UMBC Men’s Basketball Season Preview

November 14, 2009 |

It is a new era for UMBC this year. The last two members of the fab-five are gone and it is time for a new bread of basketball to take the stage (Darryl Proctor and Jay Greene graduated a year after they along with Brian Hodges, Ray Barbosa, and Cavell Johnson led UMBC to an America East Championship and trip to the NCAA tournament).

Nobody knows what is in store for UMBC this year, it could be a down rebuilding year with five freshman, and three sophomores, or it could be an exciting year that certain players step up and play well with the best freshman class UMBC has ever had.

While UMBC was tied with Hartford for sixth place in the pre-season coaches poll, that could have been because they are so unknown and they could be a dark horse this season.

Much like in 2008 when they won the championship, this team welcomes some talented transfers. 7’0″ 280 pound Robbie Jackson, a transfer from Marshall, has size unmatched by anybody in the conference. His presence inside is an immediate upgrade for UMBC both offensively and defensively. When looking around the conference there are very few players that may be able to consistently shut him down on offense. What makes him dangerous is his deceptive speed, strength, and surprising jump shot. Not only can he power past defenders, he can pull up and make a 15-foot shot with ease.

The other transfer is Chris De La Rosa, who is going to take over the point guard spot for UMBC this year. Two years ago De La Rosa was playing on Siena’s NCAA tournament team, but now he’s running the show for the Retrievers. De La Rosa is a very quick guard with great passing ability but is not afraid to pull up and hit a shot. He has a very difficult style of play to defend against and a solid shot. He also played very good defensively.

But this year is going to be about sophomore Chauncey Gilliam. In the final 10 games last year Gilliam broke out and went 17-33 from three point range. He showed serious potential to be one of the top players in the conference all-season and even led UMBC with 21 points with eight rebounds in a big time upset of Nebraska. Last season he averaged 10.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, and shot 51.4% from the field. With the losses of Darryl Proctor (20.0ppg) and Jay Greene (12.7 ppg) Gilliam should see plenty more scoring opportunities as he moved from the team’s third option to go-to-guy. He very well could move his scoring average to the high teens this year, a rare feat for sophomore’s in the America East.

The only other returning starter returning to start the season is senior Matt Spadafora, who is coming off a career year after starting all 32 games last season. He scored a career high 8.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 79 assists, 12 blocks, and 22 steals. Despite the decent stat line, Spadafora did not live up to expectations, but that was in part to an elbow to the eye early on that required 13 stitches and cause him to be hesitant. This year through his shot looks very clean and he could jump his average up four points per game.

While three year starter Justin Fry will miss the first half of the season after having knee surgery, he, like Spadafora, is coming off a career year where he had career highs in points (8.1), rebounds (4.7), assists (36) and steals (17). He also recorded 21 blocks in just 27 games, which was cut because of injury. Fry stepped up big in the America East quarterfinal upset of third seeded Boston U with 19 points and 10 rebounds and despite the injury he averaged 9.3 ppg in his final nine games last year. But Fry is starting for his defense. Any points he puts up is an added bonus. While he is an offensive wing player, defensively he played stellar down the stretch and was a big reason the team beat Binghamton (the eventually champions) in the regular season in the RAC. He shut down there interior game and forced every shot to come from outside. Eventually the shots stopped falling and the Retriever won. When he returns he should provide a solid interior presence with Jackson.

Returing with them from last year are two guys who did not see the court much, but could see some time this year. First is 6’3″ guard Bakari Smith. While he’s only a junior, Smith is 24 years old and is much more physically mature than most players in the league, for that reason. He is also in great shape and has a nice tough shooting the ball, but last year he was very hesitant shooting the ball and often times passed off open shots. Because of that, he did not see the floor much, but if he gets more confident shooting the ball he could see the floor a lot more.

Then there is sophomore forward Jake Wasco. Last season Wasco may have led the nation in fouls per minute, which really limited his time on the floor. His problems occurred because he was not in great shape, but his year he trimmed down, but also added 30 pounds of muscle. If that helps him run up and down the court he could be a big time defensive player for the retrievers. Offensively his points are a plus, but defensively he can crash the boards and get rebounds, and he has good enough footwork to keep the defender in front of him.

This year will be the first year to see how much the America East championship has paid off, as they bring in what is being regarded as the best freshman class in team history.

The team brings in five players, all of whom are capable to filling in that fifth starting spot next to De La Rosa, Spadafora, Gilliam, and Jackson.

Adrian Satchell leads the class and brings a very impressive resume with him. After a stellar senior year where he averaged 13.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, and 1.8 bpg while shooting 55% from the field, leading Windor high (Connecticut) to a state championship, he was a McDonald’s All-American nominee, an all-state selection, three-time all-conference honoree, and was ranked sixth in the 2009 class in the state of Connecticut by the New England Recruiting Report.

Shawn Grant, a 6’4″ swingman from California is another freshman with an impressive resume. He was named the West Coast Athletic League co-Player of the Year and San Jose Murcury and Palo Alto Daily News Player of the Year after averaging 15.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 2.0 apg, while leading St. Francis to a Central Coast Section Title.

While Jamar Wertz may miss a few early games, he should make an immediate impact. He led King’s Fork High School (Virginia) to a state championship, averaging 14.2 ppg. He hit 63 three-point field goals and rounded up 6.0 rpg and 2.3 spg as a senior.

Local product Nick Groce (St. Mary’s High School) could push De La Rosa for time at the point guard. As a senior he led his team to an MIAA “B” conference title after averaging 13.6 ppg and 3.6 aog. He earned second-team all-metro honors from The Baltimore Sun and all-county honors from the Capital Gazette.

Finally is sharpshooting Brian Neller, who earned player of the year honors of New Jersey by the coaches and The Asbury Park Press.

He led his team to a 26-3 record and conference title whiel averaging 14.2 ppg. He should bring in solid three point shooting ability after hitting 1,119 points and 178 three-point field goals over three years on the Varsity level.

Head Coach Randy Monroe may be one of the top coaches in the league and can certainly light a fire under his team when needed, but the team’s success depends on if the high touted freshman can skip the growing pains and live up to their potential right away, of if they fail to meet expectations and struggle.

The Retriever start their season tomorrow (Sunday, Nov 15) against Morgan State at 3:30 following the women’s team’s game against UMES.