it.

Tom Moore, fired after 10 seasons and zero NCAA appearances, certainly had the character and charisma and strategic recruiting acumen to turn the place around. For the first few years, he seemed on pace to do that.

 Moore had respect in the Quinnipiac community and was a likeable personality with quality motivational tactics.

 The Calhoun understudy's success recruiting the tri-state region, where he penned diamond in the rough recruits (Justin Rutty of Newburgh, N.Y. and James Johnson of NYC power Bishop Loughlin HS are two major examples) made it difficult for some to bid adieu to him.

Yet as Moore has acknowledged publicly, this is a results-driven business and 19-42 in the final two seasons just won't cut it.

Look at what Monmouth has done with a similar facility, since entering the MAAC.

 Moore had his winning seasons and had his berth in the Northeast Conference title game, a heartbreaking loss to Robert Morris.

Yet the last two seasons and most notably the tail end of his final season, his team appeared listless defensively and he seemed checked out mentally.

The proof was in the production tree. Moore, first rate professional though he was, had to go.

A key name that has special intrigue to the Quinnipiac community, who seems to be the most logical choice, is Jared Grasso. The amount of support Grasso has with the alumni and tri-state area is above and beyond any other candidate.

The associate head coach/assistant under Tim Cluess at Iona College, Grasso starred as a high-scoring point guard a few years after Quinnipiac first transitioned to Division-1.

Naturally, because of his stature in Quinnipiac's Hall of Fame and because he coached at QU as an assistant under Joe DeSantis (who he later hired as his own assistant at Fordham), Grasso would jump at the opportunity to plant the basketball seed in his hockey hotbed of an alma mater.

Under Cluess, Grasso attained four straight 22+ win seasons and helped the program to four NCAA tournament appearances and two NIT berths in the last six years. Iona has gone 44-24 the past two seaons

 Grasp that for a few seconds.

Those stats are emblematic of the level of national mid major clout Quinnipiac has been striving for since firing DeSantis in the spring of 2007.

 That is where the bar is set for them, those are the high standards the next head coach will be held to.

Grasso was also a major presence on the national recruiting trail. He helped Iona get guys like AJ English, a prolific scorer embedded in the program's history books.

He brought in crafty, rugged guards such as E.J. Crawford, Stamford native Shadrac "Sed" Casimir, and Rickey McGill.

What do English, Crawford, Casimir, and McGill all have in common? Each and every last one of them was targeted by Quinnipiac during their recruitment process.

One of Grasso's current commits, class of 2017 guard CJ Seaforth, is from Hamden, Conn. and chose Iona over Quinnipiac and several other mid-major suitors.

 Again, recruiting has forever been pegged as an inexact science. It is, however, surely results driven.

Southern Connecticut head coach and UConn legend Scottie Burrell seems like an intriguing candidate on paper.

 A Hamden native who authored a storied athletic career as a three-sport athlete at Hamden High, Burrell was an All-American and is an all-purpose reminder of when UConn basketball was a veritable NBA factory. Burrell won an NBA championship ring with the Jordan-led Bulls and is still tight with Ray Allen.

These are recruiting tools in themselves, albeit the Calhoun connection does not seem to hold much juice with this particular job. Burrell would be a quintessential "players coach" and would surely win over recruits, albeit it's difficult to envision QU plunking down this kind of money on a current Division-II coach.

Burrell was an effective mentor for Quinnipiac program great DeMario Anderson and knows how to work with star power. Yet because he was an assistant under Moore during that regime, it would seem to be a step backwards as opposed to forward.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Big Nik" Beginning To Realize High Major Potential

Just a few years of sustained devotion and relentlessness has the tendency to make a tremendous difference. Such is the case with bruising 7-foot-2, 245-pound Center Nikola Scekic.

Currently at Hutchinson Community College, the once-raw big has grown rapidly this past year while assimilating to the augmented physicality of the American game.

It's no secret and surely make no mistake about it, there is a certain stereotype associated with sky-scraping, Europe-bred bigs of Scekic's type.

They have a tendency to be classified as fundamentally sound and skill-centric bigs who can shoot the rock effectively and dish the ball with a higher IQ than most.

 Yet the primary, oft-mentioned flaws affiliated with European bigs are so obvious the words and descriptions nearly fall off the page: Soft. Unathletic. Lacking the same mental moxie as an interior banger here in the states.


Yes, when Scekic arrived at West Oaks Academy in Florida, his body and his ability to play aggressively and attack the rim ferociously needed some tweaking.

 Yes, he was nowhere near a finished product.

