Discussion with Canisius College Men’s Basketball Coach Mike
The Canisius College Men’s Basketball Team and their Head Coach
Mike MacDonald are looking forward to improving on their disappointing
2002-2003 season. The Golden Griffins struggled to a ninth place
finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) as they were
beset by injuries to players expected to provide both leadership and
production on the court. Forward Toby Foster and Guard Dewitt Doss,
two returning starters, were lost for the entire season. A season that
started with hope - four starters returning, including productive
Seniors Foster, Point Guard Brian Dux, and Forward Hodari Mallory -
ended with a second consecutive season finishing in the bottom half of
The 2003-2004 version of the team must overcome this recent slide,
as well as the loss of their All-MAAC performers Dux (2nd team)
and Mallory (3rd team). I spoke with Coach MacDonald about the past
season and his thoughts looking toward the future.
Kevin Martone: First, thank you Coach for taking the time to speak
Coach MacDonald: No problem. Thanks for asking me.
KM: Prior to this past season, there was reason for hope and
optimism in Buffalo. You were returning four starters from the
previous year, including three standout Seniors. And, although your
team was selected to finish sixth in the MAAC Pre-Season poll, there
was a feeling that there was an upward potential for this team. For
example, Siena College Head Coach Rob Lanier expected the Golden
Griffins to “win a lot more games than people anticipate,” mentioning
specifically Senior leadership and the expected outstanding point
guard play of Brian Dux. However, the team finished ninth out of ten
teams in the conference. In addition to the injuries your team faced,
what other factors do you believe played a role in your disappointing
Coach MacDonald: Last year was extremely disappointing. You can
never plan on injuries, and what they did to us was make us a much
younger and inexperienced team. I really believed that we had the type
of team to contend for the league title. But, all of a sudden we lost
Toby Foster and Dewitt Doss out of our starting line-up, and what that
did was force us to move Kevin Downey and Richard Jones into the
starting line-up...which weakened our bench.
Another injury which really hurt us but wasn't as publicized was
when Chris Ravello broke his hand. Chris was starting to play well for
us (in his role). About 10 days before his injury he had a career high
in our win over Siena. He went down and we were able to win at Loyola,
but we went into a crucial early February stretch where we lost at
home to Iona by three (after being up 14 with 10 minutes to go), lost
at home to Manhattan by three (after being up 13 at the half), lost by
four at Fairfield in a really close game, and lost at home to Niagara
by three (after being up seven at the half). There is no doubt in my
mind that if we had finished off those games, coming out of the end of
January where we had just won three out of four, our season would have
taken on a whole new look. We definitely wore down in those games, and
Brian [Dux] and Hodari Mallory definitely wore down during that
KM: What can you take away from a season like this past year? How
do you build on disappointment and try to return to previous levels of
Coach MacDonald: We all have a terrible taste in our mouths
after last season, and we can hardly wait for practice to start in
October, to rid ourselves of that bad taste. During this past year,
Kevin Downey's father passed away from cancer (he was diagnosed in
November, and he died in February) and that was a tragic blow for all
of us. Chris Ravello's dad had a heart attack (he's doing better
now!), Toby Foster lost his grandmother to a stroke, and Yaku Moten-Spruill
had a 3-year-old nephew pass away. Those are tragedies. Losing a close
game is not a tragedy. We have to handle our disappointment from last
year, and turn it into effort this summer and fall. We will bounce
back, I'm confident of that.
KM: Your team will lose four players to graduation this season,
including two outstanding contributors: Dux and Mallory. Dux became
the first player in Canisius history to finish his career with 1,000
points scored and 500 assists, while Mallory led the team in scoring
(and placed sixth in the MAAC) this past season. How do you plan to
replace the leadership and production of these departing players?
Coach MacDonald: Obviously, Brian and Hodari were very good
players for us last year...we cannot expect Dewitt Doss and Toby
Foster to just replace their numbers and their leadership. But, we do
expect them both to come back and give us the production they had in
2001-2002, when they averaged between nine and eleven points per game.
If they can do that, and guys like Jon Ferris, Yaku Moten-Spruill,
Richard Jones and Kevin Downey can improve their games, we should be
able to fill the void. Brian and Hodari and Toby Foster and Tom
Perkovich (a walk-on) all received their degrees on May 17, but we
really only lose Brian and Hodari out of our rotation. [Editor’s note:
Toby Foster graduated but was an injury redshirt last season and has
one more year of eligibility left.]
KM: Looking forward to next season, there are many parallels to
last offseason. Like last season, you have a number of starters
returning from a disappointing season (Guard Kevin Downey, Center Yaku
Moton-Spruill, and Forward Richard Jones). Injured starters from the
2001-2002 season Doss and Foster will also be back from their redshirt
seasons. It is, once again, a team laden with upperclassmen. How will
you ensure your team does not repeat history? Do you plan to prepare
differently, attempting to change the results of this past season? Or
will you simply continue to do the things that have worked in the
past, hoping that injuries will not decimate your returning team
before the season starts?
Coach MacDonald: We will continue to do the things that have
made us successful. You cannot plan injuries, nor should you fear
them. We just have to be a little deeper in case they hit, and I think
we will be this year because of the experience we went through last
KM: Are there any newcomers for next season you are especially
excited about? Who are they and what do you hope they will bring to
the team next season and beyond?
Coach MacDonald: We signed three freshmen for next year. Chuck
Harris is a
6'4" guard who is a very good shooter and really knows how to play.
Wilson is an athletic 6'6" forward who has a good nose for the ball
and Randy Minto is a 5'11" point guard from New York City who reminds
me of Clive Bentick ('01 graduate). These guys should really give us
better depth in case the injury bug hits. Our two best recruits will
be Dewitt Doss and Toby Foster, now that they are healthy.
KM: This past season, the MAAC as a whole brought in an infusion of
strong newcomers, including St. Peter’s freshman sensation Keydren
Clark, Siena freshman Michael Haddix, and Iona’s Marvin McCullough, in
addition to Canisius’ Kevin Downey. Do you sense that the MAAC overall
is improving and becoming more and more competitive? What else must
the conference do to continue to become stronger?
Coach MacDonald: The MAAC is what it is...a real good mid-major
league. We get in trouble when people say we should do things to
become stronger. Those freshmen you mentioned are very good players,
and the more good players you bring in, the better the league will be.
One thing I want to add is that Kevin Downey should have been on the
All-Rookie team. He averaged the third most points in the conference
among the freshmen, started every game for us, played over 32 minutes
a game, and had to deal with his father's illness and eventual death.
I know he probably didn't make it because of our record, but he should
have made it based on his consistency and solid play.
KM: As conference realignment dominates the college basketball news
this offseason, do you believe the MAAC will be affected by changes in
the Big East Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference? What should the
MAAC do to ensure it remains a strong conference with like-minded
institutions and competitive athletics, especially basketball?
Coach MacDonald: The MAAC is one of the few leagues that make
sense. Look at our membership. All of the schools have similar
enrollments, similar arena, and similar mission statements. That's
what a conference should be! Look at the Atlantic 10 where you have
small Catholic schools like St. Bonaventure and Duquesne grouped in
with big state schools like UMass and URI. Does that make sense? Those
leagues were made for basketball without any thought being given to
the other sports. Now you see the Big East, which was formed for
basketball, being ripped apart for football! All MAAC fans should be
proud of their league and the schools in it. The MAAC cares about
academics and student welfare, which is really the type of league you
should want your school to be a part of. Do you think academics and
student welfare are being considered at Miami? No way. What is being
considered is money!
I get upset when people say, “We should be ready to make a move to
the A-10 or the Big East.” Why? We are in a league that makes sense,
and from a men's basketball standpoint has been very competitive and
very even. In the last ten years, seven out of the ten teams have been
to the NCAA Tournament (and two of the three teams that haven't [been
to the Dance] just joined the league in '97-'98). So why look to move?
Let's just keep improving, and enjoy what we have!
KM: Thank you for answering these questions, Coach. Good luck next
with any questions, suggestions, or comments.
MAAC basketball action here at