Last season Towson head coach Pat Skerry and then-Marshall head coach Tom Herrion, who’s now an assistant at Georgia Tech, began an initiative in college basketball geared towards supporting those who have autism and their families. The cause is a personal one for both coaches, as they’re raising children who are on the autism spectrum.
This weekend coaches across the country are participating in the “Coaches Powering Forward for Autism” campaign, and they’ll be wearing a blue puzzle piece lapel pin. Friday, Towson announced that its basketball team will wear special light blue uniforms for its game Saturday against James Madison.
Saturday’s game is Towson’s annual Autism Awareness Game. According to the Autism Speaks website, one in every 68 children (one in every 42 boys) is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. For this weekend, the goal of raising $6,800 per school (representing the 1:68 ratio) has been set.
After winning 25 games last season the Towson Tigers will look to take the next step in 2014-15. Pat Skerry’s team will have to do so without outstanding forward Jerrelle Benimon, who after winning CAA Player of the Year honors is out of eligibility. Accounting for the production lost due to the departures of their top three scorers (Benimon, Marcus Damas and Mike Burwell) will be the focus in 2014-15, and there’s also the need to add recruits who can help the program in the future.
Sunday night Towson landed its first commitment in the Class of 2015, with 6-foot-9 power forward Alex Thomas verbally committing to the CAA program according to multiple outlets. Thomas currently attends prep school at Coastal Academy in New Jersey, after having graduated from Hawthorne Christian HS last year.
Towson just scored a pledge from Alex Thomas, of the NJ Playaz, per a source. Took 14 charges at Peach Jam.
As noted in the tweet above Thomas played for the Playaz Basketball Club this summer, and that roster included prospects such as Isaiah Briscoe, Temple Gibbs and Delaware commit Elijah Cain. Thomas wasn’t asked to much from a scoring standpoint due to the presence of those players, instead serving as a solid defender and rebounder for a team that would go on to win the EYBL Finals at the Nike Peach Jam.
“Coach [Pat] Skerry and how much he cares about about his players, along with their occupational therapy program, is what made me choose Towson,” Thomas said. “I think I bring a skilled four man with good passing that can stretch the defense, rebound, and play good post defense along with protecting the rim.”
Among the front court players on the Towson roster who will have eligibility remaining when Thomas arrives on campus are juniors Timajh Parker-Rivera and Arnaud Williams Adala Moto (Wake Forest transfer who will sit out this season) and sophomores John Davis and Walter Foster. Of the three who were part of the Towson program last season Parker-Rivera, who started all 36 games, was the most productive player.
Parker-Rivera played just over 25 minutes per contest, averaging 6.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
It goes without saying that in order to beat the Towson Tigers the first order of business is to slow down forward Jerrelle Benimon. In Towson’s 80-68 win over Drexel on January 14 the preseason CAA Player of the Year was outstanding, accounting for 27 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Clearly Benimon was going to be at the top of Drexel’s scouting report for Saturday’s rematch.
Unfortunately for the Dragons there were unable to slow down Benimon, who accounted for 25 points and eight rebounds in Towson’s 75-73 victory. Benimon made eight of his 12 field goal attempts and shot 9-for-11 from the foul line, leading the way for a Towson team that shot 57.5% from the field on the day. Also scoring in double figures for Pat Skerry’s Tigers were Rafriel Guthrie, who scored 18 points off the bench, and starter Marcus Damas (16 points).
Frantz Massenat led four Drexel players in double figures with 18 points, but fellow starter Chris Fouch (ten points) shot just 3-for-13 from the field. Towson moved to 5-2 in CAA play with the win, remaining two games behind Delaware (8-0) in the loss column.
Saturday represents an important day in college basketball, and not solely because of some of the big games on the schedule. February 1 is also Autism Awareness Day in college basketball, with many coaches across the country donning lapel pins in support of the cause. The pins are in the shape of a puzzle piece, which represents the “missing piece” that children have have been diagnosed with autism lack.
Two coaches at the forefront in this campaign are Towson’s Pat Skerry and Marshall’s Tom Herrion, both of whom are the parents of autistic children. With the goal being to educate people about an issue that affects one in every 88 children (1 in every 54 boys), Skerry and Herrion reached out to many of their colleagues in the profession during the offseason.
“Coach Skerry and me were the ones to contact these coaches directly,” Herrion said in an interview conducted by Autism Speaks earlier this week. “There has been complete support across the board. Autism Speaks and college basketball will be together on this day. Pat and I have good programs but when we can get the rock stars of our industry on board, Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Coach Self, Calipari and all the others on board including the media you know you have something special.”
In yesterday’s Washington Post, Alex Prewitt wrote a story on Skerry and how he and his wife navigate the daily challenges that come with raising a child diagnosed with autism. The task can be even tougher for parents in states like Maryland, which according to the story is one of 16 states that doesn’t have health insurance coverage for autism.
And that fact, with many struggling with the financial aspects of raising a child with autism, is one thing that makes days like Saturday so important.
In his first season as head coach at Towson, Pat Skerry won just one game with that victory ending the program’s 41-game losing streak. The Tigers would go on to finish the 2011-12 season with a 1-31 record, but due to the work Skerry did both within the program and on the recruiting trail many were of the opinion that better days lay ahead for Towson.
That proved to be the case in 2012-13 as Towson improved its win total by 17 games, and with the return of forward Jerrelle Benimon the Tigers were the preseason pick to win the CAA. On Sunday afternoon the Tigers won 72-57 at The College of Charleston, with Benimon and Mike Burwell leading the way. Benimon, preseason pick to win CAA Player of the Year, led the way with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three assists with Burwell adding 18 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Benimon and Burwell are both Big East transfers (Benimon from Georgetown, and Burwell played at USF when they were still a member), and along with holdover Marcus Damas have been key figures for Towson as the Tigers worked to make the transition from doormat to contender.
Just as important as the offensive production on Sunday was Towson’s performance defensively, as the Cougars shot just 33% with Nori Johnson (scoreless) and Anthony Stitt combining to score just six points on 2-for-15 shooting. Willis Hall (20 points) and Adjehi Baru (15 and nine rebounds) were productive for Doug Wojcik’s team but their teammates shot a combined 6-for-42 from the field.
With the win Towson moved to 3-0 in CAA play, keeping them tied in the loss column with 4-0 Delaware. While a five-game win streak may not seem like much, this is the first such streak for the Tigers since the 2000-01 season. And given where Towson was just under three years ago, the streak is another step forward for Pat Skerry’s program.
Towson has suspended sophomore guard Jerome Hairston indefinitely, according to a release from the school and head coach Pat Skerry.
Hairston, a 6-foor-3 guard was a CAA All-Rookie selection as a freshman and averaged 9.9 points a game last season before his scoring dipped to 5 points a game through the first five games of the season.
“We have suspended Jerome for conduct detrimental to the team,” said Skerry in the release. “The suspension is effective immediately and no other statements will be issued.”
Towson is losing a starting member of its backcourt, but it comes during the nonconference portion of the schedule. If Hairston is re-instated before CAA play, then Towson should be okay going forward.