ALBANY — Its regular season ended with some disappointment, as the UAlbany men’s basketball team lost back-to-back games and didn’t secure a home game in this weekend’s America East Conference quarterfinals.
Friday’s announcement of the league’s regular-season awards, though, brought a reminder for the Great Danes of the positives they accomplished during head coach Dwayne Killings’ first regular season leading them.
In all, UAlbany received seven honors, with the top highlights that senior Jamel Horton was named the America East Defensive Player of the Year and freshman Justin Neely was recognized as America East Rookie of the Year. Additionally, Horton was named a second-team all-conference and an all-defensive selection, graduate student Matt Cerruti earned a third-team all-conference pick, and Neely and classmate Aaron Reddish landed on the league’s all-rookie team.
“Proud of the guys,” said Killings, whose fifth-seeded club’s postseason starts Sunday at fourth-seeded Hartford, the league’s defending champion. “Anytime you get recognition like that, I think it speaks so highly of them.”
Horton emerged as UAlbany’s top all-around player this season, averaging a team-best 12.8 points per game, plus four assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 33.3 minutes. Before the season, Horton set the goal to become the league’s top defender.
“That’s just something I feel like I always did well,” Horton said of playing defense, “so why not try to be the best at it?”
Killings praised Horton for taking on the challenge of defending the opposing team’s top perimeter threat.
“That’s hard to do every night, but he does it — and he does it with passion,” Killings said. “He does it with some grit. He’s a competitive kid.”
So, too, is Cerruti, who played Division II basketball before averaging 11.2 points per game and making 45.4% of his 3-point attempts this season.
“It means a lot; something I could be proud of, for sure. … I always believed that I belonged at this level,” said Cerruti, who previously played at Lock Haven in Pennsylvania. “It just feels good to really come out and prove myself, and have [an all-conference honor] to back it up.”
Neely was named the league’s rookie of the week on six occasions, and averaged 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for the season. Meanwhile, Reddish averaged 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Killings said each of those freshmen “should be an all-league player” in the future for the Great Danes.
“So I think the future’s bright, in that respect,” Killings said.
Ryan Davis of top-seeded Vermont repeated as the league’s player of the year, while teammate Aaron Deloney was recognized as the conference’s top reserve. Vermont’s John Becker was named the league’s top coach.
Joining Davis on the league’s first team were Binghamton’s Jacob Falko, UMBC’s Keondre Kennedy, Vermont’s Ben Shungu and Hartford’s Austin Williams.
Isaiah Powell, a Vermont senior who played at Colonie High School, was recognized on the league’s third team.