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Young men's basketball players to test their mettle

Maia ’15, McGonagill ’14 and Kuakumensah ’16 will provide leadership for the squad

As Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 enters his second season, his inexperienced team may prove a coaching challenge.

In his inaugural year with the squad, Martin helped the Bears jump from seventh to fourth place in the Ivy League standings — marking the first time Brown placed in the top half of the league since 2008 — and was named a finalist for the Joe B. Hall award given to the nation’s top first-year coach.

But this season, Martin is facing a roster heavy with young players.

“It’s a brand new team,” Martin said. “We have so many young guys who are still learning what it takes to be successful at this level. Last year, even though it was my first year, we had experience with Matt (Sullivan) ’13, Stephen (Albrecht) ’13, Tyler (Ponticelli) ’13 and Tucker (Halpern) ’13.5 who at least knew what Division I basketball was all about.”

Sullivan’s and Halpern’s departures leave the Bears without two of last year’s top four scorers. Much of the offensive burden will fall to first team All-Ivy selection Sean McGonagill ’14, whose 14.0 points per game last season ranked fourth in the Ivy League. McGonagill’s 1,113 career points are 19th best in Brown history, and his 413 career assists are fourth in the Brown record book.

Martin will seek to bolster McGonagill’s offensive production by shifting the senior away from the pointguard position to reduce McGonagill’s responsibilities as a facilitator.

“It’ll alleviate some of the wear and tear of bringing the ball up against pressure for 40 minutes,” Martin said. “But at the end of the day, Sean is a first team all-league player. We’re going to put the ball in his hands as much as we possibly can.”

First-year Tavon Blackmon ’17 from Upper Marlboro, MD, will likely fill the vacated pointguard position. Though Blackmon said he feels the pressure of starting his first career Division I basketball game with the offense running through him, he said McGonagill has played a pivotal role in his development.

“It’s not too bad because I have (McGonagill), so I can follow his lead,” Blackmon said. “He’s a first team All-Ivy player, so he knows what to do at the pointguard position and he’s walked me through it.”

Likely joining Blackmon in the starting line-up is fellow first-year Steven Spieth ’17 from Dallas, TX.

Martin said he could relate to his first-years, having been a four-year starter at Brown himself as part of the winningest class in Bruno basketball history.

“I remember going out there my freshman year and I just played as hard as I could,” Martin said. “But I wasn’t prepared to be successful at this level. Eventually you learn, but it’s a big adjustment.”

Rounding out the Bears’ starting frontcourt is center Rafael Maia ’15 and forward Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. Maia, after being deemed ineligible his first year due to an NCAA technicality, burst onto the scene last season to lead the Ivy League with 7.5 rebounds per game. Kuakumensah ranked second in the Ivy League with 7.4 rebounds per game and amassed an astounding 66 blocked shots, the most by a first-year player in league history and a Brown school record.

Aggressive defense is something Coach Martin has emphasized since coming to Brown in hopes of realizing dividends on the other end of the court.

“He stresses it every single day,” Kuakumensah said. “He says defense is what leads our offense, and it has thus far.”

But Kuakumensah recognizes it is going to be a team effort to replace the offensive production from last year’s departures.

“It takes five people to fill that void,” he said. “A lot of people need to step up, and I think everyone is realizing that.”

The Bears open their season at home against Binghamton University Sunday, before facing cross-town rival Providence College Wednesday at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Bruno stunned Providence at home last year with a 69-68 victory on a game-winning three-pointer from Halpern with less than eight seconds remaining, making Wednesday’s rematch a highly anticipated showdown.

But for now Coach Martin said he is only concerned with continuing to prepare his young roster.

“We have a lot of improvement ahead of us,” he said. “We’re all part of a bigger thing here ... It’s about all of us doing things to make our program as good as it can be.”


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