When Joe Mihalich made the move downstate to take over the reins at Hofstra in 2013 after 15 years at Niagara, he brought two of his star players along with him. Over the past two years they have helped him transform the image of Hofstra basketball.
Juan’ya Green burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2011 and immediately established himself as one of the premier point guards in the MAAC. He led the Purple Eagles in scoring as a freshman with 17.7 ppg, the second highest mark in the nation amongst freshmen.
This offseason, Green made the list of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award. The list will be narrowed to five finalists by March. After leading Hofstra with 17.1 ppg and 6.5 apg in 2014-15, Green’s status as the center of the Pride’s offense is in little doubt.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Green said of being nominated for the award. “I just think about going hard in practice and trying to work on my craft and make sure I’m the best player I can be for my teammates.”
Doubling as a guard/forward, Ameen Tanksley joined Mihalich and Green in the move to Hempstead in 2013. In 2014-15, Tanksley discovered newfound success from behind the arc, nearly doubling his previous single-season 3-point record with 78 on the year. Tanksley ranked second on the team in scoring last season with 16.2 ppg, but also finished third on the squad in rebounding with 5.5 rpg.
The third key piece Mihalich added that offseason was Brian Bernardi, who also sat out the 2013-14 season after transferring from SMU. A deadly sharpshooter, Bernardi led the Pride with 95 made 3-pointers in 2014-15 and ranked 33rd in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage.
All three guards were part of the immediate turnaround of a Hofstra program that won just seven games in 2012-13, and now they are the key elements in the Pride’s rise as a perennial power in the CAA. In this commonality they have developed an airtight dynamic.
“I think when I first got here we just had a good chemistry with each other on and off the court,” Green said of his relationship with Tanksley and Bernardi. “All three of us hang out together, we’ll be in the gym together working out, and it’s just been a good experience.”
“This is our third year together,” Bernardi added. “We’ve roomed together; we’ve been through everything together since I’ve been here. We’re all really close and I think that helps us on the court as well.”
Not only does Mihalich have these three upperclassmen running his high-tempo backcourt, but he has done his job in securing Hofstra’s future by recruiting talented newcomers to learn under his established stars. Freshmen Desure Buie and Justin Wright-Foreman represent the future of Hofstra basketball.
“They’re in a great position because they can get better every day playing against seniors,” Mihalich said of his incoming freshmen. “Desure Buie is beyond his years as a basketball player, while Justin Wright-Foreman is a terrific scorer and just keeps getting better every day.”
Buie and Wright-Foreman have great talent, and playing in Mihalich’s up-tempo offense behind the likes of Green, Tanksley, and Bernardi is a learning experience second to none.
“I watch them play every practice,” Wright-Foreman said of the upperclassmen guards. “I just want to bring a lot of energy to the team and help in any way I can.”
“I want to play my role,” Buie added of playing with his more experienced teammates. “I want to fit in well and run the offense. They’ve taught me how to be a leader and be vocal on the court.”
Hopes are high for the 2015-16 Hofstra squad, and with a wealth of talented guards set to take the stage in Hempstead, expect Mihalich’s crew to fulfill those expectations.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.