Tim O’Shea’s Bryant Bulldogs ready to make a move

Since taking on a full NEC schedule for the 2009-10 season, the Bryant Bulldogs have struggled mightily to compete with their conference foes – or any Division I foes for that matter – as they fully transitioned into DI basketball.  The Bulldogs managed a meager nine victories versus NEC opponents in the past three seasons.  It was, for the lack of a better phrase, a brutal stretch of basketball.

In fairness, there wasn’t much head coach Tim O’Shea could do, since most DI recruits were turned off by the prospect of not playing postseason basketball.  Bryant, after all, needed to serve out their DI probationary period, as per NCAA rules, forcing the team to operate by a very thin margin last season.  Thus, when Bryant’s third leading scorer, Corey Maynard, missed a majority of the conference season due to a foot injury, it led to a 2-28 debacle of a season.

The days of the Bryant Bulldogs serving as the NEC’s punching bag, however, may soon be over.  All along, O’Shea was targeting this upcoming season when he signed his eight year contract in June of 2008.

“When I took the job, I initially targeted year five as a year where we could really hopefully make a move,” said O’Shea.  “And I feel confident that, despite what we went through last year, that we’ll be able to (become competitive).”

With Bryant now fully integrated as a NEC school eligible for postseason play, fans have reason for optimism.  For starters, Bryant is equipped with a very solid core of upperclassmen, led by junior Alex Francis and fifth year senior Frankie Dobbs.  One glimpse at their statistics last season (Francis: 17.0 ppg/7.4 rpg, Dobbs: 13.4 ppg/3.5 rpg/4.6 apg/1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio) would probably generate a double take.  Those numbers would have easily pushed both players into serious All-NEC second team consideration, if Bryant hadn’t finished last season ranked 333rd overall in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.

Nevertheless, O’Shea believes his team is in a much better position to compete with this year’s crop of incoming players.

“This is the first year I feel confident that when I look at my top 8 guys, they’re all legitimately DI players,” said an optimistic O’Shea.

Several newcomers are expected to significantly enhance Bryant’s offensive firepower and depth, yet perhaps the most important player of the bunch is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks.  The explosive scorer begins his Bryant tenure with three seasons of eligibility remaining.

“Truthfully, I think (Starks) has the potential to be an All-Conference player in the NEC,” said O’Shea.  “He averaged 25 (points per game) against some pretty good teams over in Europe.  He can really score.  That’s something we didn’t have (last season); we had nobody in the perimeter that could score like him.”

Originally projected by some to be an All-Ivy League Rookie Team candidate, Starks fell out of Columbia’s rotation early, despite scoring double-digit points in five of his first seven games as a freshman.  Now with an offseason under his belt to refine his game, O’Shea believes Stark’s strong work ethic and undeniable talent will open some eyes within the NEC.  Just how talented is he?

“In all my years of coaching, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve seen and I’m talking guys like Preston Murphy, Cuttino Mobley, Troy Bell,” said O’Shea.  “I’m not saying he’s the athlete some of those guys are, but in terms of shooting the ball, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve been around.”

Another transfer who will play significant minutes at the “3” is the coach’s nephew, Joe O’Shea.  Listed at 6-foot-5, O’Shea should present match-up issues with his length, high basketball IQ, and excellent shooting range.

“He can really stroke it,” said O’Shea. “What he gives us is one of the things we really lacked last year; we weren’t a good three-point shooting team and here’s a kid that can really make threes.”

With a top 5 of Francis, Dobbs, Maynard, Starks, and O’Shea firmly in place, Bryant will look to their freshmen newcomers to bolster the team’s bench.  Curtis Oakley, Shane McLaughlin, and Andrew Scocca are all expected to compete for minutes right away.

Oakley profiles as a bulky wing, who can really shoot it from the perimeter.  Oakley’s excellent body control and assortment of ball fakes and post moves should accelerate his development.  McLaughlin brings a mental toughness to the team, and will be looked apon to backup Dobbs, Starks, and O’Shea most of the time.  And finally, Andrew Scocca gives O’Shea a big body in the middle that Bryant so desperately needs.  All in all, it’s a freshmen recruiting class O’Shea is really pleased with.

“We’ve really increased our basketball IQ, in terms of adding guys that know how to play, and that includes our freshmen,” said O’Shea.  “These are guys that will get minutes for us this year and I think are pretty good players.”

O’Shea will look to employ a small lineup much of the time, unfortunately due to the unexpected departure of 6-foot-10 Israeli Ben Altit.  Altit, who averaged 5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, left Bryant recently to serve in the Israeli armed forces.  Typically, college students are granted deferments from serving, but with the recent political unrest in the Middle East, all deferments were waived immediately by the Israel government, thereby forcing Altit to defend the homeland, rather than DI big men.  Hopefully, Altit will be safe and return to Bryant sometime down the road.

Even without Altit patrolling the middle, the new additions give Bryant a much improved roster.  O’Shea seems to agree. “You’re going to see a very different Bryant team this year, very different in terms of talent, in terms of basketball IQ, and the ability to shoot the three.”

“It’s amazing in basketball, 1 or 2 good players can totally transform a team from where we were a year ago to a team that’s now a hard out every night, and that’s exactly what we’ll be.  If it all comes together, it’s going to be an interesting year for us.”

The rest of the NEC should certainly take notice.  In a league applauded for its recent improvement at the top of the conference, it’s the young team in the bottom tier that’s ready to play with the big boys.  It’s going to be an interesting year for the Bryant Bulldogs indeed.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball on Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride.

Bryant recruits a little bit of everything for their 2012 class

Bryant Bulldogs: 2-28 (1-17 NEC), Wasn’t Eligible for NEC Tournament

Players Lost: None

Incoming Players:
Curtis Oakley, 6’4″ F – Brush Hill High (OH)
Shane McLaughlin, 6’1″ G – Choate Rosemary (CT)
Andrew Scocca, 6’8″ PF/C – Worchester Academy (MA)

In their final season before qualifying as a fully integrated Division I program, the Bryant University Bulldogs staggered to a 2-28 season, with 19 of those losses coming by double digits.  It was a rough four-year DI transition period, but with the Bulldogs finally through it, head coach Tim O’Shea can now target and sell recruits on an opportunity to play in a college postseason.  Given their lack of success recently – an average of 5 victories the past four seasons – O’Shea has a difficult task of elevating Bryant to a respectable level.

Step number one for O’Shea and his staff – acquire multiple pieces with decent upside and begin to improve Bryant’s notorious depth problem.  Last season, the Bulldogs were the only NEC team that had less than 5 players with an efficiency rating over 5.0.  Alex Francis, Frankie Dobbs, and Corey Maynard were all productive, at least offensively speaking, but a huge drop off depth wise was evident beyond Bryant’s Big 3.

This recruiting class aims to change that.

Bryant’s 2012 freshman group begins with wing forward Curtis Oakley.  If Oakley’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the nephew of former New York Knick (and Michael Jordan enforcer) Charles Oakley.  Bloodlines aside, Oakley established himself as a versatile forward with solid skills both on the perimeter and in the post.  Though undersized as a power forward, even by NEC standards, Oakley’s sweet lefty stroke and assortment of ball fakes and post moves should make him an awkward cover.  He’ll have difficultly creating his own shot off the dribble and defending a true power “4” at the mid-major level, yet Oakley’s excellent body control and comfort on the perimeter gives him a chance to be an impact rookie.

Although Oakley somewhat helps Bryant’s inexperienced frontcourt, the true big man recruit of this class is 6-foot-8 center Andrew Scocca.  Scocca, much like Tevin Falzon of Sacred Heart, played a season of post-graduate ball when he failed to land a DI offer after his senior season.   Scocca is a hard-nosed competitor who should add much needed toughness to Bryant’s frontline.  Scocca’s ceiling is limited due to his average athleticism, yet he could develop into a useful role player in the coming years for O’Shea.  At this point, anything to improve upon a rebound rate that was in the bottom quarter of the NEC is welcome.

Finally, the trio of true freshmen ends with point guard Shane McLaughlin.  The 6-foot-1 guard supposedly chose to attend Bryant over other interested Ivy and Patriot League schools.  Whether it’s the right move for McLaughlin remains to be seen, although this NEC hater doesn’t like the guard’s decision to join a “mediocre school” one bit.

As a senior at Old Tappan High, McLaughlin was instrumental in leading his team as one of the best point guards in North Jersey.  Twice, McLaughin was named to the All-Bergen County Team as a heady floor general who competed hard on both ends of the floor.  McLaughin appears to be the next starting point guard when Dobbs graduates in a year, but for now, expect McLaughlin to be one of the first guards off the bench.

Another guard that could contribute right away is Holy Cross transfer Joe O’Shea.  O’Shea is the nephew of head coach Tim O’Shea and was elected as Mr. Basketball of Vermont once upon a time.  Despite the accolades, O’Shea was buried on Holy Cross’ bench by head coach Milan Brown (the former Mount St. Mary’s coach), who was brought in to replace the coach that recruited O’Shea.  As a result, 6-foot-4 shooting guard transferred to Bryant and sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Now as a Bulldog, O’Shea gets to show off his excellent range, and along with McLaughlin and Oakley, should help Bryant improve a pathetic 30.3% three-point percentage from last season.  How O’Shea adjusts to the speed of the game is still the biggest question coming into his sophomore season.

The last newcomer is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Minnesota.  Starks burst onto the scene at Columbia, scoring double digit points in 5 of his first 7 games as a freshman.  The fast start, however, was quickly extinguished and by season’s end Starks found himself playing little to no minutes per game.

Like O’Shea, Starks also enters Bryant with very good high school success.  Scouting reports highlight Starks’ quick release and ability to score in a variety of ways.  Once again, he’s another relative unknown, so it will be fascinating to watch if he and O’Shea adjust to the NEC game after failing in their first attempt at DI basketball.

Overall, coach O’Shea recruited a nice mix of players that should add capable bodies to his team.  It remains to be seen if any of these newcomers will ascend into the NEC elite, or lead Bryant to an eventual NEC playoff berth, but there’s hope in Smithfield that things are moving in the right direction.  After all, there’s really no direction for the Bryant Bulldogs to go but up.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride