Seasoned veterans led Hofstra to a banner year last season.
The Pride put together a 24-win year, their most since the 2005-06 season, and earned their first Colonial Athletic Association regular season title since joining the league in 2001. Point guard Juan’ya Green took home league Player of the Year honors with averages of 17.8 ppg and 7.1 apg, but Hofstra’s year ended with a pair of heartbreaking losses.
The Pride fell to UNC-Wilmington in overtime of the CAA Championship game, then came up just short against George Washington in the opening round of the NIT in a game many felt should have been contested on Hofstra’s home court. George Washington went on to win the NIT championship.
“You can’t help but lay awake some nights and just stare at the ceiling and think about one more shot you make here or there,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich lamented on last season’s finish. “If you’re any good at this profession and you have a tough loss, you never really let it go. It’s always lingering, but the good thing about that is it motivates you. It reminds you you’ve got something to prove, and it reminds you how close you were.”
Many of the faces that made Hofstra great again are no longer with the program, and so the Pride are forced to turn to the leaders of the future. The additions of Green, along with Ameen Tanksley as transfers from Niagara in 2014 helped Hofstra put together their first 20-win season in four years. They followed that turnaround with a stellar campaign last year, but both guards have since graduated and moved on to the next stage in their professional careers.
Green recently signed a contract with Gymnastikos Syllogos Kymis, which won the Greek A2 Basket League last season, earning a promotion to the 1st Division Greek Basket League for the 2016-17 season. Tanksley, meanwhile, was selected 21st overall in the D-League draft by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, an affiliate of the Houston Rockets.
“Throw the recruiting year in there too and it’s six years of your life are with Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley,” Mihalich said of the bond with his longtime charges. “I’ll tell you what, you cry hard when they finally walk out of that gym. It is going to be different without them, and it does feel different, but it doesn’t mean it feels bad either.”
Other departures from last year’s squad include Princeton graduate transfer Denton Koon and forward Malik Nichols, who spent two years with the Pride. This offseason Koon signed with Aris Leeuwarden of the Dutch Basketball League.
In total, Hofstra is left without over 60% of its production from last year’s 24-win team, to say nothing of Green’s supreme ability at the point guard position.
“There’s no way to replace Juan’ya with another Juan’ya, but we have to replace him,” Mihalich said. “I’m not as concerned about our point guard position as some other things. We feel like Deron Powers and Desure Buie can combine to give us some good point guard play.”
Powers, a senior transfer from Hampton University, provides an immediate veteran presence in the backcourt. He averaged double figures in all three seasons at Hampton and helped lead the Pirates to an NCAA Tournament victory over Manhattan in 2015, dishing out seven assists in that contest.
Helping to anchor the new wave of Pride players are key returnees Brian Bernardi and Rokas Gustys. Bernardi, a senior guard, averaged 12.3 ppg last season and led the team from behind the arc, connecting on 39% of his 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Gustys projects to enhance his role as the centerpiece of Hofstra’s frontcourt.
“When a guy has success, your hope is that it makes him want to work harder. That’s what happened with Rokas,” Mihalich said of his young forward. “He is hungry, and there is room to improve, particularly offensively. We’re going to try to get the ball in to him a lot more this year than last year.”
Gustys averaged a double-double with 13.5 ppg and 13.0 rpg as a sophomore in 2015-16, more than doubling the 5.2 ppg and 5.7 rpg production of his freshman campaign. In the CAA preseason projections, Gustys was named a member of the all-conference first team, a reflection of his capability to replicate and even improve upon his stellar sophomore numbers.
Despite their recent success, Hofstra may be able to fly under the radar with their new core. The Pride were selected sixth among the league’s ten teams in the CAA preseason poll. No matter the approach, the goal remains the same.
“Let’s face it,” Mihalich added. “Right now we’re a one-bid league, and that’s the idea: try to win your league.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.