Skerry has high hopes for first year
Since last season, when the Tigers went 4-26 and winless in Colonial Athletic Association play, the Towson men’s basketball program has gone through a complete overhaul.
With the exit of former Head Coach Pat Kennedy comes the entrance of a high-intensity, 41-year-old named Pat Skerry, who is a first time Division-I head coach after helping lead Pittsburgh to a Big East title last year as an assistant.
Director of Athletics Mike Waddell has tasked Skerry with converting the program from a cellar-dweller into the flagship program that all of Towson University can rally around.
However, Skerry will not have the privilege of coaching some of Kennedy’s talented recruits, since all but two of the players that played for Kennedy are no longer on the team.
The only two Tigers with Division-I experience are sophomore forward Erique Gumbs and fifth-year senior center Robert Nwankwo.
Since he accepted the head-coaching job in early April, Skerry has been hard at work finding pieces to the puzzle that will be 2011-2012 season.
He didn’t complete his roster until mid-October, when he was forced to add two senior walk-ons, Bryan Blackstone and Deyon Cook, to make up for the loss of freshman point guard Kelvin Amayo (ruled ineligible by NCAA) and senior shooting guard RaShawn Polk (suspended).
Towson will face one of the toughest schedules in the program’s history.
Not only will they play four away games to start the season, they open up against the Kansas Jayhawks Friday, then will travel to Ann Arbor to face the University of Michigan Monday.
They then stroll down to Tennessee to face Belmont, a team that made an NCAA tournament appearance in 2008.
They will finally make their home debut Nov. 26, when they welcome the Pac-12’s Oregon State Beavers to the Towson Center.
Of course, then there is still the challenge that CAA play always brings being one of the most well balanced mid-major conferences in the country.
With such a tough schedule for such a young team to face, Skerry said their focus is just simply on improving every day.
“They are so new, I’m more worried for them to bring it and get better every day. We’re trying to establish a mindset, trying to change habits,” Skerry said. “At times, I’m sure because we have a shorter rotation, guys are going to fight you on that, but I’m a pretty good fighter. So we are going to get them to do things the right way, or we are going to get guys that will do things the right way.”
Much of the Tigers success this season will depend on the low post experience of the 6-foot-9-inch Gumbs and the 6-foot-8-inch Nwankwo.
Gumbs averaged just 12 minutes a game in his freshman season, scoring just 3.6 points a game with 2.8 boards a contest. Nwankwo, who was academically ineligible last season, finished third in the conference in rebounds in 2009-2010, while leading the conference by blocking over three shots a game.
“I think for us to win games you are going to need to see Gumbs and Nwankwo both in the double-double range, to be perfectly honest,” Skerry said. “But I hate to put that kind of pressure on them. They have got to be selfish on the glass. I want selfish rebounders.”
The Tigers finished their preseason exhibition slate with a 1-1 record.
They beat Holy Family, but lost to a Division-II opponent in Virginia State Sunday.
Although Gumbs was just two points shy of double-double and blocked two shots against VSU, he turned the ball over four times, while the only true point guard on the team, freshman Kris Walden, coughed up the ball five times.
Forward Marcus Damas, who transferred from Westchester Community College as a sophomore, could also be a key contributor to the team, having collegiate experience.
Deon Jones, who was Delaware’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year last year, will also be a factor.
Freshman guard Will Adams, who was recruited in 2008 by Kennedy, will see his first action as a Tiger after recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.