The NEC’s Poor Getting Poorer – FDU/CCSU Deep in a Rebuild

I’ve chimed in on a couple of major NEC transfers this offseason (Marcquise Reed here and Andrew Smeathers here), but during my brief hiatus from the blog I failed to address a few other significant defections. Allow me to catch up as I assess how the recent turnover may affect two programs that finished in the bottom of the NEC standings, Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) and Central Connecticut (CCSU). Continue reading “The NEC’s Poor Getting Poorer – FDU/CCSU Deep in a Rebuild”

NEC Power Rankings Version 1

Low and behold, Big Apple Buckets would like to present their first version of the NEC Power Rankings! With close to one quarter of the season now history, we felt it was a perfect time to reassess the league given the data. Let’s jump right into it. Continue reading “NEC Power Rankings Version 1”

Greg Herenda Building Fairleigh Dickinson From Stratch, Adds Six Players

Taking over a Division I college basketball program certainly isn’t easy, especially a program you have no previous connections or ties to. What’s even more difficult is when the team you’re inheriting won a grand total of 10 games – four in their conference – the past two seasons. And to make matters worse, the three leading scorers all graduated.

Greg Herenda is hoping he found his point guard of the future in Malachi Nix. (Photo credit -
Greg Herenda is hoping he found his point guard of the future in Malachi Nix. (Photo credit –

In other words, Greg Herenda has some work to do.

Nearly 51 days passed before Fairleigh Dickinson officially hired Herenda to become the seventh coach in Knights’ history, placing the veteran coach in an arduous position. When Herenda took over in late April, he had six returning players, only two of whom which logged significant minutes last season. There was a coaching staff to assemble, six to seven scholarship players to recruit and sign, and a non-conference schedule to fill. Talk about a busy summer.

More than four months later, Herenda and his newly assembled staff can finally exhale.

“It was a challenge, but we’re happy with the results,” said Herenda. “We brought in some kids that are really good kids, good students, and they’ve got the potential to be good players. We’re excited to have the group together now.”

Right off the bat, the former UMass-Lowell head coach was able to procure three student-athletes, two of whom that originally committed to play for the River Hawks. “For me, to get those three guys as quickly as I got them, I was able to sleep a lot better after that first ten days to two weeks. I think this is the genesis of a really good group.”

This genesis Herenda talks about consisted of 6’9″ center Michael Owona, 6’2″ guard Jayde Dawson, and 6’5″ wing Scott Kingsley. Owona, along with 6’6″ red-shirt freshman Myles Mann who tore his ACL more than a year ago, will look to anchor a raw, yet high ceiling frontcourt.

“He’s a big, strong, athletic warrior,” said Herenda when asked about the potential of Owona. “He’s got a chance to be a really good big man in our league. He’s runs the court, he blocks shots. Offensively, he needs some work as most big guys do, but he possesses a great presence on and off the floor. He’s a guy that’s physically fit to play in (the NEC).”

Even with the promise of Owona and Mann, Herenda still preferred to inject some experience into the frontcourt. Enter Scooter Gillette, a fifth year senior who used up three seasons of eligibility at Niagara. Under Joe Mihalich, now the head coach at Hofstra, Gillette played nearly half of the Purple Eagles available minutes as a sound defender in the paint until an injury prematurely ended his senior season. For Herenda, Gillette’s maturity and defensive instincts – he finished nationally ranked in block percentage as a sophomore and junior – were the key in signing the big man.

“He’s really long and quick off his feet, and anticipates well,” said Herenda. “If we’re going to try to press, we better have someone in the back when the press gets beat to block shots or deter people from taking good shots.”

With the frontcourt solidified, Herenda and his staff had the difficult task of finding a point guard to back up senior Sidney Sanders, Jr. Sekou Harris, the talented Plainfield native who was once pegged as the Knights’ future floor general, decided to transfer after his freshman season in Teaneck. Luckily for the Knights, Herenda was able to sign 5’8″ guard Malachi Nix to a letter of intent this summer. Nix, the all-time leader in points and steals at Niles North High, possesses a terrific handle, excellent agility, and obviously, an uncanny ability to score.

“People were obviously afraid of (Malachi’s) size, but he’s talented and tough,” said Herenda. “What I like is small guards that can shoot it, and he can make shots. Malachi, if you stay off him, he makes shots. If you stay on him, he’s got the ability to go by people. For us to get him that late in the process, we were very fortunate to have him commit to us.”

Another guard who figures to play a lot along with Sanders, Jr., Nix, and three-point specialist Mostafaa Jones is the aforementioned Dawson. As a multi-faceted guard, the Canadian native possesses the ability to affect the game on both sides of the floor. It’s Dawson’s versatility that has Herenda excited for his future.

“He’s got a very good chance to be a very good college basketball player at the college level,” explained Herenda. “He’s got a high basketball IQ. (Jayde) doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses, and that’s why I like him.”

Finally, Herenda added two swingman, filling the small forward need on FDU’s roster. Kingsley and Matt MacDonald both profile as team first, glue guys with excellent perimeter games. Kingsley, in particular, was viewed as one of the top three-point scorers in the Chicago area when he played at St. Rita in Chicago. MacDonald, who was about to attend prep school before FDU signed him, has terrific basketball instincts to go along with an ability to score in a myriad of ways.

Given the challenging circumstances, Herenda is quite proud of his recruiting class, not just because of their accomplishments on the court, but also off it. It’s all part of a master plan to change the culture at FDU.

“We’re getting better in the classroom. I think that is key with coaching for 30 years of college basketball. The better team you have in the classroom, it only helps you on the floor because guys obviously now pay attention to details, show up on time, and do what they’re supposed to do. All that translates to good basketball. I really believe that.”

The inaugural season under Herenda could be a painful one, especially in the expectedly deep NEC, yet Knight fans should be confident that their program is heading in the right direction.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride.