The news got a little better, but it’s still not great for the Siena men’s basketball team.
Facing eligibility questions that will prohibit the Saints from using two freshman big men from Africa this season, Siena also lost 6-foot-9 junior backup forward Davis Martens to season-ending hip surgery this week.
The eligibility issue was ameliorated to a degree when the NCAA reinstated two years to Lionel Gomis, a 6-8 forward from Dakar, Senegal, and Blair Academy in New Jersey.
Siena is still trying to find a way to convince the NCAA to let Gomis and 6-8 Imoh Silas, from Lagos, Nigeria, and Holderness School (N.H.), play this season.
In the meantime, the Saints expect to have a depleted front line when their season opens at home against Navy on Nov. 16, and are already planning ways to adjust to it.
“We’ll have to play differently,” head coach Mitch Buonaguro said during the annual Sneak Preview season ticket drive at the Times Union Center on Tuesday. “If we play with a smaller four man, we’ll be a more up-tempo, spread-the-floor type of team.”
The team promised to revolve around junior forward OD Anosike, but the pressure on him to perform will be even greater now, especially since he was prone to foul trouble at times last year and also has been a poor free-throw shooter since arriving at Siena.
The NCAA ruled against Gomis and Silas based on enrollment legislation that was adopted in April 2010, but wasn’t enacted until this past August.
It says that players must have completed their high school core curriculum requirements within a five-year period, or the international equivalent.
Due to circumstances involving their move from Africa to the U.S., Gomis and Silas each had their high school educations extend beyond the five-year window.
Each will serve a year of academic residence and practice with the team.
The Saints were relieved to find out on Tuesday that Gomis will have three years of eligibility instead of just one.
“I think a lot of credit goes to our administration, who did a lot of work,” Buonaguro said. “They’re both, as of now, not going to be able to play this year, but we’re still in a process of appealing that, so we have a chance to overturn that.
“We’re going to exhaust all our opportunities. We’re committed to these kids. We have a certain amount of time where we can get more information from the NCAA.”
Martens, who appeared in 30 of Siena’s 31 games last year, had surgery on Aug. 30 to repair a torn labrum.
He’ll be on crutches for another two weeks, then faces three months of rehab, so he was red-shirted and still has two years of eligibility.
“He had pain all summer. He was struggling,” Buonaguro said. “The surgery is very delicate, so he had to get a special person to do the surgery. It took a while, to get the surgeon and everything else. It’s a torn cartilage in his hip.
“It was a wear-and-tear thing. If you notice, how he played later in the season, he wasn’t right. I didn’t think he had as much bounce.”
Anosike said he had been prepared to assume the mantle of team leader, anyway.
The loss of three front-liners only underscores that development.
Buonaguro said that senior Brandon Walters, who wasn’t used much last year in his first season as a Saint after transferring from Seton Hall, will have to assum a bigger role.
It also puts pressure on 6-7, 233-pound freshman Marcus Hopper of Queens to be productive early in the season.
“We still have some options, but the big key is developing Hopper, getting him ready, because he’s going to have to play,” Buonaguro said.
“It’s definitely a blow to our front line,” Anosike said. “We’re going to have to play more minutes, be in better shape, be mentally prepared each and every night to go out and battle all night with a thin bench.
“Frankly put, we need the freshmen to step up and play right away. There’s no other way around it.
“I have the lucky advantage of having a MAAC championship ring on my finger, so they’re looking at me to lead them in the right direction.”
The Saints will also be making the transition from a team that, for much of last season, was carried by Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year Ryan Rossiter, the school’s all-time leading rebounder.
To facilitate a smaller, quicker lineup that spreads the floor, senior Owen Wignot will likely shift from small forward to power forward at times.
The silver lining for Siena could be that that’s to Wignot’s advantage, and sophomore point guard Rakeem Brookins should be able to seamlessly adjust to that style, too.
“Brookins is a big key,” Buonaguro said. “He’s got to make the next step. I think he’s got the potential to be one of the better guards in the league, but that has to be the next jump. He certainly can play with anyone in the league. He proved that.”
“[Spread offense] creates a lot more room for drives, or drive and kick-outs, and it’s going to be a good transition for all of us,” Wignot said.
YOUNG WOMEN’S TEAM
Like the Siena men, the women’s team will be young and will have to adjust to the graduation of its best player, MAAC first-team all-star Serena Moore.
The Saints have already played four exhibition games, two in Denmark and two in Italy, during an August tour of Europe.
“It was the best thing we could’ve done with this group of girls, because we’re a young team,” said Gina Castelli, who is in her 22nd season as Siena women’s head coach. “The trip itself was just phenomenal. It was a great bonding experience.”
Siena opens at home on Nov. 11 against Sacred Heart.
“Because we’re so young, there’s a lot of unknowns, but I do think we’re more athletic than we’ve been in the past, and we’re much, much deeper,” Castelli said. “We’ll probably make a lot of mistakes early, like they did in the first few games in Europe, but they really bounced back.”
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Categories: College Sports