Throughout the offseason, I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter regarding several unknown players within the NEC. Because there’s plenty of opportunity given the graduations and transfers, coaches are desperate to prop up their guys in the preseason to see if they’ll rise to the challenge. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.
For this post, I wanted to focus on players who have never logged at least 25% of his team’s available minutes in any given season. These players are truly under the radar, but based on the feedback I’ve received, I’m confident some will become steady contributors on their respective team.
Before I begin, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my annual NEC preseason breakdown with Ron Ratner. We previewed the entire conference here, so feel free to watch it before the first jump ball later tonight. And now to my NEC sleepers list:
Mawdo Sallah, Mount St. Mary’s (8.1% of available minutes in ’14-15 season, redshirt last season due to injury) – With Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher graduating, there’s a hole at the five for Sallah, a red-shirt sophomore, to fill. He’ll never lead the Mount in scoring, but he doesn’t need to. It’s the rebounding and shot blocking aspect of his game that’ll make the 6’8 power forward a fan favorite from the beginning. Pair him with human highlight reel Chris Wray and you have the most exciting and defensively intimidating frontcourt in the NEC. Mount Mayhem will be fun to watch if these two are creating transition opportunities thanks to their excellence on the defensive end.
Jamaal King, Saint Francis U (13.0% of available minutes) – King’s role on Saint Francis just got really important, as I detailed here. Even if he struggles out the gate, expect Krimmel to stick with his sophomore guard throughout the season, because, well there aren’t any options behind him. In a brutal offseason for the Red Flash, one positive could be that King has already been selected as one of the team captains. Perhaps this is the reward after a very productive preseason.
Raul Frias, LIU Brooklyn (6.8% of available minutes) – Frias was a freshman that impressed Jack Perri prior to last season, yet it didn’t matter. With Aekim Saintil and Martin Hermannsson hogging all of the playing time in the backcourt – and rightfully so for the latter with that splendid 118 offensive rating – Frias had to take a seat alongside the LIU Brooklyn coaching staff. This season, however, provides an opportunity for the smooth perimeter scorer to supply Perri with instant offense off the bench. Three-point shooting has been a bugaboo for LIU of late (29.7% 3PT last season), so if Frias can fill this need, there’s no doubt Perri would give the 6’2 sophomore significant minutes.
Joshua Nurse, St. Francis Brooklyn (5.0% of available minutes) – Like the entire St. Francis Brooklyn frontcourt, Nurse is a complete unknown to not only fans, but also to his coaches. At 6’9, he does possess the talent, skillset and wide body to thrive as a post presence in the NEC. Braica has raved about the big man’s hands and footwork, so much so it’s likely Nurse will be one of the first frontcourt guys thrown into the fire this November. There’s plenty of uncertainty though, especially with only 71 minutes of Division I experience and a foul rate (11.4 fouls committed per 40 minutes) that needs to drop. It’s my guess that he’ll eventually figure it out and provide critical support around a team that’s now heavily reliant on their guard play.
Tidell Pierre, Central Connecticut (20.5% of available minutes) – Exhibitions against Division 3 programs shouldn’t count for much, if anything at all, yet it’s hard to discount Pierre’s impressive performance last week. The 6’7 forward registered 16 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists, albeit against an undersized Alvernia squad. Nevertheless, there’s reason for optimism after Pierre showed brief flashes as a junior, when he posted a solid defensive rebounding rate of 16.2%. He even had a two game stretch versus LIU Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s where he averaged 8 ppg, 6 rpg and 1.5 apg, before either getting hurt or landing in Howie Dickenman’s doghouse. For now, Pierre’s role seems defined especially with Donyell Marshall mentioning him in a positive light during this preseason.
Also Considered: Eric Bowles, Central Connecticut, Julius van Sauers, LIU Brooklyn, Gus Riley, Bryant
Ryan Peters wrote the NEC team previews for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride