ALBANY — There are stylistic changes that head coach Will Brown wants to make with his UAlbany men’s basketball program, but his team’s limited practice schedule has had a lot of say over the Great Danes’ ability to install those elements so far this preseason.
UAlbany, which is set to debut this season on Dec. 19 against UMBC, has conducted a fraction of the full-contact practices it would in a normal season to this point, plus has several key players still building back up after injuries suffered last season.
“So you have to be careful how much you add,” Brown said Tuesday, several days after his team’s latest pandemic-related pause had ended. “You don’t want to add too much, too soon. Instead of having a lot of things in that you’re OK at, I think it’s important to do less and get good at that stuff.”
Mostly, Brown wants his 2020-21 squad to operate on offense with more spacing and at a quicker pace following a season that saw the Great Danes finish last in offensive efficiency during America East Conference play, per kenpom.com. Dealing with injuries all season and with a limited supply of players capable of creating open looks for themselves or others off the dribble, UAlbany struggled to score in a season that saw it lose its final six games as part of a campaign that started with promise and ended in a second consecutive losing campaign.
Brown, whose program won 20-plus games in five of six seasons prior to the last two, expects to have more offensive firepower at his disposal this season.
Redshirt junior Cameron Healy, healthy again after dealing with a hips/back injury down the stretch last season, could lead the conference in scoring. He averaged 14.2 points per game last season and shot 35.6% from 3-point territory, and both those figures would’ve been better if the 6-foot-3 guard’s shot didn’t suffer after his injury.
“My game really comes from a place of confidence — or a lack of confidence,” Healy said. “Maybe that’s why I struggled once I was injured.”
The Great Danes, though, relied so much on Healy and then-senior Ahmad Clark for its scoring, even when Healy wasn’t quite right. This season, program newcomers Chuck Champion and CJ Kelly — both transfers — add attack-off-the-dribble options for the Great Danes, while a healthy Jojo Anderson (knee) and an improved Antonio Rizzuto should make a major difference for UAlbany.
In the frontcourt, too, UAlbany expects to have more options than it did last season. After a promising rookie season, redshirt junior Adam Lulka struggled last season with one injury after another, while Kellon Taylor — another transfer, and one who played both basketball and football at Duquesne — adds an athletic presence the Great Danes didn’t have last season in their frontcourt.
With UAlbany adding to its stable of guards, Brown said sophomore Trey Hutcheson — whose strong rookie campaign was a bright spot for the program — should shift more often to the 4 this season.
“We think he can be a difficult matchup at the 4 spot, especially since he’s working on diversifying his game a little bit,” Brown said.
COULD ADD A GAME
At the moment, UAlbany’s schedule only includes one non-conference game, a Dec. 23 home game against Bryant.
Brown said it’s possible, though, that the Great Danes could add another non-conference game between Christmas and their Jan. 2-3 road games at Vermont.
The veteran head coach said he wants to “see where we’re at” in the next 10 days or so before deciding if the Great Danes would benefit more from an extra game or more time dedicated to practice.
“Everything in regards to scheduling is day by day,” said Brown, who said he has been in contact with a couple coaches regarding a potential late-December game.
Each of the area’s Division I basketball head coaches have discussed the emotional challenges their players are facing as they move through a preseason marred with pandemic-related pauses.
UAlbany junior Antonio Rizzuto said Tuesday that “with the way COVID has affected all of us, there’s definitely days where there might be half the team that is maybe a little down or uncertain” at practice. He said it’s important for all of the Great Danes to play a role in the team’s leadership throughout the 2020-21 campaign, especially since there are days when teammates need lifting up.
“When you’re on your good day,” Rizzuto said, “you’ve got to be really pulling for those other guys.”