That’s the description University at Albany men’s basketball coach Will Brown used for his Great Danes numerous times this season, and it was the primary reason why UAlbany finished a mediocre 15-15 overall, and lost in the quarterfinals of the America East Conference tournament to Boston University over the weekend.
Although they tied for second in league play, the Great Danes lacked firepower,
especially from the perimeter. During back-to-back tournament championships, UAlbany enjoyed tremendous success from beyond the arc, as all-time leading scorer Jamar Wilson and Jason Siggers joined with Brent Wilson and Jon Iati to give the team plenty of punch.
Jamar Wilson’s and Siggers’ graduation left Brent Wilson and Iati as the Danes’ only consistent long-range shooters, and both endured scoring slumps throughout the season.
Injuries curtailed Iati’s play. The fifth-year senior guard had back surgery before the season, and then broke a toe. He wasn’t at full strength until the second half of the season. Brent Wilson, who scored about nine points a game, was expected to be much more versatile, but he relied too much on his perimeter game.
That left 6-foot-5 Brian Lillis as the team’s No. 1 scoring threat. Lillis was never much of a scorer during the first three years of his career, and he wasn’t expected to have to carry the team on his back as much as he did. Yet, the 2007 conference defensive player of the year paced the Great Danes in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocked shots and steals. Also the point guard and the team leader, Lillis simply had too many responsibilities, and he appeared to wear down toward the end of the season.
The elevation of Lillis from role player to team MVP was the main story line for the Great Danes, but they also had other highlights. Sweeping perennial league powers Boston University and Vermont during the regular season was a surprise. Becoming one of the nation’s top rebounding teams wasn’t, especially since the Danes had so many missed shots to corral.
Their usual starting lineup included Lillis, 6-5 junior Jerel Hastings, 6-8 junior forward Brian Connelly, the 6-8 Brent Wilson and 6-7 freshman center Al Turley. No team in the league came close to matching
Albany’s overall size. The Danes even had 6-11 sophomore Brett Gifford and 6-7 junior Jimmie Covington coming off the bench to back up in the post.
Although Turley emerged as an energetic shot-blocker with a nice touch around the rim, and redshirt freshman guard Tim Ambrose showed signs of becoming Albany’s next great scorer, the Danes relied on seniors Lillis, Wilson and Iati to lead the way.
“You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone,” said Brown about that veteran trio. “These guys have been through a lot. They helped the program grow to what it is today. I’m proud of those three guys for helping us to win two league championships.”
Brown predicted that his club would be a grind-it-out type of team that wouldn’t earn many style points. He was right, but the Great Danes remained competitive, and probably finished just about where they belonged.
“We felt before the season that we would have to be a physical team, and that we would have to play differently than we did in the past,” said Brown. “After winning two straight America East Conference championships, many people thought we should have won a third, but the only expectations we had were the ones we put on ourselves. These guys tried hard every night, and they gave me everything they had. It was a solid team. We did some good things, and we did some bad things. We lost some games that we should have won, but then again, we won some games that we shouldn’t have won.”
With Lillis, Brent Wilson and Iati gone, the Danes will once again feature a completely different look next season.
Connelly, who produced 10 points and better than five rebounds a game, returns at one forward spot, and Turley will most likely get a chance to keep his starting spot in the post, unless Brown finds another center on the recruiting trail.
The backcourt slots and the other forward position should be revamped. Ambrose, who scored 24 points against Duke and averaged 30 points a game in high school, is an outstanding offensive player who should inherit one of the guard positions. His playing time was limited this year because of his propensity for turnovers and his lack of understanding of the Great Danes’ defense, but there is no doubt that he can put the ball in the basket.
Replacing Lillis at the point will be either Josh Martin, a 6-2 freshman who showed flashes of excellence this season as a ball-handler and streak shooter, or incoming freshman Anthony Raffa, from Strathmere, N.J.
Fellow recruits Logan Aronholt and Jake Lindfors, both forwards, also could see playing time, as will Billy Allen and Reid Anderson, a pair of Great Danes who sat out this season with injuries. The 6-6 Allen is supposed to be an excellent jump shooter, while Anderson saw considerable playing time a year ago as a freshman.
Gifford, Covington and Hastings should give the Danes solid bench strength.