ALBANY — There was a point in the not-too-distant past when the UAlbany men’s basketball program appeared to have turned a corner in its months-long campaign to get itself healthy before America East Conference play starts in early January.
That’s when things reached a point that UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown ended early a practice session that consisted of more 5-on-0 work than 5-on-5 action for his team that's 6-6 on the season.
“Practice hurts us more than anything,” Brown said. “It’s counterproductive to continue to have guys playing out of position.”
Monday saw freshman Trey Hutcheson (ankle) and sophomore Antonio Rizzuto (Achilles) unable to practice, as well as walk-on junior Rian Carter (knee), who Brown said could be unavailable the rest of the season. Redshirt freshman Sam Shafer (shoulder) remained out. Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka (ankle) could only participate in non-contact work and redshirt junior Jojo Anderson continued to work back from his knee injury.
“So,” UAlbany senior Ahmad Clark said, “we didn’t do much competing.”
Hutcheson and Rizzuto are game-time decisions for Wednesday’s game at St. John’s, while it seems likely Lulka will play. Lulka continues to deal with an ankle sprain that cost him seven games earlier this season, and left him unavailable for the closing minutes of last Saturday’s win against Niagara. Brown said “the hope” is that Lulka is able to play against St. John’s and Saturday at Monmouth before taking several full days off from activity to allow the 6-foot-8 forward’s ankle additional recovery time.
Hutcheson injured his ankle late in UAlbany’s win against Niagara, but was able to finish the game after having his ankle re-taped. Rizzuto went through part of warm-ups before that game, but Brown said the sophomore told the coaching staff he wasn’t healthy enough to “help his team win.”
Brown said he appreciated Rizzuto’s honesty, especially considering the parents of the sophomore from York, Pennsylvania, had made the trip to see Saturday’s game.
“That means a lot to me as a coach because some kids will just go out there just because,” Brown said. “He thought about his team first.”
Clark and Hutcheson combined to sweep the America East Conference’s weekly awards Monday, as the senior was named the league’s player of the week and the freshman earned the league’s top rookie honors.
Clark scored 18.5 points per game during a 1-1 week for UAlbany that saw the senior guard star in Saturday’s 84-80 win against Niagara. In that comeback victory, Clark had 26 points, six rebounds and eight assists.
“This is what Ahmad’s capable of,” Brown said after that game. “You’re not going to see it every single night; it’s unrealistic to expect 26 [points] and eight [assists] every night. What we’re trying to eliminate is the 3 for 15 [shooting] nights with more turnovers than assists because, in my opinion, and he’ll agree with me, he’s too good for that.”
Hutcheson only had one point and seven rebounds in UAlbany’s loss last week at Boston College, but the freshman offered a career-high 18 points and the Great Danes’ late-game, go-ahead 3-point basket against Niagara. In that win, Hutcheson also had four assists.
Hutcheson, Brown said, first earned minutes this season because of his hustle and defensive ability. Going forward, Brown said Hutcheson needs to show more assertiveness on the offensive end of the court and become a more willing shooter.
“The sooner he forgets that he’s a freshman,” Brown said, “the sooner he’ll be really good.”
Brown said Anderson continues to make progress in his recovery from his Oct. 22 meniscectomy procedure on his left knee, and that the guard hasn’t had any setbacks since returning recently to practice for the Great Danes. Anderson participated in Monday’s abbreviated practice for the Great Danes, then did an individual on-court workout for 20 minutes with UAlbany assistant coach Josh Pelletier guiding him.
While positive steps have been made, Brown described Anderson as “frustrated” with his progress.
“I just think he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to get back because he really thinks he can help this team, and he really wants to help this team,” Brown said.
It’s possible, Brown said, that Anderson won’t be ready for his target debut game of this upcoming Saturday at Monmouth. If that’s the case, Brown said UAlbany will rework its timeline for Anderson, and will do so without any panic.
“My biggest thing,” Brown said, “is that his knee has responded [positively] to everything we’ve done.”