The men’s basketball team underwent a major transformation in the offseason, but several aspects of the program remain strangely familiar.
The Bears are under new leadership with the arrival of Mike Martin ’04, a first-year head coach who launched his coaching career at Brown less than a decade ago. As a player for the Bears, Martin helped lead the basketball team to a University-record four consecutive winning seasons and was part of the winningest class in Brown basketball history.
Shortly after graduation, Martin returned to Brown to begin his coaching career as an assistant on Glenn Miller’s staff in 2005-06. For the past six seasons, Martin served as an assistant coach at Penn under Jerome Allen. At just 30 years old, Martin is the fourth-youngest head coach in Division I basketball.
“I’m in a position to lead these guys, but it wasn’t that long ago that I was in their shoes as a student-athlete and player at Brown,” Martin said.
The young coach inherits a roster in shambles in the wake of the departure of former head coach Jesse Agel. Stephen Albrecht ’13 has been sidelined by a potentially season-ending back injury, Andrew McCarthy withdrew from Brown for academic considerations and Dockery Walker left the team after sustaining a knee injury.
Only three players who averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season were in the line-up as the Bears opened their season on the road Sunday with a 58-49 victory over Binghampton.
“We have limited bodies on our roster,” Martin said. “We’ve worked to be in the best physical condition we can be … and hopefully they’ve worked hard enough all summer to handle it.”
But not all hope is lost for the Bears. The team eagerly awaits the return of Tucker Halpern, who averaged 14.3 points per game in conference play and was the team’s second-leading scorer two years ago before missing last season due to illness. Halpern’s return, the timing of which remains uncertain, would add a valuable scoring threat to the Bears line-up.
”I’m just trying to get into good enough shape that I can be out there the whole game,” Halpern said. “Depth is a big problem, but I think we can be pretty good if everyone, including myself, is in shape and stays healthy.”
Martin will be relying heavily on the three players who contributed substantial minutes for the Bears last season.
Much of the burden will fall on point guard Sean McGonagill ’14, a second team All-Ivy selection last season. McGonagill led the team with 13.5 points per game en route to dishing out a school record of 157 assists. McGonagill also averaged 36 minutes per game during the season – 37 in conference play – and Martin said he expects a lot from his point guard again this year.
”We’ll ask him to do everything – sell popcorn, mop the floors, even clean the locker room,” Martin joked. “He’s obviously got a lot of experience, and he’s earned the right to be a leader on this team.”
Matt Sullivan ’12, the squad’s second leading scorer last season, Tyler Ponticelli ’12 and McGonagill have been named the team’s tri-captains.
The Bears have their work cut out for them as they continue their non-conference schedule that features away matchups at Notre Dame and Northwestern and a nationally televised home game against Providence College that will be the two teams’ first match-up since 1962.
“It’s going to be tough, but we go into every game knowing that if we play to our best ability, we can win any game,” McGonagill said.
The Bears will also be competing in an unpredictable Ivy League conference. Last season, four teams easily racked up over 19 victories while the remaining four failed to top 15. This year, the landscape has been greatly altered due to graduating players and an academic scandal that sidelined Harvard’s two co-captains.
A power vacuum has developed in the league, leaving every team in contention for the Ivy title.
“I think it’s impossible to predict this year in the Ivy League,” Halpern said. “It’s so open that anyone can be right there, and that definitely could be us.”
- With additional reporting by Bruno Zuccolo