Observations and quotes from Quinnipiac’s practice

Recently, I traveled to Hamden to watch the Quinnipiac Bobcats practice. It was my first time meeting Tom Moore, who in Connecticut and the NEC, has a bit of a target on his back from fans of other nearby schools. Maybe people are envious of his recent success, contract, or perhaps the beautiful TD Banknorth Arena has them jealous. No matter how much you dislike Moore and his program though, critics simply can’t ignore Quinnipiac’s recent success. In the past three seasons, Moore has a NEC regular season championship and an average of 21 wins per season.

Below you’ll find my random thoughts and several quotes from my hour plus conversation with Moore.

– Zaid Hearst was impressive in practice. His practice intensity and confidence shooting the mid-range jumper stood out the most to me. About a month ago, I identified Hearst as one of my breakout candidates, and really, this practice reiterated my belief in him. Moore has been impressed with Hearst’s work ethic, since his strong finish last season.

“To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have said [Hearst is ready] in January, but he got better as the year went on,” said Moore. “The thing I love about [Hearst] is he took that ending and from April to now, no one in our program has worked harder. He’s just one of those kids – like James Johnson was – you don’t have to force to the gym and you don’t have to beg him to the gym. He just works, so his body is great right now, his toughness is great right now, and his game is improving all of time.”

– While Hearst is the leading candidate to replace most of Johnson’s production on the court, Moore expects multiple guys on the team to replace Johnson’s leadership. Seniors Dave Johnson and Jamee Jackson, Ike Azotam, and Hearst were quickly identified as those guys. The thing that worries Moore the most, however, is who will step up late in the game and become that go-to-guy when the Bobcats need a bucket. It’s a big time concern for Moore.

“The ability at the end of games and at big times in the shot clock where [James Johnson] wanted the ball and guys were used to deferring a bit, and he was always willing to take those shots. So I don’t know [who will fill that role]. I hope that’s something that evolves, because we brought in some real talent on the perimeter, but it’s inexperienced talent.”

– Speaking of perimeter talent, Kendrick Ray’s athleticism and James Ford’s perimeter stroke grabbed my attention. The 6-foot-3 Ray is a terrific leaper, and he should make an impact on the floor as a combo guard. Moore would like to ease Ray’s role early on, mainly by playing him off-the-ball, rather than backing up starting PG Dave Johnson. James Ford has a real opportunity to fill a long range shooting niche as a freshman. Quinnipiac struggled last year shooting behind the arc, so Ford’s energy and shooting prowess could find him time right away. At practice, even Ford’s contested misses found the inside of the rim more often than not. This kid can flat out shoot.

“He is our most natural three-point shooter right now,” said Moore in regards to Ford. “I have to make sure he keeps thinking like a three-point shooter and we’ve been really impressed by him.”

– There’s always one player on the team that challenges a coaching staff, and that player for Quinnipiac is 6-foot-9 center Ousmane Drame. Drame is a physical speciman in the NEC, so now the struggle for Moore is to reve up his competitive fire. The beast in the paint lacks intensity at times, and at one point during practice, Drame was told by Moore to leave the scrimmage and sit on the sidelines (6-foot-3 guard Evan Conti came in for Drame and had to guard Azotam, which as you could imagine was wildly entertaining to watch). When talking about Drame, Moore proclaimed how much he loves to coach talented and intelligent players such as Drame. Yet Moore is still trying to tweak and push the right buttons when it comes to handling his big forward.

“[Drame] was a guy – watching him in July [during the recruiting period] – that I loved,” said Moore. “But because of his body language – it can be a little casual and he can stand a lot off the ball – he was one of those guys that the more I saw him, the more convinced I was of his talent, but the more concerned I was with [Drame’s competitive] fire. But I just felt that he was so talented, that when we got him in the program it could really work.”

Moore also reiterated that he expects Drame to have a “monster season.”

– Moore also expects big things out of the versatile Jamme Jackson, who sat out of practice with a minor groin injury. Last season, Jackson suffered a freak injury in the warmup line before Niagara when he awkwardly landed on a ball he had just dunked. Before then, Jackson had an impressive three game stretch where he averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. If healthy, Moore plans to give his senior forward big time minutes in the frontcourt along with Drame and Azotam.

