Nov. 8, 2011
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Ed DeChellis enters his first year as the Navy head coach with an interesting dynamic. He inherits nine returning players and just five that saw significant action from a 2010-11 squad that went 11-20 overall and 6-8 in the Patriot League standings, good for fourth place in the league race.
However, he welcomes the second-largest freshman class in the nation (10) and hopes that the group can provide immediate contributions as Navy looks to surge back to the top of the Patriot League and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
DeChellis has stressed four main areas in preseason workouts -- shooting, taking care of the ball, rebounding and defense -- areas that Navy struggled in last year. An improvement in all four categories could push Navy back into the Patriot League's elite teams.
The Mids shot just 39.3 percent from the field a year ago, a mark that ranked 320th (out of 336 teams) nationally and was the lowest percentage for a Navy team since 1954. Navy made just 29.4 percent from beyond the arc, the lowest mark in school history.
Turnovers were also an issue for the Mids in 2011. Even though the Mids ranked second nationally in turnovers forced (19.1) and 10th in turnover margin (+3.81), Navy ranked 291st in turnovers per game (15.3) and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.82, the second-lowest number in the Patriot League. Navy last had more assists than turnovers for an entire season in 1997.
Thirdly, DeChellis is looking for improvement on the glass. Navy was 333rd nationally (out of 336) in rebounding margin at minus-9.4, a school record for lowest rebounding margin. Navy outrebounded just five opponents last year, but did show signs of improvement late in the season, grabbing more boards than its opponents in three of the last six games.
Lastly, Navy is hoping to get back to its stingy ways on defense. Opponents averaged 72.7 points per game, ranking the Midshipmen 282nd nationally in scoring defense. Foes shot 44.4 against Navy to rank 240th in field goal percentage defense.
DeChellis must also find a way to replace three starters from last year's team in O.J. Avworo, Greg Brown and Romeo Garcia as well as 6-11 center Mark Veazey, who started his first three years at Navy. The quartet accounted for 83 starts, 896 points, 264 rebounds, 172 assists and 119 steals. During their four-year careers, the group played in 379 games with 262 career starts. All four of them scored over 450 career points.
The biggest question mark entering the season will be at the point guard position, where DeChellis needs to replace three-year starter O.J. Avworo. Avworo started 88-of-90 games played and finished his career ninth on the career assist list (388) and sixth on the single-season list (169) as a junior. In his three years during Patriot League play, Avworo averaged 4.6 assists per game in 42 games with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.81 (194-to-107).
DeChellis inherits a wealth of backcourt talent and brings in several talented newcomers that should be expected to compete right away for playing time.
Leading the way is senior team captain Jordan Sugars (6-3, 219). Sugars is already one of the most-accomplished guards in school history, becoming just the eighth player to score 1,000 points (currently with 1,015) by the end of his junior season and ranking fifth on the career three-pointers made list with 155. What sets Sugars apart is his rebounding ability, needing just 11 rebounds to become the ninth player in school history with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, something done by just eight previous Navy players and no one that stood 6-3 or shorter. Sugars also has the ability to post up and has worked hard on his inside game.
Sugars will be aided by classmate Ted Connolly, who could flourish under a new regime. The 6-2, 201-pound Pittsburgh native has played in 35 games during his career, showing glimpses of being a solid point guard, dishing out nine assists in 30 minutes in back-to-back contests against Towson and Long Island as a sophomore. Connolly is a physical, determined player that rarely makes a bad decision and is a solid defender.
A darkhorse candidate for playing time in the backcourt could be junior Jordan Brickman. Brickman was not a member of the squad his first two years at Navy, but has rejoined the team and gives the Mids another solid producer at the point guard spot. Despite not having played competitive basketball for two years, Brickman has shown that he may be able to contribute in 2011-12 and may be one of the most-skilled guards on the roster.
