ALBANY — From when he was announced as the new UAlbany men’s basketball head coach to opening night, nearly 240 days have passed.
Dwayne Killings has tried to make the most of them as he’s prepared to lead the Great Danes into a 2021-22 season that starts with a 7 p.m. home game Tuesday at SEFCU Arena against Towson. UAlbany brings a roster with nine new players on it into its season-opening game, which is the first for Killings as a head coach.
“I get a chance to do it and they pay me for it,” said Killings, a 2003 Hampton graduate whose coaching career most-recently included a stint as associate head coach at Marquette before he was hired in mid-March to replace Will Brown. “It’s crazy. I’m a lucky guy.”
In advance of the Great Danes’ first game of the Killings era, the new head coach has promised a team that will play an up-tempo style, a squad built around a hard-nosed, man-to-man defense that should utilize the versatility of the roster UAlbany has built. It’s a team that looks likely to play four perimeter players for the majority of the time, with newcomers such as De’Vondre Perry and returning players such as Jamel Horton counted on to shoulder the team’s offensive burden.
“We want to play faster. We want to push the pace more than we did last year,” said Trey Hutcheson, a junior. “On defense, we want to apply more pressure on the ball and play some full-court pressure.”
“We want to make sure we play harder than the opponent and, then, whatever the outcome is, we’ll be good with the results,” graduate student Jarvis Doles said.
UAlbany was 7-9 last season, its third consecutive campaign with a losing mark. Towson is coming off a 4-14 campaign and its roster includes several notable newcomers, including former UAlbany captain Antonio Rizzuto who left the program after Brown’s dismissal.
Killings coached Rizzuto briefly during spring workouts, and said he didn’t “fault” Rizzuto — a second-team all-America East selection last season — for opting to head elsewhere.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the kid,” Killings said. “The little bit that we had to coach him, he’s competitive, he’s versatile, he can score it, he plays the right way. I’m rooting for him — just not [Tuesday] night.”
Rizzuto wasn’t made available for interviews in advance of his return to SEFCU Arena, but Towson issued a statement credited to Rizzuto last week that thanked UAlbany fans ahead of his return. Towson head coach Pat Skerry said Rizzuto will be a “key piece” for his club, and that he also likes the pieces that Killings was able to assemble ahead of his first season at UAlbany.
“I know they have good players,” Skerry said. “They did a good job recruiting.”
Killings didn’t publicly name a starting lineup ahead of his team’s game against Towson, but there have been plenty of hints offered. Horton and Perry have earned constant praise from Killings, while sophomore Will Amica, Hutcheson and Doles have regularly been singled out for their efforts during the preseason. Meanwhile, freshmen Ny’Mire Little and Justin Neely have both impressed during portions of practice made accessible to reporters.
Killings didn’t commit to any players being held out against Towson, but has acknowledged some players have been limited in recent days. Amica has seemingly been in and out of practice during the preseason, and was one of a few Great Danes who didn’t participate during an open session of practice last week.
Killings’ expectations for this season are high. He’s said it “would be wrong” to have any other goal than to win an America East championship, and that he views opening night against Towson as an important barometer for his group.
“I want to know who we are as a team right away,” Killings said. “That way, we can get to work so we can grow.”
UAlbany had closed scrimmages during the preseason against Saint Joseph’s and Canisius. Horton said his team showed great progress between those two outings.
“Our second scrimmage was a lot better than the first. I think we took a huge step in terms of our culture,” Horton said. “Guys were more locked in on the bench. We had more guys diving on the floor. We boxed out better.”
Killings described himself as “honored” to lead the Great Danes into their latest campaign — and he’s thrilled opening night is finally here.
“It’s time,” Killings said, “to play basketball.”
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