Fairleigh Dickinson Makes a Statement Over Mount St. Mary’s

If you didn’t believe there was parity in the NEC prior to Thursday’s round of conference opening games, then you surely do now.

Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) is the prime example of that, as the Knights – who had a total of five NEC victories in the past two seasons – went into Emmitsburg, Maryland and dominated the favored Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, defeating them 72-65 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. Continue reading “Fairleigh Dickinson Makes a Statement Over Mount St. Mary’s”

NEC Team Capsule: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Head Coach: Greg Vetrone, 4th year (19-71)
Last Season: 3-26 (2-16 NEC), failed to qualify for the NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 11th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Rebuilding on the fly
Key Players Lost: George Goode (12.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg), Briahn Smith (6.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Mohammed Lo
Incoming Players: Sekou Harris (PG), Sidney Sanders (G), Myles Mann (PF), Kyle Pearson (G/F), Xavier Harris (G/F)
Previous Posts: FDU Recruiting Recap

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Sidney Sanders (played JC last season)
G: Lonnie Hayes (13.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.0 spg)
G: Melquin Boldin (15.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 76.4% FT)
F: Lonnie Robinson (6.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 35.4% 3PT)
PF: Kinu Rochford (9.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 55.9% FG)

Key Reserves:
Mostafa Jones (G), Yves Jules (G), Mathias Seilund (F), Xavier Harris (G/F), Sekou Harris (PG)

Major Storylines:

  1. Stay Away from the Doctor – Vetrone’s Knights were bitten by the injury bug last season, both in the nagging and season-ending department. The latter got a hold of starting point guard Lonnie Hayes, who broke his foot 11 games into the season and was lost for the year. Hayes and Lonnie Robinson, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, need to play at full strength in the conference season. To say their health is paramount for FDU would be an understatement.
  2. Chemistry May Trump Talent – Vetrone was on record last November saying his 2011-12 roster was the most talented it’s ever been since his arrival at FDU. That may have been true, yet none of the talent meshed particularly well, even before Hayes’ injury. This season, the pressure is on Vetrone to integrate this group into one cohesive unit, and it won’t be easy, especially with three transfers and three freshmen added to the roster.
  3. Who’s Playing the 4? – Senior Kinu Rochford is locked in as FDU’s starting center, but who will take over for the departed George Goode? Junior Mathias Seilund has the offensive skills, yet lags behind defensively and on the glass. 6-foot-6 freshman Myles Mann is out for the season with a torn ACL. Xavier Harris, Kyle Pearson, and Ayotunde Oyeniyi are also possibilities, yet they are unproven. Playing small – with Robinson at the “4” – is probably the most logical idea, but then how will this team match up against the terrifying frontcourts of LIU, Quinnipiac, and Robert Morris?

Team Analysis: Vetrone’s pivotal third year was a season to forget right off the bat. FDU was defeated in 10 of their first 11 games, and to make matters worse, the Knights lost their only point guard when Hayes broke his foot. A team predominantly made up of transfers never played as a cohesive unit, and nagging injuries limited the performances of George Goode (back) and Lonnie Robinson (knee). Heading into this season, Vetrone has much more depth and athleticism in his backcourt with point guards Sidney Sanders and Sekou Harris joining Hartford transfer Mostafa Jones and Hofstra transfer Yves Jules. Look for Sekou Harris, who has impressed Vetrone this preseason, to play a major role by logging 20+ minutes per game as a freshman. Along with Hayes and Melquan Bolding, Vetrone plans to employ a three-guard set with Sanders as the primary ball handler. Hayes, who may miss the first couple of games with an undisclosed injury, will play primarily off the ball in order to limit the pounding on his foot. Bolding, who averaged 15.1 inefficient points per game last season, will not be asked to do too much in an attempt to optimize his performance. In the frontcourt, opportunities are aplenty with Kinu Rochford as the only experienced presence. Harris and Seilund have a chance to contribute, but the athletic Pearson is likely a season away before becoming a factor. Most likely, Vetrone will implement an athletic small-ball lineup, with Robinson and Rochford as the big men down low. Right now, several Knight players are banged up (Jules – sprained ACL, Xavier Harris – shin splits, Hayes – undisclosed), so the goal for Vetrone is to get everyone healthy for the start of the season.

Coach’s Quotes:

“I went out and recruited three point guards to never have that problem again … I’m not going to ever get caught in that position again to not have a point guard play. I realized very quickly that if you don’t have a point guard play at any level, it’s tough.”
– Vetrone, when asked if recruiting point guard depth was a target for his last recruiting class 

“My expectation is that from day one we have to figure out how to get into the conference playoffs. That’s our goal. I don’t know how many games its going to take … how we are going to do it, but we’ll find a way. This year, I will say as a coach, I’m finding a way to get into the conference playoffs.”
— Vetrone, when asked if making the NEC playoffs was a reasonable goal for FDU
Ryan – If FDU’s athletic backcourt can finally gel as a unit, things will improve considerably in Teaneck. Other factors such as the play of Jones, Jules, and Seilund will determine if this roster is an injury or two away from complete disaster once again. The best case scenario probably lands FDU into the playoffs, but for now, I pessimistically think FDU doesn’t win more than 5-6 NEC games, which sadly may cost Vetrone his job.
John – There are plausible scenarios you can envision where FDU suddenly makes a big jump in the standings, but it’s just tough to predict. The more likely scenario is another tough season. Escaping the cellar of the conference will show progress and the Knights have to have better luck with health and point guard play this season. 

Greg Vetrone attempts to revitalize Fairleigh Dickinson with young recruiting class

Fairleigh Dickinson Knights: 3-26 (2-16 NEC), Failed to Qualify for the NEC Tournament

Players Lost:
PF George Goode – 12.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.4 bpg
SG Briahn Smith – 6.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.7 spg
F Mohammed Lo – 3.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.7 apg
G Sam Fernley – 14 games, 0.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.2 apg

Incoming Recruits:
Kyle Pearson, 6’5″ SF – Woodbridge High (NJ)
Xavier Harris, 6’6″ PF – The Peddle School (PA)
Miles Mann, 6’6″ SF – Westlake High (GA)
Sidney Sanders, Jr., 5’11” G – Polk Community College (SC)
Sekou Harris, 5’11” PG – Plainfield High (NJ)

The Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) Knights begin their 4th year of the Greg Vetrone era in considerable flux.  Before the start of last season, Vetrone was quoted as saying his team had the most talent in his 3 years at FDU.  Despite the proclamation, the Knights battled through injuries and lost 16 out of 18 conference games, en route to one of their worst seasons ever in program history.

It was an unlucky season to say the least, which began when Vetrone’s starting point guard, Lonnie Hayes, fractured his foot 11 games into the season.  Once Hayes was declared out for the remainder of the season, it left FDU devoid of a true “1” on the roster and stripped away any cohesiveness the team had previously developed with Hayes as its facilitator.

As a result, the ball landed in the hands of Melquan Bolding more often, and the dynamic, yet at times, erratic playmaker ended up doing far too much, producing an underwhelming shooting line of 0.351/0.292/0.763 to go along with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.5.

“I put Melquan in situations he shouldn’t have been in,” admitted Vetrone. “And every team knew that I had nowhere else to go, so they were scheming against (Bolding) and his turnover ratio went through the roof.”

Determined to shore up his point guard depth, Vetrone made it a priority to sign two point guards that will hopefully direct his team and perhaps optimize Bolding’s (and others) role.

First up is Plainfield High’s Sekou Harris.  Several mid-major programs showed interest in Harris, but luckily for FDU, Harris decided to attend college in his home state of New Jersey.  The diminutive guard averaged good, but not great numbers his senior season, although he impressed scouts with his ball-handling skills, three-point range, and most important of all, his leadership skills.  Harris moves fantastically with the ball, breaking defensive pressure and pushing the ball in transition.  Like most freshmen coming in, Harris will need to add strength to his frame, yet the potential is there, if developed properly.

The second guard is junior college transfer Sidney Sanders, Jr., who has 2 years of eligibility remaining and is physically ready for the demands of DI competition.  Sanders dominated at Polk CC, filling up the stat sheet to the tune of 13.9 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.8 steals per game.  Sanders was impressive enough to earn All-League honors two seasons in a row, yet his 37% field goal percentage (on nearly 400 attempts) unfortunately mimics all that was wrong with the inefficient Knights last year.  It is Vetrone’s hope that Sanders, Harris, and his two eligible transfers in Mustafaa Jones and Yves Jules will help solidify FDU’s guard play considerably, along side Bolding and Hayes.

“Sanders and Harris will at times play together and at times (they) will share the point.” said Vetrone. “Not knowing how Lonnie Hayes’ foot will hold up, I think he’ll be moved off the ball this year.”

With George Goode graduating, the Knights will be thin on the low-block, leaving senior Kinu Rochford as the only experienced big man and most likely serving as the Knight’s center.  Adding depth around Rochford, Vetrone signed 3 power forward types, with the hope that 2 of the 3 could contribute immediately.

Unfortunately for FDU, the injury bug once again reared its ugly head before the first jump ball in November.  Myles Mann, an athletic wide-bodied player who impressed at Westlake High, tore his ACL ligament in his knee in early June.  He will be out for the year.

“I really believed in my heart that Myles would have been my starting 4,” said a disappointed Vetrone.

Instead, Vetrone will have to rely more on incoming wing and true freshman, Xavier Harris.  A year ago, Harris was set to become the first Philly native to sign with Penn in 30 years, however, the two-time high school champion ended up de-committing late his senior season, for whatever the reason.  Now, Harris has a year of prep school under his belt, therefore he may be the most polished of the 3 frontcourt recruits.

Kyle Pearson adds another terrific athlete to Vetrone’s roster, although Pearson will need some time to develop before he can be counted on for significant minutes.  He is likely a year or two away.

All in all, Vetrone and his staff infused some much needed youth and depth to this roster.  With better luck and health, the Knights realistically can climb out of the bottom tier of the NEC.  It all begins with chemistry, because as we found out last season with FDU, talent doesn’t really matter when your team can’t play together as one unit.  Perhaps this year, things will begin to move in the right direction for Vetrone’s FDU Knights.

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