The rebuilding process for Fordham basketball under head coach Tom Pecora has been a slow one.
Pecora, who left a 21-win Hofstra team to take over at Fordham in 2010, inherited a squad that had gone 2-26 while not winning a single A-10 conference game the season before.
In his first season at the helm, the Rams were only slightly better, going 7-21, while winning their final A-10 matchup at home against UMass to snap a 41-game A-10 losing streak.
Fast forward to today, and it may seem as if the Rams have seen little improvement over nearly the three season stretch. They sit on the edge of relevance in 14th place in the A-10 with a 6-18 overall record.
Even with the continued futility, the fact of the matter is that Fordham has grown exponentially as a program in Pecora’s short tenure.
Pecora is known as one of the best recruiters around. As a coach at Hofstra, he brought in and developed one of the programs greatest talents in Charles Jenkins. Jenkins amassed over 2,000 career points before being drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 2011.
That same type of talent has slowly been making its way to the Bronx in the form a lot of highly rated underclassmen. Twelve of the 15 players on the current roster are freshmen and sophomores. That’s not too different from the year that Fordham only won two games. In that season, the Rams featured a roster that was over half freshmen.
The young talent that Pecora has featured the past two seasons is infusing a new type of youth to Rose Hill Gym. While this team may lack refined skills, they certainly do not lack talent.
That was not for the case in the aforementioned 2009-2010 team. Of the eight freshmen on that team, only one is still on the current roster as a senior. That’s Chris Gaston, who was named pre-season all-conference.
Gaston has been the leader behind Fordham’s resurgence. He has been the centerpiece with which Pecora has used to build a program around. Although he may never even get the opportunity to play in an Atlantic-10 conference tournament game, it’s likely because of him that younger guys, like junior Branden Frazier and sophomore Ryan Canty, saw enough promise in this program to come and play at Fordham.
One of the side effects of youth is inconsistency. That has been truly evident in the big difference in how Fordham plays on the road and at home. In Pecora’s first season the Rams overcame a 21 point second-half deficit to beat Big East rival St. John’s 84-81 at Rose Hill Gym. Last season the Rams were 9-6 at home and defeated then No. 21 ranked Harvard at home as well as Georgia Tech. Inside Rose Hill Gym during Pecora’s tenure, the Rams are 19-20. (He often states how he hates losing at home in post game press conferences.) In opposing arena’s, they are an atrocious 2-35.
Numbers like that is what makes fans think that this program is stagnant as opposed to moving forward. Futility and youth are not the same. The foundation that Fordham has built can be seen in the way that they play at home. The hope is that it can translate into consistency on the road as well.
The 2012-2013 has taken a hit due to injuries to Gaston. Their star forward has missed 12 games this year, and that number is growing. (Though he’s expected to return on Saturday against Butler.) Gaston is a force in the paint with his scoring and rebounding. He is one of the best double-double machines in college basketball when he is healthy. His injury has forced Pecora to dig a little deeper in his roster, playing nine guys on a regular basis.
Aside from Gaston, Frazier is the only other upperclassmen.
That has opened up the doorway for guys like Bryan Smith and Mandell Thomas who have both made admirable efforts to replace their fallen leader. Combined they average nearly 17 points per game. Ryan Canty has seen his rebounding totals skyrocket. He’s more than doubled his average in scoring, rebounds, assists, and blocks in 2013.
In a game against Princeton this season at the Barclays Center, Frazier did his best impression of a senior leader when he scored 13 points in the final three minutes to turn a 10-point deficit into a three point win against one of the top teams in the Ivy League.
While Fordham might still suffer from growing pains the next year or two, there is a hope on the horizon that was not there before Pecora’s arrival. It’s obvious that Pecora wanted a challenge and wanted to turn a program around. And now Pecora is stockpiling talent in the Bronx and preparing for the future.