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Men’s Basketball Preview: In a whole new season, Brenton injury and fresh faces change outlook

They would lay in wait, unnoticed, eager for the taste of victory. At each opportunity, they would pounce on the team in their line of sight, until they  had scratched and clawed their way to the top–a Seawolves regular-season championship.

But this year, unlike last, the Seawolves find themselves out in the open with nowhere to hide. All their opponents–America East or not–are ready to strike.

“I’ve got to keep reminding my guys it’s a different Brook this year,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “Last year, the Brook ended a great year. We broke a lot of records. But, now it’s a whole new season. We’re not sneaking up on anybody.”

In the 2009 season, the Seawolves fought their way to a 22-10 overall record and a 13-3 conference record, both the best they’ve ever done in school history. They went to the N.I.T., their first ever postseason appearance. Yet, even after all that, the obstacles have only gotten larger.

Fast forward one year, and the Seawolves currently inhabit an unfamiliar, pressure-filled world, where many anticipate they will climb to the apex of the conference and snag an NCAA-tournament berth this season.

“It’s been kind of a different preseason for us with high expectations and a lot of injuries,” Pikiell said. “But, I go into the season excited about what we can become.”

It will be hard, though, to do better than the best season ever when a team is already limping before stepping onto the hardwood. Guard Marcus Rouse (Upper Marlboro, Md.) and forward Dallis Joyner (Norfolk, Va.), projected starters who have gone several weeks without practice, could have lingering ailments once the season begins.

However, the Seawolves’ biggest injury that will have them not just limping, but hobbling, into their first game against UConn on Nov. 12 is Tommy Brenton’s dislocated right kneecap. Brenton, the America East’s leading rebounder last year (9.7 rpg), is out indefinitely.

While Pikiell realizes that Brenton won’t be able to contribute his trademark defensive tenacity, he knows the team will be missing more than just that from the 6’5’’ forward.

“Tommy’s also our best passer,” Pikiell said. “So we lost our best scorer, our best rebounder and our best passer all in one shot. You try to get better by committee. Everyone’s got to score three or four more points. Everyone has to grab two or three more rebounds.”

The best scorer Pikiell mentioned is Muhammed El-Amin, the reigning America East Player of the Year, who graduated and has moved on to play professional basketball in Hungary.

Fans hope that despite El-Amin’s exit, another scoring threat, one Bryan Dougher (Scotch Plains, N.J.), who dropped a school-record 95 three-pointers a season ago, can take up that score-at-will role. So does Dougher.

“It’s tough to replace a scorer like Mo,” Dougher said. “He put a lot of points on the board. So, I think everyone needs to step their game up a little bit.”

“I have to average a couple of more points,” he added.

While core veterans like Dougher, Joyner and Chris Martin (Springfield Gardens, N.Y.), the team’s lone senior, will be counted on to lead the Seawolves in many categories, Pikiell also expects the rookies to have an impact from opening night, even with the team’s losses.

“It makes things very difficult,” Pikiell said of the injuries. “And it makes your freshman class have to step in and play from day one, which I wasn’t really planning on previously. They got to be ready to really contribute for us. It gives our guys some exciting minutes that probably wouldn’t normally be out there.”

The Seawolves have a roster full of depth in which rotation schemes are ample, a mix of old and new faces. New big men Al Rapier (Chicago, Ill.), a junior college transfer, redshirt freshman Eric McAlister (Hightstown, N.J.), and freshmen Anthony Mayo (Philadelphia, Pa.) can all complement Joyner down low. Out of the aforementioned trio, Pikiell believes Rapier is especially vital in replacing Brenton’s defense and more, according to a newsday.com article.

“I love Rapier’s versatility,” Pikiell said in the article. “He can really handle the ball, and he’s big. I need him to be a real good rebounder with Tommy on the mend, and more importantly, I think we have a lockdown defender, which we haven’t had.”

Freshman guards Anthony Jackson (Columbus, Ohio) and Dave Coley (Brooklyn, N.Y.) will add more speed for basket penetration, which, in turn, will open up scoring opportunities both on the wings and in the paint. Coley, who Pikiell in the same Newsday.com article acknowledged an all-around skill set that will have him playing early, said two of those skills were particularly important.

“I’m the type of player where I can score and I can create for others,” Coley said. “That’s what I was brought here to do and that’s what I’m going to do.”

The Seawolves may be deep in talent to overcome recent injuries, but they still remain buried in setbacks. Brenton will be out for an extensive period of time. And, with some fresh pieces replacing old ones, the team puzzle will take longer to put together.

For Pikiell, amid all the premature success and high hopes, the team won’t make that next storybook jump, unless a couple of smaller hurdles are cleared first.

“We can’t have any more injuries,” he said. “So, we first got to get healthy. Then we have to have great chemistry. Our schedule has changed. We’ve got better teams on the schedule. We have one senior so we’re the youngest team in the league and everyone kind of forgets that. So, there are a lot of obstacles ahead of this basketball team.”

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