Just over a year ago when Joe Mihalich inherited the job at Hofstra, he knew year one would be a major overhaul.
With a turned over roster, four players taking mandatory redshirts, the Pride took their first step in rejuvenating a program as well as their lumps in Mihalich’s first season at the helm. Despite going 10-22 over the course of the season there are several reasons for optimism, even from the core group of the Pride.
“I feel like there was a lot of success this year,” Mihalich said. “It didn’t show in the wins, but it showed in the spirit, it showed in the attitude, it showed in the demeanor of the program.”
“What you try to do is change the culture and I believe we took a giant step in the right direction to change the culture of the program.”
Hofstra won a Colonial Athletic Association tournament game for the first time since 2011 when they beat UNC Wilmington and led eventual tournament champion Delaware at halftime.
The good news for the Pride is that reinforcements are on the way. Four potential contributors were forced to sit this past season, three of those being transfers. Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, who both sat out after transferring from Niagara last May, are set to contribute as well as Southern Methodist transfer Brian Bernardi. Freshman Eliel Gonzalez qualified in late December and was forced to redshirt this season.
Green ranked second on the Purple Eagles in scoring in 2013 with 16.5 points per game and was named to the First Team All-MAAC. Bernardi scored 3.5 points per game for the Mustangs, but played double-digit minutes in the final eight games of the 2013 season.
From the start of the season to the end of the year, Hofstra’s players said that Green and Tanksley were nightmares to guard in practice. Mihalich said he hopes their continued improvement during this redshirt year helped push the younger players ahead and that he doesn’t see a reason why their games wouldn’t translate as well to the CAA as they did in the MAAC.
Opponents might knew Bernardi as an elite shooter, but Mihalich said “he might be our best perimeter defender” as well as a playmaker. The freshman Gonzalez, who started practicing with the team in December, profiles as a pure point guard.
“He sees the game in slow motion, he knows where guys are going to be,” Mihalich said. “He makes the passes, he uses ball screens. He’s a lead guard and he’s a pure point guard, so it’s great to have him when he’s on the floor, he’ll be making the other guys better.”
The plethora of guards sitting out brings the question of how the redshirts might impact a lineup that graduates Zeke Upshaw and Jordan Allen. Throughout this past season Monmouth transfer Dion Nesmith solidified the point guard spot and has one more year of eligibility. Mihalich said he thinks the added depth and talent will force the summer and fall to be competitive to see who fits in the rotation.
“Probably too early for that,” Mihalich said to name starters for next season. “I mean, I’d be crazy to say Juan’ya Green is not going to start, but it’s probably too soon for that.”
“It’s going to be fun, whoever starts is going to really earn it and also be really pushed by the guys behind him. Whoever comes off the bench is going to make us a better team when they go on the floor because of the guys ahead of them, it’s a coach’s dream because we’re going to have some whoever starts, whichever of those four guys start, there are going to be some guys pushing right at their heels. Competition keeps you honest, it will be competitive every practice, very competitive.”
Ryan Restivo covers Hofstra, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the America East conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.