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.