Central Connecticut’s 2012 recruiting class full of athletes

 Central Connecticut Blue Devils: 13-16 (10-8 NEC), Lost 1st round in NEC Tournament to Wagner, 87-77

Players Lost:
F Ken Horton – 19.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.4 bpg, 2 time All-NEC 1st Teamer
SG Robby Ptacek – 17.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 92% FT%
F David Simmons – 3.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 67% FG%

Incoming Players:
Khalen Cumberlander, 6’3” G – Coolidge High (DC)
Brandon Peel, 6’6” PF – Riverdale Baptist School (MD)
Matthew Hunter, 6’5” G/F – Odessa College (TX)
Jalen Chapman, 6’6” PF – Eagle Academy (NY)

The Central Connecticut Blue Devils were arguably the biggest disappointment of the Northeast Conference (NEC) last season, finishing with a losing record and suffering a 1st round NEC tournament defeat at the hands of Wagner.  It wasn’t supposed to end like this for a team expected to contend, especially with accomplished seniors Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek leading the way.

With the disappointment however, comes optimism and hope for the Blue Devil faithful.  Head coach Howie Dickenman, the second longest tenured coach in the NEC, has a fine track record for recruiting talent.  Since the 1998-99 season, Dickenman has coached 5 NEC Players of the Year, 3 NEC Defensive Players of the Year, 2 NEC Rookies of the Year, and 21 All-NEC selections.  So now, with four shiny athletic recruits – and one eligible redshirt freshman – on CCSU’s roster, you can bet the rest of the conference will take notice.

One freshman that could provide an instant impact is 6-foot-3 combo guard Khalen Cumberlander.  Cumberlander can score in a variety of ways, but his penetration into the lane and transition game may be his biggest strengths.  The DC star led his team in scoring his senior season, while helping Coolidge High win a DCIAA championship.  High school defenders had great difficulty staying in front of Cumberlander, thanks to his excellent shiftiness, agility and ball control.  As documented several times in the Washington Post, he never shied away from a big moment, which bodes well for a CCSU team that had trouble closing out games last season.  With sophomores Malcolm McMillan and a dedicated Kyle Vinales locked in as CCSU’s starting backcourt, look for Cumberlander to receive key minutes off the bench in his freshman campaign.

Another impact newcomer is junior college transfer Matthew Hunter.  It’s been a long tough road for Hunter, but after spending two years at Odessa College improving his grades, he received three Division I offers this past winter.  Luckily for Dickenman, Hunter chose CCSU where he can play with his old buddy and Detroit AAU teammate Vinales.  More importantly, Hunter has a terrific opportunity ahead of him, given the youth and lack of experience on CCSU’s front line.  Hunter is a stat filler and should impact the game on both ends of the floor right away.

Last season, the undersized Blue Devils were in the bottom half of the NEC in rebounding rate, and that was with Horton on the team.  To help make up for their rebounding deficiency, Coach Dickenman signed a pair of 6-foot-6 high energy rebounders in Brandon Peel, and more recently, Jalen Chapman.

Peel, much like the majority of incoming NEC freshmen, needs time to develop his scoring acumen, yet it’s his rebounding and defensive presence that may give the opposing team headaches.  Characterized as the ultimate team player in high school, Peel did whatever it took for his team to win – crash the glass, block shots, dive on the floor for loose balls, and take some offensive charges.  Dickenman has admitted Peel probably needs time to mature; therefore the high-motored clean-shaven Peel probably won’t log more than 10 minutes per game.

There isn’t much information on Chapman, but CBS Sports College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein had this to say on Twitter, “Central Connecticut is getting solid rebounder in Eagle Academy’s Jalen Chapman.  2012 PF never stops working and always is around the ball.”  That’s certainly nice praise from a respected analyst.  Then again, I’ve never read a negative player review on Rothstein’s Twitter feed, so please take this endorsement with a grain of salt. 

Nevertheless, Peel and Chapman should provide the Blue Devils with much needed athleticism in the frontcourt, and even though they may not help immediately, these two signings could pay dividends down the road.  Because of their rawness offensively, there’s a decent chance that one of these two is redshirted for their first season.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 6-foot-8 power forward Erik Raleigh, who sat out the 2011-12 season as a redshirt.  Dickenman loves the progress made by Raleigh, a Philadelphia native, but it’s anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be as the tallest man in CCSU’s lineup.

For the 2012-13 season, CCSU signed a foursome of talented athletes, with each possessing good to very good upside.  For NEC teams (and other low mid-major conference teams), developing raw athletes is a necessity, because if these players had polished offensive skills out of high school, they more often than not wouldn’t sign with a NEC program.  Now, Coach Dickenman has an opportunity to mold these inexperienced players into a cohesive high octane unit that may some day realize their potential.  The youth and rebuilding movement is in full effect at CCSU, as they attempt to once again represent the Northeast Conference in the NCAA tournament.  It may take a while, but opponents shouldn’t count out Dickenman’s bunch just yet.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference and Sacred Heart University basketball on Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter here.

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