Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Inside the mind of a student-athlete

A view of Sports Business Journal's SBJ/SBD Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in Times Square. (Photo by Jason Schott/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

NEW YORK -- The Sports Business Journal's SBJ/SBD Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was held last week at the Crowne Plaza Times Square.

Jack Ford, the veteran journalist who played college football at Yale and is a board member of the National Football Foundation, moderated a panel with student athletes and what their college lives have been like.

The panel included the following student-athletes, who are all seniors: Chayse Capps, a gymnast from Oklahoma University; Cassie Pantelas, a golfer from Seton Hall; and three football players,  Brad Lundblade from Oklahoma State; Blaise Taylor from Arkansas State, and Justin Jackson from Northwestern.

Ford opened the panel by saying, "This is one of the special events here. It reminds that all of the conversations when we're talking about the intercollegiate sports landscape eventually focuses on these young people, and oftentimes we don't hear enough from them."

The players were asked to look back on when they were freshmen, and what was different than what they figured it would be entering school.

"For me, it was the time," Jackson said, "I don't think you can really understand how much time it takes to be a student-athlete in college, from the scheduling to the classes to missing classes for traveling, all those things play a part in how much time it takes to be a college athlete."

Pantelas said, "The time events play a huge role into it, and getting used to the position you're now in. Some of us travel out of state to a different school, so just getting used to and understanding the new way of life that you're about to live on your own and being 18 and younger. Being older I can see there are things that are a pretty big adjustment, nothing that a student-athlete can't handle. Those little adjustments sometimes can be hard at that time."

Taylor said, "The biggest thing for me looking back now, when I came out of high school, I was expecting a big university, coming here to play football, school, not realizing how much the community would embrace me and how many connections you would make inside that community. It really almost becomes like your hometown."

Time demands were the biggest adjustment for Lundblade, who said, "I think in high school, and I went to a private high school that had a pretty rigorous academic program so I thought I knew what it had been to balance a lot of time demands. Being a collegiate student-athlete is a completely different deal. It presents a lot of challenges that I had to adjust to."

Capps said, "I completely agree with everything they said. Time management is definitely a key factor into your success as a student-athlete. I was home schooled growing up, so that was definitely an adjustment I had to get used to. Also, the opportunities you're presented. As a freshman, you don't expect to see so many of those, learn how to take advantage of those opportunities presented to you."

Ford picked up on that they all highlighted time demands, and he mentioned how his kids were both Division I athletes and the demands on their time were a lot greater than they were when he was an athlete. He said they also felt like a full student there as well.

On being immersed in the academic community at school," Lundblade said, "I think I was able to balance it pretty well, but there were times where I felt that I wasn't able to experience things a regular student would, as far as getting involved in organizations on campus and getting to know other students around me. I feel like we have a great academic program, we have tutoring and things like that as student-athletes that really help us out, but I found in terms of getting to know other regular students and getting more involved in classes, I found I couldn't be involved in that as I would have liked.

"It's a balancing act," Pantelas said. "Some days you're going to be an athlete, some days you're going to be a student. The way I like to see it is, it's kind of like a triangle where you have to rotate this triangle between social life and academic life and athletic life. When you throw in the social life being a student-athlete, it can be difficult, but I think that's also part of being a student is having a social life as well. Doing the things on campus, organizations, fraternities, sororities, so there are some things that are a little bit different, but you can absolutely find ways to immerse yourself in every opportunity on campus. Seton Hall has great opportunities for us, so I think if you balance it well, you can be a student as well as an athlete."

Ford then asked the panel if they ever got the sense that they were viewed differently, that some viewed them as not real students.

Jackson said, "Obviously as football players, a lot of us are larger, could be the largest human beings on the campus. So, obviously at first sight they're gonna know we're not a normal student there. It is different, like lead different lives as student-athletes. We have a lot more on our plate, there's a lot of things they can do that we can't. It's different. On the one hand, you try to embrace the difference, but on the other hand, sometimes you feel you're not the same as your peers. Professors don't care if you play a sport, they still expect the same out of you as other students."

