By By Ed Morrone
If one thing is evident through the first six games of the Pride men basketball team's season, it's this: the team is not going to sneak up on anybody anymore.
Last season, the Blue & Gold came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, starting the season 9-0 before suffering its first loss at No. 7 Syracuse. Players like Loren Stokes and Antoine Agudio were able to fly under the radar and hurt teams unexpectedly, which is no longer the case this year.
The Pride is 4-2 through its first six games, and it's clear the team is going to have to develop its depth and consistency if it wants to unseat teams such as Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth as the conference's top team.
"Our chemistry seems to be a little off...and the biggest part of that is we took some people by surprise last year," associate head coach Tom Parrotta said. "I know now everyone that comes in here is trying to stop Loren and Antoine. We have to get the younger guys minutes and come up with some sort of a rotation."
The Pride doesn't have the luxury of many veteran players as it did last season. Senior leaders Wendell Gibson, Mike Radziejewski and Woody Souffrant graduated, while current senior guard Gibran Washington has left the team due to chronic injury. Thus, it is relying on Stokes (a junior) and Agudio (a sophomore) to carry the team on their backs.
It also doesn't help that the Pride bench consists of five freshmen who get regular playing time that they might not necessarily be prepared for. However, these guys are going to have to learn on the fly and develop quick if the team is going to have any shot at winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament in March.
"It's really a Catch-22," Parrotta said. "We're trying to spoon feed these guys right now, and they'll earn their playing time and confidence as time goes on. But the thing with freshmen is, they're very inconsistent, so there's a little bit of pressure there. They need to put some consistency together."
The freshmen will have a chance to do so, as the Pride will close out 2005 with non-conference games against lesser opponents in Stony Brook, Dartmouth, St. Francis and La Salle. It will be essential for head coach Tom Pecora to get the younger guys playing time so they can be ready once the conference schedule resumes on Jan. 5 against James Madison.
After the game at La Salle on Dec. 30, the Pride will play all CAA opponents for the rest of the year (except for an ESPN Bracket Busters game on Feb. 18, which is designed to give exposure to mid-major programs), so the team will find out just how good it is rather quickly.
The Pride's prognosis is unclear now, as it has split its first two conference games, and in that process has looked like two completely different teams.
On Dec. 3, the Pride manhandled Delaware before being handed a 23-point loss at the hands of VCU four days later. One encouraging thing the team can take from this is that it appears the Pride can beat everyone in the conference if it plays to its potential.
"It sounds like a clichÃ© and coach talk, but anybody can beat anybody on any given night [in this conference]," Parrotta said. "We're learning now, and this all comes with success and how to handle it. Regardless of who comes in, we're playing for a championship, and it's our job as coaches to get these guys pointed in the right direction."