Four sophomores, Isaiah Roberts, Brennan Wyatt, Thurgood Wynn and Jacob Liebert, all provided depth and talent in the backcourt as freshman a year ago. Roberts (6-1, 175) was the most accomplished of the three, earning Patriot League All-Rookie Team accolades after starting 14 games and averaging 5.6 ppg a year ago. Roberts boasts great instincts and is a quick player that can get to the hole and finish. Roberts has worked on his ball-handling during the offseason in hopes that he may be able to slide over and play some point guard.
Wyatt, meanwhile, saw action in all 31 games with five starts as a freshman. He finished third on the team in assists (47), fourth in three-pointers made (15) and was one of six players to appear in all 31 games. Wyatt has improved on his quickness and outside shooting in the offseason and should benefit from another year in the system.
Wynn (6-3, 186) played in 25 games last winter and showed signs of being a strong offensive player. He tallied four points in just nine minutes against Towson, had four points and three assists in just seven minutes against Mercer and five points in games against Long Island and American. Wynn has gotten stronger since last year and should become another reliable option for DeChellis.
Liebert (6-3, 201) appeared in nine games last year and gives the Mids a smart player with a high basketball IQ that knows his strengths and knows how to play within himself.
Freshmen Kevin Alter, Wes Clark, Donya Jackson, Earl McLaurin, Chall Montgomery, Brandon Venturini and Jon Ward-Adams will also provide immediate contributions.
Alter (5-7, 145) was a late signee for the Mids last year, committing to the team in April, but he brings impressive credentials to the table despite his small stature. He led Rumson-Fair Haven High School (N.J.) to its first appearance in the Shore Conference Tournament final, while averaging 16.7 points, 6.9 assists and 3.3 steals per game and being named first-team all-state. He showed his worth late in the year, willing R-FH to the conference finals. A natural leader and good ball-handler, Alter will give the Mids depth at the point guard position.
Clark (6-0, 165) comes to Navy after spending the last season at NAPS and playing in one of the toughest leagues in the country while at the Governor's Academy (Mass.). He was one of the ISL leaders in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, three-point shooting and steals in both his junior and senior seasons. Clark can play either guard position and he will help provide backcourt depth.
Jackson (6-3, 212) comes to Navy after an impressive scholastic career at Calvert Hall College in Baltimore and a post-grad year at Mercersburg Academy. During his time at Calvert Hall, he was the two-time Baltimore Catholic League Player of the Year, leading Calvert Hall College to its first league title since 1997 while being named the 2010 Baltimore Catholic League Tournament MVP. During his time at Mercersburg Academy, he developed into a potent scorer, averaging 22.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 6.0 apg and 2.1 spg.
McLaurin (5-10, 167) spent last season at NAPS, but prior to that was the point guard on a Hopewell (N.C.) team that went 23-3 and was ranked third in North Carolina Class 4A during his senior year. Previously before attending Hopewell, he played at Charlotte Country Day where he set school recordsin career assists (453) and single-season assists (176) and tallied his 1,000th career point as a senior at Hopewell. McLaurin is a deceptive left-hander that is a very good passer and ball-handler and with improved shooting skills and defense, could see action as a freshman.
Montgomery (6-2, 190) also spent last year at Mercersburg Academy after an outstanding high school career at Cleveland Central Catholic where he led the team to the 2009 Ohio State Division III Championship. An explosive athlete, Montgomery averaged 21.6 points per game at Mercersburg and went over 30 points three times during the year. If he can adjust to the speed and pace of the college game, he could have a strong season for the Midshipmen.
Venturini (6-0, 177) showed great improvement from his junior to senior year in high school and continued that improvement at the Naval Academy Prep School last year. As a senior at Allendale High School (Mich.) in 2010, Venturini was named to the Western Michigan Dream Team, was a first-team Class B All-State honoree and was named Academic All-State after averaging 26.6 ppg, five asists, five rebounds and four steals. One of the top shooters on the team, Venturini will help the Midshipmen in improving an area that was lacking last year.
