A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist, photos by STEVE HARRISON
The quotes jumped off the page.
After all, when it comes to being guarded in dealing with the media, politicians and coaches are the very top of the list.
But there he was, in mid-October at Atlantic 10 Media Day in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, admitting of his St. Bonaventure basketball team, “we expect to be good.”
Talk about unSchmidt-like.
Then again, if he said anything much different, the assembled press likely would have laughed at him.
After all, his Bonnies are usually relegated to the bottom half of the A-10’s preseason poll, needing to prove that they deserved to have been ranked higher.
This trip they’re picked third in the 15-team conference.
Talk about a turnaround.
Last season, fielding an entirely new team, Schmidt’s squad finished 14-18 with a half-dozen losses by six points-or-fewer.
Several times this offseason he’s made a joking football analogy about that campaign: “We had names across their forehead … I didn’t know who we had.”
But, in this new era of college sports, teams change … fast.
The transfer portal, which totally undermined last year’s Bonnies, this season became their benefactor.
Six players who were starters at some point last year, four of them transfers (guards Daryl Banks, Kyrel Luc and Moses Flowers and center Chad Henning) are back as are two forwards who were recruits — Barry Evans and a player with a new name. Yann Farel Assa Essamvous is his full name. He’s now dropped the first two and, to honor his family from Gibon, he’s now Assa Essamvous, with the first name on the back of his jersey.
There are also three new transfers — guards Mika Adams-Woods (Cincinnati) and Charles Pride (Bryant) and center Noel Brown (George Washington) — and two freshman recruits, guard Miles Rose and forward Duane Thompson.
“It’s almost like the portal has helped us now,” Schmidt admitted of a roster that has seven players from other schools.
Small wonder, he told the media assembled at Brooklyn, “Absolutely, this year we have a chance to be good if the newcomers can find good chemistry.”
AND LAST night at the Reilly Center, before 2,536 witnesses, he introduced this year’s team in the annual exhibition game against Alfred University.
A year ago a game program was a must for fans at the AU inaugural, this time the RC faithful knew half the players.
Bona prevailed 80-41, but the score was irrelevant to Schmidt.
“The exhibition game is, No. 1, we want to win, 2, we want to get all of our guys in to get comfortable and the nervousness out of their system for the young guys in their first time playing in front of a crowd. And (3) we didn’t want to get anybody hurt and I think we accomplished those three things,” he said.
“We had intensity. Our team has a little more depth this year. We can pick up more full-court … we can bring guys in and out and there’s not a lot, if any, slippage from the first group to the second group. Hopefully we can stay healthy. It was a good first game.”
What was Schmidt looking for in a game against a Division III opponent?
“You want to make a statement,” he said. “It’s first impressions. Fans come to the game and we want them to leave, walking to their car, with a good impression of us in terms of our effort and unselfishness.
“We also want to win. I was always taught when you play anything, and keep score, you play to win. That was the most important thing.”
This game showed, Bona is 10-deep in highly skilled players and Schmidt admitted, “Practices have been good (intense). The more talent you have, when good is going against good, both guys are going to get better. That’s been a positive and that hasn’t always been the case (with the program).”
FLOWERS paced the Bonnies with 12 points including three treys, Venning added 11 points, andAdams-Woods 10. Pride had a game-high eight rebounds and Banks added six assists.
Senior Casey Curran, son of Steve, the former Bona assistant now at George Mason, topped the Saxons with 12 points including a trio of three-pointers, with a team-high seven boards, a block and an assist, His sophomore brother, Tyler, who was a Bonnie walk-on last year, added seven points. Casey had a game-high 32 minutes played with Tyler at 31.
Bona’s regular-season opener is Monday night against Longwood at the RC.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)
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