Working consistently with coach Chris Chaney, the seasoned coach with the most wins of any prep coach his age (see Chaney's teams at Laurinburg Prep and The Patterson School in North Carolina for more information), West Oaks was able to cultivate a post presence and toughness in the kid they call "Big Nik."

"He always had huge upside," said Chaney, who is currently grooming underrated talent such as Jalen Jordan at National Top Sports Institute in Scotland, PA.

"Nikola's elite passing skills and shooting ability for his size always stood out. And just think, he's not even close to reaching his potential yet."

While Chaney's words have proved prophetic at critical moments these past years, Scekic has improved exponentially with his strength and utilizing his size like a true big.

Now at the aforementioned weight of 245 pounds, Skekic is dunking everything he sees. His adeptness around the rim has rendered him a high percentage threat.

This is underscored by a recent 12-point performance on 6-for-7 shooting the other night.

As a significant role player on a reputable JUCO program, Scekic has become cognizant of just how important basketball will be for his future.

You won't recognize him as the same player he was at West Oaks.

Now he's laced with an insatiable hunger for the game few could have ever envisioned for him.

 He's a high-intensity and no frills guy, with a knack for authoritative finishes. No longer a shy kid adapting to the American life, he will have a boisterous eruption following a big bucket.

"He has completely transformed as far as how much he wants out of this basketball life," said Nikola Cicic, the former Arkansas Little Rock guard and fellow countryman who has been instrumental in propelling "Big Nik's" development.

"You have a kid now who has tuned up his body to the point where he is rock solid and is a daunting task for bigs to go up against."

Cicic continued "He's adjusted his game defensively and developed a higher IQ and it's a testament to the work he's put in and how bad he's realized 'this is for me. This game is going to take me far in life.' The kid is an absolute workhorse and developing this mentality has worked wonders for him."

A brief stay at New Mexico did not work out for the behemoth. Some of the factors at UNM were beyond his control, others were not.

Yet as he's proven in several recent performances (12 points in 23 minutes during a 95-78 drubbing of St. Petersburg College, 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting in 18 minutes against Hesston College, 14 points on 7-for-8 shooting in a 104-66 slaying of Dodge City Community College), it's clear the promise is there.

Iona, TCU, FAU, Evansville, Wagner, and Creighton (among others) are beginning to take aggressive pursuit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Canadian Guard Nolan Has Grown Rapidly

The basketball seed has been planted in Canada, the world's hockey hotbed.

While a torrent of young Canadian talent--Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray, and Tristan Thompson to rattle off a few--have followed the long green paper trail to the NBA, countless Canadians continue to pursue an avenue to America.

Partly at the hyper-competitive level of play and national visibility and partly at the variety of scholarship opportunities, Canada's wealth of prep talent collectively  expresses a desire to ply their trade in the United States.

Look no further than Montverde Academy in Florida.

Kevin Boyle's program, in the national spotlight these past few years, features a dose of Canadian flavor with R.J. Barrett (the top-ranked sophomore in the country), flashy Class of 2019 point guard Andrew Nembhard, and Marcus Carr.

Some have even referenced Montverde as America's "Canadian High School Basketball Team."

At Miami's Calusa Prep there is Luguentz Dort, an uber-athletic and oft-slashing 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard.

Calusa has another Canadian-bred guard in sharpshooter Nathanael Jack.

Dort, one of the nation's most prolific scorers in the class of 2018, has offers from Louisville, Florida, Oregon, Baylor, Arizona State, and myriad others.

At 22 Feet Academy in South Carolina, Daniel Sackey has registered his presence as a well-built guard with hellacious hops, quickness, and the ability to impact both sides of the ball.

Though not equated with the same luster as these aforementioned Canadians, Taysean Nolan contains the attributes to eventually become a steal at a Division-1 program next year.

 The Class of 2017 guard is buoyed by an impressive above-the-rim game and a natural ability to knife his way to the rim.

An effective handle and the bullish strength which many lack at this level ultimately renders Nolan an under-the-radar prospect.


"The best attribute of my game is my athleticism," said Nolan, who gauged his game against highly-touted players (Louisville-commit) Anfernee Simons during a recent Hoop Exchange event in Florida.

"When you combine that with my ability to handle the basketball, I think that and my strength furthers my ability to be a facilitator and playmaker for my team. It helps with my ability to break down my defender and find a good shot as well as draw the defender to me and therefore open up the floor for my teammates."

What does Nolan pinpoint as the positive draws to playing in the United States?

