Wagner Is Starting Over

It’s time to start over.

Wagner Seahawks logoAfter two consecutive 19-win seasons that ended with disappointing home losses in the NEC tournament semifinals Bashir Mason — who is still the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I — is rebuilding the Wagner Seahawks from scratch.

Dwaun Anderson is the only starter that returns from last season and senior guard Marcus Burton is the only other returning player who averaged more than eight minutes per game during the 2013-14 season.

There are a bunch of minutes to be filled and a number of intriguing options. But this is definitely Mason’s team now.

“This is actually my own team that I recruited. It has a different feel. A different energy,” Mason said.

While almost every player — including each of the five freshmen — will have an opportunity to make an impact, some of the names to watch include Stedman Allen, JoJo Cooper and Mike Aaman.

Allen is a New York City product and a former McDonald’s All-American nominee. After two seasons of junior college basketball the 6’6” 200-pound forward should immediately give the Seahawks another presence on the blocks.

Aaman comes to the Seahawks from the program of a former Wagner head coach. A series of concussions knocked Aaman out of Dan Hurley’s URI program, but he’s been cleared to play and had a strong summer in the Jersey Shore Basketball League. Now the Seahawks need to get a waiver for the 6’8” junior forward, but if they can Aaman is a high-level talent who could also fit right in alongside sophomore returnees Nolan Long and Greg Senat.

The Seahawks also have a number of backcourt minutes to fill. A particularly big loss was the tough, defensive-minded attitude of former point guard Kenneth Ortiz. Ortiz was a bulldog on the ball who averaged 1.8 spg last season and was the anchor of Wagner’s NEC leading defense. Cooper, who played football for three seasons in high school and was recruited by a number of mid-major programs, is the player Mason is hoping can help replace those minutes.

“I’m excited about this group,” Mason said. “I think we have some real talented young guys.”

Filling all the additional minutes is going to create some other changes. Mason believes this team will need to run and press more in order to create turnovers, because it won’t have players that have been playing in his defensive system for years. Instead they’ll need to use their athleticism to create havoc (and likely some rather ugly basketball) in order to grind games out.

The defense should work out well. Mason — a tough defensive player during his college days at Drexel — has recruited players in his image. If the Seahawks can gel on defense they should have the athleticism and skill to shut down any NEC offense.

The question will be if the Seahawks can score enough to avoid wasting all those possessions on the offensive end. Part of that will be up to returnees Anderson and Burton. In particular, Anderson has spent the past two seasons fitting into the Seahawks’ offensive system, while putting up mediocre efficiency numbers and highlight dunks. He also did a bunch of little things to keep Wagner’s defense in tact.

“I tip my cap to him,” Mason said about Anderson. “We had a system and he made himself fit into that system.”

This season though will be the junior guard’s time to shine offensively. By necessity he’ll probably use more than the 16.4% of possessions he did in 2013-14. Anderson will also have the opportunity to create more on offense. In order to take advantage though he’ll need to shoot better than 21% from three and 42% on twos. Mason thinks the former Michigan State recruit is ready to take a big step forward.

“This is going to be his best offensive season since showing up here to campus,” Mason said about the what he expects from Anderson this season.

Burton is already well versed in helping to carry the Seahawks’ offense. He averaged 11.0 ppg in 22.4 mpg off the bench last season. The 6’0” shooter was instant offense when he came into games and one of Wagner’s most efficient scorers last season, as he shot 37% from three, got to the free throw at a decent rate and kept his turnovers reasonably low thanks to often playing off the ball. The new rotation might demand more of Burton as a ball-handler, but he should still be able to provide offense.

How else Wagner generates points on the offensive end will probably help determine how the Seahawks play this season. If a combination of Long, Senat, Allen and Aaman can give Mason’s team a true post presence then the boys from Staten Island might be much better than people expect.

Mason for one expects this team to be competitive. While he’d obviously like to win every game, Mason told Big Apple Buckets that his goal is to be above .500 after non-conference play. Considering the Seahawks’ schedule includes road games at Maryland, Cincinnati, Columbia, Hofstra and Vermont, that won’t be an easy task. Mason though has his team now. The Seahawks are starting over again his way.

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