Make no bones about it. This is Mike Black’s team.
Although the University at Albany
senior point guard started as a freshman, he deferred to Will Harris and Tim Ambrose, the Great Danes’ top two scorers.
A year later, Black was still a starter in the backcourt, but Ambrose was the still the big gun, and Black stayed in the background as a distributor.
Last season, Gerardo Suerro transferred into the program, and became the nation’s seventh-leading scorer, with Logan Aronhalt as the No. 2 scoring option. Both players left the team a year early, with Suerro going pro and Aronhalt transferring to Maryland to attend graduate school.
Black is now running the show by himself.
“It’s a great feeling. Every player wants to be the main option on offense, but it’s a lot of responsibility,” said Black at the team’s annual media day at SEFCU Arena’s Hall of Fame Room.
Will Black, the team’s only double-digit scorer returning at 13.4 ppg, have difficulty deciding when to score and when to set up the rest of his teammates?
“I’ve got a feel for the game, and we’ve still got a lot of good shooters on this team,” said Black. “I’m pretty good at driving the lane and kicking out to open jump shooters. I can dish and score. It will depend on how the game is going whether I decide to shoot more or pass more.”
Black said this year’s UAlbany team, devoid of its top two scoring options, will be better because it will concentrate more on defense.
“Coach [Will Brown] says that a team goes as its point guard goes, and I want to play hard defense,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of different guys who can score, and we will play more as a team this year.”
Senior Blake Metcalf, who will play both forward and center this year, agrees that defense will be the key for the Great Danes, who finished 19-15 a year ago and lost their America East Conference tournament semifinal to Stony Brook on a last-second shot.
“We will be a lot more defensive-minded, and we will bring that mentality to practice every day,” he said. “I think our defense will provide a lot of our offense so that we won’t have to play a lot of halfcourt sets. We will also be a tougher team and more competitive, because hard defense goes along with toughness.”
Metcalf said the Danes have only one expectation for the season, to win the championship.
“We know it will be hard, but there’s no reason to think we can’t win the title,” he said.
The UAlbany women, who posted a 14-2 conference record and a 23-10 mark overall, are confident as they try to repeat their first America East Conference tournament title and inaugural trip to the NCAA tourney.
“We know that we have targets on our backs,” said co-captain Ebone Henry, a two-time America East Conference Defensive Player of the Year. “No team will take us lightly this year.
“It feels kind of crazy, but it seems like just yesterday when nobody expected us to win, and now everybody expects us to win,” she said.
Henry said this year’s group
understands head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s philosophy.
“We know what she expects now,” Henry said. “The thing that is different about this year’s group is that we are all mentally tougher, and we are teaching the incoming freshmen how to be that tough. Coach doesn’t have to step in as much now, because the team’s leaders are doing that for her.”
The Great Danes will be paced by Henry (14.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and fellow senior Julie Forster, who has led the conference in rebounding for the last three seasons.
Other key players include three-point specialist Lindsey Lowrie (55 treys) and 6-foot-8 sophomore center Megan Craig.
“Megan is disruptive. You just can’t guard her,” said Abrahamson-Henderson. “And Ebone’s mentality is like mine when I played.”
The Great Danes were picked No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll, a fact that could put more pressure on some teams.
“We take it as an honor,” said Forster. “For us seniors to come in as freshmen and be picked ninth, and then to be picked seventh, and now to be picked No. 1 is an honor.
“It really doesn’t matter, though, who they pick as No. 1, because it’s a long season. The good thing is that it gave us confidence. We know that if we put in all the hard work, it will pay off, because it did pay off for us last year.”