Fordham Coach Keith Urgo was rewarded with a well deserved contract extension after his initial season as head coach of the Fordham Rams. Rose Hill up in the Bronx became “The Thrill” because the Rams went beyond expectations, 25-8 overall, 12-6 in Atlantic 10 Conference play last season.
The Rams took down La Salle in the conference tournament quarterfinals at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Fordham earned their second-ever berth in the A-10 semifinals and fell to Dayton to conclude a thrill, an accomplishment and a brief but rewarding time as the center of attention around the circles of New York City college basketball.
At Atlantic-10 Conference media day Tuesday, that was held at Barclays Center, the site again in March for the conference tournament, Urgo was questioned about his contract extension. Will there be another thrill at Rose Hill, by replicating or surpassing 12 conference wins and the semifinals?
“Excited for the season,” he said. “Little different from last year. Really excited for our young talent, a lot of depth, a lot of athleticism.There’s no pressure honestly, we put in a lot of work. We have a tremendous staff. We have great young kids.”
Urgo said, “And for us, it’s just to continue to try to get better each and every day, build young men, I think our staff and our institution have done a tremendous job bringing in the right student athletes who are working, again, every day to become the best team they can be by the end of the year. That’s our goal, whatever that is.”
Basically, Urgo goes with the flow and is no different from last year when the Rams saw a turnaround, a hint of what came after opening conference play with a 2-0 start. Urgo earned conference Coach of The Year, once achieved with Nick Macarchuk (1999) and the Rams finished their season ranked 41st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency which is ranked highest in program history.
Defense and transition should again come into play when the Rams open their season Monday evening November 6 against Wagner. The old Rose Hill Gym will be jumping with expectations of another thrill, though this time without leading scorers Darius Quisenberry and Khalid Moore, both All-Conference players with memories now as part of Fordham basketball history. Quisenberry is playing professional basketball in the Netherlands.
“For us, it’s just trying to show up and get 1 percent better each and every day,” Urgo said. “If we continue to do that, I think we’re gonna like the outcome come March. We got a lot of versatility, guys who could switch on defense and get out and transition, so it should be exciting.”
The goal, of course, is coming up strong in March. Though last season was unexpected, Urgo was not shy about having a goal of being one of those teams that get the call on Selection Sunday and being a part of March Madness. The A-10 tournament winner gets the automatic bid for the NCAA Men’s field of 64, and the conference usually gets another bid or two based on strength of schedule and other factors.
“Fordham is heading in directions nobody is used to,” Urgo said, referring to the NCAA transfer portal. The conference had the second most transfers and Fordham had none, a credit to their institution and what Fordham scholastic athletes have seen is a commitment to a solid foundation.
In years past, and prior to Urgo taking over as head coach, more than one or two of the Rams have vacated Rose Hill which hurt their progression in the conference, including the departure of Joel Soriano a highly touted recruit that transferred to St. John’s and the Big East. But Urgo has been encouraged with the retention of Rams who decide to stay at Rose Hill.
Though the loss of quality scorers will hurt some, Urgo is encouraged that Fordham will be versatile and depend on a solid core that has adapted well. The Rams had a good summer of informal training and are ready to return for another thrill up at Rose Hill. That slogan became popular among on the enthused campus and with the alumni, thanks to Urgo.
Some of the names to watch are Angel Montes and Josh Rivera, a transfer from Lafayette and explosive forward. Urgo is enthused about the progress of Will Richardson, a sophomore and potential all- conference player.
“Abdou Tsimbila has been working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work,” Urgo said about the senior power forward. “He’s healthy again, playing off both legs and really making an impact. Young guys like Romad Dean had a tremendous summer, Elijah Gray (6 ‘8) his ability to put it on the floor, grab it off the rim, and push it in transition. Moah Best, a red-shirt freshman.”
Urgo also touted transfer Japhet Medor saying he “arguably could be one of the fastest guys I’ve ever seen on the court.”
“We’re gonna find out pretty quickly. We love our versatility, have a lot of young guys with great skill, use our depth and athleticism, that’s our strength. Able to spread it around a little bit. Our base is defending and rebounding and transition, a lot of eager guys to spread it around,” Urgo said.
The Rams will also see the return of Antrell Charlton, their senior guard who appeared in all 33 games last season and led the team with 119 assists, including a career high seven against George Washington.
And the center of attention will be Kyle Rose, senior guard from Upper Marlboro, Maryland and A-10 Conference all defensive team pick. Last season, Rose led the Rams and ranked third in the conference with 1.8 steals per game, blocked 21 shots, and ranked third with 7.3 points per game.
“If we can defend and rebound we will be the best team we can,” he said. “Telling yourself I won’t allow this person to score with backing of my teammates. Going in everyday with a professional mindset and helping the younger and less experienced with defense.”
In late January, Rose evolved into that thrill at Rose Hill when he forced GW forward James Bishop IV, one of the best players in the conference, to committing eight turnovers. In another game, he limited Saint Louis’ Yuri Collins to eight points and limited the nations assist leader to four, that resulted in two wins for Fordham.
Fordham was projected to finish seventh in the conference in a poll conducted with coaches and media, Dayton as the number one. But based on last year and to the Rams and their coach, polls can go out the window.
Go back to last year when they were projected to finish next to the bottom. And then a thrill occurred up at Rose Hill.
Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring 786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso