Vermont will get an added boost when redshirt freshman Ernie Duncan, who was last on the floor for the Catamounts on Nov. 26, will be ready as the beginning of official practice begins on the NCAA calendar.
Head coach John Becker confirmed that the 6’3″ point guard, after being placed in a back brace for six months and put on a bone stimulator for four months, has fully rehabilitated from his injury and is easing back into game shape.
Duncan has been partaking in individual workouts and just last week began playing pickup basketball, showing no signs of setbacks. Becker hopes that they will be able to build his conditioning and have him in his best shape for the season opener. They will not plan to put any restrictions on him, in terms of minutes, as long as he continues without pain.
“We have to listen to Ernie and listen to our trainer and trust our trainers evaluations of watching him,” Becker said. “The mental hurdle is a piece that he has to get over and that’s why I think these pickup games are really good for him here before we start practice. He’s really starting to trust his body again and is not shying away from anything.”
Duncan put together a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, albeit in 56 minutes of action last season when he generated 10 assists to just five turnovers. Adding the point guard to the mix will create another dynamic to the Catamounts offense, which averaged 67.0 ppg last season, second highest in the conference. Vermont returns America East All-Rookie team guard Trae-Bell Haynes (8.8 ppg) and the co-6th Man of the Year in Cam Ward (6.3 ppg), who effectively filled in during Duncan’s absence.
“He’s really good and so if he can get healthy, we think we got another guy that we think is pretty good in the back court,” Becker said.
The Catamounts will have to rely on Duncan, who essentially is a newcomer from a group that won 20 games last season, and will hope contributions from Hofstra transfer Darren Payen and continued contributions from players who received limited minutes like Drew Urquhart, will help replace some of the production lost. Vermont lost two sophomores, forward Zach McRoberts and guard Brandon Hatton, to transfer over the last three months.
“I think a couple of guys we got have to step up that haven’t really done it yet for us, but I really like the group,” Becker said. “I think we’re going to be in good shape if we can stay healthy.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.