ALBANY — An offseason ago, there were problems to deal with for the University at Albany men’s basketball program.
The not-good kind.
“We have good problems to have,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said earlier this week.
A year ago at this time, the Great Danes were still figuring out ways to move forward after seeing eight players leave the program because of either graduation or transfer, including the unexpected departures of stars Joe Cremo and David Nichols as graduate transfers.
“Last summer, it was just the great unknown for us because we’d lost our two most talented players and we were trying to figure out which guys in our program could step up,” said Brown, whose team started its on-campus summer workouts earlier this month. “We didn’t have that one guy that we felt could replace each one. It was going to have to be a collective effort, and you didn’t know which guys were ready to help immediately.”
UAlbany ended up with a 12-20 mark during the 2018-19 season, but the Great Danes were able to use that campaign to start to rebuild itself. UAlbany ended the season starting five freshmen, and was able to add several talented newcomers to the program heading into next season.
“And we’re more experienced now,” said UAlbany senior Ahmad Clark, a third-team all-conference pick last season in the America East Conference. “We know what Coach wants us to do, and what we need to do better. This summer, we know what we need to work on and what we need to do to be successful.”
That wasn’t always the case last season when UAlbany relied so heavily on players competing at the college level for the first time.
“The biggest thing for me from last year is I learned how hard it is — how difficult it is — to win consistently playing college basketball,” UAlbany redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka said. “Every team you play is a good team. Every team can win on any given night.”
UAlbany will be better-equipped to win on any given night when its 2019-20 season gets started in November. Each member of last season’s campaign-ending starting group of Malachi de Sousa, Brent Hank, Cameron Healy, Lulka and Antonio Rizzuto returns with experience they didn’t have a season ago, and the same goes for Clark who only played spot minutes before last season. UAlbany also brings back scholarship bigs in Sasha French and Kendall Lauderdale.
Additionally, UAlbany brought in freshmen Mitch Doherty and Trey Hutcheson, as well as transfers Jojo Anderson, Romani Hansen and Sam Shafer.
UAlbany is still waiting to find out if Shafer will be eligible to play this season after transferring, and Hutcheson — a wing player — needs to contend with several more experienced players ahead of him on the depth chart. Brown, though, seemed optimistic that Anderson, Doherty and Hansen could all contribute right away for the Great Danes. Brown called the 6-foot-7 Doherty “the best passer we have,” said the 6-foot-8 Hansen’s athleticism and length will add a lot to UAlbany’s frontcourt depth, and likes how the 6-foot-3 Anderson “brings a different dimension” to UAlbany’s backcourt with his playmaking ability.
To conclude UAlbany’s summer session, Brown said he is “90%” sure the Great Danes will head to Canada for a five-exhibition-games-in-six-days stretch in mid-August. If UAlbany does go ahead with that plan, the Great Danes will be allowed 10 full practices in addition to the eight hours per week of work they’re allowed under NCAA rules this summer.
“They need to serve a purpose, but I don’t want those practices to feel like we’re in season already,” Brown said. “But we also have to be productive with what we do.”
Already, though, UAlbany appears on track for a more productive season in 2019-20.
“We’re in a much better place now, as far as with experience and talent, than we were a year ago,” Brown said.