Nov. 10, 2008
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Four years ago when Billy Lange was hired as the head coach of the Navy men's basketball program, he took over a program that had won 23 games in the previous three years and finished no better than seventh in the Patriot League.
Now in his fifth year, the question heading into the season is whether or not the rebuilding project is complete and if the Midshipmen can stay as a permanent fixture atop the Patriot League standings.
Looking on paper, conventional wisdom says that the Mids will once again be a player in the Patriot League, just as they have done so many times in the past.
The reason for optimism stems from the fact that Lange will welcome back four starters, seven returning letterwinners and seven of the top eight scorers from last year's team that surprised nearly everyone by winning 13 of its last 19 games to post a 16-14 overall record and a 9-5 Patriot League mark, good for second place in the league standings.
However, last year left a bitter taste in the mouths of Navy players, falling in triple-overtime to Bucknell in the Patriot League Quarterfinals and losing to Colgate on the last day of the regular season that would have given the Mids the Patriot League crown.
There is also the question about how to replace All-American guard Greg Sprink, who left the Academy as the school's third-leading all-time scorer after averaging 21.8 points per game a year ago.
But Lange feels the pieces are in place for another solid season, and hopes that the Mids can repeat, if not surpass, last year's success.
The Mids have the ability to play three point guards at once, and it appears the probable starting lineup will look that way.
Sophomore O.J. Avworo will likely be the starter at the point guard position. Avworo, who sat out last year after transferring from the University of Idaho, will give the Mids a prototypical point guard for the first time since Reggie Skipworth ran the position in 2001.
Avworo is an excellent penetrator and passer that will free up Navy's outside shooters. In addition, he brings great defensive intensity to the game and spent extra time last year at practice working on his own outside game. Avworo started 24 games at Idaho as a freshman and boasted a strong 1.30 (95-to-73) assist-to-turnover ratio, while dishing out over three assists per game.
Should Avworo need a break, Lange has the option to play Chris Harris, last year's starter at the position, or Kaleo Kina, who started his freshman year at the point. Nevertheless, Lange will have the luxury of having three experienced point guards at his disposal.
Freshman Ted Connolly will also give the Mids some depth and will likely gain his experience by running the scout team in practice.Shooting Guard
Lange is stocked at shooting guard and it should be considered one of the team's strengths in 2007-08.
Chris Harris, a second-team all-Patriot League selection a year ago, returns after a stellar sophomore season. Harris has added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame and will likely move over to his more-natural off-guard position after running the point last year. Harris averaged 14.5 ppg, 3.7 apg and almost two steals a game, while making 41.7 percent of his 218 three-point attempts. He was the only player in the Patriot League to rank in the top 10 of eight different statistical categories.
With Avworo running the point, it will allow Harris more open looks from the outside. Many times last year, Harris was forced to create his own shot, and with defenses forced to collapse on Avworo, Harris could be the big beneficiary of Avworo's distribution.
Several other players can play the position and there may not be much of a drop-off, depending on the situation.
Senior Kaleo Kina, sophomore Greg Brown and freshman Jordan Sugars could also play the position if needed.
Brown is an extremely athletic player that showed some ability last year. He was slowed all summer by an ankle injury, but is finally 100 percent and will give the Mids a boost off the bench. At times a year ago, he played too fast and out of control. Now a year older, Brown has shown the maturity, development and experience that will allow him to let the game come to him and flourish in Lange's high-tempo offense.
Interchangable with the shooting guard position, this position is also among the deepest on the squad.
Senior four-year starter Kaleo Kina will likely hold down this spot. Kina enters his senior season with 987 career points after averaging 14.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 apg and 1.8 spg a year ago. He became just the second player in Navy history to score 400 points, grab 100 rebounds and dish out 100 assists in a season, joining Kylor Whitaker (1985).
Kina scored at least 10 points 22 different times last year and torched Bucknell in three meetings with the Bison, averaging 21.3 ppg. Kina has turned into a fantastic all-around player and ranks in the career top 10 in steals (4th; 142) and assists (9th; 279).
Classmate Clif Colbert joins Kina in the backcourt after a strong junior season. Colbert missed 11 games with a broken wrist suffered against Texas-San Antonio on Jan. 17, but still managed to average 5.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg and 1.5 spg in just 13.3 minutes per game.
Colbert had several big moments last year, including a game-winning jumper with just 0.4 seconds left in an 82-80 win over Lafayette, a game in which he went 7-of-8 from the field for a season-high 18 points.
The senior duo will be aided by freshman Jordan Sugars. Sugars has had an outstanding fall camp and does a lot of things well. He is a very diverse and mature player for his age that will be able to play both inside and out.
In Navy's traditional four-guard lineup, a player may be forced to play out of position at the power forward spot. However, the Mids have a variety of options here and all four players are experienced and bring something unique to the table.
Sophomore Romeo Garcia returns after starting at the power forward position a year ago as a 6-4, 200-pound freshman. All Garcia did was record one of the top statistical seasons by a freshman in school history as he became one of two Navy freshmen ever to score 100 points, grab 100 rebounds, dish out 30 assists and grab 25 steals. He also blocked 17 shots, the most for a Navy player in school history that stood 6-5 or shorter.
Garcia showed his versatility several times last year. In a game against NJIT in early January, the Highlanders' 6-11 center Nesho Milosevic torched the Mids for 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first half. After switching Garcia to play Milosevic in the second half, he scored just six points on 2-of-3 shooting.
In the next game against Longwood, Garcia dominated the contest by scoring just two points. He tallied 10 rebounds and two blocked shots while holding Longwood's leading scorer at just over 17 points per game, Kirk Williams, to 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Senior Adam Teague, who is considered one of the top bench players in the Patriot League and is the team captain this year, can also play the small forward position. The senior from Hickory, N.C., is one of the school's top three-point shooters, ranking high on the career three-pointers made list (10th; 114) and three-point percentage (7th; .371).
Teague averaged 6.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 1.1 apg a year ago. He had a monster outing against Army in the Star Game, recording his first career double-double (18 pts., 11 rebs.) while being named CBS Sports' Player of the Game. While playing center for most of the second half against the Black Knights, Teague's defense on Army center Doug Williams was a big reason the Mids rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit for victory.
Senior Brian Richards will also see time at the position. One of the top offensive rebounders in the Patriot League, Richards struggled with injuries during the second half of the year last year. Fully healed, Richards will give the Mids a physical presence inside and help Navy's rebounding immensely.
Lastly, junior T.J. Topercer had a stellar offseason and will give the Mids more depth inside. A versatile player, Topercer can step out and hit the outside shot and plays solid post defense as well. Topercer has great instincts as evidenced by his five drawn charges in 136 minutes last year.
Navy will be relatively inexperienced at the center position, but will have talent.
Sophomore Mark Veazey was the starter last year, blocking a Navy-freshman record 38 shots and giving the Mids another defensive presence in the middle. However, over the offseason, Veazey has worked on getting stronger with the ball and he added almost 20 pounds of muscle to his frame. Veazey will be much improved offensively and will be looked upon for more offensive production.
Helping him out will be classmate Jeremy Wilson. Wilson played in just nine games last year, but that number figures to increase. Wilson spent nearly the entire summer in Annapolis working out and has improved on both ends, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Both Veazey and Wilson stand 6-10 or taller and will give the Mids a solid 1-2 punch in the middle.
The darkhorse of the group is junior Scott Brooks. An athletic player that can play all five positions, Brooks will see some time at center, as well as small forward and power forward. Standing just 6-6, Lange thinks Brooks can provide mismatches at both ends with his versatility and athleticism. Brooks has gotten stronger and has the body and maturity to match up with anyone inside or out.
Navy Finds Success Behind the Arc
Since Billy Lange arrived in Annapolis prior to the 2004-05 season, Navy has been one of the top teams in the country from behind the arc. Over the last four years, Navy has increased its three-pointer total, setting school records last year for three-pointers made and attempted.
Last season, Navy finished 21st nationally in three-pointers made (288) and 14th in attempts (820).
In addition, Navy made at least 10 three-pointers 15 times in 2008, and 13 of the 18 occurrences of 13 three-pointers or more in a gaame have come under Lange.
In 2005, eight different players made three-pointers, and four players recorded at least 29 three-pointers.
In 2006, eight players netted three-pointers and six players connected on at least 17 three-pointers.
In 2007, 10 different players connected on three-pointers, with nine of them reaching double-digits. The nine players to make at least 10 three-pointers were tied for the most in the country, and the eight players to hit three-pointers against Brown was one shy of the NCAA record.
Last year, Lange saw 11 players make three-pointers, with four making at least 44. Navy was one of four schools nationally to have four players make at least 40 three-pointers.
Freshmen See Time Under Lange
Head coach Billy Lange hasn't been shy about starting freshmen during his first four years at Navy. With Jordan Sugars and Ted Connolly arriving last summer, the trend could continue in 2009.
In Lange's 116 games at Navy, at least one freshman has been in the starting lineup 111 times. Two freshmen have started the same game 62 times, and three freshmen have started 16 times.
Freshmen have earned spots on the Patriot League all-rookie team five times. Corey Johnson and Greg Sprink (2005), Kaleo Kina (2006), Trey Stanton (2007) and Romeo Garcia (2008) all earned spots on the squad.
During Lange's tenure, freshmen have contributed 61.0 minutes per game and 18.2 points per game. The average freshman has played 13.6 minutes per game.
Kina Set to Join Elite Company
Kaleo Kina is about to join some elite company both on the Navy level and Patriot League level.
Kina needs just 13 points to become the 18th player in school history to score 1,000 points. With the 13 points, Kina would also become the seventh player in school history with 1,000 points and 250 assists. He currently has 987 points and 279 assists.
If Kina were to reach 400 assists (needing 121), he would become the third Navy player (Kylor Whitaker and Rob Romaine) to score 1,000 points with 400 assists. Kina needs 21 assists to become the 24th player in Patriot League history with 300 career dimes.
Kina ranks fourth already on the Navy career steals list and needs 57 to tie Chris Williams for the top spot with 209. Kina needs just eight steals to become the 20th player in Patriot League history with 150 career steals.
Once Kina hits the 1,000-point / 300-assist / 150-steal plateaus, he will become the seventh player in Patriot League history to reach those marks.
Lange Signs Five-Year Extension
Navy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk announced on March 12, 2008, that the Naval Academy Athletic Association extended the contract of 2007-08 Patriot League Men's Basketball Coach of the Year Billy Lange through the 2012-13 season.
Lange led the Midshipmen to a 16-14 record and a 9-5 Patriot League record, good for a second-place finish in the regular-season standings. The Mids, which were picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll, played an exciting brand of basketball, leading the league in scoring, three-pointers made per game, free throw percentage and turnovers forced.
Ginyard Joins Basketball Staff
Ron Ginyard joined the program's staff as an assistant coach in June. Ginyard comes to Navy after spending one year in the same capacity at The Citadel. The Citadel went 6-24 a year ago, but boasted the nation's youngest lineup with 14 freshmen on its roster.
Ginyard replaces Matt Sladky, who left to pursue other career opportunities.
Success at the Ticket Window
Navy averaged 3,083 fans during its Patriot League season a year ago, to rank second behind Bucknell (3,584). The NAAA made a decision prior to the year to move all its games to 7:00 pm, and the results were outstanding. Navy drew over 3,000 fans in four of its seven home league games and had at least 2,135 fans for the other three games.
In addition, the crowd of 5,710 against Army on Jan. 27, 2008, was the second-largest on-campus crowd in league history, behind just the 6,310 that filled Alumni Hall on Jan. 21, 1995.
Navy Stock Tips
Navy enters the season having made at least one three-pointer in 154 straight games, dating back to Feb. 21, 2003 (Colgate).
Navy has made at least three three-pointers in 104 straight games, dating back to Jan. 3, 2005 (Air Force).
Navy hs made at least five three-pointers in 20 straight games, dating back to Dec. 3, 2007 (Mount St. Mary's).
Navy is 20-14 under Lange when making at least 10 three-pointers in a game, including 9-6 a year ago.
Navy went 0-2 in overtime games last year. Entering last season, Navy had been 4-2 under Billy Lange and had won four straight overtime games.
The Mids went just 3-6 in games decided by five points or less, but went 13-8 in games decided by six or more points. Navy was 9-3 in games decided by 11 or more points.
The Mids went just 8-10 in games when leading at halftime last year. Navy was 8-4 when trailing or tied at halftime.
Navy is 36-11 under Lange when leading with 10 minutes left. The Mids went 5-11 last year when trailing with 10 minutes to play.
The Mids are 45-5 under Lange when leading with five minutes to play. Entering last year, Navy was 29-3, and went 16-2 a year ago.
The Mids are 31-8 under Lange when shooting a better percentage from the field than their opponent.
Navy is 31-7 under coach Lange when shooting more free throws than its opponent.
Despite all the three-point success, Navy went 1-8 a year ago when attempting 30 or more three-pointers.
Navy was 8-2 last year when scoring more than 80 points, with both of the losses coming in overtime. The Mids are 20-5 under Lange when reaching 80 points.
Navy went 0-6 a year ago when scoring 69 or fewer points. Navy is 8-34 under Lange when scoring 0-69 points.
# GO NAVY #