"The benefits of playing at the prep and college level of basketball in the United States come from the level of competition as well as the lofty standards the coaches hold all of their players to," Nolan said.

"Every athlete needs to come prepared with a good work ethic, consistency, and toughness. For Canadian players who have a sense of urgency to come to the United States and further develop their game, they benefit from all these factors that ready them for the next level and challenge them everyday to get better."

Nolan listed Northern Arizona, Florida Atlantic, Alabama A & M, Denver, Liberty, Brown, Idaho State as potential destinations at the next level.

 As his growth as not only an adept finisher but an all-around scorer continues, Nolan aspires to become a heavy-impact player at a program best-suited for his game.

He currently holds a 2.8 GPA and found much relief when he received a qualifying SAT score this year.

"Over the next few years I would hope to accomplish becoming a major factor in the college level of basketball, which would only come from hours of hard consistent work," Nolan said.

Uno En Uno With: Jared Grasso, Iona Basketball

ZS: How do you describe the around the clock labor that goes into recruiting?

   JG: Recruiting is the lifeblood of any good program. It is a 24/7/365 day job that has a lot of components to it. 

But, at the end of the day, it's about finding the right guys who fit your program and culture and then working as hard as possible to build that relationship and make them see that you care about them as people first, players second.

ZS: Is there any particular method to gaining the upper hand in area as heavily-recruited as New York/New Jersey?

JG: It's all about relationships--need to build a network of recruiting contacts and connections who are comfortable sending players to your program because they know their players will be pushed to get better in the classroom and on the court.

The second is being able to evaluate what type of players can be successful at Iona College. We have been able to find a niche of players who fit into our culture and style of play.

Because of our success in both winning championships and developing pros, there has been a buzz around our program. We have tried to build on that and continue to try and attract players who can be successful in our system and have the work ethic to fit into our high expectations culture.

ZS: How would you describe and assess the improvement of Rickey McGill from his freshman year to his sophomore year and what niche do you envision for him moving forward?

JG: He is really starting to learn decision making from the point guard position and has improved as a shooter. I think he has a chance to take another huge step forward this off-season as we will rely on him to become one of our leaders as an upperclassmen.

Friday, March 17, 2017

High-Scoring Starks Proved His NCAA Value in PG Season

Adam Starks connected on his first four shots of the game--all 3-point field goals--in kick-starting TCA's scoring engine against Game on The Rise.

He had 20 points by halftime, when the game was deadlocked at 40-40.

In the second half, Starks gave an accurate account of his capabilities.

While he continued to display a deft left-handed stroke from beyond the arc, the 5-foot-10 guard blew past defenders on baseline drives and found his way to the rim, drawing fouls.

 Ultimately, the shortest player on the court proved to be the gutsiest. He poured in a game-best 37 points, including a pair of game-winning free throws with six seconds remaining, to lead to TCA to a wild overtime victory.

Starks' engine, ability to get hot in a hurry, and proclivity for hitting big shots during pressure-spiked moments made his one-year stay at Conrad Academy memorable.

His expectations rose considerably after the first few weeks, when he registered his presence as a dependable scorer and playmaker who may have slipped under the NCAA radar.

"Adam had a number of games in which he went over 30 points and really took scoring matters into his own hands," said Nik Cicic, Starks' coach at TCA.

"One of the best attributes of his game is his ability to take over the game after getting a few shots down. At times he might try to even do to much, but it's all in the confines of the system so he has a green light with me. He's a great creator off the dribble and there were times where he was near unstoppable in some games."

Cicic, once the sharpshooting guard at Rise Academy (PA) and a Division-1 guard at Arkansas-Little Rock, has been instrumental in finding underrated talent and acclimatizing them to Florida's SIAA conference.

At Arlington Country Day School, he was instrumental in cultivating a stretch four in Damir Hadzic (Arkansas Little Rock signee). This season, he worked with a promising 7-foot-1 prospect in Milan Stakic.

At Conrad, he found a gritty guard capable of carrying a young and inexperienced core.

"He just goes into a zone at times," Cicic explained.

Starks (rhymes with sparks) was the engine that propelled TCA in games against Game on the Rise (47 points), Combine Academy (35 points), DME (27 points and 28 points, respectively), and Clearwater Prep (24 points including game-winner).

Starks took the advantage of the prep year to focus on around-the-clock training and earn better opportunities at the ensuing level of play.

In becoming his team's surefire go-to-guy option, he develop a knack for producing in crunch time as well.

Monday, March 13, 2017

22 Feet's Sloan Capitalizing On Talent

David Sloan hauled in a kickout pass from Luguentz Dort, scanned the rim and buried a corner 3-pointer amid a close-out.

