2008-09 NJIT Basketball Preview
New coach hopes to bring new attitude to program
The positive in finishing a season without one win: the fact that there really isn’t anywhere to go but up the following year (especially when the smallest margin of defeat is nine points). That’s the task that confronts the NJIT Highlanders and their new head coach Jim Engles. Engles is a familiar face on the metropolitan area scene, having spent time as an assistant at Wagner, Rider and Columbia. The Highlander roster will feature a pair of key returnees in Justin Garris and Jheryl Wilson and five freshmen. Also on the horizon in the coming years is the beginning of basketball in the Great West Conference next season, so there is something for the NJIT program to build towards.
2007-08 Record: 0-29
Head coach: Jim Engles (first year at NJIT; overall)
Assistant Coaches: Mike Spisto, Ira Bowman, Kevin Tirone
Home Court: Estelle and Zoom Fleisher Athletic Center, Prudential Center (certain games)
PPG: Jheryl Wilson/Justin Garris (7.1)
RPG: Dan Stonkus (4.4)
APG: Wilson (2.3)
FG%: Stonkus (48.3%)
FT%: Wilson (67%)
3PT%: Wilson (29%)
Assist/TO ratio: Tyler Epps (0.80)
Luckily for Coach Engles he has two key contributors back for the 2008-09 season in sophomores Jheryl Wilson and Justin Garris. Both averaged seven points per game last season, with Garris starting twenty-three games and Wilson fifteen. Also, both were Honorable Mention selections to the All-Independent team after last season and will provide the majority of the experience at the guard slots. Sophomore Tyler Epps saw the most action of the other returnees, playing in all twenty-nine games with fifteen starts. Given his finish as the team leader in assist-to-turnover ratio Epps may see time at the point. Classmate Brendan Lyn played in twenty-six games last year but will be hard-pressed for minutes due to the newcomers arriving in Newark.
A trio of freshmen arrives on campus with designs on snatching immediate playing time, including a set of twins. Sammy and Teddy Schickel (Charlotte, NC) should both contribute this season after spending a prep year at Heat Basketball Academy in Virginia, where one of their teammates was UConn commit Ater Majok. Teddy will see time at the point while Sammy is a two-guard. Also joining the program is perimeter shooter Mike Mackzo (Bel Air, MD), another newcomer who will get a chance early to make an impression in Newark.
The frontcourt took a serious hit when Nesho Milosevic, who led the Highlanders in both scoring and rebounding last season, left the program following last year’s campaign. The two returnees up front are junior center Dan Stonkus and sophomore forward Paulius Skema. Stonkus is the team’s leading returning rebounder and the lack of depth up front will place more pressure on these two along with freshman Ryan Regis (Brooklyn, NY) and transfer Gary Garris (Ledgewood, NJ). Although he stands at just 6-6 Regis is a solid 260 pounder willing to play a physical brand of basketball. Regis played last season at the Apex Academies in Pennsauken, NJ. Garris doesn’t have the bulk that Regis possesses, but the transfer from American University can be a factor in a small lineup due to the lack of true bigs for NJIT.
So what can the Highlanders do to turn the tide after last year’s winless campaign? Getting some wins would be a start, and the schedule should prepare this young team for conference play that’s to begin a year from now. But do they have enough inside to do so? Can they improve enough on defense to be more competitive? Those are the questions that need answering in the season’s first month. But this much is clear: they really could have used Milosevic this season.
2007-08 Team Stats
PPG allowed: 77.0
FG% defense: 47.4%
3PT% defense: 40.1%
Rebound margin: -3.4
Assist/TO ratio: 0.5