This is one of my favorite exercises of the preseason – the time I offer my best guess as to which freshmen will excel in a league ripe with opportunity. Not only did I have the chance to chat with the coaches over the summer and at NEC Media Day, but we’ve also seen a fair share of scrimmages as well.
Sure, scrimmages mean very little in the grand scheme of things, yet they do offer a glimpse into a newcomer’s talent and also how much a coach is willing to ride with a newbie. Based on this information, here are my top five NEC rookies along with three honorable mention selections:
Jahlil Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson – I’ve liked Jenkins as a NEC ROY favorite right when I started researching his game back in the summer. He was an early signee for Greg Herenda, a high school champion who would be the heir apparent to Stephon Jiggetts. Unfortunately for Herenda, Jiggetts left the program in March as a graduate transfer; therefore Jenkins will be thrown into the fire right away. With the opportunity to play alongside Darian Anderson and Darnell Edge, I believe Jenkins will provide FDU with the scoring and facilitating that’s needed to stay on the court. Running the point isn’t easy for a Division I novice, but the ultra quick Jenkins should thrive in an up-tempo scheme. He is my Blue Ribbon selection for NEC ROY.
Donald Carey, Mount St. Mary’s – Like Jenkins, Carey is expected to take advantage of an opportunity created by an unexpected transfer. Carey’s addition wasn’t originally forecasted – it was highly unlikely he landed in Emmitsburg if Elijah Long opted to stick around. Nevertheless, the keys to a coveted starting spot have been handed to the dynamic freshman. While he towers over his fellow teammate Junior Robinson at 6-foot-5, Carey exhibits many of the wonderful skills Robinson possesses – an ability to score, shoot it from deep and put teammates in advantageous positions to succeed. If his torn meniscus this offseason raised any doubts, those were quickly dismissed after posting quality numbers in two exhibitions.
Ryan Layman, Bryant – I discussed Layman quite a bit in last week’s mailbag, as it’s presumed he’ll emerge as a key rotation piece for Tim OShea. The athletic swing man can serve as a hybrid three or four for Bryant, and with Marcel Pettway gone and Bash Townes on the mend, there will be plenty of opportunity in the early going. O’Shea even called Layman, whose older brother Jake now plays for the Portland Trailblazers, the most prepared freshman he’s ever coached in his 17 years of leading a team. He’ll be someone to reckon with alongside Bosko Kostur, and eventually Townes.
E.J. Anosike, Sacred Heart – Honestly, Anosike would be my hands down NEC ROY frontrunner on most NEC frontcourts, but most frontcourts don’t have Joe Lopez and Mario Matasovic. Assuming good health, Anosike is likely penciled in for approximately 15-20 minutes per night, which should be enough to make an impact. Anosike’s college ready body, tireless work ethic and keen instincts around the rim should lead to high rebounding rates and efficient shooting percentages, albeit in an off-the-bench role. He’s a great insurance policy if one of the Pioneers bigs goes down with an injury, too.
Jon Williams, Robert Morris – Williams was part of a package deal, as his older brother Josh will suit up for the Colonials for the 2018-19 season after transferring from Akron. For now, Toole will enjoy the contributions of his freshman point guard, who exhibits a cool demeanor when out on the floor. He may lack the quickness and explosiveness of Kavon Stewart, yet Williams can knock down the outside shot, utilize his impressive court vision to set up teammates and get into the lane. He should play a lot, and while he may not put up the gaudy numbers a Koby Thomas (more on him later) or Malik Petteway will, his presence should serve as a critical stabilizing force on a team loaded with newcomers.
Koby Thomas, Robert Morris – Thomas, a Philly product out of Imhotep Charter, may be the most athletic freshmen in the league, giving him limitless potential under Andy Toole. His athleticism should make him an excellent rebounder right out of the gate, yet he’ll need to grasp several other things – putting forth a consistent effort on the defensive end, for example – to find a spot in Robert Morris’ rotation. If he grows his game while learning on the job, Thomas will surely put together some highlight reels that’ll make the Colonial Crazies and NEC office drool.
Johan Antonio, Mount St. Mary’s – We’ve already seen the floor and the ceiling in Antonio’s game this preseason. In a charity scrimmage against Delaware, the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter drained six triples in one half to finish with 18 points. Three days later he struggled with his shot, logging just five points on seven shots in 31 minutes (though to be fair he did grab 4 rebounds and collect 2 steals). As an off-the-ball piece, there should be peaks and valleys with Antonio’s performance, but when he’s hot and set up well by teammates, the Australian could serve as one of the more dangerous long distance shooters in the NEC. He has the size to shoot over his counterparts.
Chauncey Hawkins, St. Francis Brooklyn – North Jersey’s co-player of the year slipped to St. Francis Brooklyn thanks to his stature; he stands at just 5-foot-8. But what he lacks in size, he makes up in heart and skill, and already there were reports Hawkins played a key role in the Terriers’ Canadian trip this past August. Sure, Rasheem Dunn and Glenn Sanabria are entrenched as starters, yet Glenn Braica has indicated he has no issue with playing the trio of Hawkins, Dunn and Sanabria together on the floor. While limited in size, that group will pressure opposing backcourts with their speed and play-making ability.
Players Who Just Missed The Cut: Brandon Carroll, Bryant; Alex Watson, Sacred Heart; Charles Bain, Robert Morris; Bobby Planutis, Mount St. Mary’s; Tyler Plummer, Wagner