Nov. 11, 2005
To win, a team has to be able to have a complete effort. Being successful in each facet of the game breeds winning, and attention to detail is one way to get those results.
Johns Hopkins head coach Bill Nelson looks ahead to the 2005-06 season and sees that his team has a challenge ahead in the Centennial Conference, where the majority of teams are in the same situation as his with numerous contributors returning.
Success can come from that attention to detail, Nelson points out. "What it's going to take is taking care of the little things now. Because most teams have a lot of players back, I think it's going to be a season with a lot of close games."
Nelson also adds that little things will be important, since his team typically plays close games. "We played 15 games last year, decided by five points or less and won seven but lost eight."
With most teams, leadership comes from the most experienced players on the court. Johns Hopkins is no exception, with senior guards Bobby Sharafeddin and Jeff Thompson expected to make an impact for the Blue Jays this season.
The role of three-point shooter was open on this team with the graduation of Eric Toback, who made over 39 percent of his three point attempts during his Hopkins career, and 41.8 percent last season. Sharafeddin is poised to step into that sharp-shooter role, hitting on 38 percent of his career three point attempts. Of his 174 career field goal tries, 106 have been from behind the arc. Nelson has the confidence that Sharafeddin can provide the big shots in his senior season.
Once again in 05-06, Thompson will quarterback the Blue Jays offense at the point guard position. Last season, he stepped in at the position and started 17 games, including 13 of the last 14, leading the team in assist-turnover ratio at. Thompson's continues to improve on his offensive game, increasing his field goal attempts in each of his three seasons, which is something Nelson wants him to continue to develop.
Arguably the most important cogs on this Hopkins team are the juniors, a group six Blue Jays who have started 67 career games, scored 1,347 total points and collected 790 rebounds as a group. Nelson's junior class provides the bulk of the inside play, as forwards Zack Armen, Matt Griffin, Chris Morley, Danny Nawrocki and Pat Ward are each in their third seasons.
The duo of Nawrocki and Griffin will see time working together up front, based on Nelson's evaluation of their preseason improvements.
"Both Dan and Matt know that if they're in the game together, one of them might have to play the high post a little bit, and they've accepted that," Nelson says. "They've worked on their 17-foot jump shot, their high-low pass to each other and they're setting screens well for each other. They've really started to gel. They are two guys that really have seen a lot of action and should be our leaders as far as post players go."
Nawrocki accounted for seven double-doubles last season, and made 55 percent of his field goal attempts, good for fifth in the Centennial Conference. Griffin made 57.8 percent of his tries from the floor and had eight games scoring in double figures.
Another duo expected to make an impact up front is that of Armen and Morley, who bring contrasting styles of play to the court.
Armen is characterized by Nelson as a "face up" player, one who with good range on his jump shot. He appeared in 22 games last season, getting into double figure points three times. Morley provides a defensive edge, as Nelson calls him the best defensive post player on the team. Morley appeared in 16 games last season.
Returning to the mix this season is Ward, who sat out the 04-05 season with an injury. Nelson says that once Ward can get his timing back, he can be a top contributor on the squad.
"Pat's game is penetration, he's a tall wing. I expect him to be a good rebounder for us, take the ball to the basket and finish and play good defense. He's an athletic person and he should be one of our top defenders," Nelson says.
Another junior expected to make a big splash this season is T.J. Valerio, who might be the team's best returning guard. Valerio started in 13 games last season, including each of the final eight contests. He scored in double figures 10 times and connected on 41.6 percent of his three point tries. Nelson says his attitude and well-rounded game make him one of the top players on the 05-06 version of the Blue Jays.
"T.J. has a tremendous attitude. He battled, worked hard and in the second half of the year, we put him back in the starting lineup," Nelson says. "At both ends of the floor, he was our best player and should be one of the top perimeter players in the conference this season."
The Blue Jay sophomores, each of whom saw significant minutes as freshmen, can fill a number of different roles.
Terence Coppola may the most polished of the group, earning 18 starts last season, including 17 in a row to close the season. Coppola also made an impact off the bench, scoring 22 off the bench at Carnegie Mellon on Dec. 1, the most points of any Hopkins player off the bench last season. Coppola's play on both ends of the court is what impresses Nelson the most, however.
"He's one of our more multi-talented players. He drives, he's got great legs, he's strong so he can get up and rebound, and he can defend the ball. He's got a lot going for him and athletically, had an outstanding freshman year."
Doug Polster provides Nelson with another sharp-shooter option, commenting on his ability to come off the bench and have the ability to provide an immediate spark.
"He has really lit it up in the preseason. If he continues to do this, it's going to be hard to keep him on the bench."
The lone sophomore forward, Kevin Roach, gives Nelson yet another option up front. Roach started in nine games last season and brings a solid field goal percentage (43.5) along with an ability to handle the ball (26 assists). What Nelson likes most about Roach, however, is that he provides a different look for opponents.
"Kevin's a little shorter, yet he's more of a face-up guy who may be coming off the bench to defend some of the smaller post players."
Into the fold come five talented freshmen, each of whom brings something different to the table for the 05-06 Blue Jays.
Providing multiple offensive abilities is Phil Beggans, a player who Nelson expects to step into the swingman role, with both his ability to shoot and drive to the basket.
"His strength right now is he is a tremendous outside shooter. He eventually will be a three-man for us, he's has got to get stronger. He's showed another dimension (in our intrasquad scrimmage), that he can take the ball to the hoop, which I was looking for."
Hopkins also adds a combo guard to the lineup, Collin Kamm, who can both run the offense and find the basket. If the name sounds familiar, Kamm is the brother of a pair of former Hopkins athletes: Justin (football) and Brendan (basketball). However, Nelson says that Collin brings a different game to the table than Brendan did.
"Collin has unbelievable basketball savvy. He's a tremendous penetrator, is able to finish among the big guys, can score inside and really sees the floor well. I really think he's going to be a sleeper on this team."
A player who can step in and provide an immediate impact is Chris Ludgate, a 6-10 center. Nelson still thinks Ludgate has a lot of development ahead of him, but he comes in with ability that can be used this season, including a shooter's touch. Nelson sees a high ceiling with Ludgate and knows he's in good hands among his teammates and coaches.
"The more he follows Dan Nawrocki to the weight room and the more he works with Coach [Ed] Richardson on his low post moves, the better he's going to be. His future is bright and he's in a good situation where he can learn from the outstanding group of juniors."
Ryan Purcell, a player who can play both the guard and forward positions, steps in as another multi-talented player for Hopkins. In the preseason, Nelson has noticed Purcell's ability and his physical makeup.
"He's big and strong, a perimeter player, and can shoot the lights out. He's another guy that should be able to take the ball to the basket, he's coming in here with a lot of experience from high school."
The Blue Jays' point play in the future may come from Scott Weisenfeld, who comes to the Hopkins program as a pure point guard, in the mold of Jeff Thompson. Nelson expects Weisenfeld to step in right away and challenge for minutes.
"He's quick, he can really push the ball on offense, finds the open man and can take the ball to the hoop. On defense, he's all over his opponent."
To open up the 2005-06 season, the Blue Jays will participate in the Inaugural Pride of Maryland Tournament, which will match up eight Division III teams from the state in a three day tournament Nov. 18-20, where each team gets to play three games. Hosting the tournament this season will be Villa Julie, with Goucher and Johns Hopkins hosting opening round games on Friday, Nov. 18.
The eight-team tournament will give teams like Hopkins a chance to face teams that they normally wouldn't. The Blue Jays will open up with Salisbury in only the second meeting since 1992 between the two teams. However, the tournament could spark new rivalries, as bragging rights are now on the line, according to Nelson.
With three games in less than 48 hours, the Pride of Maryland Tournament will provide a tall task. Nelson believes that conditioning will make or break the participants.
"It's going to be tough. The teams that are in the best shape coming down to the last day might be a major factor. The three teams that are in the Centennial Conference are also starting a week later than everyone else, because of our conference rule, so it might come back to our added depth and we might have to use that right away."
Looming on the schedule is a Nov. 26 matchup in South Carolina against Division I Furman, a member of the Southern Conference. The Paladins are the first D-I team Hopkins will face since beating Navy 66-61 on Dec. 4, 2004. Furman was 16-13 overall last season, and the Blue Jays are one of three D-III foes on their schedule this season, with Macalester and Sewanee being the other two. Nelson knows what to expect and his strategy is simple: protect the ball.
"We're going down there with the idea that we're going to battle them. I think that if we can take care of the ball, that's going to be a big thing, and not giving them easy buckets. We're going to try and keep the game close, and you never know what can happen. That's what we did with Navy, we stayed in the game and then near the end, we got a little lead. Once we had the lead with the ball late in the game, Navy had to come get us and we got some easy buckets and got to the free throw line and made most of our shots."
The Blue Jays round out their non-conference slate Jan. 3-4 with the Blue Jay Invitational. Hopkins will face John Jay on the first night, with the winner to meet either Buffalo State or St. Mary's in the championship.
Centennial Conference play gets underway with Hopkins traveling to Swarthmore Nov. 30, and the home conference opener is set for Dec. 3 against Muhlenberg. As usual, the Centennial Conference will provide a tough test for the Blue Jays, as teams throughout the league return a large number of contributors from last season. Nelson noted that each team, from regular season champion F&M to last-place Swarthmore has gained experience and will provide a challenge, night in and night out.
Most notably, conference champion Ursinus is 6th in the Street and Smith's D-III Preseason Poll, returning all five starters and Centennial Player of the Year Mike McGarvey.
Looking at his team, Nelson sees two things that have to happen for the Blue Jays to return to post season play: closure and maturity.
"We need to do two things: if we get a chance to put away teams this year, we have to do it. We just can't let teams hang around. The second thing is games that aren't close at the end, we have to be mature enough and experienced enough to execute, get the ball to the right people. We really did it at times last year and we had some great victories at the end of the game. To get to that next level, we have to push ourselves right from the start."
Nelson also feels that if his team can attack each challenge the season presents and face it with a positive attitude, then the Blue Jays can be a winner in 05-06.
"We have to do a better job of facing adversity. Sometimes, last year, when things went wrong, we got a little down. I fully expect that it won't be like that this year."