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More Canisius Basketball

2004-05 Canisius Preview

By Sydney Hunte

November 10th


Canisius Basketball Preview


2003-04 Season: 10-20 overall, 5-14 MAAC

After a sub-par season that was capped by a first-round loss to Iona in the MAAC Tournament, the Canisius College Golden Griffins hit the court in the 2004-05 season looking to improve on many areas of their play and possibly take the team back to the conference tournament.  This March, the HSBC Arena in Buffalo will await eight teams vying for a trip to the Big Dance, and the Griffs know that a chance to win the conference title in front of their hometown crowd will be worth it.


However, this season will be different.  Of course, the usual crop of seniors have departed, namely star Toby Foster, perennial sixth-man Jon Ferris, Australian import Luke Hedges, and junior college transfer Yaku Moton-Spruill.  What makes this season different, though, is that it all pales in comparison to the loss of forward Richard Jones, who passed away on May 5th of this year due to complications of an enlarged heart.  With all of those factors put together, a number of players need to step up in order for the Griffs to have a successful season.  Here’s a breakdown of the team, position by position:


Coaching Staff: Head Coach—Mike McDonald (8th year); Assistant Coaches—Michael Wernicki (2nd year), Brian Miller (4th year), Clive Bentick (1st year)


After assistant coach Terry Zeh departed in the offseason to become the head coach of Canisius’s women’s team, head coach Mike McDonald had some holes to fill.  He didn’t have to look far, as Brian Miller returns to Canisius after five successful seasons as the head men’s basketball coach at D’Youville.  Miller held the administrative assistant post under John Beilein in 1996-97, and was made an assistant when McDonald took over the program in 1997.  Along with Miller, former Griff Clive Bentick, who served a year as one of Miller’s assistants at D’Youville and played for McDonald from 1997-2001, will now assist McDonald on the sidelines.  This could be a make or break season for McDonald; if the Griffs don’t pick up a winning season this year, then it could be the end of the line for “Coach Mac”.



With the guard position being emptied by the outgoing Foster, this is now redshirt junior Kevin Downey and redshirt senior Dewitt Doss’s team.  Doss, who averaged 11 points per game before sitting out late in the season due to a torn ACL, has the added responsibility of preparing the way for the player that will fill his spot in the starting lineup after he graduates.  Both players are viable three-point shooting threats; in fact, Downey, who averaged just over 13 points a game last year, led the MAAC in three-point percentage with .451.  The bench at this position is very deep, as freshmen Jess Poe and Anthony Byrd, junior transfer Jon Popofski, and senior Andrew Spitler could all possibly fill the “sixth-man” spot vacated by Jon Ferris.  No doubt the better player out of that group will join Downey as the starting guard in 2005-06.



After a season that saw him pick up All-Rookie team honors last season, sophomore Darnell Wilson will be looked upon to continue in his starter role.  Wilson averaged 6.6 PPG and 4.2 rebounds a game, and those numbers need to go up significantly if the Griffs are to make a viable title run.  The other forward position is wide open; freshmen Rigoberto Sargeant and Marcus Vanderheide are natural forwards, while fellow freshman Steve McLean and junior Mike Hanley, the team’s big men, can play both center and forward.  In the end, look for Sargeant, who has a bigger physical presence than Vanderheide, to be penciled in as the team’s other forward.



This area of the team has little depth, because only McLean and Hanley are able to play the center position.  Hanley will certainly be the starter at this position as he was for the bulk of the season last year, and should provide McLean valuable training for a starting role in a couple of years.  Hanley will need to have a breakout season this year; he only averaged 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in just over 12 minutes a game last year.  Due to the lack of depth, it is imperative that both of these players try to avoid getting injured; losing either Hanley or McLean leaves the Griffs with few options.


With those factors put together, the Griffs need to score big points just about every night.  They lost many close ones last year (including a nail-biter at Marquette), and cannot continue that trend this year.  Many strong non-conference opponents will face the Griffs this year, including St. John’s, Brown, and College of Charleston.  Throw in the usual mix of conference opponents (Manhattan, Niagara, and Marist, to name a few) and this should make for an interesting season for the Griffs.  A ten- to twelve-win season should be expected from this team; thirteen or fourteen is a possibility, but is probably too much of a stretch.


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