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Revamped men's basketball looks to compete in loaded conference

Transfers, rookies mix with returning contributors hungry for successful campaign

Sometimes in life, good things come in small packages. In basketball, that package better be able to run fast and shoot the lights out. Such is the test for the men’s basketball team as it opens its 2015-16 season at Saint Peter’s Friday night.

Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 enters his fourth season at the helm, looking to bounce back from a shaky 13-18 finish in 2014-15. A strong returning core roster will help, but small stature and a talented league stand in Bruno’s way.

The Bears have no shortage of leadership, with the return of three-year team captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. The 6-foot-9 senior is the only forward on the roster who played more than four minutes per game last year. But Kuakumensah is up to the task, opening his final chapter having already accomplished plenty in his three years in the Bears’ starting lineup: His 93 blocks two years ago are an Ivy League record, and he begins 2015 just 18 swats away from becoming the league’s all-time blocked shots leader. Besides protecting the rim, Kuakumensah has refined his offensive game, improved his points per game in each of his first three season and netted 11.2 per contest last year.

As a preseason All-Ivy selection, Kuakumensah headlines a strong core of four returning starters. Steven Spieth ’17 is no stranger to the starting lineup, having started 58 of Bruno’s 59 games since he stepped on campus two years ago.

Spieth is a box-score stuffer who does a little of everything. He finished last season averaging the third-most points (9.9), the third-most rebounds (4.7), the second-most assists (2.1) and the most steals (2.0). Spieth has perhaps the greatest adjustment entering 2015, as he will be called on to play forward and guard opponents’ second-biggest player.

Bruno fans will see a familiar face bring the ball down the court, as Tavon Blackmon ’17 will run the point for his third consecutive season. Blackmon showed the Ivy League what he could do with a breakout 25-point, nine-assist effort against first-place Harvard last season. When he is able to limit his turnovers, Blackmon can be the team’s most dynamic player.

“I’m more confident, more mature this season,” Blackmon said, adding that he has taken on much more of a leadership role in his junior year.

Thrust into the starting lineup after leading scorer Leland King left the program midway through the season last year, J.R. Hobbie ’17 is as lethal a three-point shooter as there is in the Ivy League. The marksman shot 40 percent from beyond the arc despite getting hounded by opposing defenses.

Bruno’s fifth starter will likely be a man with plenty of collegiate basketball experience, but none played in a Brown uniform. Justin Massey ’18 transferred from Florida Atlantic this season to join his twin brother Jason Massey ’18 at Brown. The duo could be a major factor for Bruno this season.

Justin Massey posted 7.5 points per game for the FAU Owls last year, and his highest-scoring game of the season came when he put up 17 points against Harvard. He said his transition to Brown has been seamless.

As a great defender with experience at the Division I level, Justin Massey figures to be on the floor as Bruno’s fifth starter Friday night. But his brother will also take on a much bigger role this season, according to Blackmon, who said the duo has looked good in practice and will play “big minutes.”

Tyler Williams ’18 and Patrick Triplett ’18 played minutes at guard as rookies and will look to build on that in their sophomore campaigns.

While the team lost only three players who logged more than 10 minutes per game last season, all three players were forwards. Though graduation of former captain and starting center Rafael Maia ’15 leaves the largest hole, a lack of height throughout the entire roster may prove an obstacle for the Bears against the league’s taller lineups.

Martin and the Bears will combat their lack of size with an “incredibly fast” team, Blackmon said. “We are going be able to run.”

“We’ve really amped up the conditioning in this preseason,” Justin Massey said.

The other advantage the Bears have is versatility, Justin Massey  said. “We are not a big team, but we have a lot of guys that can play different positions.”

With Spieth and the Masseys able to play as either guards or forwards, Martin has a lot of options for lineup combinations.

Offensively, the production will likely come from outside the paint. A week into the preseason, Martin tweeted that he would have a good three-point shooting group, and the numbers back him up. Hobbie returns as one of the most feared long-range options in the league, and he is joined this season by Justin Massey, whose 40 percent three-point shooting for FAU matched Hobbie’s rate at Brown.

Kuakumensah showed beautiful touch for a big man last year, draining treys at a 35 percent clip. Blackmon and Spieth are also both threats to get hot from the perimeter, rounding out a lineup full of shooters.

A couple of new players may see the court in order to spell Kuakumensah down low. Aram Martin ’17 spent his first season injured and did not play last year, but he will finally make his debut as a junior this season. Martin’s long 6-foot-10 frame makes him a valuable presence in the front court.

Forward Travis Fuller ’19 is one of two rookies who could see early playing time. The 6-foot-9 California native averaged a double-double in high school but may need some time to adjust to college ball. Local high school star Corey Daugherty ’19 could also have a meaningful role off the bench after winning the Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year award out of Barrington last year.

Four returning starters, a talented transfer and impact bench players are good signs for Bruno, but nothing is certain in an incredibly strong Ivy League this season. Yale, Columbia and Princeton return most of their rosters and were picked as a virtual three-way tie for first place in preseason polls — not to mention four-time reigning champion Harvard, which is sure to reload with another good squad.

March Madness is a long way away, but Bruno will start its march Friday.



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