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Blue Ribbon Albany Preview

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I realize most of you check the AE board also but if you don' t there was a post containing Blue Ribbon's season preview of the Danes. Here it is:


Blue Ribbon - Albany



Will Brown looks for two things when he's recruiting players to build his Albany program with: toughness and basketball intelligence.


"I need kids who I can go to war with and who understand the game," Brown said.


Size and athleticism don't hurt either. Especially when your starting lineup averages 6-1 and you are out-rebounded by an average of 12 boards per game like the Great Danes were last season.


Despite its shortcomings last season, Albany is pointed in the right direction. America East All-Rookie Team selections Jamar Wilson and Levi Levine were the third-highest scoring (32.1 ppg) freshman duo in the country last season and a strong group of recruits and transfers (including 7-1 Kirsten Zoellner from Boston College and 6-2 guard Lucious Jordan from Loyola College) will have the Great Danes up to 13 scholarships at the start of the 2004 season.


But, that is still a year away. This year Albany will rely on Wilson and Levine to point the way for a team that will still be a bit undersized and have a relatively short bench.


"From the end of the season until now, they are the two most improved players on the team," Brown said.


Wilson (18.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg), who ranked second in the America East in scoring, has added 25 pounds of muscle to his 6-1 frame.


"He has just lived in the weight room and lived in the gym," Brown said.


Levine (13.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.6 spg), a 6-5 forward, has lost about 12 pounds since last season ended and the added quickness will allow him to spend more time on the perimeter.


"I think I've got the most improved player in the league and possibly the best player in the league," Brown said of Levine and Wilson.


Wilson, who led America East in scoring during conference play (21.2 ppg), is an elusive player who gets to the basket and draws contact well. The additional size and strength will allow him to finish more plays after drawing contact and shake defenders to free himself on the outside.


"He's a very talented kid and I'm trying to get him to understand that if his scoring numbers go down it will be a good thing because that means we are winning some more games," Brown said.


Although it isn't pretty, Levine does whatever it takes to help the Great Danes win. He led Albany in blocked shots (19) and three-point percentage (.392) last season. Levine also held his own while having to play in the post, but will see more mismatches this season when he plays at shooting guard or either forward spot.


"I describe his game in one word-ugly," Brown said, in a complimentary way of course. "He's got no set position, but he's the toughest competitor that we have and he backs down from nobody."


After Wilson (37.2) and Levine (34.0), the Great Danes don't return a player who averaged 17 minutes per game last season.


That player, 6-6 junior Chris Wyatt (1.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg) has been slowed by plantar faciitis, which means Brown will rely on a group of youngsters and newcomers.


Junior Aquawassi St. Hillaire, a 6-6 forward, should play a prominent role. St. Hillaire, who red-shirted last season, transferred from SUNY-Delhi where he averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks while leading his team to a 30-1 record in 2001-02.


"He is the best athlete in our program-by far," Brown said. "He's a super athlete. He'll be a tremendous garbage man and can defend one through five."


Jamal Hughes, a 6-8 sophomore, will help address the rebounding problem. Hughes (8.2 ppg. 6.8 rpg) was a first-team All-region VI pick at Brown Mackie College in Salina, Kansas, last season.


"He is athletic, active and strong," Brown said of the Rochester, N.Y., resident.


Todd Martin, a 6-7 freshman from Upland, Calif., should also see significant minutes. Dubbed "a poor man's Luke Walton" by one West Coast recruiting analyst, Martin averaged 12 points and nine rebounds at Upland High School. Martin has shown the ability to make outside shots, but also can mix things up inside.


"He can play the three or the four," Brown said. "He's highly skilled."


Sophomores Jerrad Knotts (1.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg), a 6-6 forward who played in 25 games last season and Herman Banks (0.1 ppg), a 6-9 center who saw action in 10, also return.


The Great Danes suffered a scare in the off-season when Jon Iati, a 5-9 freshman expected to start at point guard, went down with a shoulder injury in July. Iati, who suffered the injury during a conditioning drill, had successful surgery in August and is expected to be ready to practice by Nov. 1.


Iati, whom Brown has called "a poor man's Gerry McNamara" averaged 23.7 points at York (Pa.) Catholic High School, where he scored 2,216 career points and is known for his shooting prowess.


"I think he can be as good as any shooter in America East," Brown said.







When Brown replaced Scott Beeten midway through the 2001-02 season, he knew it would take time to rebuild a program that was bottoming out.


Landing Wilson and Levine was big, because it gives Albany two cornerstones to build around, but the Great Danes are not a finished work yet.


Hughes and St. Hillaire will boost the inside game, but with Wyatt's health a question mark and no proven player in the post the interior will still be a problem.


Martin and Iati will be called on to contribute as freshmen that will also help in the long run. Having transfers Zoellner and Jordan in practice every day will help create competitive situations, but they still must wait until next year to play.


"I know we're going to be better, but I don't know what that means in terms of wins and losses," Brown said of this season. "I do know that next year we are going to add six kids to a team that has everybody back. When that happens, I think we'll be able to beat [on a given night] any team in the league at home or on the road."


Until then, the Great Danes will continue to try to get the most out of what they have.

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