Sloan's Conrad team was slicing away at a monstrous 21-point first half deficit against a national power in Wesleyan Christian (N.C.).

 This was during mid-winter, at the Grind Session's Mustang Madness tournament in Paducah, KY.

Moments later, Sloan got free and hit a deep straight-away 3-pointer.

Then, Sloan pick-pocketed a Wesleyan Christian guard and converted the turnover into a rare two-handed dunk in transition.

Fueled by a pair of 30-point performances from Jaylen Hoard and Aaron Wiggins, Wesleyan Christian fended off Conrad's second half rally en route to the win.

Still, Sloan's eight-point sequence and 28-point performance was emblematic of the 5-foot-11 guard's knack for timely buckets.

One of the more unsung point guards still remaining on the Class of 2017 recruiting market, Sloan registered his presence on big stages throughout the 2016-17 campaign.

Against a Bishop Sullivan team featuring Rasir Bolton at the time, Sloan scored 20 points (on seven shots). Against Hillcrest Prep, Sloan erupted for 32 points.

 He wound up transferring to 22 Feet Academy (S.C.), a move which reunited Sloan with former coach Richard Gatewood and childhood friend Peanut Cunningham.

Scholarship-hungry performances, most notably during an exposure-heavy Grind Session tournament in Arizona this weekend, have attracted the likes of Oregon State,  Bradley, Eastern Kentucky, Santa Clara, and Morehead State.

Just four days after arriving at 22 Feet and absorbing the new system, Sloan dropped 26 points in a win.

His pull-up jumper from mid-range with 1.3 seconds left, before a horde of Division-1 coaches, closed the deal in a 46-44 upset over Victory Rock Prep (FL).

"The thing that we were most impressed with was how well he gelled with the team so quickly," said Gatewood, who formed a radiant tandem with Sloan and rugged 5-foot-9 guard Daniel Sackey.

"I think David can go somewhere and help a program right away. With his scoring ability, it's clear how much he effects the game. Yet if he's not scoring he's still going to get someone 10 or eight, he's still going to impact the game. He's underrated in that sense. Coaches that have seen him recently, they love his pace. They love his demeanor."

Gatewood first discovered Sloan when the heady guard was a seventh grader, possessing a court sense and an awareness level which oozed of promise.

 When he took the head coaching job at Taylor County HS (KY), he took Sloan with him and gave him a green light as a freshman.

With Quentin Goodin (now at Xavier) operating  off the ball and Sloan orchestrating the offense while averaging 20 points, Taylor County ascended to national prominence.

The plot grew more complex at the culmination of Sloan's junior year at basketball-crazed Taylor County. Citing a desire to be closer to his Louisville home, Sloan transferred to Ballard.

 Gatewood, who aspires to eventually break into the NCAA coaching market, took the position at 22 Feet.

Sloan encountered forgettable trouble at Ballard, where the KHSAA questioned his transfer and ruled him ineligible.

The prospect of sitting his senior year out became overwhelming, especially for a kid who played varsity basketball as an eighth grader.

Worry and frustration compounded as the KHSAA refused to budge. Sloan's initial confidence and optimism soon morphed into hopes and prayers. He found an escape route, however, when he learned of Conrad Academy in Florida.

Sloan stumbled upon Conrad merely by accident. Upon perusing his snap chat videos, he came across one of hometown friend Dai'von Thompson and Austin Wiley (now at Auburn).

 Sloan, who befriended Wiley after the two attended Team USA tryouts, quickly learned the two were at the same prep program in Florida.

 Immediately upon reaching out to Conrad's coaching staff (with an endorsement from Wiley), Sloan earned a scholarship and filled an immediate area of need at point guard.

"I thought I wasn't going to be able to play out my senior year period," Sloan said. "God opened doors for me."

Bigger stages elicited bigger performances from the Louisville native.

Primed to erase any tinges of doubt regarding his mid-major value, Sloan has proved his worth by producing in pressure-filled moments.

Partially at all the work they've put in the last five years and partially at Sloan's close relationship with Gatewood's wife and three young children, playing his final game with Gatewood coaching him had special resonance.

"People around us know how much time we've put in the gym and how much work he's devoted himself to," Gatewood said.

"Having watched him play since he was a seventh grader, I always wanted to see him go out on senior night. It was great to see him finish his career here at 22 Feet and play."

Gatewood added that a player of Sloan's demeanor is rare because the senior doesn't get rattled and doesn't get too hyped up, either.