Lundblade said, "I think sometimes there's a stereotype when it comes to being a student athlete.I think sometimes professors and other students see the academic services and tutoring that we receive. People think grades are just given to us, that we don't have to earn it. I think that sometimes you have to battle it out when you have professors who might look at you differently because you're a student athlete. I've had a couple instances where professors look at you negatively if you're a student-athlete because they may think you don't take academics seriously or because you get extra help, that you're not really earning your grade. They treat you a little differently sometimes."

Taylor said, "A lot of people have perceptions of student-athletes that aren't really true. They think that we get everything handed to us, you're on scholarship, you're not having to pay for school. A lot of people don't understand the time demands that we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and the opportunities we have to pass up because we're student-athletes. A lot of people talk about organizations and things like that. Most organizations meet after class hours, which are in the afternoon, right in the middle of practice. Especially in the season, there's little opportunities for me and the other football guys to get involved in different student organizations and things like that because of our football practice schedule. I definitely think that people sometimes assume that because we have all these resources and help offered to us that we don't have to earn anything.I would really encourage people to take a step back and look at us and view things through our eyes, that it's not as easy as it looks."

Ford said that one of the most striking statistics to him is that the graduation rate for student-athletes is 86 percent, while it is 65 percent for regular students. What can be done to have student-athletes viewed differently?

Lundblade said, "The Big 12 started this campaign called Champions for Life, basically a series of short videos that features student-athletes, telling their stories, how they worked in college, got a degree, and features them as students, not just athletes.It shows the value of the scholarship and the work they put in academically to get to where they are. Something like that can be very powerful, because a lot of times, people see what we do on the field, they don't have the opportunity to see the work put in academically to earn that degree.

Taylor said, "Just letting athletes speak more as students, tell their story, that we're more than just athletes, highlighting their academic achievements. Promoting them more so as students than just student-athletes because student-athletes you can always find highlights of achievements made on the field or on the court, things like that, but I don't think enough attention goes to what is done academically.

Capps said, " I don't think that the professors and the people from the outside, the fans take into account the 20-plus hours on top of the schoolwork, just how much that is. In my sport, in particular not many people continue after college, so many of us there have dreams or aspirations to be something and to have a successful career. So yes, we are student-athletes, but we are also students who focus on academics and we value that opportunity highly and I don't think they take us seriously enough as student-athletes."

Pantelas said,  "Giving a visual representation could be helpful. I know the NCAA, when you come in, you see what the day-to-day life of a student-athlete experience is. It could be helpful to put on paper from Sunday to Monday, visually, what we do on a regular basis. I think some people don't realize to get to practice, traveling to facilities counts as extra time. It might not be time that is documented but that's extra time that we could be studying or things we won't be able to do because of that. I think giving outside bodies the need to see that, just laid out in paper, people would be like, 'wow, that's a hefty amount. I know,  even with golf, when I tell people we play 36 holes a day, it's really from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., they're like ' you don't just ride around in a golf cart?' No, we're walking. I think there's a lot of perceptions that can be changed just by telling our stories, giving visuals and representation of what we actually do in a week or a semester just so people can understand, oh yeah, they're dealing with a lot. We value our education just as much as any other student.

On recommendations to find them for them to experience more student life, Pantelas said, "Maybe not a suggestion, but more of a compromise, because as student athletes, we come here, we train all throughout high school, even in elementary school to be student-athletes, so there is a pride coming here, doing what we're doing in representing the school the best we can. I think it can be where there truly is something to discuss, you can talk to the Athletic Director. I'm fortunate enough to have a great administration (at Seton Hall) that I can go to. If this is important to me, they will get me involved in that. I think it has be that we as student-athletes feel comfortable to express what is important to us. We might need a day off of practice or a couple hour difference here and there in order to manage whatever it is we're getting into. I think it can be more of a compromise between the student and athletic department, just open communication on both ends, expressing what is going to be the best outcome for both sides."

