No, this is not the Australian National Team.
But if the University at Albany men’s basketball team expects to duplicate last year’s NCAA tournament run, it will depend heavily on a trio of players from “Down Under.”
Senior Luke Devlin, junior Sam Rowley and sophomore Peter Hooley will be the nucleus of a team that UAlbany head coach Will Brown expects to be a title contender once again. The Great Danes, 24-11 overall and the first fourth-place finisher to win the league tournament crown a year ago, begin their season against local archrival Siena Friday at the Times Union Center.
Despite losing the team’s top two scorers in graduated seniors Mike Black (14.8 ppg) and Jacob Iati (12.2 ppg), the Great Danes are confident.
“We’ll be good enough to win the conference tournament, but in our non-conference games, we will have to figure things out,” said Brown, who is the longest-tenured coach in the league with a 172-191 record in 12 seasons. “We will need to find our rotations, and stay healthy.”
There probably will be an Aussie in the lineup most of the time, with Rowley and Hooley likely starters.
Devlin will be a captain for the third consecutive season, and he is finally healthy after injury-plagued sophomore and junior campaigns. He was one of the conference’s leading players as a freshman, when he averaged 7.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
“I’m an easy-going guy, but I’m a leader,” said Devlin, a 6-foot-8, 230-pounder who was 6-for-6 from the floor in last year’s America East tournament championship game. “Even though I had a dislocated kneecap right after the season last May, I’m feeling great right now. I’m very excited about this season, and our goal is to win the America East title again.”
Rowley was one of the team’s biggest surprises a year ago. The 6-5 former rugby player averaged 9.0 points and a team-best 6.2 rebounds per game. Over his last five games, he really stepped up on the offensive end, producing 14.2 points per contest.
“We are a very unselfish team,” said Rowley. “It really doesn’t matter who scores points on this team. Last year, we lost our top two scorers, and everybody was worried where all the points would come from. This year, they are saying the same thing. We just need to find our identity as a team.”
The 6-4 swingman Hooley, who scored eight points a contest, elevated his game as a starter, producing 10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He can play both point guard and shooting guard.
“Every team needs a leader, and we have four of them,” said Hooley. “We will find a way to score on this team. I’m expecting big things from Sam this year, and Luke is finally healthy. I want another [championship] ring. I have a chance to win four of them before I’m done.”
The Great Danes also have a solid, although inconsistent, big man in 6-10 senior center John Puk, who averaged 5.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. When he stays out of foul trouble, he can be both a competent scorer and shot blocker. When he played at least 20 minutes, he produced eight points and nearly five rebounds a game.
D.J. Evans, a 5-9 senior, will get time at point guard despite his limited role a year ago (10 minutes per game).
One of the team’s most improved players is 6-8 senior forward David Wiegman.
“I made Dave one of our captains. He’s been unbelievable in practice,” said Brown of the 220-pounder from Southwest Illinois.
Newcomers will get plenty of playing time. Keeping with the Great Danes’ recent international theme, the Great Danes signed 6-8, 230-pound freshman Mike Rowley, the younger brother of Sam, as well as 6-1 sophomore guard Anders Haas, from Copenhagen, Denmark; and 6-9, 250-pound junior Levan Shengelia, a University of Rhode Island transfer originally from Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.
Rowley is another strong rebounder, while Haas is a deft outside shooter. Shengelia brings size, strength and major-college experience to the frontcourt.
“Levan is a big, physical power forward who plays extremely hard. His knee is finally healthy, and I am confident that he will bring immediate rebounding and low-post scoring to our program,” said Brown. “His experience of playing at the Atlantic-10 level and internationally, combined with his physical presence, will allow for a smooth transition to Albany and the America East. He will benefit greatly this season from playing for Coach Tra Arnold at Odessa on a team loaded with D1 talent.”
Also on the UAlbany roster are senior Gary Johnson, who was productive as an athletic 6-6 forward late in the year, and newcomers Ede Egharevba, a 6-6 sophomore, and Dallas Ennema, a 6-6 freshman.
Friday — vs. Siena at Times Union Center, 7; 12 — NJIT, 7; 16 — at Quinnipiac, 2; 20 — at Duquesne, 7; 23 — BUCKNELL, 7; 26 — at Rider, 7.
1 — at NJIT, 2; 4 — at Holy Cross, 7; 10 — at Brown, 7; 14 — COLGATE, 7; 20 — YALE, 7; 23 — at Drake, 7; 31 — at Pittsburgh, 1.
4 — HARTFORD, 7; 8 — UMBC, 7; 11 — at Vermont, 7; 15 — at UMass-Lowell, 7; 18 — at Maine, 2; 20 — BINGHAMTON, 7; 23 — at New Hampshire, 7; 29 — STONY BROOK, 7.
1 — VERMONT, 7:30; 5 — UMASS-LOWELL, 7; 8 — at Hartford, 7; 12 — at UMBC, 7; 15 — MAINE, 2; 19 — at Binghamton, 7; 27 — NEW HAMPSHIRE, 7.
2 — at Stony Brook, 2.
Home games in CAPS.