A few times last season St. Francis Brooklyn did the unthinkable – played zone defense. The Terriers have hung their hat on tough, man-to-man defense during head coach Glenn Braica’s tenure, but due to injuries and personnel SFC was forced to occasionally play zone defenses in hopes of slowing down the NEC’s high-powered offenses.
Those days are hopefully over now though thanks to a strong incoming class and the return of Kevin Douglas. Braica has brought in four newcomers, with good balance both in the paint and on the perimeter. Most should contribute immediately, as Braica typically has a deep rotation.
Unlike past classes of Terriers, some of these players had an extra advantage. St. Francis went to Canada this offseason, allowing the Terriers to get in 10 practices and get some extra game experience before the season kicks off. The Terriers were without forward Jalen Cannon on that trip, because he was recovering from an injury that shouldn’t limit him this season. But his absence gave new Terriers Amdy Fall and Wayne Martin playing time opportunities and a chance to get acquainted with what is expected at the Division I level.
“I thought it was a good way for the freshmen to start,” Braica said about the trip. “Because when they come in they don’t really have any idea how hard they have to play.”
Fall should give the Terriers a shot blocker up front, which is something that haven’t had in quite a while. The 6’6″ forward played for the College of Central Florida last season, which won the 2013 NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Fall led the team with 46 blocks. Fall also blocked 8.6 shots per game during his senior high school season at Wings Academy. While he’s still raw offensively, Braica is confident that Fall can contribute this season thanks to his energy and motor.
The other new contributor in the front court is 6’6″ freshman Wayne Martin, who – like Fall – is a New York City product. Martin contributed quite a bit on the offensive end during the Canada trip scoring 10 points in one game and nine in another.
“The way Wayne develops will determine how good a team we can be this season in some respects,” Braica said. “He’s very talented. I think the Canada trip really helped him. He might be a guy that early in the year struggles a little bit and then the light goes on and he really explodes.”
Both players have some big shoes to fill. The graduations of Akeem Johnson and Travis Nichols leave the Terriers a little thin up front, especially on the offensive end. Johnson (10.0 ppg) and Nichols (9.6 ppg) were the Terriers’ third and fourth leading scorers last season. The team is going to miss Johnson’s ability to score in the low-post and Nichols’ work as a “stretch four”, but Braica believes the team’s identity will evolve with the change in personnel.
“I think we’re going to be bigger,” Braica said. “We’re going to be a little more athletic. [Johnson and Nichols] provided a lot of experience. They’d been around the block a little bit. Hopefully these guys can step into their shoes and take it another step.”
The perimeter is really where St. Francis struggled defensively last season. Quick guards had the ability to get to the rim against the Terriers and make everyone’s life more difficult, including potentially luring Cannon into foul trouble. The loss of Douglas to a broken arm magnified the problem, because at 6’5″ he was the team’s most versatile defender. While incoming freshmen Sheldon Hagigal and Yunus Hopkinson don’t have Douglas’ size, the two former New Yorkers do have a lot of athleticism.
“Adding Kevin, Yunus and Sheldon gives us athleticism on the perimeter that we didn’t have last season,” Braica said. “They’re guys that can get to the rim, create contact and get to the free throw line.”
Hagigal had a few other Division I offers when he initial committed to St. Francis and the 6’1″ combo guard could be a player that steps in and makes an immediate impact on the roster. Braica noted that even Hagigal’s defense, which had been a bit of a question mark initially, looked excellent in Canada.
“I think he can be a great player in the league,” Braica said. “He’s got it all. He can get his own shot. He can shoot. He’s physically strong… I think the sky’s the limit for him. I think he can be very, very good down the road.”
At 5’10″, Hopkinson will probably get a chance to learn a little bit about the point guard position before potentially taking the reigns from Brent Jones down the road. Hopkinson wasn’t able to go to Canada, but he did practice with the Terriers and impressed Braica with his toughness and approach. Dre Calloway’s graduation has opened up an opportunity for a new backup point guard behind Brent Jones and Hopkinson will be in the mix.
All four newcomers are going to have to contribute somewhat this season in order for the Terriers to make the NEC playoffs once again. St. Francis snuck into the final NEC tournament spot last season. Depending on the development of key pieces like Cannon and Jones they should be right in the thick of it again.