After winning 19 games in his first season, head coach Kevin Baggett’s plan for the future is beginning to take shape at Rider.
Baggett, former assistant to Tommy Dempsey, tweaked the Broncs style including more emphasis on the defensive end and it paid off. The Broncs were the only team to sweep the Buffalo swing to end the MAAC regular season and they finished second in the MAAC standings, their best finish since 2008.
The Broncs future includes a freshmen class of four as well as two transfers who plan on sitting out the 2013-14 season. Three of the team’s four incoming freshmen come from Florida getting Jimmy Taylor, Brandon Channer and headlining the class with Kahlil Thomas.
Baggett’s first recruiting coup began in November when Thomas, a top 20 recruit out of the state of Florida, signed a letter of intent during the early signing period.
“We’re a little weak in the post area, he certainly is going to be a young man that I’m gong to try and lean on and count on early,” Baggett said of Thomas. “He plays so hard. He’s got a high motor, very good defensively, he’s got a great knack for rebounding. He just finds ways to score around the basket as well. He’s still a guy that needs to still develop his offense, but as far as the other parts of his game, he’s very talented and I think he’s got a huge upside for us.”
Baggett reached into Rider’s stomping grounds of New Jersey to grab Xavier Lundy who scored over 2,000 points at Paulsboro high school, winning two South Jersey group 1 titles.
“He’s a scorer and it’s just a matter of just continuing to develop his offense,” Baggett said. “He’s got to develop shooting more consistent which is something that he’s working on this summer. He’s another young man that we’re going to count on, very athletic gets up and down, certainly will fit in the way we want to play.”
Despite Baggett’s changes to push the tempo and defense, his team ranked in the middle of the conference last season in adjusted tempo. Baggett said he would like to get up and down more and said Lundy figures to be a good piece of his pressing style.
One weakness the Broncs will have to solve to be close to the top of the league is their struggle with turnovers. Rider ranked eighth amongst MAAC teams in turnover percentage and getting incoming freshman Jimmy Taylor will give the Broncs a true point guard.
“Jimmy is one of those guys I can’t wait to get in because the one thing I’m excited about is the fact that guys are going to need to run with him and he’s going to get you the ball in the right spot,” Baggett said. “A guy like Jimmy who is used to playing the point will be good because he understands what we’re trying to get done. I’ve had a chance to watch him play quite a bit and understand that his first value is going to be trying to get everybody else involved.”
“I’m excited about him having a chance to come in and guys play with him and understand ‘If I run with this guy he’s going to get us the ball at the right places and at the right times.’ We haven’t had a guy like that in here in a little bit. Jon Thompson was good, he was very good, but he’s a combo guard who did a good job taking care of the ball, getting us in our sets and getting the ball up and down, but not as much as I would like to have gotten the ball up and down.”
Finally the Broncs stayed in Florida to get Brandon Channer, after he spent one prep school year in Tampa, who Baggett said will be a scoring combo guard who can provide some help on the defensive end.
“He can do a number of things,” Baggett said. “Combo guard, can really handle the ball. He’s going to bring that toughness to us.”
Baggett said that he was concerned this past season with replacing the scoring from the 2012 season; a combined 1,095 points scored between seniors Jeff Jones, Novar Gadson and Brandon Penn.
“We’re going to hang our hat defensively and guarding guys. We just need to do a better job of taking care of the ball and want to score more than what we did last year,” Baggett said. “We graduated a lot of points Novar Gadson, Brandon Penn, Jeff Jones, so this past season the team that we had wasn’t as much of a scoring team as it was a team that was just a solid team that we had to find ways to manufacture how we were going to win. Winning those 19 games, again we’re going to hang our hat defensively on guarding guys every night in case we can’t score, but getting better at being able to score the ball as well.”
Juniors Teddy Okereafor and Skylar Scrivano, from VCU and Columbia respectively, are expected to sit out and play during the 2014-15 season. Okereafor started one game for the Rams and scored 42 points in 265 minutes played last season as a sophomore. Scriviano started one game for the Lions and scored 21 points in 82 minutes played as a sophomore.
Ryan Restivo covers Stony Brook, Hofstra and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo. For more on Rider’s non-conference schedule, check out the non-conference schedule tracker.