On Dec. 4, 2015, Schadrac Casimir – reigning unanimous MAAC Rookie of the Year – went scoreless in just 23 minutes as Iona played Fairfield. It was a secondary story because the Gaels won, but something was clearly up and a couple of days later it was announced Casimir would miss the rest of the season with a hip labral tear.
With modern medicine, most of the time, that’s it, Casimir would return for 2016-17 with three years of eligibility and be ready to rock and roll by the time practice began in October. But even state of the art medicine is not perfect and hips can be tricky for athletes, especially basketball players with the constant changing of direction needed. Casimir underwent another surgery on the other hip later in the winter and then a third on a sports hernia which was related to the first two.
The comeback would be slow indeed, as Casimir was not cleared to start practice in October. He was ready to go in time for the Nov. 15 opener against Florida State, but managed only 10 minutes and again was scoreless. In fact, he had only 16 points total in Iona’s first seven games, never playing more than 21 minutes.
Questions about Casimir shifted from when to if he might ever be back to the freshman that averaged 15.2 points per game and hit 89 three-pointers while shooting at a 43.4% clip. But Wednesday against FDU, with Iona already down D
eyshonee Much (knee) and coming off a dreadful home loss to Niagara, Casimir came in late in the first half, rolled off a screen, got the ball and let fly with a three-pointer.
Casimir was knocked down as he shot, and the whistle and the ball went through the net almost simultaneously. Casimir, who has never shown a whole lot of emotion on the floor, let himself have a fairly big fistpump while laying flat on his back. He finished with 16 points on 5-8 shooting to go with five assists and five rebounds, what would have been a modest game by his freshman standards, but was a long time coming in December of 2016.
“After everything I’ve been through, one of the toughest parts of my life, it was definitely exciting to see a couple of shots go in, but it was more exciting to see my teammates cheer for me when I made those shots,” Casimir said.
Indeed, his four-point play set off a wild celebration on the Iona bench, and when he followed with another three a minute later, Iona was well on its way to what would be an easy 90-73 victory. And everyone was happy for Schadrac Casimir.
“His mood doesn’t ever go down,” senior Jordan Washington, who also happens to be his roommate, said. “When we played a bad game, his mood was even more up because he knew we needed to be.”
Said Iona coach Tim Cluess: “I’m so happy for him. It’s been a long road and he’s been through a lot. He’s been struggling, but his practices have been getting better and better, so it was great to see it open up for him.”
Even opposing coach Greg Herenda, who said afterward he wanted to extend an offer to Casimir – who had no Division I offers well into his senior year of high school – when Herenda was still at UMass Lowell, but couldn’t take another small guard.
“I knew that would come back to haunt me,” Herenda said. “He’s a great kid. Looks like a sixth grader, plays like a man.”
We don’t know what Casimir’s future will be. He is still limited, and it’s hard to say how long that will be the case. But he’s looking better, and Iona certainly looked better Wednesday because of it. We in the media are supposed to be neutral, but you’ll forgive us for rooting to have one of the special talents of the MAAC back at full health soon.
“It’s getting better day by day,” Casimir said. “How I treat it the day before the game is really important. I sometimes have to adjust how hard I go in practice. It’s just a process. It’s definitely getting better, though. I can go 100 percent, but I just can’t go as long right now.”
Iona 54, Fairleigh Dickinson 35 half. Schadrac Casimir with 14 points to spark the Gaels, which is a sight for sore eyes in New Rochelle.
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) December 8, 2016
What else did we learn in Hackensack on Wednesday night?
- Iona needs to run. Probably. Maybe?
Tim Cluess kind of bristles at any suggestion that his team is slowing things down, and the numbers are with him. Iona did play slower last season slightly, finishing 31st in adjusted tempo, but was 126th entering Wednesday. However, they have been fairly successful in “slow” games the last couple of seasons, including 63, 70, and 70 possessions in wins over Weber St., Nevada, and Saint Peter’s, respectively, just last week. The Gaels posted 0.95 points per possession in those games defensively.
Is it a long-term plan? Probably not. Iona is Iona, and Sunday’s loss to Niagara was a 66-possession slog (it ended 74-58) that Cluess doesn’t want to repeat on any level. At least last year’s home MAAC loss to Monmouth had 93 possessions (and ended 110-102), amirite? It’s important to remember than Sam Cassell Jr. and Jon Severe (much more so under Jeff Neubauer than Tom Pecora) are coming from programs that play slowly, there are many new cogs in the system, and Casimir and Much have been limited.
Wednesday, they looked much more like the Gaels, putting up 54 points in the first half, and the game probably would have been much more than 73 possessions had it not been lopsided.
“When you’re missing shots and you’re not defending, teams can get into their stuff and it’s harder to speed up. We’re not as worried with all these new guys about our pace right now,” Cluess said. “It takes time, but I loved how they played tonight and hopefully this can carry us to Saturday against a really good team (Ohio).”
2) Iona’s defense is not that bad, but could be better
Iona’s defense was 145th in efficiency last season, which may not sound like much, but it was their best mark in six years and really the key to its success down the stretch, and as I said before, key to any early success it had this season.
The Gaels might have been a bit fortunate Wednesday, FDU only had six turnovers, and shot horribly (25-70), but still finished with an even 1.00 ppp. But that kind of defensive effort should win them a lot of games.
“After the loss, we all sat down with each other as a group and we talked about how we can get better, and how much work we have to put in every day in the gym,” Washington said. “You see the outcome tonight, but we have to do this every day. We just have to lock down the defense and the offense will come to us.”
3) FDU should be much better than it’s been so far
Earl Potts Jr. finished with five points (2-7 FG) in 19 minutes, and still has a little way to go to get back to full strength. The Knights also welcomed back Ghassan Nehme for the first time all season (5 pts., 1-6 FG), and that threw off their rotations a bit. The Knights are shooting just 28.9% from three-point range after posting a 36.4% mark last season, so that should improve.
The Knights are 341st in defensive efficiency, but they were 336th last season and won the NEC anyway, so maybe they shouldn’t be that concerned? It’s annoying to be 2-6, and realistically could be 2-9 when conference play opens, but they still should be a force in the NEC.
“Iona is very good and very talented. We were just exposed defensively, in transition, on the glass, pretty much everywhere. If you don’t play well against Iona, they’re going to expose you, and they did,” Herenda said. “Coming back with Earl and Gus (Nehme) tonight was kind of awkward, our rhythm was off, our chemistry was off, Iona had plenty to do with that. But we’re much better than we played today.”