Ward-Adams (5-11, 169) will also provide depth at the point guard position and could slide over to the two-guard if needed. He spent the last season at the Kiski School (Pa.) after a standout career while playing for his father at Center Moriches High School (N.Y.). He led Center Moriches to three Class B Suffolk County Championships and was an all-state and All-Long Island selection, while being the co-Long Island Player of the Year in 2009. He ended his career as Center Moriches' career-leading scorer and averaged 23.5 ppg, 9.3 apg and 4.3 rpg as a junior and over 21 points a game as a senior.
Despite having a plethora of guard options in the backcourt, the frontcourt is inexperienced but talented. Just three players return that have experience with two of them being sophomores and the other is a senior that has played just 93 minutes in the last two seasons.
Carlton Smith (6-6, 219) is that senior mentioned above. A fantastic athlete and a strong shot-blocker, Smith is looking to provide some offensive punch during his senior season. He enters the year shooting over 60.0 percent from the field for his career, but is coming off a season in which he played just 17 minutes. DeChellis is hoping that Smith can provide some much-needed frontcourt depth during his senior campaign.
J.J. Avila (6-7, 246) had a sensational freshman season that was capped off by being named the Patriot League Rookie of the Year. He was one of four freshmen nationally to average 10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 2.0 apg and the first Navy freshman to reach those marks. He ranked second on the team in scoring (11.5), rpg (5.3) and apg (2.4) in addition to making 53 three-pointers. In league play, he upped those marks to 13.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 2.6 apg. Avila also improved defensively as the year went on, proving he could play solid interior defense thanks to his strength. DeChellis is hoping for the same kind of production from Avila this year that he produced last year.
James Loupos (6-6, 192) appeared in 30 games for the Midshipmen last year, drawing starts both early and late in the season. He averaged 2.9 ppg and 1.3 rpg, but did a lot of little things well, starting five of the last six games of the season. A strong, smart defender, Loupos has worked on his offensive game and will be counted on for more offensive spark in the 2011-12 season.
Tre McNeil (6-5, 188) arrives at Navy after spending a year at NAPS and a solid high school career at Converse Judson High School in San Antonio. During his final two seasons there, he helped the team to a 69-9 overall record in Texas' largest class. McNeil is an athletic player and a strong defender. If he can improve his offensive game, he will give the Mids some scoring punch off the bench.
(6-6, 196) comes to Navy from Charlotte Christian High School after an outstanding high school career. An athletic, two-way player that averaged about 10.0 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game and over a block per game as a senior, Smith has overcome a slew of injuries during his career and is now 100 percent healthy. He led his team to a runner-up finish in the Gonzaga DC Classic played in American's Bender Arena in early December and played in post-season All-Star games in the basketball-rich state of North Carolina. A good shooter that can take the ball to the hole, Smith should see immediate playing time in the frontcourt.
The last piece to the interior puzzle is also the biggest in Jared Smoot (6-10, 244). Smoot comes to Navy from Crown Point, Ind., where he helped the Bulldogs to an to 18-4 record and a state top-15 ranking as a senior. Smoot was a late bloomer, not picking up a basketball until he was a 6-5 seventh-grader, but drew offers from Brown, Ball State, Cornell and Evansville, and was contacted by several high-level BCS schools including Minnesota, Purdue, BYU and Butler. An exceptional athlete that boasts the wingspan of a person standing 7-4, Smoot can run the floor on the offensive end and rebound and block shots on the defensive end. Still unpolished on the offensive end, any improvement on the offensive side of the court could mean big things for the man in the middle.
Navy won't ease into its 2011-12 schedule as it will play eight of its first 12 games on the road. The Mids open the year on the road against Longwood and will also face Siena, Quinnipiac, Albany, Md.-Eastern Shore, Elon, Missouri and Presbyterian away from Annapolis before Christmas. The Mids will close out non-conference play with two straight home games spanning the new year, the only time it will have a homestand during non-Patriot League action.
The non-conference home games include Tulane, Mount St. Mary's, Monmouth, Norfolk State, Mercer and the home opener on Nov. 13 against Penn State-Altoona. Navy will open Patriot League play at home against Lafayette on Jan. 7, starting Patriot League play against someone other than Bucknell for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign.
# GO NAVY #