Robert Morris reloads for another shot at the Big Dance

Robert Morris Colonials: 26-11 (13-5 NEC), Lost in NEC Finals to LIU-Brooklyn, 90-73

Players Lost:
G Brandon Herman (transfer) – 1.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.7 apg
F Lawrence Bridges – 3.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.0 apg
SG Karon Abraham (dismissed from team) – Did not play

Incoming Players:
Karvel Anderson, 6’2″ G – Glen Oaks CC (MI)
Vaughn Morgan, 6’6″ F – Southwestern Christian College (TX)
Stephan Hawkins, 6’9″ PF – Bowman Academy (IN)
Jervon Pressley, 6’7″ PF – Towson University (MD)

For the fourth straight March, the Robert Morris Colonials found themselves in the NEC Championship game with an opportunity to clinch an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.  For the 2nd consecutive time, however, they fell victim to the offensively gifted LIU Blackbirds – this time by succumbing to a tempo more suited for Julian Boyd, Jason Brickman and company.

The defeat exposed some weaknesses of Robert Morris, most notably their inconsistent outside shooting and somewhat thin frontcourt.  It was a difficult setback, but head coach Andy Toole and his staff regrouped to sign a splendid recruiting class addressing their most glaring needs.

The first recruit of note is 6-foot-2 combo guard Karvel Anderson.  Anderson is a gifted scorer who comes from a difficult background, yet despite his troubles, he persevered to finally earn a Division I scholarship.  This past season at Glen Oaks, Anderson averaged more than 24 ppg, even though he played with a pin in his surgically repaired wrist all season.  His natural ability to score, however, wasn’t the most impressive thing about his game.

“One of the things I really like about Karvel is his efficiency,” Toole explained. “The thing that jumps out at you is his scoring average, but what I really liked was the fact he shot 46% from the floor and 43% from three.”

Anderson should play significant minutes right away, mainly as a “2” who can stretch the defense with his range.

“We needed to bring in another outside shooter, someone else that could really knock it down from the parameter to complement Coron (Williams),” Toole said.  “We hope that Karvel pushes Coron and we hope they compete for minutes, because competition obviously gets the best out of everybody.”

With their need for a long-range shooter filled, Robert Morris turned their attention to acquiring some frontcourt depth.  Junior college transfer Vaughn Morgan and true freshman Stephan Hawkins were signed, and each player has the potential to contribute right away.

The 6-foot-6 Morgan is an exceptional athlete who plays above the rim with his freakish leaping ability (seriously watch that clip and tell me if anyone else in the NEC can do that).  Because of his physical gifts, Morgan should reek havoc around the basket at both ends of the floor.  He can also knock down the mid-range jumper, something the now graduated Lawrence Bridges couldn’t do.  His athleticism is remarkable at the NEC level, but Toole is cautiously optimistic when talking about Morgan’s upside.

“Vaughn is extremely gifted athletically.  The learning curve with him will be all of the concepts and some of the teaching points that we’re going to deal with.  The sooner he picks those things up, the easier it will be for him to let his athleticism shine through.”

When asked if Morgan is the best athlete he’s ever signed at Robert Morris, Toole added, “From a jumping perspective, yeah.  It’s not even close.  He’ll have some highlights this year, I’m pretty positive of that.”

The other newcomer competing for time at the “4” will be Hawkins, who held his own at the Pittsburgh Summer Pro-Am while banging bodies with stronger and more experienced big men.  According to Toole, Hawkins makes up for his lack of strength with excellent instincts, great length, and a nice 12-to-15 foot jumper to keep defenders honest.  He positions himself well around the basket and should serve as yet another valuable piece to the Colonials deep rotation.

The last piece of the recruiting puzzle is Towson transfer Jervon Pressley.  Pressley is ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but a year off will benefit the North Carolina native.  He struggled in a difficult situation at Towson, so Pressley will help his cause by practicing with a seasoned and physical frontcourt for a full season.  It was only a year ago that Pressley was graded as an 87 by ESPN Recruiting.  To put that number in perspective, only Dwaun Anderson, the super recruit heading to Wagner, ranked higher among all 2012 NEC signed recruits.

Coming off a 26 win season, the Colonials return their top 7 players in terms of efficiency rating.  Add 3 potential impact newcomers for 2012, another year of development for Lucky Jones, Mike McFadden, and Anthony Myers, and you have the makings of a very deep and talented team.  The other teams of the elite tier certainly won’t back down, but Robert Morris has as good a chance as any to capture their 3rd NEC championship in the past 5 years.  With senior Velton Jones leading the charge, you can bet he and his Colonials won’t go down easy.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride.

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