2008-09 Iona Basketball Preview
Gaels looking to take next step in the MAAC
Although there was the positive of a ten-game improvement in Kevin Willard's first season in New Rochelle, the opening round loss to Canisius in the MAAC Tournament wasn't the best way to head into the offseason. But hope springs eternal, and this team stands to be pretty good this season thanks to a few returnees taking on leadership roles and a talented cast of newcomers. Look for the Gaels to play faster this season, but they certainly won't lack for talent thanks to the recruiting efforts of Coach Willard and his staff. But how far they move up the conference standings will be decided more by team chemistry than anything else.
2007-08 Record: 12-20 (8-10 MAAC; 7th)
Head coach: Kevin Willard (12-20 in one season)
Assistant coaches: Shaheen Holloway, Dan McHale, Stephen Sauers
Home court: Hynes Center
PPG: Gary Springer (10.9)
RPG: Springer (7.7)
APG: Rashon Dwight (2.7)
FG%: Devon Clarke (60.0%)
FT%: Milan Prodanovic (82.3%)
3PT%: Prodanovic (34.1%)
Assist/TO ratio: Dwight/Prodanovic (1.1)
One of the areas, and perhaps the most important, that newcomers could make an impact from the beginning of the season is at the point. Scott Machado (Queens, NY) and Jermel Jenkins (Union, NJ) are two highly-touted freshmen that will vie for minutes at the point. And in terms of their playing time, it doesn't hurt their prospects that they're arguably the two best options at the position. Both played at successful high school programs, with Machado at St. Benedict's and Jenkins at St. Patrick's, so they already know what it takes to win. It'll be all about adjusting to the college game, but they'll have a pair of experienced sidekicks to lean on when they need a helping hand.
Junior Milan Prodanovic and sophomore Rashon Dwight are both back and should improve their production from a season ago. Prodanovic, who is Iona's best returning marksman, could either be a starter (27 starts last season) or an option off the bench for Coach Willard. Dwight started twenty-nine games as a freshman and is the Gaels' best perimeter scoring threat. But with Iona going with a three-guard look, there's room for even more playing time on the perimeter. Seton Hall transfer Kashif Pratt didn't get to play much in his one season in South Orange, but do not mistake that for lacking talent. The Rice HS alum can make plays on the offensive end of the floor. Freshman Trinity Fields (Queens, NY) averaged twenty-three points per game last season at Cardozo HS while playing as the point. He, like classmate Kyle Smyth (River Edge, NJ), will be used off the ball in this system. But look for Fields to be the more likely of the two to see playing time early. Kyle Rawson (Warren, NJ) and Maurice Hicks Jr. (New York, NY) round out the backcourt for the Gaels this season.
The forward slots will be held by a pair of senior leaders in Gary Springer and Devon Clarke. They're the Gaels' two leading returning scorers and rebounders, and they will need to provide more of the same in their final campaign. But they will have some help at their disposal in the form of a medical redshirt, transfer and a freshman. Alejo Rodriguez missed all of last season due to back surgery, but he was quite productive as a freshman during that two-win campaign of 2006-07 (7.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg). The transfer came with Coach Willard from Louisville, but Jonathan Huffman isn't your traditional seven-footer. He didn't play much in his one season at UL, but Huffman has a decent outside stroke and is more of a face-up post than back-to-the-basket.
Iona was supposed to have two freshmen at their disposal heading into the season, but was dealt a blow when Keon Williams (Hackensack, NJ) went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. That leaves 6-7 Derek Wolfley (Attica, NY) as the lone newcomer able to play up front, but this isn't a development that ends Iona's season due to the fact that the guards will be used to push tempo. If they were a half-court team low on numbers, as they were a season ago, they'd need all the bodies they could find up front. As long as Springer and Clarke can stay healthy, the Gaels should be alright in the frontcourt.
The question surrounding Iona is how far up the standings can they move when it's all said and done this year? They'll definitely be deeper in Coach Willard's second season, but there's also the question of how quickly Machado and Jenkins get acclimated to running the point at the college level. In the congested midsection of the MAAC, the Gaels could definitely improve upon their seventh-place finish of a season ago, but it will be tough since the majority of the conference has gotten better as well. Picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll, look for Iona to make a push towards the top half of the conference.
Team Stats (conference ranking in parentheses)
PPG: 65.6 (9th)
PPG allowed: 69.0 (3rd)
FG%: 43.3% (4th)
FG% defense: 42.4% (3rd)
3PT%: 31.5% (9th)
3PT% defense: 36.0% (7th)
FT%: 69.4% (4th)
Rebound margin: + 0.6 (4th)
Assist/TO ratio: 0.8 (8th)