Danes salute seniors tonight
University at Albany will honor its four-player senior class when it hosts New Hampshire University in the Great Danes’ final regular-season home game tonight at SEFCU Arena.
Guards Mike Black and Jacob Iati, center Blake Metcalf and swingman Jayson Guerrier have made an impact on the program, helping the 8-6, 20-9 Danes post their best non-conference record (12-3) en route to their third 20-win season in the Division I era.
“Blake, Mike, Jacob and Jay are very unselfish individuals,” praised UAlbany head coach Will Brown, who admitted that all senior days are bittersweet. “They came in and did everything I asked of them. They are tremendous ambassadors of the program. They are good students and good citizens, as well.”
Black, who became a starter midway through his freshman season, will leave the program among the all-time leaders in scoring and assists, while Metcalf, a three-year captain, is in the top 10 in blocked shots. Both Iati and Guerrier excelled in three-point shooting, although Guerrier only spent two years with the program after transferring in from junior college.
“I’ve known Jacob longer than the rest,” Brown said. “He used to wear his brother Jon’s [former UAlbany player and current assistant coach] jersey while he sat in the stands.”
Iati, a three-point shooting specialist and outstanding free-throw shooter, didn’t get much playing time until he was thrust into a starting role late last season and suddenly became one of the team’s leading scorers. This year, he is second on the team in scoring at better than 12 points per game.
He was supposed to graduate last year and accept a role as a graduate assistant, but he had one more year of eligibility remaining and decided that he would rather play as a fifth-year senior.
Black has become one of the team’s all-time great players. He is tied for seventh in all-time scoring with 1,453 points and is sixth in assists with 372.
“Mike came in as a freshman, struggled at first, and then started halfway through his first year,” said Brown. “Mike has gotten better and better during his career. This year, he found out how hard it is to be the No. 1 scoring option and get his opponent’s best shot every night. His stats are impressive, and he’ll add to them before he’s through. But I told him that nobody will remember if he scores 1,500 points or gets a lot of assists. They’ll only remember you if you go to the NCAA tournament.”
“This year, and it seems my whole career, has gone by quickly,” said Black. “But I’m grateful for all the opportunities UAlbany has given me. I want to go out with a bang. My only goal is the same one I had when I came here — to go to the NCAA tournament. But it means a lot to be a part of one of the best teams in UAlbany history.”
Metcalf, who has split his time as both a starter and reserve throughout his career, is eighth all-time in blocked shots with 69, but his leadership as a three-year captain is more important to him.
“It’s an emotional time when you start thinking about your last home game,” he said. “Fortunately, we also have one or two more home games in the America East Conference tournament,” said Metcalf.
“It’s hard to think about the fact that I might not be playing basketball anymore in a few weeks. But I’m proud to be part of this team that won 20 games. Mike and I were on a team that lost 25 games when we were freshmen, so it’s been a roller coaster four years for me. I’ve seen the very good and the very bad in this program.”
Guerrier led the America East Conference in three-point shooting accuracy at better than 42 percent a year ago, and he became a starter this year until Brown replaced him with Peter Hooley midway through the season.
“You just hope they leave here as better students, players and people,” said Brown. “The problem with senior nights is knowing that you won’t be seeing these guys more than a few more times. We’ve had a good relationship with all of them. This will be kind of a closure, with everyone moving on and moving forward. But it’s easier to keep in touch with all the social media these days, and we’ve always had a good relationship with all of our former players.”
Excluding Boston University, which is in second place but is ineligible for the America East Conference tournament, the Great Danes are tied with Hartford for third place in the standings. New Hampshire is 4-10 and 8-18.
“I told our players that it’s important to send our seniors out with a win on senior night,” said Brown, whose team closes out the regular season at first-place Stony Brook Sunday afternoon.