Siena heading into season with an inexperienced cast

The Siena men’s basketball team shuffled into the Times Union Center for a rare practice in the gym

The Siena men’s basketball team shuffled into the Times Union Center for a rare practice in the gym it uses for home games on Monday.

The place was empty, but not without noise, as workers moved pieces of plywood and steel around to assemble a riser at the west end of the court.

It was a fitting scene, since the Saints are still under construction heading into the 2011-12 season, which begins on Wednesday night at home against Navy at 7.

Any college team experiences roster turnover from year to year, but the Saints, 13-18 last season in Mitch Buonaguro’s first year as head coach, will have to also address depletion of this year’s roster that has occurred before the first tipoff.

Besides having two freshmen forwards declared ineligible for the season by the NCAA, Siena lost forward Davis Martens, who was expected to be an important player off the bench, for the season with a torn labrum and starting point guard Rakeem Brookins with a back injury.

To compound matters, soph­omore forward Trenity Burdine will not play on Wednesday because of a foot injury, and is scheduled for another evaluation next week that could clear him to finally get back in the lineup.

That leaves Buonaguro with no choice but to squeeze the most out of a skimpy rotation that will rely on contributions from four freshmen.

“We can’t worry about injuries and what people think,” Buonaguro said. “All we can do is work hard, improve every day, and hopefully, the winning comes. It certainly is a team that’s young. Four of the eight guys are freshmen, it’s their first game on Wednesday, so there’s going to be certain ups and downs in the game. But hopefully we can compete in every game.”

“We’re really not trying to worry about that,” senior forward Owen Wignot said. “Coach always says just try to get better every day. We have to take it day by day, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“It’s a little different than what we’re used to. The team has had higher expectations. Now, I feel like we can play kind of with a chip on our shoulder and try to prove to people that we are a good team, and we’re still here to win.”

With Burdine and Brookins out, Siena’s starting lineup will consist of junior OD Anosike, who’s ready to step out of the shadow of Ryan Rossiter; Wignot; senior Kyle Downey at shooting guard; senior Brandon Walters, who barely played last year in his first season since transferring from Seton Hall, at center; and freshman Evan Hymes at point guard.

Hymes will be backed up by another freshman, Davonte Beard, who graduated from St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio, the same school that produced LeBron James.

“Right now, Rock’s out,” Downey said. “The freshmen are going to get their feet wet pretty good and pretty early. It might be good for them, and it might be good for Siena, in the long run.”

“With Rock, he has a year of experience under his belt, but when he came in last year and was our starting point guard, I kind of see it similar to now,” Wignot said. “Evan’s going to have to do the same job.”

Rob Poole, a 6-foot-5 shooter from Haddonfield, N.J., could see some playing time early as Buon­aguro experiments with a smaller lineup.

The coach is going to have to be creative with the limited resources at hand, which means the freshmen will be expected to step in there and perform right away.

The other available freshman is 6-7 forward Marcus Hopper from Queens.

“I’ve got to use the freshmen,” Buonaguro said. “I can’t go with five guys the whole game. They’re going to have to play. They know that. I’ve prepared them for it, so,

hopefully, they play well.

“I like the team. We’re starting to get some good chemistry. We didn’t know what we had with all the injuries, and now we’re moving Evan in there, and he’s been getting a lot of reps, Davonte’s been getting reps. So the team will at least have some cohesiveness going into Wednesday.”

“I’ll probably nervous for the first five minutes on the warmup clock, but other than that, I’m going to be ready to go,” Beard said. “ The rest of us freshmen and the rest of our teammates are going to be ready to get things started.”

One thing that is certain is that Anosike, an active big man on the boards and in the low post on offense, will be expected to shoulder much of the load.

He’s also one of the dominant personalities on the team.

“I’ve been going to him a lot, he’s embraced the role,” Buonaguro said. “I expect him to play well on Wednesday.”

“He’s going to have to be a big scorer this year, as will everybody else, because Ryan and Clarence [Jackson] were the go-to guys last year,” Wignot said. “Now, I feel everyone needs to step up.

“Coach really harped on how we really have to have a team effort. We’re going to have to have four or five guys in double digits every night to have a really successful team. It’ll be harder to scout us.”

“He’s making tremendous strides,” Walters said. “He’s def­initely going to be focused and ready to play this year. He knows he’s a made man, he’s the target now. He’s embraced that. He’s gotten stronger, and I think he’s going to have a great year.”

Siena will need the 6-9 Walters to produce.

He averaged just 3.3 minutes per game last season, and as intrig­uing as it is for Buonaguro to use a smaller lineup, it’s doubtful that he’s going to be able to rely on it for long stretches.

Toward that end, Walters worked diligently in the offseason with strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor to give himself a sleeker look.

“This is a big year for me; I didn’t have much of a role last year,” Walters said. “I feel great. I feel like I can run with anybody. I just want to be a glue guy, making sure any little thing I do, rebounding, scoring, blocking shots . . . anything a big man’s supposed to do, I just want to fulfill those needs, as well as keep the team together.

“I am one of the senior captains, so I want to make sure that when the going gets tough, I want to be able to speak to the underclassmen, the freshmen, even the other guys, if they have a tough game, talk to them and keep their spirits up.”

The Saints open their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference season on Dec. 1 at Saint Peter’s.

One of the highlights of the non-conference schedule is a game against UMass at the MassMutual Center on Dec. 9 as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase.

The Saints were picked sixth of 10 teams in the MAAC by vote of the coaches, and that was before anyone knew that Brookins would be lost for the season.

“People always say it’s better to be under the radar, because if people don’t expect a lot from you, it gives you a chance to be a lot better than what you are,” Walters said. “We’re not really focusing on the numbers right now, as far as rankings are concerned, we’re just going to play hard and stay together, and whatever happens, happens.”


(Home games in CAPS)


Wednesday — NAVY, 7; Saturday — at Mount St. Mary’s, 7; 21 — ST. BONAVENTURE, 7; 23 — at Georgia Tech, 7; 26 — at Vermont, 1.


1 — at Saint Peter’s, 7; 3 — LOYOLA, 7; 5 — UALBANY, 7; 9 — at Massachusetts (at Springfield, Mass.), 7; 12 — FORDHAM, 7;

22 — PRINCETON, 7; 28 — at Florida Atlantic, 7.


3 — vs. Iona (at MSG), 9; 6 — FAIRFIELD, 7; 8 — NIAGARA, 1; 12 — RIDER, 7; 14 — at Manhattan, 7; 19 — at Loyola, 7:30; 23 — IONA, 7; 27 — MARIST, 7; 29 — at Rider, 2.


3 — SAINT PETER’S, 7; 5 — at Fairfield, 3:30; 9 — at Niagara, 7; 11 — at Canisius, 2; 14 — MANHATTAN, 7; 18/19 — at ESPN BracketBusters, TBA; 23 — at Marist, 9;

26 — CANISIUS, 2.


2-5 — MAAC Tournament at Springfield, Mass.

Categories: College Sports

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