For Hofstra, a team that has scored just over 80 points per game and leads the CAA in three-point shooting, their offensive boost was not expected to come from the inside.
However, as they are through four conference games it is apparent that sophomore Rokas Gustys has broken out. In all but one conference game he has earned a double-double, averaging 14.2 ppg and 10.5 rpg. According to KenPom, he ranks decimal points behind senior Ameen Tanksley for the second best true shooting percentage as they both trail Brian Bernardi’s 64.4%.
“He’s been really good,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “This is how he played last year before he hurt his hamstring, or groin, or whatever it was he hurt and that was last October. He’s finally rounded back into the way he was then.”
The 6’8” sophomore missed seven games in December last season with a hamstring injury before returning for CAA play where he averaged 4.6 ppg and 5.1 rpg. Through 16 games this season, Gustys has averaged 10.7 ppg and a team-leading 9.5 rpg, and while his scoring is the lowest of the five Hofstra starters, his presence has provided the Pride an ability to go inside.
“He’s got a great nose for the ball, he’s absolutely the strongest person I’ve ever been around in my life,” Mihalich said. “You run into him and you get hurt. He’s just immensely strong, great hands, goes after the ball and it sounds like a cliche, but he’s really just playing within himself now. He’s not trying to do things he can’t do. He’s just getting rebounds and making layups and playing defense.”
Gustys has built his game on attacking the basket, through ball screens with senior point guard Juan’ya Green, as well as grabbing rebounds off the rare misses by the Pride. That has made him the perfect compliment to the veteran returners of Green, Tanksley and Bernardi.
“He plays well off of these guys, he’s a perfect compliment for what for the other four guys that surround him,” Mihalich said. “I said to him, I said Juan’ya Green is such an elite passer just keep your eyes, and ears, and hands ready you know twice a half he’s going to get you for a layup and that’s kind of what’s been happening.”
Add his emergence to the lineup and the Pride have become a dangerous offensive team thanks to contributions from all five parts of their starting lineup. Gustys may be a sophomore, but he is still more experienced than Princeton graduate transfer Denton Koon in the system, who has averaged 11.4 ppg and 6.6 rpg to go with making 34.8% of his three-pointers.
“He’s having the time of his life now, he had a couple of frustrating years, his last two years at Princeton he was hurt both of those years,” Mihalich said. “Now he’s playing well and on a team that’s playing good at times. He’s enjoying it.”
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.