Not Their First Rodeo
Nineteen wins, eight on the road. Second place in the conference in your rookie season as head coach. A finalist for two different national coaching awards. Certainly something to be proud of, something to hang your hat on.
“I’d trade it all for three straight wins in March,” said Kevin Baggett, who begins his second season in the head coach’s saddle. “The way I want to measure our success will be with championships. We’ve won a lot of games here (23 in 2008 and 2011, 19 in 2009 and last year), which I feel fortunate to have been a part of, but I want to win championships here.”
Eleven teams will attempt to rope the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship, held once again in Springfield, Mass. “The games in March are on the road, and I know how hard it is to win on the road,” Baggett said. “So I am proud of those eight road wins we had last year.”
Baggett has 17 seasons coaching on the Division I level under his belt buckle, one as a head coach. “I understand now what I did well and some of the things I didn’t do well since this time last year,” Baggett said, “and we’re working on some things I didn’t do well and we’re building on the things I did do well. The first goal is to not go backwards.”
So despite losing the starting backcourt and starting center from last year, the young Rider Broncs expect to buck for another upper division finish in the MAAC. “We plan to continue to build the program in the right way with a lot of young guys this year,” Baggett said. “We’re going to need some of them to play significant minutes early. Hopefully at the end of the year we’re peaking at the right time.”
With last year’s starting point guard now playing professionally, the Broncs will rely on a sophomore, Zedric Sadler and a freshman, Jimmie Taylor to replace the court leadership of the graduated Jon Thompson. “The value that Jon brought us for years was great,” Baggett said. “He got better every year by working his tail off and he brought to the game whatever we needed that game, points, assists, defense, whatever needed to be done to win. No one is going to be able to replace everything that Jon did for us.”
Sadler will cowboy up and give it a shot. Sadler was fourth on the team in minutes played last year as a rookie despite making just one start all season. “I like Zedric’s leadership qualities,” Baggett said. “He’ll let a player know what’s important to our program. He also has shown the ability to make big shots.” Sadler’s three-point field goal with 15 seconds left led Rider to a come-from-behind win at Canisius.
Jimmie Taylor earned First Team All-State (5A) honors in Florida, averaging 24 points (second highest in Florida 5A), 10 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, and will be given the opportunity to play the point guard this year.
“I’m counting on Jimmie to play significant minutes early at the point guard,” Baggett said. “He can score in number of different ways. I’m happy I’m going to have Jimmie and Zed for a few years, to continue to build this program.”
Stewart earned Third Team All-MAAC honors last year, finishing fourth in the conference in rebounding, seventh in field goal percentage, 13th in blocks and 21st in scoring.
“Danny made strides last year with his third team honors after being on the All-Rookie team as a freshman, but I need Danny to get to second or first team all-conference,” Baggett said.
Stewart, who wears lucky number 13 on his uniform, has 13 career ‘double-doubles’ and enters the season 13th in career rebounds. “We’re still trying to get Danny out on the perimeter more,” Baggett said. “He needs to average a ‘double-double’ for us to be as good as we want to be.”
Myles earned Third Team All-MAAC honors last year and ranked among the top 18 in the conference in scoring, rebounding and three-pointers, starting all 34 games. “I need Anthony to be the leader this year,” Baggett said. “He will be our go-to guy. He played really well the first half of last year and is very talented.”
Coming back for his junior season is Junior Fortunat, a veteran of 52 games who led the Broncs in field goal percentage last year. “Junior has shown signs of having that breakout season and I need to see more of it this year,” Baggett said. Fortunat averaged 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per 40 minutes played last year.
Pereira is a veteran of 74 games and has made 63 three-pointers. “Khalil and Tommy will space the floor for us,” Baggett said. “Last year I wanted to reward Tommy for his work ethic and he rewarded me by having some big games for us. He won some games for us that week he was the (CollegeSportsMadness.com) Player of the Week. I’m counting on Tommy to build on what he did last year.”
Valentine played in all 34 games as a rookie, averaging 16 minutes per game. “Shawn had a good freshman year for us and got bigger, got stronger, which is what we wanted him to work on,” Baggett said. “I can count on him to play late minutes of games, I trust him. He’ll play a bigger role, a bigger scoring role, for us this year.”
Alford played in 25 games as a rookie and averaged 10.3 points per 40 minutes played while leading the team in free throw percentage.
“Khalil can shoot the ball,” Baggett said, “and we certainly need guys who can do that. We need him to be more aggressive this year. He has the talent, the abilities.”
Bursis was named to the MAAC All-Academic team last year and returns for his third season as a walk-on. “Emerson is a guy who just works hard,” Baggett said. “I can trust him when I put him in the game. He is so valuable to the program in his role. He’s a leader who does the right things on and off the court.”
Thomas was ranked one of the top 20 players in Florida, earning First Team All-Broward County and Second Team All-State (7A) honors as a power forward. “Kahlil Thomas can play the four or five for us and we expect him to play a great deal early on for us,” Baggett said. “He has a high basketball IQ and is a very good defender who can score. By January I’m not looking at him as a freshman anymore.”
Channer comes to Rider from Jamaica by way of Florida, where he earned Second Team All-State (6A) honors, averaging over 18 points and nine rebounds per game at Strawberry Crest.
“Channer is more mature than most freshmen coming in,” Baggett said. “His physicality, his toughness, stands out right away and we’re going to need that from him. He’ll bring energy on defense.”
Lundy scored over 2,100 scholastic points, leading his team to a 57-4 record, and was named the South Jersey Player of the Year. “Xavier is a scorer,” Baggett said. “He has that scorer’s mentality and will play the three and four positions for us.”
Davis Graham is the newest member of the squad. “Graham is a walk-on who can shoot and gives us the energy we need,” Baggett said.
Rider comes out of the bucking chute November 12 at Lehigh before traveling to Purdue. “Lehigh had an NBA draft pick last year and Purdue is a very good team every year,” Baggett said.
The MAAC has a new look with the addition of cross-state rival Monmouth and Quinnipiac. “I feel we already have a rivalry with Monmouth, being so close and we already play them in most sports,” Baggett said. “Now being in the same league should make it an even more intense rivalry. Quinnipiac is a good addition as well. They have had success in their program.”
Manhattan and Iona look to be among the early favorites to lasso a MAAC Title this year. “With their leading scorer coming back I think Manhattan will be picked by most to win the conference,” Baggett said of the Jaspers. “Iona returns a lot from an NCAA Tournament team, and Canisius returns a great player and has a good transfer coming in.”
The MAAC Championship Roundup returns to the MassMutual Center in Springfield March 6-10.
“As always we want to just get better every day and to peak at the right time, at the end of the year,” Baggett said. “Win three games in March and get to the NCAA Tournament.”