When head coach Joe Mihalich took over to rebuild a Hofstra roster with just four scholarship players, it did not take him long to form a class that would lay the foundation for his new vision of the program.
When Mihalich met with athletic director Jeff Hathaway about the head coaching job, the two quickly became on the same page as Hofstra looked to replenish their freshman class.
“It’s funny, when I was talking with Jeff down in Atlanta, that’s what we were talking about,” Mihalich said about rebuilding the roster. “He said one of the guys I know they’re recruiting is this kid Chris Jenkins and I said he’s supposed to visit Niagara in a couple of weeks. I said so hire me and we can cancel that visit to Niagara.”
Jenkins signed with Hofstra in weeks after Mihalich’s hiring.
“He just told me to have trust in him and buy into his system,” Jenkins said. “I know he’s a really good coach from what he had done at Niagara in the past, so I know him coming here we could also have a very successful season with him this year, that’s why I wanted to come here and play for him.”
Mihalich quickly revamped the roster with freshmen Jenkins, Eliel Gonzalez and Jamall Robinson, who formerly committed to him at Niagara. Robinson said that most difficult part of the process of getting out of his letter of intent was not being allowed to talk to Mihalich.
“He’s always been at a lot of my high school games and every AAU tournament,” Robinson said that he’s known Mihalich since his junior year in high school. “I always see him everywhere I go to talk and he recruited me really hard. I felt like I owe him that much to at least come here and visit here when he switched.”
Jenkins and Robinson represent the core of Mihalich’s rebuilding effort just as much as transfers Ameen Tanksley, Juan’ya Green and Brian Bernardi do. The two freshmen say that the trio of transfers that sit out challenge them daily.
“I feel like they’re getting me and Jamall ready for what to expect every day on the floor,” Jenkins said of the transfer players pushing them in practice.
For a team that may be young, Mihalich knows that his freshmen will have a steep learning curve. The head coach said he plans to test them early and often throughout his first season with the Pride.
“I say to those three freshmen, hey I’m sorry but I can’t treat you like a freshmen because you’re going to be playing,” Mihalich said. “At the same time we’re very careful to be patient with them because they are going to have to learn on the job. They’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay, but they’re going to learn on the job. We have to be patient with them, at the same time we’re going to treat them like they’re not freshmen.”
Jenkins said that he feels that all of the young players offer different options offensively, while Robinson said that he expects the defense to be better than expected.
“We have guards that can guard one through four,” Robinson said. “We’re so versatile, we can switch on a lot of people. We have so many defenses that I don’t think other teams are ready for.”
The last time Mihalich played a young roster was in 2012 with Niagara when Green and Tanksley were freshmen. They went 14-19 and finished two games under .500 in conference play, but the next season won the regular season title. That appears to be the playbook for this season too: Play a group of young players and build the core of a roster for a 2015 run.
Ryan Restivo covers Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.