After doing so well over previous years and then slipping last winter, the Long Island University Blackbirds are hoping to bounce back from an under .500 record to post a winning mark and make the Northeast Conference playoff tournament to gain an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Last year’s sensational guard Jason Brickman who averaged about 10 assists a game, had a great eye for the court and performed as best as he could. He did so the previous three years when the Blackbirds advanced into the NCAA tournament. That is when his teammates also starred on the court and marked some of the greatest days in Blackbird history. He certainly will be missed as the team is re-tooling. He is now playing overseas.
Now the four other holdovers must gell with the eight newcomers in the hope of putting a winning season together. Jack Perri is in his third season as head coach of the Blackbirds.
“We’ll take it day by day and take it one day at a time approach,” said Perri “because there are so many new guys on the roster.”
Heading this year’s roster is one of two returning starting guards in senior Gerrell Martin who suffered from a heart ailment last year.
“Since last March we had to get him back (on the court),” Perri said on Northeast Conference media day at the Barclays Center, also home of the Brooklyn Nets of the National Basketball Association. “He’s been on the shelf for a few months. We just got clearance for him. He’ll be playing the wing position.”
Otherwise, the Blackbirds have a lot of new players, who are young and can handle the ball as compared to last year when Brickman handed the show from the guard spot. Brickman is now doing very well in Russia. The Blackbirds must now make up for his loss.
“Our players can create off the dribble, have versatility (on the court) and are good shooters,” added Perri. “All of the starting positions are up for grabs.”
Newcomers include potential starters in the backcourt in Martin Hermannsson and Omar Ferguson, both freshmen. And Ivan Fleming, a sophomore, also had a good fall. The front court is a little bit banged up. Inexperience as a group is also a weakness.
Defensively, the Blackbirds will play a lot of man-to-man and switch on defense, and offensively they will run, and play fast and aggressively.
The coaches picked the Blackbirds to finish eighth in a pre-season poll, in the 10-team league because they are so young.
Meanwhile, a short distance away from LIU is St. Francis College. They both compete in the same Northeast College Conference. The coaches picked St. Francis to finish in first place in the league for the first time in the college’s history in the program.
Heading the list of returnees are senior forward Jalen Cannon and senior guard Brent Jones from an 18-14 overall record team, including 9-7 in the circuit. Cannon averaged almost 15 points a game last season. The Terriers return six players who have starting experience in the conference. A lot of the offense and defense will be asked of the entire group of players if they want to succeed.
The Terriers list athleticism as a major strength. Hopefully, their experienced guys could play well and the youngsters could blend in. Seven newcomers hope to fit in with the holdovers.
Cannon and Jones have been great for the Terriers for the past three years according to Head Coach Glenn Braica who expects both of them to repeat their performances in this their senior years.
Both student athletes improved a great deal and the coaching staff hope that they continues to do so.
Overall, the players are working hard to live up to their expectations.
“We are trying to get better every day,” Braica continued. “On the newcomers we have a lot to learn and have a long way to go. We are not putting any pressure on ourselves the finish first in the league.”