Men's basketball veterans set to lead team to big season
When the Hofstra men’s basketball team tips off their season on Friday, Nov. 9, against Mount St. Mary’s, fans will see a team of mostly familiar faces who are ready to take the program to the next level.
Hofstra is led by star guard Justin Wright-Foreman. Last season, Wright-Foreman poured in over 24 points per game (PPG) while shooting 45 percent from the field on his way to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Player of the Year award. In his senior season, he has his sights set high. “My goal is definitely to be player of the year again … but definitely going to the tournament [too],” Wright-Foreman said. “We’ve been right there. We need to get over that hump.”
After testing the NBA Draft waters in spring of 2018, Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich knows that Wright-Foreman has the weight of the world on his shoulders this season. “He knows it, we know it, everybody knows it,” Mihalich said. “We talk about it and we gotta accept it and embrace it, and I think he has.” The team throws everything including the kitchen sink at Wright-Foreman in practice to help him get used to the pressure and to help him find ways to get his teammates involved.
The Pride also returns junior guard Eli Pemberton, who will be looking to improve on a sophomore campaign in which he tallied 15.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game (RPG) – ranking second on the team in both categories. Pemberton’s offense will be looked to often in order to take some pressure off of Wright-Foreman. He knows how vital he will be to his team’s success and has worked in the offseason to meet the challenge. “I worked on being a leader … it’s a grown man’s game and I want to be the most grown out of all of them,” Pemberton said. He also worked with Wright-Foreman outside of the team’s summer program to work on his game and their chemistry on the floor.
Hofstra’s starting backcourt will be rounded out by senior point guard Desure Buie. Buie started 18 of Hofstra’s 31 games last season and led the team in assists with over three per game. The Pride will need Buie to continue to dish out the assists while looking to improve on his 6.4 PPG from a year ago. Most of all, though, Buie’s team needs him to continue to be a leader in his senior season. “I’ve been a point guard my whole life,” he said. “Being a point guard is about being a leader, being vocal … that’s exactly what I’m doing for my teammates.”
In the frontcourt, however, there are more question marks than answers for Hofstra to begin the season. The Pride will be looking to fill the hole left by the graduation of star forward Rokas Gustys. Gustys had been their go-to man down low for three seasons, during which he contributed 11.1 PPG and 12.4 RPG. Gustys holds Hofstra’s Division I record for most career rebounds (1305) and is only the third player in the last 20 years to rank in the top five in the country in rebounding for three consecutive years. That kind of production will not easily be replaced. “I don’t think any one person can replace [Gustys],” Mihalich said. “I don’t think any one guy can make us as good defensively as we were [with him on the floor].”
Mihalich hopes that graduate forwards Jacquil Taylor and Dan Dwyer will be the “two-headed monster” that can begin to fill the void left by Gustys. “We hope that they can take [Gustys’] place and combine to hopefully be as productive as he was,” Mihalich said. Taylor completed his undergraduate degree at Purdue, where he played three seasons as a role player, while Dwyer attended the University of Pennsylvania and played four years. The Pride will be putting a lot of faith in the pair of newcomers, along with junior forward Stafford Trueheart, to find a way to fill the holes in the post.
Hofstra is also changing up their approach to defense with the turnover in their backcourt. In practice, Mihalich has made a point of telling everyone on the team to focus on upping their rebounding numbers and defensive intensity. “Our league was ranked number one in the country for offensive efficiency,” Mihalich said. “Everybody can score … whoever can play a little bit better defense can win the league.”
The sixth-year Hofstra coach is also going to be relying on more depth than he is used to this season. “We’re gonna have to work on some combinations,” Mihalich said. “I’m usually comfortable playing with seven guys, [this year] we probably have nine. First thing everybody’s gotta do is understand their role.” The Pride will be looking for solid contributions from sixth man Jalen Ray and role players Kenny Wormley and Tareq Coburn.
If Hofstra can find the right rotation that clicks on all cylinders, there is a consensus among the players that they could make a run at a CAA championship this season. “The ceiling is as far as we let it go,” Wright-Foreman said. “We just need to keep competing every day.”
The Pride were picked to finish third in the preseason CAA poll behind Northeastern University and College of Charleston. In order to raise the CAA trophy and make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, Hofstra will have to get past these two powerhouse teams. Mihalich knows that is no easy task, but has faith in his squad. “We’re a team that can beat them. We gotta get healthy, we gotta hope our team chemistry comes together … and we gotta be ready every night because [this league is] very competitive.”