Posted: 11/05/2012 | Last updated: November 5, 2012 at 09:17 PM
The 2011-12 Lehigh men’s basketball season was one to remember. The Mountain Hawks won a school-record 27 games and took home their second Patriot League Championship in three years, capping it off with a historic 75-70 NCAA Tournament win over Duke. Lehigh captured the nation’s attention and looks primed to continue the success into this coming year.
“As the leader of this program, I’m pleased that we continue to grow a broader and stronger foundation to our success, success that will hopefully continue into the future,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “The goal is also to take some of the experiences that we’ve gained and be able to apply them with a team that has a strong nucleus of returning players.”
The Mountain Hawks return 82 percent of their scoring, 80 percent of their rebounding and 73 percent of their assists from last year’s record-breaking team. Leading the way is a senior class of C.J. McCollum, Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner who’ve combined for 3,788 career points and 1,534 rebounds. McCollum paces the group with 2,074 career points as he enters his senior campaign second in Lehigh and Patriot League history in career points.
“I’m pleased with the leadership that we have from the upperclassmen and also the buy-in that we’re getting across the board,” said Reed. “Ultimately, one thing that we have to keep in mind is we’re not defending a championship, rather pursuing another.”
McCollum headlines a very talented guard group which had a coming out party of sorts in last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Mountain Hawk guards played toe-to-toe with Duke’s Austin Rivers (who was selected 10th overall in this year’s NBA Draft) and Seth Curry (a current senior and NBA prospect himself).
The Canton, Ohio native finished last season with 124 assists (10th in school history), almost 50 more than his previous career high.
“Our guard play is very strong going into this year, highlighted by C.J. McCollum who is a tremendous player, not only for our program but also within Patriot League history,” said Reed. “He is on pace to do things that have not been accomplished previously. He’s put himself into an elite classification of players. We will rely heavily on him, not only for his scoring ability, but also his playmaking and his leadership.”
Already named a preseason First Team All-American by Sporting News, McCollum is a two-time Patriot League Player of the Year and AP Honorable Mention All-American. He was named ECAC Player of the Year a season ago while garnering NABC First Team All-District laurels for a third straight year. In addition, McCollum was one of only 25 players nationally named a Lute Olson All-American.
McCollum needs only 151 points to break the league record of 2,224 while he’s 630 away from the school mark of 2,703 currently held by Daren Queenan. McCollum posted 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in Lehigh’s historic NCAA Tourney win over Duke to propel himself, and the Lehigh program, into the national spotlight.
Not to be forgotten, junior Mackey McKnight emerged as last season progressed, scoring a season-high 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the NCAA Tournament vs. Xavier. He almost single-handedly kept the Mountain Hawks close against the Musketeers. McKnight finished his sophomore campaign averaging 8.8 points and 3.6 assists per game. His career-high for assists was eight vs. American while he also dished seven on two other occasions.
“Mackey has been an excellent player for us,” said Reed. “He plays with a great deal of passion and intensity, which becomes contagious. He is extremely quick with the basketball and has excellent penetration ability. Mackey also has strong defensive abilities because of his quick feet and determination. He has improved his perimeter shooting and that, complemented with his playmaking ability and his aggressive nature, will continue to help him grow further.”
Backing up McKnight at the point is sophomore Corey Schaefer, who was extremely efficient in his rookie season. The Iowa native averaged 2.8 points and 1.2 assists, but perhaps most impressively, turned the ball over just 19 times in 465 minutes of action (one every 24.5 minutes) for an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than two-to-one. Schaefer can also slide to the two-guard as an extremely effective shooter.
“Corey is someone who can be trusted with the basketball,” said Reed. “I believe he will continue to grow moving into his sophomore year. Being a coach’s son, he has a high basketball IQ. Those qualities, combined with surprising athleticism, make him a very good complement to the other players on the floor.”
Junior and Boston University transfer B.J. Bailey emerged as last season progressed, scoring 50 of his 64 points over the final eight games. Not only was he a presence offensively, but he also served as one of the team’s top defenders down the stretch. Bailey played a season-high 29 minutes in the Patriot League Championship Game at Bucknell while also playing 21 minutes against Duke and 28 vs. Xavier in the NCAA Tournament. He shot an impressive 48 percent from behind the three-point arc for the season (12-of-25).
“B.J. has tremendous length and athleticism,” said Reed. “He found himself in a position having to earn minutes after being away from basketball for so long. His continued participation in basketball has enhanced his skills and conditioning, which will give him a better opportunity at the onset of this year to make a very positive impact on our program.
“He’s an unselfish player; he’s willing to assume just about any role in order to help our team be successful because he’s so selfless,” Reed continued. “Those are tremendous qualities, especially combined with his physical talent.”
Sophomore Stefan Cvrkalj showed tremendous flashes last season, knocking down a three-pointer mere seconds into his career at Iowa State. It was a sign of things to come as the sharp shooter knocked down 38 percent of his three-pointers (14-of-37) and 43 percent of his field goals overall (25-of-58). Cvkralj posted a career-high 19 points against Arcadia, which included 3-of-4 from long range.
“Stefan is a marksman and someone who really can change the course of a game with his perimeter shooting ability,” said Reed. “He will continue to enhance our floor spacing on offense because he has to be so well accounted for by our opponents.”
Junior Anthony D’Orazio looks to continue to make an impact after playing in 30 games as a freshman and 33 as a sophomore. The New Jersey native has made his mark at both ends of the floor, posting 2.6 points per game a season ago while serving as a strong defensive presence. One highlight came at Wagner when he knocked down a game-winning three-pointer with time winding down.
“Anthony has gained experience over his two years, experience that will prove valuable for him as he continues to grow as a player,” said Reed. “He has a very good feel for the game and is a very athletic player.”
Freshman Devon Carter comes in eager and ready to do whatever’s asked of him. Like McCollum, Carter reigns from Ohio.
“Devon has come in as a freshman and demonstrated a willingness to learn and a desire to contribute,” said Reed. “The strength of his frame and his determination can make him a strong defender. It will allow us to continue to have size and mobility on the perimeter and his combined ball handling, vision and penetration ability will make him a strong offensive candidate as well.”
Rounding out the guards is senior walk-on Cory Goodman, entering his third season with the program. He continues to make his mark on the team; last season, he got into 13 games and scored seven points.
“Cory continues to be part of our team and is a strong support structure for our practice,” said Reed. “He has strong relationships with his teammates and provides energy.”
A pair of seniors leads the way at forward in Knutson and Greiner. Knutson is the second member of his class to eclipse 1,000 points, doing so last February vs. Colgate. The Second Team All-Patriot League honoree owns 1,110 career points and 554 rebounds after averaging 12.2 points and 5.6 rebounds a season ago.
“Gabe has been a reliable anchor for us,” said Reed. “We’ve consistently been able to get him the basketball and he has produced points for us. He’s always been a player who’s known where to go and what to do, and because of his basketball intelligence, has really allowed our system to flourish. We anticipate that he will only continue to grow. Gabe has continued to enhance his physical presence with strength and skill level with the basketball.”
Greiner enjoyed a stellar junior campaign, especially during the nonleague season before being hampered by injury. He served as a strong third scoring option, averaging 12.9 points per game through the nonleague slate. That included a career-high 24 points in a homecoming at Michigan State behind 8-of-12 shooting and 4-of-7 from three-point range. Greiner was also an effective rebounder, averaging 6.3 boards per game heading into Patriot League play.
“Holden has a very unique combination of size, skill and athleticism, one which made him a dominant force in the nonconference portion of our schedule,” said Reed. “At times, he was one of our primary players. He was extremely important for our overall success due to his ability to stretch the defense by his shooting, his ability to penetrate and create for others, and his ability to score.
“That, complemented with a determination for rebounds, made him a key component of our nonconference success,” Reed continued. “I anticipate that he will continue to grow with the high sense of urgency that comes from being a senior. He’s already embraced a significant role this year.”
Sophomore Conroy Baltimore shined as a rebounder in 2011-12, leading the team in rebounds per minute (49 in 142 minutes) while adding 40 points as well. Baltimore posted seven points and three rebounds vs. Saint Francis (Pa.) along with nine points and 11 boards against Arcadia.