 Couple that with his ability to hit fearless shots in crunch time and Gatewood finds one keyword to sum up Sloan's game.

"He's smooth out there, I'll tell you that. He's smooth."

Friday, March 3, 2017

TCA Player of Evaluations: Still Available 2017

Milan Stakic, 7-foot-1, 245 
Class of '17:
Stakic has dropped nearly 40 pounds since he arrived out of shape in August. Sacrificing fried foods and immersing himself in a thorough running and sprinting regimen has helped him shed the unnecessary pounds.

 In becoming acclimated to a quicker and more physical style of basketball, Stakic has subscribed to a ramped up workout regimen under coaches Brad Traina and Nik Cicic. The big fella continued to improve at his post game. 

He took defending bigs away from the rim with feathery mid range touch from mid range and beyond. He has recently flashed a dependable hook with both hands.

Now, at the tail end of the season, the Big Bosnian is beginning to ratchet up some commotion on the recruiting market. 

This noise has reverberated to East Carolina and Oklahoma State, where coaches have taken note of a massive paint presence.

We've additionally  discovered a serviceable rim protector, who possesses a 7-foot-4 wingspan. These physical  attributes enable him to influence, manipulate and alter the trajectory of shots in the paint.

Initially a skillful shooter and European style player, the transformation has rendered Stakic a fierce interior banger who could impact the high-major level down the road.

Josh Bruijnzeels: 6-5, 194, Class of '17:  Sharpshooter who can really snipe from beyond the arc. Dutch guard has a tremendous IQ for the game and served as an immediate spark off the bench for the prep team this season. 

After showing flashes as a junior at Arlington Country Day School (Jacksonville, FL), Bruijnzeels evolved into a sturdy defender. Mainly a catch-and-shoot threat, Bruijnzeels has some sneaky bounce and deceptively athletic playmaking ability.

Currently on a strict weight-gaining regimen, the senior is in the process of packing 10 pounds of muscle onto his leafy frame. Excellent student, boasting an unparalleled 4.0 GPA.

Karn Goraya, 6-2, 200 '17: Lights-out shooter with a knack for getting open and hitting timely shots amid amplified pressure, Goraya has been one of the biggest surprises this season. His stock has tipped the Division-I scales with Stetson recently stopping in to see him. This well-built guard has rare strength at this level, enabling him to power his way to the rim and guard taller and wider players effectively.

Quentin Scott, 6-7, 205 '17: Absolute jumping jack who can make an easy two points out of any lob that comes his way. A monster finisher in the transition game and one of the state's most electrifying dunkers, Scott is a multi-faceted scorer who went for 30+ in multiple games this season. A Louisiana native, Scott has growing interest from Stephen F. Austin and Texas State and has also drawn the attention of UT-Martin, Charleston Southern, Murray State, South Florida, and a barrage of others. 

He's a high-efficiency threat with his explosive vertical. Scott is versatile enough to fill multiple areas of the stat sheet up consistently. Athletic and should make a seamless transition into the physical rigors of the Division-1 level. Has found steady stroke and behind the arc game, while also showing a propensity for sticking elbow jumpers.

Anfernee King, 5-10, 170 '17: Quick, deceptive, little guard has an arsenal of moves to keep defenders guessing.

Strictly a creator until his final year of high school (where he helped account for nearly 40 percent of his team's offensive output), he's expanded his offensive portfolio with a pull-up game and a consistent jump shot. Is being unsung and under-recruited at this point.

Thomas Fortier, 6-3, 195, '17: The IQ of this Frenchman is what separates him from other combination guards of his ilk. Couple that with his defensive acumen and strength, Fourtier has proven to be a major steal under head coach Brad Traina. He authored a 26-point performance during a recent win over Faith Baptist and has not let up since. 

An absolute gym rat, Fortier possesses a fluid touch from beyond the arc and has a dependable mid-range game.

The aggression and laser-focus with which he plays makes him an appealing prospect on the recruiting market.

Niko Johnson, 6-1, 180 '17: Freakish athlete finishes with a full head of steam and a full variety of electrifying dunks in his arsenal. Adept at carving into the lane and finishing with either hand. Capable of converting turnovers into buckets with ease, given his ability to be disruptive and leak out in transition.

TJ Gittens 6-2, 185  '17 : Houston-bred guard plays with a savvy and a poise that his teammates feed off of. Also a very proficient scorer and game manager, Gittens has the body and the ability to get hot in a hurry.

 Should crack the Division-I levels, given his advanced skill-set and consistent scoring punch. Not afraid to get into the teeth of the defense and finish with contact.