NORTH DARTMOUTH, MA-After making progress in 2011-12 following an off year in 2010-11, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth men's basketball team looks to challenge for the championship of the Little East Conference.
The Corsairs will look to blend a core of returning veterans with some talented newcomers as they make their way back up to the top of the conference standings.
"We're young, and we have a lot of untested players," said UMass Dartmouth Head Coach Brian Baptiste. "We're going to start with the five veterans we have coming back, and build from there. We have some good young talent in the program. It may take them some time to get on the same mesh with veterans, get on the same page, and learn the system, but we have some good athleticism, and we plan on using it."
The backcourt should be a position of strength. "I like our point guard position," said Baptiste. "We have a true point guard in (freshman) Jacek Louisville (Worcester, MA/Holy Names HS) and we have a transfer who played one semester of college ball in (sophomore) Mike Rotando (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ/Point Pleasant Beach HS/Bloomfield), and, between the two of them, they'll be splitting time at the point guard position. Mike is also a very talented two guard. He can put the ball on the floor, he's a lights out three-point shooter, and he's a very good basketball player."
In addition to talent in the backcourt, the Corsairs also have depth. "We also have (sophomore) Jordan Grace (Cambridge, MA/Rindge & Latin HS), who was a backup last year," said Baptiste. "I've seen a lot of improvement from him, and he can also play at the off guard position. (Sophomore) Chris Riveira (Holyoke, MA/Holyoke HS) is also a true point guard who will see action as a backup."
At the other guard spot, there are a number of options. "We have (junior) John Genkos (Worcester, MA/Doherty HS/Clark), who is a veteran player, and a very good three-point shooter who knows the system and is a good leader and a good captain," said Baptiste. "We're expecting a lot from him this year. (Sophomore) Jake Laga (Northampton, MA/Northampton GS) played some quality minutes last year, and he got better as the season went on. He can shoot from the perimeter, handle the ball well, and get to the basket, and we're looking for him to mature as a player this year. Jordan Grace will be a backup here; he can shoot, has good speed and quickness, knows our system well and works hard on the defensive end."
Several newcomers will contribute at the off guard and shooting forward positions. "(Freshman) Aven Jones (Beverly, MA/Beverly HS) handles the ball well, shoots well, and rebounds well for a guard," said Baptiste. "He is a smart player who has good tools. (Sophomore) Emmanuel Abioye (Dorchester, MA/Kennedy HS) is a Division II athlete. He is quick, long, and can get to the basket. He has exceptional athleticism, and should be tremendous when we press. (Junior) Aaron West (Chicopee, MA/Chicopee HS/Northwood-FL) will play small forward. He is a good rebounder, works very hard, is a smart player and plays with a lot of energy. He should be very effective for us this year. We also have (freshman) Abi Akanni (Fitchburg, MA/Fitchburg GS), who can face the basket, shoot threes and play in the post. He could be very valuable to us.
Two starters return up front. "We have (junior) Eleazar Clayton (Boston, MA/East Boston HS/Monroe CC) returning from an injury last year," said Baptiste. "He's strong, he's physical, and he shoots well and goes to the basket well in addition to being a good rebounder. (Sophomore) Alex Rodrigues (Fall River, MA/Durfee HS) is our starting center. He is a good rebounder, has good skills and good post moves, and he can also shoot the three. (Freshman) Wale Abraham (Lynn, MA/Lynn Classical HS) has good jumping ability and athleticism, and is a good rebounder and shot blocker, and (sophomore) Dirisu Alasa (Randolph, MA/Randolph HS) will be a backup at the power forward position."
With an abundance of quickness, the Corsairs will look to set a fast tempo. "We're going to play up-tempo, we're going to press teams more than we did last year, and we're going to run," said Baptiste. "The key for us is going to be our ability to defend well. With our quickness, our goal is force teams to turn the ball over 20 times a game and not turn the ball over ourselves, which can offset a deficit in rebounding."
As usual, UMass Dartmouth plays a challenging schedule. "The schedule is pretty difficult," said Baptiste. "Rather than going to a Christmas tournament or traveling, we have added two more non-conference games. One is at home against Regis, another is away against Elms, and both of those teams are at the top of their leagues. The other schools we play are all top Division III teams, and we start off with a strong Hampton Inn Tournament with Wheaton, Trinity and Worcester State." It should be an exciting season.