Greg Herenda Offers Fairleigh Dickinson a Fresh Start

Greg Herenda Takes Over a FDU Team That Lost 24 Games Last Season (Photo Credit: Northeast Conference)

Seven years ago, Greg Herenda had a difficult career decision to make. He was offered the associate head coaching position by Bill Herrion, who had been recently hired by New Hampshire to revive their program. To an outsider, this position was a no-brainer to accept, especially for a career assistant who had spent over 20 seasons traveling up and down the east coast. But Herenda didn’t see it that way.

Instead, he politely declined Herrion’s offer and accepted his first head coaching position at Elgin Community College. As Herenda explained in his introductory press conference at Fairleigh Dickinson last month, he knew he wanted to become a head coach. So he turned down a top assistant position and opted to live in his in-laws basement in Chicago while he guided Elgin CC to a 18 win season and a Skyway Conference championship.

Seven seasons and three stops later, Herenda has become the seventh head basketball coach in Fairleigh Dickinson’s history. After taking a Division II program in UMass-Lowell to the NCAA Division II tournament four of the past five seasons, Herenda feels that he’s ready for a new challenge.

“I think it was time. I had a great run at UMass-Lowell; we won a lot of games and won a championship,” said Herenda who begins his 30th season of coaching college basketball. “I just think this opportunity is a difficult one, but it’s an exciting one.”

Herenda has never had a problem accepting a challenge. When he came to UMass-Lowell in 2008, the River Hawks were picked 12th out of 15 teams in NE-10 conference. It only took two seasons for Herenda to propel UMass-Lowell to a conference championship. Prior to Umass-Lowell, he guided both Cabrini College and Elgin CC to improved seasons as well. The past success gives Herenda the confidence to take on a Fairleigh Dickinson program that hasn’t had a winning season since the 2005-06 campaign.

“I’ve never been handed jobs that are great silver platter type jobs and this is certainly not one of those,” said a candid Herenda.

To make matters even more difficult, Herenda is only inheriting six players from last season’s roster. That’s because two players, Sekou Harris and Yves Jules, will not return to Fairleigh Dickinson for the 2013-14 season. The diminutive, yet quick Harris, who was projected by Big Apple Buckets as an upper level NEC prospect last season, never quite found his way into the rotation as a freshman under former head coach Greg Vetrone. And with the new coaching regime coming in, Harris decided it was in his best interest to transfer to a junior college, sources said.

Nevertheless, Herenda is excited about what he has seen in his first month as the Knight’s head coach. “What I sense is there are some guys that are very, very hungry, that want to work, that want structure, discipline and want to win. So I was pleasantly surprised at our workouts in the spring.”

In addition to those six returning players – Sidney Sanders, Jr., Myles Mann, Mustafaa Jones, Mathias Seilund, Xavier Harris and Kyle Pearson – Herenda has also received commitments from four others. 6’8” center Michael Owona and 6’3” guard Jayde Dawson will both follow Herenda from UMass-Lowell. In addition, 6’5” swingman Scott Kingsley and 5’6″ point guard Malachi Nix are also pegged as future Knights. Currently, Fairleigh Dickinson has the ability to fill up to three more scholarships.

It’s shaping up to be an incredibly young roster in his inaugural season in the NEC, but Herenda is eager to discover what kind of team he has.

“The key is to get these guys to play really hard, and together and play with a purpose,” said Herenda. “I think if those three things come together then you can have an opportunity to make a big bounce.”

One thing working in Herenda’s favor could the Knights’ style of play. The head coach plans to implement an up-tempo attack that includes defensive pressing. Last season, NEC teams averaged more possessions per game than any other conference in the nation, so it sounds like the Knights could fit right in.

Herenda explained, “We’re going to defend, turn people over, try to create some easy and early offense. And then spread people out.”

“We play man, zone, we trap. We have a number of different offensive sets. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for our guys to do different things to keep (opponents) off-balance.”

It’s shaping up to be an exciting time for what has been a beaten down fanbase at Fairleigh Dickinson. After averaging 22.5 losses the past four seasons, there really is nowhere to go but up. Despite the mammoth challenge ahead, Herenda is confident that he’ll eventually achieve his ultimate goal for the program.

“One of these Marchs, I’m going to take Fairleigh Dickinson to the dance.”

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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