Fordham edges St. John's in double OT: Recap, Photos & Highlights

By Andy Lipton
Special To Daly Dose Of Hoops

JAMAICA, NY -- Sorry for the cliché, but it was a shame one team had to lose in this incredibly hard-fought and exciting game that went 50 minutes with simply no let-up on either side. The players had a right to be exhausted, yet hustled until the final buzzer.

In the end, Fordham emerged with a thrilling three-point victory against St. John’s this past
Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena, 67-64, in double overtime.

The Rams' starters played 240 minutes out of 250 minutes, with junior guard Lauren Holden and junior forward Mary Goulding playing the whole game. For the Red Storm, senior forward Maya Singleton and freshman point guard Tiana England played 49 and 48 minutes, respectively. Bodies were flying all over as players dove on the court and were knocked down, but it is in the DNA of both Fordham and St. John’s teams not to back down to anyone.

Going into the game Fordham was 5-3 and was St. John’s was 6-2. The Rams' Breanna Cavanaugh led both teams in scoring with 20 and England was second high scorer with 17. The game was close the whole way. Fordham’s largest lead was by seven in the first period and St. John’s by six in the third period. Both teams played ferocious man-to man defense, and yet the ball moved constantly in their half-court offenses. Fordham, adept at slowing the pace of the game on offense, had the same number of shots as St. John’s at 64. It was a low scoring first quarter with Fordham ahead 13-10 despite St. John’s

getting off 14 shots to Fordham’s 10.

St. John’s seemed like it was asserting itself in the second quarter, outscoring Fordham 17-9 and taking a 27-22 lead. Cavanaugh had only two points in the first half.

In that first half, Fordham's 6’3” freshman forward, Johanna Klug; from Nordlingen, Germany, made all three of her field goal attempts, leading the Rams with seven points for the half. Klug finished the game with a Fordham career high of 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, scoring both inside and from the three-point line. Cavanaugh, playing in her first college season after having sat out the last two years, (one season due to injury, the other due to transferring) was cool and calm down the stretch, as she shared the responsibility of bringing the ball up the court with point guard Lauren Holden.

With 1:20 left in the first overtime, Cavanaugh hit a three-pointer to give Fordham a three-point lead. About 20 seconds later, England answered with a three-pointer to tie the game at 61 and that’s where the score was going into the second overtime. St. John’s senior Maya Singleton was strong in her tight and active defense and held Fordham’s season leading scorer, senior forward G’mrice Davis, to 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Singleton was also very active offensively in the post in the first half, leading the Red Storm in scoring with nine points and 10 shots that half.

With about two-and-a-half minutes left in the game, Davis, determined not to be denied, was closely guarded by Singleton, but scored on a strong move to her left down low and cut the St. John’s lead at that point to 64-63. Fordham took the lead for good with 46 seconds left on a pass from Goulding up top to Cavanaugh underneath. With 24 seconds left, Cavanaugh hit two free throws to widen the lead to three. The Red Storm missed its chance to tie in the last 24 seconds, as Fordham played tough defense and St. John’s shot right before the final buzzer was not a good look and forced.

Photos (All photos by Andy Lipton/Daly Dose Of Hoops)






Highlights

Kevin Willard quote book: Saint Peter's

*All quotes courtesy of Jason Guerette, who handled all our Seton Hall coverage Tuesday*

On how Seton Hall handled what could have been considered a trap game:
"I loved the way we came out and played defensively. I thought we came out -- we talked about taking away (Nick) Griffin and making it hard for him to get shots, and making the other guys shoot. I thought we came out -- again, really the first ten minutes of the game defensively, I thought we played terrific."

On extending Saint Peter's away from the basket:
"Just the way John (Dunne) plays, he's got one of the slowest tempos and they run their offense so well. we played a little bit of zone at the beginning of the game just to try to kind of get them out of rhythm. If you let them get in a rhythm, they're going to make shots, which they did in the second half. Again, we just talked about coming out with the same intensity that we had with VCU come out in this game, and I thought for the most part, defensively, we did a good job."

On whether playing at Walsh Gymnasium affected Seton Hall offensively:
"Every basketball court is the same. College and NBA are the same, it's just the lanes are a little narrower."

On Angel Delgado moving into third place on Seton Hall's all-time rebound list:
"He's only third? No one's ever going to catch Walter Dukes. Again, it just shows you more the workhorse he's been, how much intensity he's played with, how much he's brought it every game, because you can't get those numbers if you don't bring it every game."

On getting caught up in Seton Hall's No. 15 ranking:
"We've embraced it. I think you have to. You respect it and you understand how you got there, and you just make sure you don't want to lose it."

On leaving Angel Delgado in late in the second half:
"He understands exactly what to do and how to do it. If he got the ball deep, he was going to throw it up, and if we were on defense, we were going to play a zone and we were going to keep it back and everyone was going to try to box out -- he's going to get his rebound. I learned this a long time ago from Coach Pitino: When you have seniors who are going to have future careers in the pros, then you'd better take care of their stats. I'm always aware of where my guys are stat-wise, and I make sure I get what I think they need to get."

On underclassmen getting significant minutes Tuesday night:
"Yeah, I like the way the young guys are playing. I think they're getting better. Again, the schedule's been tough for the freshmen just because of the grind. We haven't played many games where I can let them go out there and make mistakes without it being catastrophic. Tonight's nice because they can make a mistake and not feel like they've changed the tone of the game. They can go out there and just play, and again, I thought the way Myles Cale's playing, I like the way Sandro (Mamukelashvili) is playing, he's starting to get more comfortable. The more time they get, the better off they're going to do when the Big East comes along."

On playing New Jersey schools:
"It's -- again, the good thing about having a senior group is they understand how good the local schools are. They all play against each other in the summer, they all either come here and play in the gym or we go someplace to play, so they all know each other, they all respect each other. It's the great thing about having a veteran team, and it's tough because some of the younger kids, they don't understand college basketball yet. They don't understand that anybody can beat anybody on any given night if you don't bring it, and the seniors have done a phenomenal job with the younger kids, getting them to understand that the local schools -- it's not a Super Bowl game for them at all, but it's a bigger game, a chance to kind of knock us off, so our older guys have done a really good job of that, and obviously we have a huge one on Saturday."

On what to expect from traveling to Rutgers:
"I love the RAC just because you can play in there and there's 3,000 people who can be there for a game -- I think it seats 8,000 -- and it's loud, it's just the way the building is built. It's right on top of you, the fans are right on top of you. I think it's great for New Jersey basketball, especially college basketball seeing they're good, we're good, and it's a big game."

On playing at Walsh Gymnasium:
"I'm not a big fan of playing here. I told this to Gary Cohen the other night, this was my bright idea about doing this and thinking -- the problem is we got very comfortable playing at the Prudential Center. We don't practice in Walsh, we don't shoot around in Walsh, and we've become very comfortable. And sometimes when you bring schools that are used to playing in small gyms, they're more comfortable in this gym than they are at the Prudential Center. We're comfortable in the Prudential Center, we're not very comfortable, we've never shot well here from behind the arc for as long as I could remember, and we didn't shoot well tonight, I don't think."

On how Rutgers defended Seton Hall in the paint last season:
"I haven't watched it yet. I've watched one game. That's my homework tonight."

On how far Rutgers has come:
"I think Steve (Pikiell) has done an unbelievable job of implementing his style of play: A tough, hard-nosed, defensive -- when they shoot it, it almost looks like they have guys coming off the bench to offensive rebound -- they have two phenomenal guards in (Corey) Sanders and (Geo) Baker, and I'm as big a fan of (Deshawn) Freeman as probably anybody. I just love the way he plays, it reminds me of the way Mike (Nzei) and Ish (Sanogo) play: Hard-nosed, tough, can play and defend all positions. I think Steve's done a phenomenal job."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

JP's 3 Thoughts: Seton Hall takes down Saint Peter's on campus

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- Armed with their first top-15 ranking since 2001, the 15th-ranked Seton Hall Pirates trounced the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, 84-61, in South Orange. Angel Delgado led the way with his 57th career double-double, pouring in 18 points along with 11 rebounds (passing Ken House to move into third place all-time in SHU history in rebounding), while Desi Rodriguez was his efficient self again, scoring 17 points along with six boards and three corner triples. Khadeen Carrington also contributed 11 points, five assists and no turnovers as the Hall led throughout. The game wasn’t close, so here are three thoughts on another impressive effort:

1. Purpose-Driven Start
Well, the Pirates certainly came out like a top-15 team tonight. Their defense suffocated Saint Peter’s completely, and they also got run-outs in transition, which represent death for opposing teams. The Pirates built up a near-immediate 10-point cushion and never looked back as the Peacocks were stifled into 1-for-12 shooting to start the game.

“I loved the way we came out and played defensively,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “We talked about taking away (Peacocks leading scorer Nick) Griffin, making it hard for him to get shots. I thought we came out and really the first 10 minutes of the game defensively played great.”

The Pirates even played a few possessions of zone defense, which is definitely out of the ordinary, but also worked like a charm.

“We played a little bit of zone at the beginning of the game to try and get them out of rhythm,” Willard added. “If you let them get in rhythm, they’re going to make shots, which they did in the second half. But really we just wanted to come out with the same intensity as the VCU game, and I thought we did a good job.”

Playing the Hall is a tough task no matter what, but for a rebuilding team like Saint Peter’s, which lost three pillar-type seniors from a year ago when they went on to win the CIT, they basically never had a chance.

2. Rivalry Renewed
After not playing Saint Peter’s for the first time since the 1948-49 season last year, John Dunne’s squad came to South Orange to renew the longstanding series between the two oldest Catholic colleges in the state of New Jersey. For whatever reason, the two teams couldn’t get their schedules to match up in 2016-17, so it was nice to see them hook up once more. Plus, it gave the Pirates an opportunity to take their true home floor at Walsh Gym as a top-15 team for the first time since December 4, 2001, when the late Eddie Griffin recorded the first (and still only) triple-double in Seton Hall basketball history for the then-eighth-ranked Pirates. Obviously, that doesn’t happen every day, so it was a win on all fronts.

3. (Another) Rivalry Renewed
On paper, the Pirates’ upcoming game with Rutgers on Saturday should be an easy win, even on the road at what should be a raucous RAC in Piscataway. But although it has not been close the last few years with the Pirates surging and the Scarlet Knights languishing, if there’s one thing about Seton Hall-Rutgers, it’s that you cannot predict what exactly is going to happen.

There are worse positions to be in entering such a contest, however.

“The good thing about having a senior group is they understand how good the local schools are,” Willard said. “They all know each other, they all respect each other… it’s tough because some of the younger kids, they don’t understand college basketball yet- that anyone can beat anybody on any given night if you don’t bring it. The seniors have done a phenomenal job with the younger kids of getting them to understand that… it’s a bigger game, it’s their chance to knock us off.”

Will the Pirates win? Probably. Will it be close? I would wager it will be closer than folks think. It usually is. You can be sure the Pirates will be up for it.

“It’s the best game of the year,” Delgado said. “I always take that game personally. It’s going to be a great game. They’re going to be ready for us, so we have to be ready for them.”

Tipoff is set for noon Saturday.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fairfield vs. LIU Brooklyn Photo Gallery

Photos from Fairfield's 76-72 victory over LIU Brooklyn at Barclays Center on December 10, 2017:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Fairfield progressing toward grand vision as MAAC play approaches

Fairfield's start to season has included stern non-conference tests, but Sydney Johnson is ultimately encouraged by what Stags' recent trends have projected as MAAC play beckons. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

BROOKLYN -- The future is bright.

To those who follow Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson on social media, those four words have been a familiar refrain as the affable optimist has rebounded from three lackluster seasons to reposition the Stags among the top half of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. With the infusion of a talented freshman class and arrival of junior college transfer Ferron Flavors, Jr. to complement senior guard Tyler Nelson, selected as the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year in October, Johnson's enthusiastic mantra remained a popular rally cry for a program whose NCAA Tournament drought is nearing the start of a third decade.

March grandeur and conference tournament glory is still further out on the horizon, especially with league play still more than two weeks away from commencing, but Fairfield seems to be getting into a groove at an opportune time, with Sunday's victory over LIU Brooklyn ending a three-game losing streak to provide a pick-me-up of sorts going into a three-game homestand that begins on Saturday when Old Dominion comes to Alumni Hall.

"We've been on the ropes a bit with three tough games," Johnson said with regard to losses to Wright State and Wagner by a combined three points before a third straight setback at Houston. "But I've got 16 guys in the locker room that are completely bought in, and all along the way, they're all together, so I'm really proud of them."

Tyler Nelson has picked up where he left off to begin senior season, leading Fairfield in scoring after being selected as MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Initially projected as a strong contender to win the MAAC immediately following the final buzzer of last year's national championship game, the Stags' hopes took a slight hit when guards Curtis Cobb and Jerry Johnson, Jr. decided to transfer, landing at Massachusetts and Chattanooga, respectively. In their place, though, stands a trio of promising newcomers in Flavors; a sophomore, and a pair of freshmen in Jesus Cruz and Wassef Methnani, and that does not count fellow rookies Kevin Senghore-Peterson and Omar El-Sheikh in what Johnson considers to be the best recruiting class he has been able to lure to the Nutmeg State in his six-plus years at the helm. And based on early returns, the new additions have quickly immersed themselves in the unselfish nature of the Fairfield offense, as Sunday's win was a total team effort where as many as seven players could have scored 10 or more points had it not been for foul trouble.

"The kids can play," Johnson proclaimed, referencing the impact of the new faces on a roster where Flavors and Cruz are the second and third-leading scorers behind Nelson. "They're not scared of big moments. Our big four (Nelson, Jerome Segura, Jonathan Kasibabu and Matija Milin) have been more aggressive so that the supporting cast can do their thing, but I think the future's bright with those guys."

"We're going to need all hands on deck," he declared as Old Dominion and New Hampshire serve as the final non-league tuneups for the Stags before Saint Peter's comes to Bridgeport to kick off MAAC play on December 28. "I just think we're looking closer and closer to what I want offensively in terms of sharing the ball, knowing Tyler's our main guy, but a lot of other guys can get involved. And defensively, we're working well together, so we're taking steps in the right direction. I'm hoping that we can continue that growth. We'll just take it one game at a time, but I like that we're looking closer to the team that I envisioned when we first started all this."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fordham MBB Recap and Doubleheader Photo Gallery

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BRONX, NY -- On a snowy afternoon more suited to hot chocolate, a basketball doubleheader was the order of the day. Instead of a good book or movie, the accent on this afternoon was on defense. Fordham's women hosted Iona in the opener, while the men entertained St. Francis Brooklyn.

In the first game, Stephanie Gaitley’s Rams took care of business, posting a 78-48 victory over Iona. While Fordham posted 1.24 points per possession and assisted on 20 of 29 field goals, the head coach's emphasis in this victory was on the defensive end, where they yielded a scant 0.72 points per possession to Iona as the Gaels struggled to get into an offensive rhythm, committing 15 turnovers on the afternoon. In the second game, the Fordham men defeated St. Francis Brooklyn, 76-68. On the offensive end, there were encouraging signs for the Rams, notably Prokop Slanina going for 18 points against a Terrier team making post defense a priority. Head coach Jeff Neubauer was also pleased with David Pekarek’s 10-point 8-rebound outing, but was not thrilled with some of his team’s attention or inattention to defense.

“There were defensive shortcomings the second half,” Neubauer said. “At the half, we talked about not giving up threes, especially to number 14.” Number 14, Jalen Jordan, scored 18 points, making three of five shots from deep in the process. He drew the praise of Neubauer for his range and scoring ability. On the other side, it was a case of giving up “shots we do not want to give up,” per Neubauer. A silver lining for the now 4-5 Rams was forcing 18 Terrier turnovers. As Neubauer noted, though, getting steals (13) and disrupting opposing offenses into miscues is something Fordham does as well as anyone in the nation. The win was to be savored. Those thoughts of perimeter defense would have Neubauer back looking at and seriously analyzing tape, and soon.

