ALBANY — Back in the summer, University at Albany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown wasn’t sure if he wanted to carry a second walk-on player. He’d had conversations with Rian Carter, a Rochester native who played two seasons of junior-college basketball, but didn’t finalize the decision to extend the invitation for the guard to join the program until after the Great Danes’ August trip to Canada for a series of exhibition games.
“I looked at our roster and we don’t have a lot of perimeter guys,” Brown said after Thursday’s practice at SEFCU Arena. “So if we do have an injury, I thought — potentially — he could be valuable in that regard.”
And . . . yeah, one week into its preseason, UAlbany does have some injuries.
Like, enough to fill out a lineup.
“That’s part of the game,” said UAlbany redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka, who dealt with shin splints during the summer. “Unfortunately, guys get hurt.”
They do, and they did, so the Great Danes found themselves Thursday scrimmaging with eight scholarship players plus walk-on players Carter and Nick Fruscio at the end of their practice. Senior Kendall Lauderdale (foot) was hurt during the workout, while prior injuries to redshirt junior Jojo Anderson (knee), freshman Trey Hutcheson (finger), sophomore Antonio Rizzuto (hip flexor) and redshirt freshman Sam Shafer (groin) kept them from fully participating in the workout.
Among those five players, Brown said he expects Lauderdale, Rizzuto and Shafer all to return within a week from relatively minor injuries without much issue. Meanwhile, Anderson has meniscus surgery set for Oct. 22 and his status for the 2019-20 season won’t be known until after his procedure, and Hutcheson tore tendons in a finger on his left hand and needs to wear a brace on his injured finger for nine weeks. Brown said Hutcheson “can try to” play as soon as this weekend “as long as the brace doesn’t bother him."
So, quickly, it’s become a positive development for UAlbany that Carter — a Bishop Kearney High School product — is around. Nobody is happier, though, than Carter that he’s with the Great Danes.
“Being here, competing every day, that’s a dream come true,” Carter said.
A 6-foot-1 guard with ample quickness, Carter held a number of offers to play Division II basketball after averaging 16.4 points per game last season for Colby Community College in Kansas. He wanted to play Division I basketball, though, and opted for the chance to serve as a walk-on player at UAlbany.
“I just know I can compete at the Division I level,” Carter said.
To this point, Carter has served as a solid defender against UAlbany senior Ahmad Clark — “I’m glad he’s here,” Clark said — and has shown an ability to make plays for himself and others within the half-court.
“He’s a lot better than I had anticipated,” Brown said.
In all likelihood, that won’t translate into consistent minutes for Carter during the regular season. Brown said he’s already spoken with Carter about the potential for the player to redshirt this season if there isn’t a role for him, which would keep Carter from losing a season of playing eligibility.
“Four years goes by quick,” Brown said. “He’s like any other kid. He wants to play.”
Previously, Brown said Lulka had improved his shooting range, and the 6-foot-8 forward showed that during Thursday’s scrimmaging a few times with makes from the perimeter.
“Last year, I didn’t shoot that well,” Lulka said. “During the spring and summer, I worked on it a lot. Just getting my confidence back up to shoot more.”
Lulka — who has gained 10 pounds since the end of last season and weighs approximately 250 pounds — averaged 8.7 points and 6.4 rebounds as a redshirt freshman. He shot 55.5% overall from the field, but only made 11 of 38 shots from 3-point territory.