“Conroy really showed flashes as a freshman,” said Reed. “His length and athleticism make him a force on the glass and give him a strong defensive presence, not only with his lateral quickness, but also his shot-blocking ability.
“He was also a reliable contributor around the basket,” Reed continued. “Physically, he’s gotten stronger. He’s gained more experience after a year of exposure within our system and I feel those things will help him create a greater foundation to significantly contribute to our program.”
Freshman Justin Goldsborough will be squarely in the mix as well. The 6-8, athletic big man comes to Lehigh from Fort Washington, Md.
“Justin has been a very intriguing player,” said Reed. “He has a strong combination of athleticism and length, which we hope to utilize. Just like Conroy, he has the ability to rebound the basketball. He runs the floor very well which can fit into our aggressive, up-tempo style of play. I think his contributions will be felt, even despite his young age.”
Sophomore walk-on Tyrone Staggers looks to continue to grow as a player while helping the team in practice. Last season, he got into 13 games, scoring his first-career points against Arcadia while grabbing his first-career rebound a few weeks prior vs. Eastern Kentucky.
“Tyrone has athleticism and strength that really makes him a strong contributor for us in practice,” said Reed. “As he continues to grow with his exposure and experience with our system, his contributions will only continue to increase in the support of helping our other players improve.”
Meanwhile, another 6-8 freshman (Jesse Chuku) is making a strong transition to life at Lehigh, but will not play his freshman season due to recent NCAA legislation that examines enrollment between the end of high school and beginning of college.
“The United Kingdom is a country with multiple tiers of secondary school,” said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. “Although he performed well academically and is a comparable age to most college freshmen, Jesse’s educational path was reviewed and when evaluated, it was determined that he would have only three years of remaining athletic eligibility. He is required to sit a year in residence which allows for practice only during the first year, similar to NCAA transfer requirements.
“During Jesse’s recruitment, we were aware of the potential that he may only have three years to play for us,” Reed continued. “In fact, we embraced that because we felt his talent level, his character and his academic interests were so strong that having him for three years would be a very worthwhile investment.”
With a truly special senior class, expectations continue to be as high as ever. The Mountain Hawks want to send McCollum, Knutson and Greiner out with a third championship.
“This senior class has led with their performance on the floor, they have led with leadership off the floor and they have led with their academic pursuits,” said Reed. “Obviously C.J. receives the most attention, but Gabe has started for us ever since he was a freshman. Were it not for C.J, there’d be a lot more attention on Gabe and the things he’s been able to accomplish. Holden has demonstrated the ability to be a very exciting and electrifying player as well; his skill and athleticism make him such a unique matchup.”
After their win over Duke, there will naturally be added (regional and national) attention to the Mountain Hawks as they go through their 2012-13 schedule. It all begins on Nov. 9 at Baylor, who advanced to the Elite Eight a season ago, and continues in the NIT Season Tip-Off, with the potential of advancing to the NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
“As we continue to build the culture and notoriety of our program, [past success] is something we can embrace and be proud of,” said Reed. “However, with that, our players have a great sense of hunger to continue to move forward, understanding our past doesn’t affect this year. This is a new pursuit.
“I don’t believe there is an additional pressure with added recognition,” Reed continued. “I think it’s ultimately something to embrace, to utilize as a source of confidence and pride, but not deviate too far from the principles that have allowed us to build this type of success.”
The most obvious goal is to win a second straight Patriot League Championship and third in the last four years. But beyond on-court success, Reed’s objectives continue to be the same.
“Even despite the visible outcomes of a season as far as winning championships and national notoriety and success, our goals remain the same,” said Reed. “That is to develop young men to the best of their ability, to their leadership potential and also their high level of character. We want them to excel in the classroom and we want them to excel as athletes.
“As we continue to work on becoming the best team that we possibly can, we understand that a lot of the external measures such as wins and championships will hopefully follow with a process that is very diligent, a process that’s very focused on the right principles and the development of these young men,” Reed continued.