On this afternoon with both Fordham teams winning, it was quite interesting to observe and see how defense worked into the equation. With the women, satisfaction for a job well done. On the men’s side, a definite need to search for answers immediately, with a trip to Rutgers on tap Tuesday night.

Photo Gallery (all photos by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Fordham retooling with youth and experience, taking one game at a time

Now in her junior season, Lauren Holden has become one of Fordham's veteran leaders as Rams usher in youth movement while remaining competitive in Atlantic 10. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BRONX, NY -- Entering the locker room at halftime, the first thing Lauren Holden did was go to the grease board.

Holden, Fordham's junior guard, simply wrote "0-0" on the board. It was a definitive reminder to the Rams that celebrating would have to wait. Granted, Stephanie Gaitley's club brought a commanding 34-14 lead over visiting Iona into the intermission, but the message was clear. Twenty minutes of basketball remained. Consider Holden's note as taken to heart, as the Rams went on to post a 78-48 victory over the Gaels to improve to 5-3.

“Lauren has really become a leader for us,” Gaitley said, “as has G’mrice Davis.” Davis, Fordham's senior forward, dominated with a game-high 26 points and 16 rebounds. Beyond Holden’s halftime inspiration and Davis’ sterling exploits, this was a total team effort that excited Gaitley, as the Rams assisted on 20 of 29 field goals, controlled the boards (44-27), and forced the Gaels into 15 turnovers.

“When you defend and shoot well, you should win by 10,” Gaitley said. “We had no let up today, and that was coming off a tough loss at Penn State.”

Fordham led Penn State for most of the game. They wilted in the stretch, coming home on the short end of a 65-60 decision. “We outshot and outrebounded them,” Gaitley said. “In the end, we didn’t win. Those last ten minutes, they just wore us down. We can’t get angered from the effort. “It’s a game we can grow from.”

With a roster including five freshmen, growth and maturation are key words on Rose Hill. It is difficult to pinpoint a marquee yearling as a standout talent. Instead, this is a group collectively learning and improving.

“Our young players are learning,” Gaitley said. “Each day, it is fun to see another one of them step up. Today it was nice to see Ralene (Kwiatkowski) give us some good minutes off the bench.”

Zara Jillings, a 5-foot-11 guard came up with eleven rebounds on this afternoon. Joanna King, a 6-3 post player out of Germany had been sick and still contributed 6 points in nine minutes. Guards Katie McLaughlin and Kendell Heremaia had the opportunity to get more playing time in this contest. Breanna Cavanaugh scored 14 points while handing out three assists, showing added value by occasionally running the point, allowing Holden to move to the two guard slot. “This was a game we were able to get minutes for everyone," Gaitley said.

The freshman orientation, though, goes far beyond games. It is a daily process of teaching. “We make it a point to talk with each of them as much as possible,” Gaitley said.

Five non-conference games prior to the Atlantic 10 opener against George Washington on New Year’s Eve remain. Highlighted are a trip to St. John’s on Tuesday and home date with UCLA on the 20th of December.

“Our non-conference schedule always challenges us and prepares for conference play,” Gaitley said. “We scheduled with the idea of having a few veterans we lost here with us. This is a young group, and the young kids are doing very well responding to the challenge." A summer trip to Italy and Spain helped, as the first-year players were able to learn the system and indoctrinate into the program.  

The Atlantic 10 will be competitive. Gaitley is not about to prognosticate the conference race. Her concern is Fordham’s development.

“Right now,” she said. “The kids have responded. Especially after a setback, they are quick to bounce back.”

Chaise Daniels to take leave of absence from Quinnipiac

Chaise Daniels, thought of to be Quinnipiac's best player entering season, will take personal leave from program just weeks before Bobcats begin MAAC play. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Quinnipiac's work in progress continues on.

After following up a 21-point loss to Lafayette with a thrilling victory over Columbia, which was then erased by a close loss to Hartford, it was announced Saturday that the Bobcats would be without the services of senior forward Chaise Daniels for the foreseeable future, as the Connecticut native is taking a personal leave from the program.

"At this time, Chaise Daniels is taking a personal leave from our men's basketball team," head coach Baker Dunleavy said in a statement. "Our program will continue to support him through this process."

A native of Meriden, Connecticut, a short distance from Quinnipiac's Hamden campus, Daniels had been averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, with the former enough to solidify him as the Bobcats' second-leading scorer behind Cameron Young. However, things appeared to take a different turn in Thursday's loss to Hartford, as Daniels was benched in the second half and only registered 13 minutes, showing his frustration by throwing a chair after being given the hook, as was reported by Dylan Fearon of Q30 Television in Hamden.

Initially rumored to be transferring out of the program along with Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss after Dunleavy was hired as Tom Moore's successor at the end of March, Daniels had a change of heart and decided to stick it out for his final campaign. His return paved the way for a preseason all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference third team selection, but the 6-foot-9 forward may not have been the best fit for Dunleavy's offensive scheme, which is very similar to the four-guard attack he helped Jay Wright hone to perfection as an assistant at Villanova before taking over at Quinnipiac. In the Bobcats' last four contests, Daniels has only averaged 19 minutes per game while Abdulai Bundu and Jacob Rigoni, the latter of whom posted a career-high 20 points in the victory against Columbia, have taken on a greater role.

This story will be updated as more details become available.

Ranked for a second time, Seton Hall now guarding its number with extra care

Kevin Willard and Seton Hall have worked to get to their current standing as 19th-ranked team in nation, something that Pirates are now placing greater value in after briefly dropping out of Top 25 last month. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEWARK, NJ -- Throughout his tenure at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard has been, by and large, the type to take every game and every result in stride, not riding too high after a win and not dwelling too far or long on a loss since assuming the reins of the Pirates in 2010.

Therefore, when the eighth-year head coach took a moment Saturday to reflect on how far his program has come; a feeling he has allowed himself to slide into from time to time, following Seton Hall's 90-67 win over VCU, the product of his postgame rumination was a very introspective and poignant assessment of what has been a process spanning multiple seasons, and is now on the precipice of reaching its highest crescendo since the beginning of the century.

"Every day, I wake up and I remind myself it's taken us a long time to get here," Willard humbly declared, with the Pirates set to improve their No. 19 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this coming Monday, moving potentially into their highest placement in the poll since the 2000-01 season, when a No. 7 ranking represented the high water mark in a season where the late Eddie Griffin led Seton Hall to the NCAA Tournament. "This group has worked extremely hard. I have five guys that spent three summers -- they haven't gone home in the summers -- they've been here working, they've been sacrificing. I don't ask them, I don't have any rules on it, I don't tell them that they have to be here. They're driven, and they want it."

Getting to where Seton Hall presently stands has only been half the battle. Ranked to start the season, the Pirates carried the number next to their name for three weeks before losing it in a one-point loss to Rhode Island on Thanksgiving night, a No. 20 standing in the polls having evaporated for a week before victories against Texas Tech and Louisville vaulted the Hall back into the creme de la creme of college basketball. Since then, the Pirates have protected the number much more vigilantly, defending it with the same pride and toughness they take the court with nightly, regardless of whether they receive votes from the media or coaches.

"I talked to them yesterday for about an hour about things given and things earned," said Willard. In life, you're really going to appreciate things that are earned more than things that are given. What I talked to them about was that they've earned this ranking. It wasn't given to them. We've played a tough schedule, had some big wins, we've earned the right to get ranked. And when you earn something, you want to take care of it."

"I always try to teach my guys in life, people are going to give you stuff and you're going to take that and chuck it in the back of your closet," he continued. "But the things that you've earned with your paycheck, that you go out and buy, you're going to appreciate. And I think these guys have really appreciated the fact that they've worked very hard, they've sacrificed a lot to get this, and they don't now want to give it away."