The men's basketball team faces a number of variables as it enters the 2010-2011 season. The squad is one of the youngest in the country, comprising nine underclassmen and four seniors. Forward and co-captain Peter Sullivan '11 is one of four players in Brown history to reach 1,000 points before his senior year, but he has missed the team's opening practices with a bruised shoulder.
These factors make Bruno's success this year highly unpredictable. But with a run-and-gun team and a wide-open league, the season is sure to be interesting.
Bruno's four seniors will be complemented by five sophomores and four freshmen. With such a young squad, there is always a steep learning curve. Though the returning sophomores bring experience from last season, the team includes six newcomers: forward Tyler Ponticelli '13, who missed all of his freshman season with an injury; guard Stephen Albrecht '13, a sophomore transfer from Toledo; and four freshmen — guard-forward Josh Biber '14, guards Hakeem Harris '14 and Sean McGonagill '14 and forward Dockery Walker '14.
For a player stepping onto a college court for the first time, it can be a rude awakening.
"It's an adjustment," Sullivan said. "Everyone is bigger. Everyone is stronger. Everyone is faster. It's a longer season. Practices are longer. You are going to get banged up in practice. So it's a tough adjustment, but you try to take it a day at a time and don't get down on yourself for making mistakes or when the coaches get mad. It's not easy being a freshman."
With so many newcomers on one team, there can also often be problems with team dynamics and the balance of power. But even though the squad may be fresh-faced, Head Coach Jesse Agel has faith in his seniors to guide the team.
"Our leadership has been the best it's been in my three years," he said. "My seniors have been absolutely tremendous. Our young guys couldn't be in a better program in terms of leadership right now."
At the forefront of Bruno's senior class is Sullivan, an All-Ivy forward who has already solidified his place in the record books. He set a school record last year for games started with 31 and averaged 12.3 points (10th in the Ivy League) and 4.5 rebounds per game. A multi-faceted player, Sullivan's 125 career three-pointers rank him 10th all-time in Brown history. He enters the new season with 1,034 points (21st all-time) and is one of only four players in team history (Earl Hunt '03, Arnie Berman '72 and Jason Forte '05 are the others) to score 1,000 points before his senior year.
"So far in my Brown career I've been extremely blessed," Sullivan said. "I've never missed a game, I haven't had too many injuries and I've been extremely fortunate. I just want to be out there on the court. I know I can be successful and just keep climbing up the scoring ladder and see where I end up."
The Bears' frontcourt also returns Tucker Halpern '13 and Andrew McCarthy '13. Halpern was Bruno's third-highest scorer with 8.1 points per game last year and ranked second on the team with 66 assists. McCarthy's 33 blocks last season were the most ever for a first-year player at Brown, and he contributed 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Chris Taylor '11, who played in 29 games last season, adds a veteran presence to the frontcourt.
One of the Bears' greatest strengths this year will be shooting, beginning with a sharpshooting backcourt. Co-captain Adrian Williams '11 has led the team in three-pointers two years in a row, knocking down 42 treys last year and 58 the year before. Garrett Leffelman '11 shot 55 percent from the field last year, contributing 12 points per game in Ivy League matchups. Matt Sullivan '13, Peter's brother, had a strong first year, adding 6.2 points per game and hitting 38 percent from beyond the arc while starting 29 of 31 games.
"I think we're really deep," Williams said. "We have 12 guys that can all play and get up and down, and everyone brings different things to the court. We have a lot of shooters, so I think we are going to be very strong running the floor."
The Ivy League is more uncertain than it has been in years. After a Sweet 16 appearance last year in the NCAA Tournament, three-time defending conference champion Cornell begins the season with a depleted roster headed by first-year head coach Bill Courtney, after former coach Steve Donahue accepted the head coaching position at Boston College.
The Princeton Tigers appear to be an early favorite to win the Ivy crown. They earned 12 of 17 first-place votes in a preseason media poll, finishing ahead of Harvard, which came in second with four first-place votes. Brown came in sixth place, also trailing Cornell, Penn and Yale and coming ahead of only Columbia and Dartmouth.
But Agel said he thinks there is plenty of room to climb in the standings as the year progresses.
"Anything could happen," Agel said. "We beat teams last year picked at the top, and we return a lot of guys that played a lot of minutes. It's whoever plays basketball come January, so I've got a lot of time between now and then before I make any predictions."
In his final year, the elder Sullivan said the league is more balanced than it has been in the past.
"I think it is wide open," he said. "I think a number of teams, including us, have a chance at winning. … I think we are in the top-couple teams in the league, so if we can take care of business and execute, we definitely have a legitimate shot."