Hofstra seniors Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley took a leap of faith three years ago when they decided to leave Niagara University and follow Joe Mihalich to Hempstead.
That decision solidified the bond between the two Philadelphia natives and their head coach, and it is that bond which has driven the Pride to their first CAA regular season title and the top seed in this weekend’s conference tournament.
“This is what they deserve,” Mihalich said of his seniors following Hofstra’s season finale victory over Charleston. “This is what we talked about when it first came up. When they decided to leave, and they decided to come here, this is what we talked about: winning and becoming better players.”
Green, who was awarded CAA Player of the Year honors Thursday night after being selected for the award in the preseason polls, led Hofstra in both points per game (17.7) and assists per game (7.2) this season.
The Pride’s point guard is not just one of the top distributors in the country; he has been remarkably consistent on the offensive end of the court as well. Green ranks 6th in the nation in assists per game this season, but more impressively has scored in double figures for every game of his Hofstra career sans one.
That exception was a 71-68 loss at Long Island rival Stony Brook earlier this year during which Green played just three minutes in the first half due to early foul trouble. He finished the game with just five points.
It was Tanksley who led Hofstra with 23 points that day, as he has done on seven other occasions this year. Green’s longtime running mate led the Pride in scoring for much of this season, but fell back in favor of Green in the second half of the year. Tanksley finished the season ranked second on the team in scoring with 15.6 ppg and was named to the All-CAA second team Thursday night.
Always in lockstep, Green and Tanksley both eclipsed the 1,000 point mark as Hofstra players last month. Green achieved the feat February 7 in an overtime loss at James Madison while Tanksley surpassed the barrier February 25 in a narrow win at UNCW. For Green, the milestone took on added significance as he became just the fourth player in the history of NCAA Division I basketball to notch 1,000 points at two different schools.
The emotional journey Mihalich, Green, and Tanksley have undergone over the last five years reached its own milestone in the season finale. Though it was Hofstra’s first CAA regular season title, the trio previously achieved a regular season championship while Green and Tanksley were sophomores at Niagara in 2012-13, the year before they made the move to Hempstead.
“We’ve been through a lot these five years and to see it getting to an end is emotional,” Green said after the season finale. “Once my last game comes, I’m going to miss everything about it. Just coming to the office, talking to him, and being around the coaches. I’m going to miss everything about it.”
As the end approaches, at least for the players, the Pride remain focused on the task at hand: punctuating a historical season with an NCAA Tournament berth.
“Hopefully there’s a lot of games in March for Juan’ya and Ameen and all these guys,” Mihalich said. “This is the beginning of a long basketball career for these guys.”
Mihalich, who graduated from La Salle University in 1978 before returning to the Philadelphia school as an assistant coach for 17 years between 1981-98, remains ever thankful for the time he has spent with his two prized Philadelphia recruits.
“When you recruit players, you don’t recruit them for four years; you recruit them for 40,” Mihalich tearfully added. “I’m going to love these guys until the day I die.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.