“It’s a new time and a new team.” Officially, that was the slogan of last year’s Hofstra team. A team in transition. A team with a new head coach. A team that routinely played with a short lineup.
That year of transition is behind the Pride, but according to head coach Joe Mihalich, the slogan is more applicable now than ever before.
“It’s funny, last year at this time we were using that phrase, but it feels more like that this year,” said Mihalich, entering his second season at Hofstra after leading Niagara to two NCAA tournaments in 15 years.
Nearly two years removed from a robbery scandal involving four players from the men’s basketball team, the Pride have fully transformed their program into a legitimate CAA contender. After finishing eighth in the conference last season, the Pride were picked to finish third in the preseason rankings behind Northeastern and William & Mary.
“The times have changed,” Mihalich said “We went through that transition last year and the goal was to change the culture. I think we took a big step toward doing that last year with a great bunch of guys. With the guys sitting out, the new guys we’ve got this year, it really does feel like a new time and a new team. We’re excited to take the next step and actually make a difference and win some more games.”
Niagara transfers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, who followed Mihalich downstate to Long Island, are just part of a cast of players who look to reinvigorate Hofstra this year.
Before sitting out last season, Green was one of the MAAC’s rising stars. During his freshman season in 2011-12, he led the Purple Eagles in scoring with 17.7 ppg and ranked second in the nation in scoring amongst freshmen. Green was lauded for his early success, earning major honors, including MAAC Rookie of the Year and CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Freshman of the Year. His success continued into his sophomore season, when he averaged 16.5 ppg and 4.0 rpg while being named to the All-MAAC First Team. Already Green is viewed as a major force in the CAA, as he was recently named to the All-CAA first team.
Green paired with Tanksley to form a dynamic duo at Niagara and they hope the same chemistry makes its way to Hofstra. As sophomores in 2012-13, Green and Tanksley represented two of the Purple Eagles’ top three scorers. The addition of this quality depth comes as a relief to Mihalich, who had to navigate the 2013-14 season while regularly playing with short lineups.
“Juan’ya and Ameen are terrific players,” Mihalich said of the duo. “They can play in a lot of conferences throughout the country. It’s up to them to take advantage of the fact that they’ve got a great opportunity and they can help this team do something special.”
Green and Tanksley may be the transfers Mihalich is most familiar with, but they are not the only ones who will suit up for the Pride this season. Sophomore Brian Bernardi, a Brooklyn native, transferred to Hofstra last season after playing one season at Southern Methodist University. Bernardi led the Mustangs in three-point shooting (41.8%) during the 2012-13 season and should continue to be a deep threat for the Pride.
While Mihalich’s squad is poised to get a needed boost from those transfers, a pair of returners will help lock down the starting lineup. Graduate guard Dion Nesmith ranked second on the team in scoring last year with 13.3 ppg. Senior forward Moussa Kone looks to hold down the Pride’s frontcourt after the departure of Stephen Nwaukoni. Kone averaged 7.1 ppg and 5.9 rpg last season while contributing a block per game.
“Last year, we knew we had to coach every pass just to have a chance to win,” Mihalich said. “This year we know if we play hard and get these guys to play together, who knows. We can maybe be one of these teams in the league to be playing our best basketball in March and hopefully do something special and be cutting down some nets.”
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.