For freshman Schadrac Casimir, becoming a key part of the Iona Gaels lineup has almost come too fast.
“If you were to ask me in June, if I would have been starting, I would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Casimir said. “I would have laughed at the time. I just came a long way since June.”
The 5’10” guard knew that nothing was promised to him when he came in and he has proven quickly to be an option for the Gaels. Casimir shattered the school’s freshman scoring record in his fourth game – putting up 40 points in their 126-76 win over Delaware State. However, that record-shattering performance was sandwiched between two games where he was held scoreless and scored three points.
“I think it’s going to take some time to get consistency from a freshman,” head coach Tim Cluess said. “We think he’s a talented kid who’s going to do very well in this program.”
Casimir knew that he was walking into a system that preached quick offense, so much so that he said he’s never run as much in his life. Iona makes their living in transition, they like to break after makes and misses, and the biggest adjustment has been thinking a little bit faster to keep up with their tempo, which ranks as the fourth fastest in the nation.
He is also working to adjust to playing off the ball, something he had hardly done prior to being a Gael. While he hasn’t been surprised with his production, scoring 85 points in six games, he is not satisfied with his current body of work.
Playing alongside a group that includes junior A.J. English, junior Isaiah Williams and senior David Laury – three players who logged plenty of minutes on last season’s regular season MAAC championship team – Casimir has plenty of veteran leadership to look up to. The 6’4″ English challenges the 5’10” freshman in practice, sometimes going opposite each other on the floor, pushing him to grow up quicker and he gets that same treatment from Iona’s leaders.
“We tell him all the time, Schadrac, if you’re open shoot the ball,” Laury said. “Do the same thing that you did last game, do it this game. Don’t change anything.”
The MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Laury understands the same type of struggles that Casimir has had to go through in adjusting, because he feels he still goes through them too.
“Schadrac gets yelled at a lot of times because Schadrac doesn’t listen,” Laury said. “Coach says ‘Schadrac shoot the ball when you’re open.’ Sometimes, just being the good player that he is and good teammate, he tries to defer to other people, but when he’s open that’s understood.”
“It’s just a constant battle of reminding him that he’s a great player. He’s a good player that can be great.”
The 6’9″ senior said that what he has seen Casimir do in practice has translated straight into games and called it “surreal” because his strong nights are carbon copies of what he does in practice.
“He’s gotten a little bit more vocal, he has to get a ton more vocal, but he really hasn’t done anything differently,” Laury said. “He’s really just learning the offense and getting used to the little nuances.”
By tossing him into the starting lineup as soon as Cluess and the Gaels have, it has exposed Casimir’s need to improve not just as a more vocal player, but also as a defender. Cluess said he is challenging the freshman to play with greater effort and 5’10” guard has noticed that they won’t show him any slack because of his youth and inexperience.
“I pretty much expected him to be like this,” Casimir said of Cluess. “I talked to the players before I got here and they just told me I was going to have to work and probably be the hardest working coach I’ve played for.”
The surprise in his season may be his 40 point effort, but Cluess said he is more surprised that the games before and after were such low scoring efforts was more of a surprise. For a team that will need Casimir and junior Kelvin Amayo as starters to contribute as well as get more production from their bench to make a run this season, exposing the freshman so early in the year will likely have its pay off soon.
“We’re just hoping by the time we hit January, and we get into the heart of our league season, he’ll be better in certain areas,” Cluess said. “We know it’s not going to be anywhere near where he needs to get to over the next couple of years, but better than where he is now, at least understanding the areas he’s going to have to put more work and effort into.”
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.