The 2011-12 season was a magical year for LIU Brooklyn, as Jim Ferry rode off into the sunset after securing his second straight NEC championship. The Blackbirds were ferocious on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 1.12 points per possession in league play while executing at a dizzying 75.9 possessions per game pace. They had the NEC Player of the Year (Julian Boyd), the conference’s leading assist man (Jason Brickman), and another all-conference first team selection to boot (Jamal Olasewere). It was an incredibly efficient team that, despite its breakneck pace of play, didn’t have a single starter miss a game due to injury. Ferry’s squad was not only awesome, but rather fortunate with excellent health.
Since then, the injury bug has fully infected LIU Brooklyn. Everyone already knows about Julian Boyd’s recent knee troubles, and this offseason has witnessed several Blackbirds getting treatment in the trainer’s room. It became so ridiculous that at one point head coach Jack Perri had only six healthy bodies at practice in late September.
“The injury bug has bitten us pretty good,” admitted Perri. “Guys have been in and out of the lineup since we started. We haven’t had a whole lot of continuity. It’s been frustrating because we need so much work with so many new guys, but we’re getting there. I think we’re starting to come together a little bit.”
While some players (Joel Hernandez – pelvis, Iverson Fleming – knee contusion, Glenn Feidanga – knee) are nursing their way back and should be ready by the first jump ball on November 9th, some won’t have that luxury. It was reported by Nelson Castillo of Blackbird Hoops Journal that 6’7” freshman Nura Zanna will be out for the season due to a torn ligament in his wrist. The injury occurred when Zanna, during a team pickup game, awkwardly smacked the backboard while blocking a shot. When it’s all said and done, Zanna will have two surgeries on the wrist to fix the issue. He will apply for a medical red-shirt for this upcoming season.
With Zanna on the mend and Julian Boyd diligently working his way back from a re-tear of the same ACL in July, the competition for a frontcourt spot opposite of sophomore E.J. Reed is wide open. Given his experience and skillset, it would seem JUCO transfer Chris Carter would be the favorite to start, but that hasn’t been the case in Perri’s eyes so far.
“I would say Landon Atterberry has been clearly my next best frontcourt guy (after Reed),” said Perri. “He’s athletic, he’s got great hands which is important with (Jason) Brickman, because he catches everything and he can finish around the basket. I’m excited about where Landon is right now, and I think he can certainly help us.”
Atterberry had an excellent sophomore season at Cape Fear CC – the same school as incoming Central Connecticut junior Faronte Drakehold – averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, while shooting as crisp 58% from the floor. With undersized frontcourts commonly employed inside the NEC, an athletic combination of Reed and Atterberry – both measure at 6’6″ – could work out quite well.
Speaking of Reed, it’s a pivotal year for the emerging sophomore. After a solid rookie campaign that earned him NEC all-rookie team honors, the high motored forward must progress from a good role player to one of the team’s most reliable scorers.
Perri agrees, “If we’re going to be any good, (Reed) has to be very good. He’s been great so far. E.J. has been the vocal leader this summer, he’s got such a high motor, he’s plays so hard. He’s not as physical as Jamal Olasewere, not many people are, but he’s unique. He’s a much better three-point shooter than Jamal ever was and he’s got some unique abilities that can really flourish in our league.”
With Carter and Feidanga vying for backup minutes at the moment, the Blackbirds will patiently wait for Boyd to return. He’s currently on schedule to return in January, yet Perri will be cautious before inserting him into the rotation.
“He’s working his tail off, he’s doing everything he can to get back,” said Perri. “His mind is made up, ‘Coach I’ll be back, I’ll be back,’ but who knows. You’re talking about six months (from the last torn ACL), and that’s really the early part of the timeline. I know my mindset is that I’m not going to play him if he’s not ready to play. I’m not going to risk his future. Obviously if he can (play), that would be great.”
It’s been a trying offseason for the second year head coach. Slowly but surely, players are getting back to full strength, but given the significant roster turnover, one has to wonder how difficult it’ll be for this team to gel. Without a healthy amount of practice reps, it could take a while for Perri’s group to cohesively play as one unit. When that happens is anyone’s guess, but it needs to occur by January if the Blackbirds want to realistically challenge for their fourth straight NEC championship.
They’ll need to be cured from the injury bug.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride