It was Chuck Martin who recruited Khallid Hart to Marist, but by the time he was able to suit up for a game in Poughkeepsie, Jeff Bower was coaching the team. Now it’s Mike Maker leading the way, and constantly changing the driver means it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride for passengers like Hart.
After a 12-19 (9-11 MAAC) 2013-14 season where Hart was one of the only underclassmen on a veteran team and won MAAC Rookie of the Year, Marist has been just 14-48 the last two seasons (7-23 and 7-25), with Hart playing the role of the proverbial good player on a bad team. Injuries limited him to just 18 games in his sophomore year (2014-15), and his 14.7 point scoring average only matched his freshman season.
Hart blew up again last season as a junior, but with the Red Foxes losing much more than they won, it was a controlled explosion. But the numbers don’t lie: 20.3 points per game, good for 25th nationally, shooting 38.3% from three-point range even against defenses designed to stop him first. Alas, Marist’s poor record meant that Hart wasn’t even an All-MAAC selection, though (he did make the second team).
After last season concluded, Hart – who missed the 2012-13 season due to injury – had one year of eligibility left, and he graduated in May, meaning he could legally transfer anywhere he wanted for his last collegiate season, wonderful for a player like Hart who could finally get seen at a bigger program.
With plenty of suitors, Hart decided … to stay at Marist. In an era where loyalty – not just in the sports world – seems like an endangered notion, Hart bucked the trend, and although he got a few raised eyebrows and curious reactions, he never had a doubt he was making the right decision.
“I love this school. I wasn’t going to leave,” Hart, who is currently ninth on Marist’s all-time scoring list, said. “My heart is at Marist, the school has been very good to me, not just in basketball, and I want to finish what I started. I was never going to go somewhere else.”
The MAAC coaches respected Hart’s loyalty and talent in the preseason poll. At least a little, as Marist – after finishing last in each of the last two seasons – was picked eighth, ahead of Canisius, Quinnipiac, and Niagara. The Red Foxes return most of last year’s team, including sophomores Brian Parker and Isaiah Lamb as well as international Kristinn Palsson (Iceland).
“Our backcourt, we think, is as good as anyone in our conference,” Maker said. “We need them to lead us.”
Marist opened with expected lopsided losses at ranked teams Duke and Rhode Island, but had a chance to win at America East favorite Vermont before falling 76-72. Saturday night before a few dozen fans at Mohegan Sun, Marist showed some future potential, as Hart scored 13 points in the game’s first 12 minutes and the Red Foxes led start to finish in an 87-79 victory over Brown.
“We want to win for each other and our school,” Hart said. “I don’t care much about individual stuff, that will come if the whole team does well and wins.”
— Marist Basketball (@MaristMBB) November 17, 2016
Alas, Hart – who finished with 27 points in the win – was held to just 17 Sunday as Marist fell to Grand Canyon, 84-72 to fall to 1-4. The Red Foxes, who were 341st nationally (of 351) in defensive efficiency gave up 1.24 points per possession, and that will likely be the biggest key to just how far Marist will go this season, no matter how many points Hart can put up. Swedish freshman Tobias Sjoberg, at 6’9”, appears to be the player Maker is counting on to put up resistance in the middle, but Marist is giving up 59.0 eFG% through five games.
“Our challenges are guarding off the bounce and caroms off the rim against bigger teams. Offensively, we should be fine,” Maker said. “Being able to guard our area and the fact that we’re not the biggest team on the wings is something we have to battle. We’re still in transition, but I think we’ll be better than people think. I think if you’re an outside observer and look at those first two scores, you might thing on thing, but those are very good teams.”
At just 6’2”, it’s difficult for Hart (who is averaging 19.3 ppg in the earlygoing) to help too much with Marist’s interior woes, but he does know that this his last shot, and he has done his best to be as ready as possible. He spent the summer playing for the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 2016 Centro Basket Tournament against Caribbean teams. The USVI went 3-2 with Hart starting and leading the team in scoring in one of the games.
He has also taken it upon himself to try to lead, both in practice and in games. After a difficult start, Marist now faces a key stretch against Dartmouth and UMass Lowell before opening MAAC play against two teams that were picked behind them in the preseason poll: Quinnipiac and Niagara.
“I knew I was going to be a captain this season,” Hart said. “The team just wants to turn things around, and I think you can see that even though we got beat pretty badly in our first two games.”
In the end, it’s hard not to root for a kid such as Hart, who has spent his career battling through injuries and not a whole lot of victories. But no one in the MAAC will feel sorry for him once conference play opens and he and Marist will have to earn everything they get. In a league that might be more balanced than usual, though, it might set up well for a Hart led Red Foxes team to surprise some people.
“Khallid is really special, and he’s as good as anybody in our league,” Maker said. “Hopefully, the supporting cast does enough so he doesn’t have to shoulder too much of the load, which I think has been the case in the past, unfortunately.”