University at Albany’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are both coming off one of the best seasons in the programs’ history.
But despite the fact that each team lost significant scoring punch and leadership, both figure to be in the mix for another America East Conference championship.
The UAlbany men (24-11), who lost their top two scorers from the 2011-12 campaign, surprised many by going 9-7 in conference play and then getting hot just at the right time in 2012-13. The unselfish and balanced Great Danes won the conference tournament — hosted by SEFCU Arena — and made their third appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The UAlbany women (27-4) were prohibitive favorites a year ago, and the Great Danes didn’t disappoint. They cruised through conference play with a 16-0 mark and also won the America East tournament for the second straight season to earn their second consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
But the men were hit hard by graduation. They lost point guard Mike Black (14.8 ppg, 84 assists), one of the team’s all-time leading scorers and playmakers, as well as second-leading scorer Jacob Iati (12.2 ppg), a three-point specialist (92 treys) who was also the team’s spiritual leader.
The women lost even more through graduation, as all-time leading scorer and America East Conference Player of the Year Ebone Henry (13.8 ppg), all-time leading rebounder Julie Forster (9.2 ppg, 8.4 rebounds per game), who is now playing professionally in Europe, and top perimeter shooter Lindsay Lowrie (10.5 ppg, 83 three-pointers) all moved on.
Despite the huge graduation losses by each team, Tuesday’s annual media day was upbeat.
“We’ll be good enough to win the America East Conference tournament by the end of the season,” said UAlbany men’s head coach Will Brown, who owns a 172-191 mark and is in his 13th season at UAlbany, making him the dean of conference coaches in terms of experience.
“I have high expectations for this team. We’ll be good enough to win the tournament, but we’ll have to figure out this team during our non-conference season and then fine-tune it through the conference season. We will have to get our rotations right and stay healthy.”
Brown expects his club to find its way eventually, despite losing more than 26 points a game in his backcourt.
“Each team has to create its own identity,” he said. “Last year, the guys embraced their roles. They didn’t
always like it, but they did what they had to do to help us win. It’s hard for a coach to be the only leader on the team. Last year, Jacob Iati stepped up and took on the role of leader. I think Luke Devlin will be a good leader for us. He might have to be a little more forceful, but he’s healthier now than he’s ever been.”
Devlin, a 6-foot-8 senior from Australia, averaged only 3.4 points a game in limited action last year because of injuries, but despite a knee injury back in May, he says he’s feeling great and ready to go.
Brown will need plenty of scoring from fellow Aussies 6-5 junior Sam Rowley (9.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and 6-4 sophomore Peter Hooley (8.0 ppg, 3.7 assists per game) to help fill the void left by Black and Iati.
John Puk (5.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), a mobile 6-10, 265-pound center, comes back for his senior season, and although he’s been inconsistent throughout his career, he can be a presence inside.
Brown plans to use 5-9 senior D.J. Evans, Hooley, 6-4 junior Anthony Odunsi and 6-1 sophomore Anders Hass, from Copenhagen, Denmark, at point guard, although Hass is such a good shooter that he may also play off the ball.
David Wiegmann, a 6-8 senior forward, has put on 20 pounds of muscle and was named one of the team captains. Brown said he is one of the Danes’ most improved players and will get some playing time at small forward.
“We will have a lot of depth up front this year,” said Brown.
“We will find a way to score and to win games,” said Devlin.
“My goal is another ring,” added Hooley. “Four rings in four years would be great.”
Meanwhile, the UAlbany women are proudly talking three-peat, despite the loss of their top three scorers and roughly 35 points per game.
“Last year’s team was all about our four seniors. It wasn’t about skill,” said UAlbany head women’s coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who has a 66-28 record in three years with the Great Danes.
“What we need this year is new leaders. More than the skill they brought was the leadership of players like Ebone, Julie, Lindsay and Key [Keyanna Williams].
“What we need is for our young players to mature quickly. I’ve already seen players like Sarah Royals and Megan Craig mature. Shereesha Richards has also matured
after just one season. We are just thinking about winning our first game, right now. Later on, we can think about some of the other things. We have a huge learning curve with this team.”
Both Craig, a 6-8 junior center from Whangarei, New Zealand, and Richards, a 6-1 sophomore forward from Oceanview, N.J., were named to the America East Conference preseason all-star team.
Richards scored 10.2 ppg and grabbed 8.4 rpg en route to being named the league’s rookie of the year. Although she came off the bench last year, she will start along with Craig, who also came off the bench despite putting up excellent numbers (10.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 28 blocked shots).
“We need Shereesha and Megan to start together this year, and one of the keys for us will be to get Megan to play more minutes,” said Abrahamson-Henderson, who also wants to get more scoring from junior point guard Royals (4.6 ppg, 3.7 assists).
“I’m ready to expand my role,” said Royals. “Last year, we had plenty of scorers, but if coach wants me to score more, I’m certainly capable. I think we can have another very good team this year.”