Following the graduation of four 1,000 point scorers, Siena will lean heavily on a group of freshmen to fill in the gaps. More than any other factor, it may be their success (or failure) that determines the Saints’ fate in 2017-18.
Javion Ogunyemi, Marquis Wright, Brett Bisping, and Lavon Long accounted for two-thirds of Siena’s minutes and 72% of the team’s points a season ago. With their departure, there is ample opportunity to make an impact on this year’s roster. Head coach Jimmy Patsos believes a talented rookie class can go a long way toward making up for their loss.
Amongst the incoming freshman class, Roman Penn, Jordan Horn, and Prince Oduro will each have an opportunity to claim a major share of minutes. All three could likely see their names listed on the starting lineup come opening night this Friday in Charleston.
Penn was actually a mid-year addition this past January. Although not eligible to play in games, he gained valuable experience on the practice court and has impressed the staff this preseason. Penn has already leapt incumbents Kadeem Smithen and Khalil Richard, and should get the first call to replace Wright at the point this season.
“He’s like Mo Cheeks,” Patsos said of Penn. “He’s a silent guy, but he’s crafty. He’s a better shooter than you think, little better player than you think, little more emotional than you think. In other words, he’s got that subtlety about his game, but it’s really good. I’m glad he came halfway through last year; he learned a lot. I think Roman will start at the point, and I expect him to have a very big year.”
During his half season at Don Bosco Prep in Indiana prior to enrolling at Siena, Penn averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 assists, and shot 41% from 3-point range. During the Saints’ three-game trip to Montreal this summer, he put together a line of 9.7 points, 3.7 boards, and 2.0 assists.
Also hoping to make an immediate impact in the backcourt is Minnesota native Jordan Horn, who should help solidify a guard rotation anchored by returners Nico Clareth (13.7 ppg) and Ahsante Shivers (4.0 ppg). Horn led the team with 15.0 ppg while connecting on 53% of his shots during the Montreal trip. His versatility should allow Patsos to deploy Horn at both the one and two, giving the team multiple options for facilitators.
“He’s probably our sixth man at this time, but could start at the two,” Patsos said of Horn. “He’s a gamer. He hit some big shots up in Montreal, and in practice he shows a lot. He’s a really hard worker, and is in the gym the most of any of our players. I’m really impressed with his feel for the game.”
In the frontcourt, Oduro averaged 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds while helping Canada to the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup title in Egypt this summer, and will be relied on heavily to fill the void in the paint left by the departures of Ogunyemi, Bisping, and Long.
“He wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was like the sixth man and played a lot of minutes,” Patsos said of Oduro’s time on Team Canada. “It clearly helped him, gave him some good experience and confidence.”
The Toronto native was another Saint to impress the staff over the course of their trip to his home nation. Oduro averaged 9.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and led the squad with 2.0 blocks over their three game summer trip.
“I really love Prince,” Patsos added. “He’s going to start for sure and play most of the games. He’s up to the task, a guy who’s just starting to scratch the surface. He’s going to be a lot better at the end of the year, going to be a lot better next year as well.”
Swingman Manny Camper and guard Christian Bentley complete the Saints’ freshman class. Camper will reportedly redshirt the 2017-18 season after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason, but Bentley should have a chance to contribute this year. A teammate of Oduro’s at First Love Christian Academy in Pennsylvania last year, Bentley will provide depth to the lead guard positions.
Going from an experienced team full of seniors to one pockmarked with freshmen, Patsos has few reservations in letting the kids play, even through a daunting non-conference schedule.
“If they’re good, they’re good,” Patsos said of his freshmen. “The only way they’re going to get better is to play them.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.