After longtime coach Jeff Jones left for Old Dominion and four players graduated from last year’s ten win team, expectations were low for Mike Brennan in his first year at American. The Eagles, who entered this season after having graduated four players, were picked to finish 9th in the ten team Patriot League. Brennan was an assistant for Jones from 2007-09 at AU, and had been working on Georgetown’s staff for the past four years — suffice to say, he knows the school and the Washington D.C. area well.
While coaching under Jones, he helped American advanced to consecutive NCAA Tournaments. When the job opened up, Brennan’s interested immediately peaked.”I knew it was a job I wanted,” Brennan told NBCSports.com by phone. “It was a great experience working with Jeff. I realized what a great school American is; it attracts people from all over the world. It’s a similar type of institution that I’ve been used to working at.”
For Brennan, the transition back across town was near seamless, but what about the players?
A 1994 graduate of Princeton who coached under John Thompson III for nearly a decade at both his alma mater and Georgetown, the Princeton-style offense has been ingrained in him. Brennan knows it as well as anyone, but inheriting a roster full of players who have never played in it thought to be a challenge.
“It’s been difficult, but they have done well. I think we have the right sort of players for it. I followed the team closely while at Georgetown, so I had an idea of what the personnel was like…In this kind of offense, players have to be individually sound because I am asking them to do multiple things on the court. Asking [Tony] Wroblicky to move around and pass on the perimeter isn’t easy for a big guy who’s never done it, but he’s been great.”
American began the season 3-7 with their only wins coming against lowly UMBC, St. Francis PA, and Howard. Their first two losses to George Mason and Ohio State, however, acted as a harbinger of things to come. The Eagles tough defense, and slow methodical offense — American plays at the fifth slowest pace in the country — kept them in these games.
“It’s been more of a progress. We kept harping on the fact that as a staff that we weren’t interested on wins and losses right away. Instead, we got better on a daily basis. I kept telling them, ‘Fellas, I see you getting better. Keep working.’ I think they saw the results, despite not the record being what we wanted.”
The results have come in a big way.
American won their final non-conference game against Maryland Eastern Shore with ease, and have begun Patriot League play by winning their first five games. Heads officially began to turn when they went on the road and defeated Bucknell and Holy Cross by double-digits.
“I would say I am a bit surprised just because the league is so tough top to bottom. I knew every game was going to be really tough, but I was very confident that we’d have a chance going into each game. I know it’s going to get more difficult. The film is out there so other teams will continue to make tweaks. ”
Perhaps most impressive is that American has had to do their winning on the road, where four of their first five games have come. Those around the Patriot League are no doubt surprised by the Eagles’ fast start and, truth be told, Brennan himself is surprised, too.
Virginia Tech sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear will miss the start of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery, according to a report from Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. According to Barber’s report, Blackshear had surgery on his right foot five days after the 2015-16 season ended, but he’s still wearing a walking boot to help recover. There has been no timetable given for Blackshear’s return.
Blackshear will be a key piece for a Virginia Tech team that is a bit thin up front this season. Freshman Khadim Sy can provide some minutes up front, but he’s inexperienced and center Nick Fullard has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting a healthy Blackshear will be a key storyline for a Virginia Tech team that many will have in the preseason top 25.
Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.
According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.
The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.
That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.
Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”
Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.
It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.
Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.
The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.
Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.
The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.
Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.
After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.
I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.
On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.
Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.
“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”
Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.