With a win in its season opener Friday night against the College of Charleston, Towson’s basketball team would accomplish something no other Division I team in the country can equal this year. That would be matching its win total for the entire 2011-12 season after just one game. Towson was a well-documented 1-31 last year, with that one win ending a Division I record losing streak at 41.
In his first season as coach in 2011-12, Pat Skerry inherited a team that only returned two lettermen who played any significant time the previous season. Skerry will politely answer questions about last year’s season, but makes it clear this is a new year and he is ready to put last year behind him. “I knew pretty quickly we were in for a root canal last year, as we barely won our exhibition game. However, I can’t dwell on what went on before” Skeery answered in reference to his feeling about the start of this season compared to last year.
The start of this season is highly anticipated for several reasons, mostly because of the nine new players on this year’s squad. Of those new players, four of them will be in the starting lineup Friday night.
Junior transfer Mike Burwell will be starting at guard after sitting out last year as a transfer student from the University of South Florida. Burwell can be excused if he seems overly excited about the start of the season. “It’s been 602 days for me,” said Burwell with a wide smile in reference to the last time he suited up in a game at South Florida in March of 2011.
Towson will complete a new look starting lineup with Freshman Jerome Hariston at point guard and Marcus Damas, Jerelle Benimon and Bilal Dixon in the frontcourt. Of those players, only junior Damas was on last year’s roster. Dixon a graduate student from Providence and Benimon a transfer from Georgetown should provide scoring on the inside as well as being a strong defensive presence.
If Skerry plays a rotation of ten players as he recently said he would be comfortable doing, eight of those ten are players he is responsible for bringing to the school. That is having your handprints on the roster.
All eight of the new players are athletic and can play a physical style of basketball that will give Towson a chance to win many more games than last season. Skerry was playing with a team that was still being assembled at the start of the season. Many of the formers players left or were dropped from the team, due to not buying into Skerry’s demands of hard work and dedication.
Skerry reiterated this recently when he was talking about the physical skills of this year’s group. “I love my guys, I really do. I really appreciate all the work they’ve done on a daily basis. I think our upside can be very good. They have the ability to score, and they are very unselfish, “he said.
However, as is often the case with a team that is inexperienced and has not played at all together it shows on the defensive side. “We have miles to go defensively. I’d like to do a better job of getting them to understand that end of the floor,” he said.
Skerry will get a good idea right out of the gate as to what he has on his hands in this year’s team in the matchup with Charleston. “They’re terrific; they’re as good as any team as we’ll see in our league. They are a veteran team, that can score in a lot of ways. They’re going to present a big challenge,” Skerry said. On a side note, the College of Charleston will be joining the CAA in the 2013-14 academic year.
Towson has a lot of talent and experience in the makeup of this year’s team. In addition to the three transfers mentioned earlier, Skerry is turning over the reins of the team to freshman Hariston at the point. “Jerome is gifted, he’s big, he’s physical he can get in the lane and make shots and he’s a great passer. He’s got a chance to be really good, that’s why we recruited him very hard,” commented Skerry. Sticking with the theme of needing to see better defense from everyone Skerry said, “He needs work defensively, like a lot of freshman.”
Two other freshmen who will probably see a lot of playing time are Barrington Alston and Timajh Parker Rivera. Alston is a 6”8” forward who as rated as the No. 3 high school player in the state of Delaware last year by ESPN.Com and the 37th best power forward in the class of 2012. Parker Rivera at 6’7” will bring more size and athleticism off the bench.
However, there is no doubt the key to how many wins this year’s team exceeds last year by will be a direct result of the play by Benimon and Burwell. In the team’s 87-65 win over Bloomsburg, they worked very well with each other. In just 24 minutes of playing time, Burwell led all scorers with 16 points that included 4-6 shooting from three-point land. Benimon had 12 points and seven assist in just 27 minutes and showed a great interior passing skills.
Dixon, who some on the Towson staff feel could average a double/double contributed 12 points and 7 rebounds. Hariston with 15 and Damas with 10 points rounded out five players in double figures. That type of balance could be a nightly occurrence for the Tigers and will allow them to be competitive with just about any team they face.
With the addition of so many new faces, it has fallen on Damas and sophomore guard Kris Walden to instill leadership among the team. Walden will adapt a new role this year as the backup point guard. He started every game last year as a freshman. Walden has gained about 15 pounds of muscle over the summer. This will definitely help him against some of the bigger guards in the league. Skerry commented on Walden’s new role, “Kris is very versatile and will play any role we ask of him. His defense will give us a spark and he can shoot the ball better than he showed at times last year.”
Towson does face the obstacle of playing its first ten games on the road. The first home game is not until December 15th when the Tigers will host North Dakota State. By that time, Skerry and staff will have a good idea of what they can expect from this year’s team.
In the first 10 road games, there is a four game tournament in Richmond Kentucky that will feature a matchup against host Eastern Kentucky. Three of Towson’s away games will be played within a short drive of campus, November 26th at Loyola (MD), December 1st at UMBC. Additionally on December 8th Benimon will lead his teammates against his former team the Georgetown Hoyas at the Verizon center.
There will be one more chance for Towson fans to see this years team before they begin the string of road games. Monday night November 12th they will host Goldbey-Beacon College in its final exhibition game at the Towson Center.