After enduring a wild postseason which included a devastating loss in the NEC semifinals, only to be followed by the greatest win in program history, Robert Morris is in an unusual position. Andy Toole and his staff must reload. Three fifths of the starting lineup has moved on, along with more than 45% of their possession minutes from last season. Campus hero Velton Jones is now an alum looking for a professional gig, and even though the Colonials are equipped to defend their NEC regular season crown, it won’t be easy. It certainly got more difficult when veteran sharpshooter Coron Williams suddenly left Moon Township to play with ACC school Wake Forest.
“I was shocked actually, to be completely honest.” said Toole when asked about his reaction to Williams leaving. “It’s a difficult thing when you have a guy you’re planning to have on your roster that’s no longer there. But that’s the nature of college basketball right now and we have to move on and figure out a way to do things without his services.”
One newcomer expected to fill the void for Williams is JUCO transfer guard Charles Oliver. After a tough freshman season at Rider under Tommy Dempsey, Oliver regained his confidence at Lakeland Community College, averaging 19.3 points per game while converting 44.9% of this three-point attempts. Could Oliver’s blend of size, strength and perimeter skills produce in order to alleviate the loss of Williams?
“(Oliver) has to, if we’re going to be a good team he has to do that,” answered a candid Toole. “He has more size than Coron did. He has more ability to create some mid-range shots for himself, but he’s going to have to work, going to have to figure it out, and learn everything that we’re trying to do day in and day out.”
Overall, it’s been a productive offseason for Toole and his staff, but much of their incoming recruiting class was procured prior to the 2012-13 season. Last year, three notable high school players from the Philadelphia and New Jersey region – a recruiting hotbed for Toole – were signed in 5’11” guard Britton Lee, 5’11” point guard Kavon Stewart, and 6’6″ forward Jeremiah Worthem.
While all three project favorably in the long-term, it’s Worthem that has caught the eye of those watching the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am Summer League. Of course, all summer league results should be taken with a grain of salt, yet there’s no denying Worthem’s aggressive, slashing style that allows him to impressively finish around the rim. It’s a big reason why Worthem had 12 scholarship offers to sift through before ultimately deciding to attend Robert Morris.
“We have high expectations for Jeremiah and I think this summer for him was terrific, because he really got a chance to see what college basketball is all about,” said Toole, referring to Worthem’s time spent on campus this summer. “Obviously, he’s a talented guy who has the ability to score around the basket, he has the ability to put it on the floor, and he has a very good 15-17 foot jump shot. So he has the capability to play inside as well as out. I think he’ll add a lot to our team. He has the talent to contribute right off the bat.”
Stewart and Lee were also considered coups among high school recruiting experts. The crafty Stewart, in particular, profiles a pure point guard with a tight handle, acute court awareness, and an excellent basketball IQ.
“Kavon is somebody who’s really good at getting people shots,” said Toole. “Anytime you can have guys like that in your program, it helps everything flow so much easier. He has the ability to impact the game without ever putting the ball in the basket and I think that’s a unique quality as a point guard at the college level.”
Conversely, Lee projects more as a score first combo guard who can create his own shot, both in the half-court and in transition. Like Stewart, Lee also possesses the talent to impact a game on the defensive end. It’s an obvious quality coveted by Toole, as the head coach of the best defensive club in the NEC last season. Of course, both guards will need to add muscle to their frames to better handle the physicality of Division I basketball.
Finally, there are transfers Aaron Tate and Desjuan “Juanie” Newton, rounding out the six newcomers. Both are considered team-first, glue guys who may be pertinent towards Robert Morris’ near term success.
At 6’5″, Tate is a tough, yet undersized “4” with the ability to face up and make mid-range jumpers. The soon-to-be sophomore compares well to a former Colonial, according to Toole.
“He’s strong, he’s a physical defender a little bit in the framework of what Lawrence Bridges was for us,” explained Toole. “A tough, physical defender who can guard multiple positions. He’ll come in that “4” spot and try to be aggressive, try to be physical, make open shots and clean plays.”
Newton, on the other hand, simply knows how to win, according to his head coach. As a sophomore at Central Arizona College, he was instrumental in guiding his club to a 28-4 and a top 10 ranking in the NJCAA Division I national poll. Oliver, Stewart, Lee, and Newton all significantly upgrade the overall depth of the Colonials’ backcourt behind Anthony Myers and last year’s leading scorer Karvel Anderson, who’s wrist issues may be finally behind him for good.
Nearly half of the roster is turned over, but counting red-shirt senior Lijah Thompson, only six players logged minutes for the Colonials last season. Robert Morris will resemble a bit of a new look, but Toole still feels his team can compete near the top of the wide open NEC. He’ll just have to rely on his newcomers more so than in previous seasons.
“I think it’s going to be different; people are used to seeing Velton (Jones) and Russell (Johnson) and Coron Williams on the floor and those guys are no longer available, so we still have a lot returning and I’m excited about the guys coming in. It might take us a little bit to figure it all out, but hopefully the learning curve won’t be as steep as some people think it will be.”
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride. You can e-mail Ryan at email@example.com.