ALBANY — For head coach Will Brown and the University at Albany men’s basketball team, the end of 2017 brought a reminder how quickly things can change.
Last week, Vermont potentially lost its best player — sophomore Anthony Lamb — for the rest of the season after he broke his left foot during a practice drill. Vermont is UAlbany’s top rival this season for the America East championship, but the news of Lamb missing approximately the next eight weeks didn’t register with the Great Danes as a positive development.
Instead, it served as an example of how fast a program’s outlook can change, even in the midst of a promising season.
“That [injury] just happened from a kid competing hard,” Brown said at Tuesday’s practice, a day before the Great Danes open league play at SEFCU Arena against Hartford. “You never want to see that happen to any kid.”
“In a day, your whole season or outlook can change,” UAlbany junior David Nichols said. “It definitely shows how fragile things are.”
UAlbany produced 12 wins in 15 tries during its non-conference season, a program-best wins total for the Great Danes since they began Division I play. While talent and execution had a lot to do with the Great Danes’ start, so did the team’s overall good health. UAlbany used only two starting lineups during its first 15 games — and, in all likelihood, the Great Danes could have used just one. The only game UAlbany moved away from its usual starting lineup — juniors Devonte Campbell, Joe Cremo and Nichols, plus senior Greig Stire and fifth-year senior Travis Charles — was when the Great Danes gave Campbell a night off to rest a sprained ankle.
The opponent that night? Division III Oneonta.
“The formula I always look at is you need to be good, you need to stay healthy and you have to have some luck on your side,” Brown said. “That’s how you get to the point where you can compete for, and win, championships.”
Of course, UAlbany still views Vermont as a championship contender this season. With or without Lamb — who leads his team in scoring and rebounding — the Catamounts are likely to be in the conference championship game in March.
“They’re still going to be a very good team,” UAlbany junior Joe Cremo said.
Before playing against Lamb in the America East, Cremo played against him in high school. Cremo’s Scotia-Glenville squad beat Lamb’s Greece Athena in the 2015 Class A state championship game.
“We say we don’t pay attention to [Vermont], but I played him in high school, so I actually reached out to him on Instagram to wish him the best of luck and a quick recovery,” Cremo said. “I’m going to miss going against him because he’s a heck of a competitor and a heck of a player. We’re not the closest of friends or anything, but I respect him like crazy as a competitor.”
Vermont’s loss of Lamb, though, does leave the Catamounts more susceptible to dropping a conference game here or there — which means UAlbany has a better shot at the conference’s regular season title. That championship guarantees its winner home games throughout the America East tournament, which ended last season with Vermont winning in its gymnasium against UAlbany.
“This year,” Cremo said, “we want that game at our place.”
“And we can forget about our record from before,” Stire said of UAlbany’s 12-3 non-conference record. “We’re playing now to try to win the regular season championship so we can host as many games as possible in our tournament.”
Achieving that goal starts 7 p.m. Wednesday with the Great Danes’ game against a Hartford squad which went 7-7 during its non-conference schedule, but has won four of its last five and just upset Rutgers.
“They’re going to come in here confident and it will be a good test for us, especially after the start we got off to last year in conference play,” said Brown, whose Great Danes opened last season 0-3 in the America East.