Albany Set to Reload Behind Junior College Players

After making his third NCAA tournament appearance, head coach Will Brown and the Albany Great Danes are reloading a roster that won 24 games, their most in Division I history.

The major holes for Albany are the two guard spots, where Mike Black and Jacob Iati graduated, but Brown will be able to replace them with a versatile roster of newcomers and returning veterans. Along with the returning core of upperclassmen, Brown brought in four junior college transfers.

Brown said he prefers to bring junior college transfers in when they have had prior Division I experience, which he has been able to do with two of his transfers. Junior Anthony Odunsi began his career at Utah and sophomore Ede Egherevba started his career at Wichita State. Add to them State College of Florida transfer Anders Haas and Levan Shengelia, who sat out a season at Albany after transferring from Rhode Island, and the Great Danes have a mix of new impact contributors.

Senior forward John Puk returns and he will receive the most help this season from a group of newcomers, most of which could come from the redshirt junior Shengelia who Brown said will likely team up with Puk inside.

“He brings a tremendous amount of physicality to the table,” Brown said of Shengelia. “He’s been extremely physical up front, provides us with some low post offense and he complements our returning starting center John Puk very well. John’s been more of a skilled face up guy and Levan is a low post physical presence, so I think those two guys complement each other well and we’re also are going to play them together. We can throw the ball to Levan in the low post and he can make a play.”

The hole of shooter that Iati left behind after leading the team in three-point field goals made and three-point percentage, will likely be filled by Haas. Brown said he “is our best perimeter shooter by far” and though he can play point guard, Brown said they “really want to focus on getting Haas shots, so we don’t want to tie him up too much at the point.”

While senior D.J. Evans inherits the starting point guard spot, his competition will likely come from Odunsi who Brown projects as a combo guard, but could play the point for his team.

“He’s been playing with the ball in his hands but also on the wing,” Brown said of Odunsi. “He’s been a terrific one on one defender. He does a really good job of making plays offensively, he gets into the lane and creates for himself and his teammates.”

Egherevba will be another frontline addition to the roster who is very aggressive on the glass, a part of the roster that appears to be their strength. In addition to the newcomers, Brown said that senior Dave Wiegmann, who played sparingly last season, has remade his game and will have a chance to compete at the small forward spot. Add him to senior Gary Johnson, who is one of the league’s better returning defenders, and Brown has options for almost every position.

The added depth has Brown optimistic about the season. The Albany head coach believes that he has a more talented team this season than last.

“I just think that we have a chance to be better than we were a year ago,” Brown said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to go to the NCAA tournament, doesn’t mean we’re going to win 24 games because last year’s team was unique.”

“We’re much more talented this year and when more talent comes, more individual expectation is there. We have a lot of guys that think they can contribute that think they can help us win and expect to play a lot. It’s only five positions and 200 minutes, that’s going to be interesting when you get to the first scrimmage and a guy who thinks he’s going to play 25-30 minutes a game plays seven or eight. It’s got to be winning above everything else and that’s what we were about last year. We have to create our own identity this year. It would be nice if we had a similar identity, but it would be nice if we can just establish roles. The earlier we can establish roles and soothe egos I think we’ll be okay.”

Ryan Restivo covers the America East for Big Apple Buckets, read his America East preview on ESPN.com as part of the ESPN Insider College Hoops 2013-14 Preview. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.