Bronx, NY – Fordham University men’s basketball coach Dereck Whittenburg had a reason to finally smile Wednesday evening up in the Bronx at the Rose Hill Gym. His Rams (1-2) won their first game of the season with a 76-66 win over Sacred Heart, and in the process snapped a 12-game losing streak that carried over from last season.
And though this is a much different Fordham team, eight new players joining five veterans, the win came at the right time because most don’t expect Fordham to be any more competitive than their 3-25 finish of last season. “The streak is over,” commented Whittenburg now in his seventh year at Fordham. “It’s a new season,” he said.
There is some optimism that this could be the beginning of the resurgence up at Rose Hill. Whittenburg alluded to the lack of chemistry with some of the seniors last season. Clashing with the coach behind the scenes, or as he says, “outside influences that got into the kids heads,”
In other words it was the ugliest season in Whittenburg’s tenure at Fordham with the exception of the first year in 2003-2004 when the Rams finished 6-22. The Rams finished last in the Atlantic 10 Conference and for the first time failed to qualify for the A-10 post season tournament with a 1-15 conference mark.
You saw things in their third game that offered some optimism, though Sacred Heart offers no comparison to some of the nationally ranked teams in the A-10. Things that the coach liked coming from 6-7 freshman Chris Gaston who scored 22 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked five shots.
“I saw him as a freshman and how he can be in there with the bigger guys,” said Whittenburg who recruited Gaston out of New Hampton Prep School in New Hampton, New Hampshire where he averaged over 17.0ppg and 12 rebounds. In the season opener against Maine last week, Gaston got his first collegiate double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Gaston made 8-of-16 shots for the Rams. He showed confidence on the floor, but Whittenburgh cautioned he is still a freshman. “I want to keep him focused,” he said about Gaston. “I had a talk with him. If you don’t play defense and just concentrate on scoring then I’m taking you out of the game.”
Gaston listened to that talk in the second half. Perhaps what happened last season was that lack of communication. Whittenburgh sees the difference with Gaston and some of the other newcomers. “We executed better,” said the coach, words that were hardly said all last year.
“I am just going to do everything that I can to show them my ability,” said Gaston. He knows that his ability could lead the Fordham program back to respectability. “It’s been developing all week as to what I can do,” he said. “This is a team effort and all we have to do is execute and take control.”
Part of that execution against Sacred Heart (2-1) was Fordham going on a 21-2 run over a span of 7:25 in the second half. That gave them a 72-51 lead. Gaston had eight points during the run and senior guard Brenton Butler, 15 points, also had eight during that span.
So it was a team effort and reason for optimism before traveling to Hartford, and taking on the Jaspers at Manhattan College for the annual Battle of the Bronx all in the next ten days.
“We’re gonna see the true test of our team,” said Whittenburg.
E-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com