Rider University 2014-15 Men’s Basketball Outlook
Former Rider basketball coach Clair Bee changed the game of basketball, having been credited with inventing the shot clock and the three-second rule.
Forgive current Rider head coach Kevin Baggett if he petitions the NCAA to change the game to a six on six format.
“I think our biggest asset this year is our depth,” said Baggett, as he prepares for his third season as the Rider head coach, “and I feel we have a legitimate candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award.”
With the return of three starters and the addition of three experienced transfers, the 2014-15 Rider basketball team looks to return to the top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings.
In the last eight years Rider has won 144 games, the second most of the 11 MAAC teams (behind only Siena’s 150) and the most of any team in the Metropolitan New York/New Jersey area (ahead of Stony Brook, LIU, Princeton and Seton Hall).
“We’ve had a lot of winning seasons and we’ve won a lot of games,” Baggett said, “but now it is time to win in March. Our goal is to win the MAAC Tournament and get back to the NCAA Tournament.”
Taylor was a member of the MAAC All-Rookie team last year as a freshman point guard who led the MAAC in three-point field goal percentage and was 15th in assists.
“Jimmie had a great year at the point and we’re going to start him off at the two guard this year and he will be the back-up point guard,” Baggett said of his 6’3” sophomore. “He is capable of scoring in bunches. We are counting on him to take the next step.”
Taking over at the point is Okereafor, a transfer from Virginia Commonwealth where he played in 58 games.
“Teddy is a traditional point guard who is very smart and is a very good shooter,” Baggett said of the 6’4” junior. “We are putting the ball in his hands at the point. He’s going to be the starting quarterback. I feel he has a chance to be on one of the All-Conference teams. If he can lead us the way I think he can we are going to have a good year. He can push the ball in transition and find the open shooter and he will also find the opportunity to score.”
Returning to the forward spot will be Thomas, who was fifth on the team in minutes played last year as a rookie.
“Kahlil had a really good off season and is shooting better from the perimeter,” Baggett said of the 6’7” Thomas, who was second on the team in field goal percentage last year. “He is capable of making one of the All-Conference teams this year. He will play an even bigger role this year at both ends of the court.”
In the middle will be the 7-foot Lopez, who has also been in the programs at La Salle and Utah State, as well as the Puerto Rico National Team this past summer.
“We expect Matt to start for us at the center position,” Baggett said. “He plays both ends of the court, he can score, defend and rebound. That’s what we need from him. He’s a big cog in terms of if we have a good season or not. He’s athletic and can run the floor.”
The fifth and sixth men look to be Sadler and D'Orazio, although which is which is yet to be determined.
Sadler played in 30 games last year after missing the season opener with a knee injury, an injury that bothered him the entire season. “Zed is finally healthy,” Baggett said of the 6’3” junior from Detroit. Last year Sadler led the team in assists (ninth in the MAAC) and was among the top four on the team in scoring, rebounding, three pointers made and minutes played.
“When Zed’s been healthy he’s been one of our better players,” Baggett said. “He is one of our leaders. He’s made big shots for us. I’m looking forward to him playing significant minutes for us. He is the alpha dog on this team. His goal is to be the Defensive Player of the Year and I feel he is capable of that. He can also score for us. He wears a lot of hats.”
A Camden, NJ native, D’Orazio comes to Rider for graduate school after a successful career at Lehigh, where he sat out last season with a foot injury. As a junior D’Orazio started 29 games and led the Mountain Hawks in steals and was fourth in rebounding.
“Anthony’s leadership and experience is going to help us,” Baggett said. “At Lehigh he went to the NCAA tournament and he went up against a future NBA player (C.J. McCollum) in practice. He is a good perimeter player who has a high basketball IQ. We are counting on him to play a significant role for us.”
Alford played in all 31 games off the bench last year and possessed the best field goal percentage on the team and the second best three-point field goal percentage.
“We can use Khalil in a number of ways,” Baggett said of the 6’5” swing man. “He can play the wing or the small forward, and he is one of our better shooters. He is one of the more talented players in the program. We need for him to build on what he did last year.” Last year Alford averaged 15 points per 40 minutes played. “He had a couple of big games for us and this year we need him to have more than a couple big games for us. I expect him to play more minutes this year.”
The 6’9” Fortunat is a veteran of 82 games, including 30 last year when he averaged 7.8 rebounds per 40 minutes played.
“We need Junior to be a steady player as a senior,” Baggett said. “If he can give us five points and five rebounds day in and day out that would be fine. He had one of the better preseasons, coming back focused and in shape.”
Valentine, a 6’7” junior forward, started the first and last game of last season, playing in 27 others in between, and was third on the team in steals, fourth in assists and blocked shots.
“Shawn is the player I trust the most on the defensive end,” Baggett said. “He makes winning plays at both ends of the court.”
Lundy, a 6’7” sophomore, got off to a slow start last year with an ankle injury, but played in 21 games as a rookie.
“X has improved and we’re counting on him to take a bigger role this year,” Baggett said of the 6’7” sophomore forward. “He is a swing forward and a very good shooter who hits big shots. We’re counting on him to take a bigger role this year. He is very athletic.”
Bursis is a graduate student who will be a team captain this year. “Emerson’s value is his leadership on and off the court,” Baggett said. “He is one of the hardest workers in the program and I’m sure he will be a CEO of some company in the future. He is the benchmark of how hard I need the other players to work.”
The newcomers are led by 6’9” Kenny Grant, who was the New England Prep School Athletic Conference Player of the Year last year at the Hyde School.
“Kenny missed most of preseason after knee surgery but when he is healthy he is a physical post player who is athletic,” Baggett said. “He is a good defender in the post and we expect him to play a lot of minutes right away for us. As far as the newcomers Kenny filled the biggest need we had, in the post.”
Durham is a 6’3” guard who compiled 16.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists for the fifth ranked Prep School (Putnam Science) in the nation last year, after a stellar career at Abington High School in Philadelphia.
“Anthony comes into our program with a lot of talent,” Baggett said. “He is an athletic guard who scored a lot in high school and on the Prep level. We’re counting on him in a number of ways. He can play defense very well and he can score. He will play a role as a freshman.”
Williams is a local product (Notre Dame High) who is coming off of a broken wrist. “Josh is very athletic,” Baggett said of the 6’6” swing man. “He will help us rebounding and on the defensive end now that he is finally healthy.”
In Baggett’s first season as head coach the Broncs led the MAAC in three-point field goal percentage defense and were second in overall field goal percentage defense, third in blocks and fourth in points allowed.
“We were able to defend in 2012-13,” Baggett said, “and we need to get back to that. If we are successful defending we’ll have a successful 2014-15.”
The season begins 6.3 miles up the road at Princeton November 14. “We had one of our worst losses two years ago at Jadwin so we are looking forward to going back and having an opportunity to be on the better end this time around,” Baggett said. “The fans and the people in the community always like this rivalry.”
Rider travels to Philadelphia to play in the historic Palestra, taking on the Penn Quakers November 18. “Penn was young when we beat them last year but they have some good recruits coming in,” Baggett said. “I expect that to be another barn-burner.” Last year Rider won 89-88. “We know going in it will be another tough opponent. The last time we played at the Palestra we weren’t that successful.”
The home opener is November 21 when Rider hosts Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks hosted Rider in the opener last year and shot 59 percent from the field, 60 percent from three point range. “I don’t think they still have missed a shot.” Baggett said. “We’re looking forward to getting them in our home and hopefully we can do the same to them. We know they are good and well coached.”
The last week of November will be spent on the road, traveling to the 59-year old Phog Allen Fieldhouse to take on the Kansas Jayhawks November 24 as part of the Orlando Classic. “Our guys are excited to play Kansas and to also play Kansas at Kansas,” Baggett said.
The Broncs played in the Old Spice Classic in 2008 and return to Orlando this year to take on Michigan State Thanksgiving night on ESPN2. Michigan State lost to eventual NCAA Champion UConn in the Elite Eight last year.
The Orlando Classic field also includes Georgia Tech, Marquette, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Santa Clara. “This might be one of the toughest fields yet,” Baggett said, “but I really feel we are going to win one of those games. We plan on making some noise in that tournament to show people that Rider is back this year. This is a team to be reckoned with.”
It is also a team that Baggett likes. “I really like this team. I like the depth we have at every position. I like the chemistry we have. I like the work ethic.”
In the MAAC the Broncs played .500 on the road last year, but were below .500 at home, a place where Rider had won 72 percent of its games. “We need to get back to winning at home,” Baggett said. “We did a good job winning on the road last year but it is time to get back to defending our home.”
It is time for the Broncs to get back. To get back to defending, to get back to winning at home and to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Even if it is five on five.