Team preview: Albany
Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2004-05 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
Editor's Note: Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, long known as the Bible of college basketball, to provide a comprehensive look at all 326 Division I teams.
Will Brown is matter-of-fact when stating his team's primary goal for the 2004-05 season.
"I think we can be the most improved team in college basketball, I really do," the Albany coach said before pausing. "We won five games last year, so we've got a lot of room to improve."
Yes, the Great Danes do, but even with five starters returning this is not the 2003-04 Albany team that scored just 38 points while losing by five points to New Hampshire in the lowest-scoring game in America East Tournament history.
This Albany team will feature the return of sophomore Jamar Wilson, the 2002 America East Rookie of the Year, and the addition of transfers Lucious Jordan and Kirsten Zoellner, a 7-1 center who spent two seasons at Boston College.
Wilson played just one game last season after fracturing the lower end of his right knee cap in practice. Jordan led Loyola College in scoring in 2002-03. Zoellner and junior-college transfer Brandon Perry will be welcome additions to an Albany team that ranked 318th out of the 326 Division I teams in scoring (57.9 ppg) last season.
The Great Danes will also have a full roster for the first time in Brown's two seasons. Every player on the roster was recruited by Brown.
"It's going to be a great problem to figure out who to play," Brown said. "I can't wait."
It may also be a problem for America East foes, who have feasted on the Great Danes (11-32 record in regular season and tournament games) since they entered the league in 2001.
"Albany is going to be much, much improved," said Vermont coach Tom Brennan, who has led his team to the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.
The catalyst will be Wilson (18.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg in 2002-03), a 6-1 guard who has added 33 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus.
"He was a 152-pound freshman and now he's a 185-pound man," Brown said.
Wilson had surgery in December and has been busy rehabbing since March. Brown expects him back at full speed this fall and to pick up where he left off after his freshman season.
"He's very crafty, he can score in a variety of ways," Brown said. "It's awfully difficult for defenses to keep him from getting to the basket and it's even more difficult to keep him from getting to the free-throw line."
That task will be made more difficult by the addition of Zoellner, a native of Hannover, Germany, who appeared in 15 games during his two seasons at BC.
"Teams are going to have to play our perimeter guys one-on-one because we've got a 7-1 kid in the middle that's going to demand a double-team," Brown said.
While Zoellner (0.3 ppg, 0.2 rpg in nine games in 2002-03) didn't make a huge impact in the Big East, he should be quite formidable in the America East. "I love him," Brown said. "He's even better than I thought. He likes to catch the ball with his back to the basket, take one dribble and dunk it." Jordan, a 6-2 guard, will also make an immediate impact. An Albany-area native, he helped Colonie High School to two state championships and was Loyola's leading scorer in his two seasons at the school (13.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.0 spg in 2002-03).
"He just brings another dimension to our program," Brown said. "He's an all-conference caliber player."
The 6-1 Perry (15.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg) brings his own dimension outside shooting from Jacksonville (Texas) Community College. An All-Region XIV selection, he connected on 41.2 percent of his three-point attempts and 81.2 percent of his free throws.
"He's a big-time perimeter threat for us," Brown said.
The additions and upgrades will certainly make life easier for Levi Levine (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.6 spg, 37.8 mpg) and Jon Iati (14.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 40.0 mpg), who combined to score 792 of the Great Danes' 1,621 points (48.4 percent) last season.
Brown describes the play of Levine, a 6-6 junior forward, as "ugly but effective."
"He's going to be a YMCA legend when he's older," Brown quips. "He's ready for the 30-and-over league right now."
Maybe not quite yet. Levine is still more than holding his own at the college level.
"It's tough for any four to match up with him because he does so many things on the perimeter," Brown said of a player who has logged time at almost every position during his first two seasons.
Iati, a 5-9 sophomore, had shoulder surgery last August and wasn't cleared to play or practice until a week before the Great Danes' first game. It took Iati some time to get over the injury, but he earned America East Rookie-of-the-Year honors and led the nation in minutes played.
Iati is a great shooter, but his percentages suffered (.355 FG, .313 3PT) because he played so much and had to try to create opportunities for himself.
"He can shoot the ball from anywhere," Brown said. "He's the one guy that's going to reap the benefits of the new additions the most. He's going to get open shots and not have to force things."
Albany should also get solid contributions from its two best athletes, 6-6 senior forwards Aquawasi St. Hillaire and Chris Wyatt.
St. Hillaire (9.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.0 bpg) finished sixth in the conference in rebounding and has added strength to his 190-pound frame. He can also shoot well while facing the basket.
Wyatt (6.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.0 spg) played well in the second half of the season and can be a force around the basket when he avoids foul trouble. Sophomore Courtney Johnson, a 6-0 walk-on, started 19 games and averaged 31 minutes at guard last season. A good defender, Johnson (5.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.3 spg) will need to improve his shooting to play a regular role in the rotation. Jerrad Knotts (3.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg), a 6-6 junior forward, played 17.4 minutes per game in 2003-04, but may also be forced to take on a lesser role.
Brown has also brought in four freshman and, for the first time in his tenure, won't be forced to play them right away. Joe Dyson, a 6-9 center, may be the most ready to contribute immediately. A third-team all-state pick from the Sanford School in Delaware, he gives the Great Danes size and strength on the interior.
Brent Wilson, a 6-8 forward, brings a soft shooting touch to New York's Capital District from Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he averaged 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Brian Lillis, a 6-5 swing player from Dowling High School in Des Moines, Iowa, and David Bauman, a 6-2 guard from Sarver, Pa., round out the class.
Things are certainly looking up for Albany as Brown has spent a great deal of time and energy building this program from the bottom. Wilson, Jordan and Iati give the Great Danes three very good guards and Levine, Zoellner and St. Hillaire can be an effective frontcourt combination.
"We're going to have size, depth athleticism a little bit of everything for a change," Brown said.
Albany will have to make some adjustments as Wilson, Jordan and Zoellner cope with the effects of a season away from competitive college basketball and others take on new and sometimes reduced roles.
How well the Great Danes handle these changes will determine how much progress they make this season. This will certainly be Albany's best team since it joined the America East and finishing in the top half of the league is an ambitious, but attainable, goal if all goes well.
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