“Jamee’s been a monster so far,” said Moore. “In my opinion, he’s the most athletic and hardest playing inside player in this league. I feel like I’m sitting on a secret right now, because he was just getting to that point last season before he broke the bone in his foot on December. He can play low post guys, move them off the block, alter their shot, he can do anything you need out of a low post guy. He can also guard fours that pick and pop.”

– Jackson will be part of a deep frontcourt that also includes Justin Harris (who displayed a solid 15 foot jumper) and Marquis Barnett. In the backcourt, there appears to be a three-way competition for playing time between Evan Conti, freshman Tariq Carey, and Shaq Shannon. Expect Moore to ride the hot hand among those three in-season.

And there you have it. 1000 words and I’ve barely mentioned All-NEC preseason first team selection Ike Azotam. The junior will continue to command the ball in the post, and has developed a quick-release jump hook. A season of 17 ppg/10 rpb/1.2 bpg from Azotam is not out of the question.

Add it all up, and you have a legit contender in the NEC. Perhaps this season, Quinnipiac will find some of the luck needed to represent the NEC in the NCAA tournament.

7 thoughts on “Observations and quotes from Quinnipiac’s practice

  1. I couldn’t disagree with you more when you say teams in the league are envious of Coach Moore. Quinnipiac has yet to win a NEC Championship despite having guys like James Feldine, Justin Rutty and James Johnson go through their program. If anything they are the biggest underachiever in the NEC. That being said Quinnipiac is the darkhorse of the league this season and could win the whole thing. They have three legit players in Azotam, Drame and Jackson in their frontcourt and more than enough pieces to replace Johnson in their backcourt. Quinnipiac is legit, but Coach Moore can’t win the big one.

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  2. You are putting words in my mouth, I said some fans, not teams, are perhaps envious of Moore’s recent success. I’ve seen it firsthand, especially from interacting with SHU and CCSU diehards. Among them, a majority despises Moore and sometimes i can sense a hint of jealously. I’m the first to admit I wish the Pioneers were playing in an arena like TD Banknorth, rather than the makeshift Pitt Center. That was really my point.

    And although Moore can’t win the big one in your eyes, you can’t dispute he’s put them in a position to win. They lost a nailbiter to RMU on their home floor in the finals and just last year they were up 8 with 5 to play versus the defending NEC champs on the road. Maybe Moore choked in the end or maybe Boyd and company were too much down the stretch. Sometimes you need a lucky break or two to climb over the hump in a competitive low mid-major conference. But you have to be in position first and Moore has done that. To say he’s been the biggest underachiever of the NEC is baseless, in my opinion.

    And as always, thanks for your comment!

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  3. We can agree to disagree. I can see where Sacred Heart and CCSU fans would be jealous of Quinnipiac because they have been the best team from Connecticut in the NEC. I’m a Robert Morris grad and enjoyed watching RMU knock Quinnipiac out of the NEC playoffs 3 years in a row. Last year Quinnipiac choked away a lead and was once again knocked out of the playoffs, although last season they were an underdog. RMU went up to Quinnipiac under Mike Rice and won the NEC title on the Bobcats home court. Then Andy Toole was able to do the same thing in the semifinals the following year. So down in Pittsburgh not much jealousy for Quinnipiac.

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  4. We can agree to disagree. I can see where Sacred Heart and CCSU fans would be jealous of Quinnipiac because they have been the best team from Connecticut in the NEC. I’m a Robert Morris grad and enjoyed watching RMU knock Quinnipiac out of the NEC playoffs 3 years in a row. Last year Quinnipiac choked away a lead and was once again knocked out of the playoffs, although last season they were an underdog. RMU went up to Quinnipiac under Mike Rice and won the NEC title on the Bobcats home court. Then Andy Toole was able to do the same thing in the semifinals the following year. So down in Pittsburgh not much jealousy for Quinnipiac. Keep up the good work. I enjoy Big Apple Buckets.

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  5. Solid notes. As a senior at Quinnipiac who has closely followed this team for the past four years, most of the points you brought up are solid. One quick note, the arena is called the TD Bank Sports Center. It is not the TD Banknorth Arena.

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