Tim Cluess believes he has a strong core in first-team All-MAAC junior A.J. English, MAAC Preseason Player of the Year David Laury and third-team All-MAAC junior Isaiah Williams.
“I think those three, are honestly, they’re at a whole different level than they were last season,” Cluess said. “If they can prove that they can do that in games as well, people are going to see a big difference in the way our team is able to play because of that.”
Of course the fifth-year head coach of the Gaels has high expectations for his team once again. Picked to win the league by the coaches in the preseason poll, Cluess said he has been searching for the pieces to compliment his top three players. One of those could be true freshman 5’10” point guard Schadrac Casimir, who has seamlessly transitioned into the college game.
“What I saw him do in high school, I’d never thought he would be able to make the adjustment to paying against college level players as quickly and as effortlessly as he has,” Cluess said of Casimir who averaged 18.8 ppg last season at South Kent prep school in Connecticut.”He has competed at a ridiculous level for a kid of that stature. If he can do this within real games, which there’s no reason to think he can’t, he’s done it his whole life, he’s going to be a treat for everybody to watch.”
Cluess looks to Casimir and players like him who can break down opponents off the dribble and open up plays. Health will also be a concern for the Gaels this season as they hope to get mileage out of junior Kelvin Amayo who lost last season due to complications after multiple knee surgeries. Amayo has been practicing on and off with the team, but Cluess says his knee has been getting stronger.
“He’s got the ability right now, we have those three core guys, Kelvin’s got the ability that if he gets himself rust free and gets back into the rest of condition by mid-year he could be that fourth guy,” Cluess said. “He just has to get his legs, everything back and his game back from being out so long, but we see it coming every day.”
“We saw some of his athletic ability that we haven’t seen in a long time, so we’re optimistic that given eight or 10 games and 2 more months of getting himself healthy, god willing he stays healthy, that he can turn it around and be a huge player as we move forward in the season.”
Most of the focus will be on Laury, who won preseason Player of the Year, over his teammate English. English is looking to build upon a year where he averaged 17.2 ppg. Laury said he has seen the junior taking countless reps in the weight room and has become more mature over the past year.
“I think his game has grown tremendously, as far as his understanding of the game, his decision making I even think his shot has improved a lot,” Cluess said. “Athletically, he’s a bigger stronger kid than he was a year ago. He really worked hard in the weight room to get himself ready physically for this coming season.”
“I think he’s a much better player than a year ago, but because of what he’s going to see, his numbers might not show great improvements in a lot of areas, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a much better player. I think he’s going to demand a lot of times a defensive player to help on him because he’s going to get by the guy who’s guarding him or make it difficult on the guy who’s guarding him, which will give other players like a Casimir, some of the other guys coming off our bench easy opportunities for open shots. It’s up to them if they knock them down or not.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.