The early fall is the time that the seasons of several important team sports converge. This week, the MLB playoffs and college football are moving forward, the NFL season is taking shape, the new seasons of the NBA and NHL are beginning, the college basketball conferences are previewing the next season at their annual media days.
The Atlantic-10 Conference held its Media Day at Barclays Center on Tuesday. The location was chosen because Barclays will be hosting the A-10 Championship in March for the third straight season.
Each of the 14 head coaches in the currently misnamed conference (there are 14 teams in the Atlantic-10) met with members of the media to discuss the upcoming season. Much of interest was told to reporters during the lengthy event, but this article will focus on the only New York City team in the A-10, Fordham University.
Although hundreds of college teams compete in thousands of games each season, a number of coincidences regarding Fordham personnel show college basketball is a small world. Fordham’s coach Tom Pecora began his career in coaching as an assistant to Bob Mckillop at Long Island Lutheran 30 years ago. McKillop, now in his 26th year as the coach at Davidson, was also at Media Day as Davidson is the newest member of the conference.
Pecora was an assistant coach at UNLV under coach Rollie Massimino during 1992-93. Massimino’s grandson, Matt, is on this year’s Fordham roster. Paul Hewitt, the coach at George Mason, was an assistant coach at Fordham.
Fordham finished last in the A-10 last year and was chosen to be last in the pre-season poll revealed on Tuesday. Yet, before the season begins, hope springs eternal. Pecora enthused, “This is the best time of the year. I like the anticipation and the unpredictability of a college basketball season.” Coach Chris Mooney of Richmond reiterated the feeling in his interview, “All coaches are excited and optimistic this time of the year.”
Several of the teams, including Fordham, took overseas trips during the off-season. The Fordham coach believes the trip to Canada will benefit his team for several reasons, “the practices, the cultural experiences and competing together.” He feels the bonding experience is invaluable for a team with “seven new bodies.”
Hewitt, who traveled with his team to Spain, spoke even more strongly, “The trip to Spain will help us more than anything that happened last season.”
Pecora spoke very positively of several of the newcomers. Eric Paschall, 6-6, was a standout at Dobbs Ferry High School in Westchester County and the New England Prep School player of the year at St. Thomas More in Connecticut. Pecora told of the youngster’s versatility on the court, “He’s 17 years old; he can play positions 2, 3 or 4; we expect a lot of Eric.”
He said of Chris Sengfelder, 6-8, of Germany, “He’s really been a big surprise.”
Pecora also anticipates improvement in his returning players. Last year’s prize recruit, Jon Severe of Brooklyn, was on the A-10 All-Rookie Team and has been selected as a preseason choice for A-10 Third Team. Pecora explained the opposition game plan last year was to stop Severe from scoring, “He was being defended by grown men. This year, there’ll be less of a burden.”
He also talked of why he expects two upperclassmen to improve, “Senior Bryan Smith is finally playing his natural position. The offensive game of Junior Ryan Rhomes, 6-8, has blossomed.”
Fordham’s home arena, the Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx, has been oft-criticized as the oldest Division I gym and for its limited seating of 3,200. Yet, Pecora praised it as one of Fordham’s strengths, “Rose Hill is a special place. It reeks of tradition. It’s a great home court advantage. Sixteen games there is a good thing.”
Shaka Smart, the coach of the unanimous choice for first place in the A-10, VCU, reminisced of his first visit to Rose Hill, “They had Smush Parker and a hell of a team. Bob Hill was the coach. It was different and a challenge.”
Pecora, a native of Queens Village said of himself, “I’m born and bred there. It’s important for me to be a part of New York basketball.” Thus, he is exceptionally pleased to be playing against St. John’s University at Madison Square Garden (December 14) and against Manhattan College, its Bronx rival, at Barclays on December 28.
Fordham’s season will begin on November 14 at the Rose Hill Gym against the New York Institute of Technology.