By David Pavlak
Midnight MAACness is the launching pad for the basketball season, giving full permission to all teams to begin official practices — the starting point for everyone — with the ultimate goal being a championship and the chance to raise a banner to the rafters.
This year, the 2012 Rider men’s basketball team returns with some familiar faces and adds a talented group of freshmen who will look to put Rider on the map in the MAAC basketball world.
The Broncs received good news prior to the official start of the season when junior guard Nurideen Lindsey was granted his hardship waiver, declaring him eligible to begin playing right away.
Head Coach Kevin Baggett was happy for Lindsey when he found out the news and is ready to see what he can bring to Rider as a player and a mentor to the incoming freshmen.
“We were excited to have him, obviously sooner rather than later,” Baggett said. “It just helps the chemistry of your team to start off from day one having everybody. Also [because he has] played at the highest level [while] playing at St. John’s, we’re [going to be] leaning on his experience. He is talented and he will play the point guard position for us, so it will give us a chance right away to have him as our quarterback and [he will] be able to direct us early on.”
Lindsey is coming into this year with big expectations placed on him by college basketball analysts. However, Baggett is worried about what others are saying about Lindsey.
“He’ll be able to score the ball,” Baggett said. “I just don’t want Nuri to average 30 points. I want five guys in double digits; I’m more interested in that. I think his whole outlook as well is about the team and making sure he gets everyone involved. I’m not looking at it as far as point production — I am looking at it as another good piece to our team that can help us hopefully compete in this tough non-conference schedule we have, then give us a chance to compete and get ourselves in the top of the league.”
Junior forward Danny Stewart knows the addition of Lindsey at the start of the season will only help the Broncs down the road.
“I’m glad he’s with us from the beginning,” Stewart said. “It’s really hard to build chemistry when people are sprinkled in mid-season and by having everyone ready to go we will be on the same page.”
In addition to Lindsey, the Broncs also welcome six incoming freshmen who aim to be important members of the team off the bench this season: Khalil Alford, Myles Melville, Jamal Nwaniemeka, Zedric Sadler, Derrick Stewart and Shawn Valentine.
“They all bring different things to the table,” Baggett said. “Khalil can shoot the ball. We’re going to count on his ability to stretch the defense and make shots. Jamal is an absolute scorer. He can score in transition, going to the basket and [make] shots. Derrick is a guy who we are counting on his energy and his rebounding and defense and doing all the little things we will need early on.”
Baggett also believes that Sadler, Melville and Valentine will be important members of the team.
“Zedric is a tough kid from Detroit and we are going to count on his toughness,” Baggett said. “He will play some point guard for us at times. We want him to take care of the ball and run our offense, defend and just be disruptive. Myles is a walk-on who played at the Hun School. We’re counting on him to do all the little things. He can score, he can rebound and he can defend so he will bring some dynamics to our team as well. And the one thing about Shawn is that he has to put on weight. He is talented, [has a] high basketball IQ and handles the ball well. He’ll play some minutes early on. He is able to score in a bunch of different ways.”
Danny knows the freshmen will be able to help the Broncs this year.
“The freshmen just have to embrace their roles, no matter what it is [or] whatever coach needs for us to be successful,” Danny Stewart said.
The Broncs will also be returning key starters in senior Jon Thompson, juniors Danny Stewart and Anthony Myles and sophomore Junior Fortunat.
“Danny was the Rookie of the Year a couple of years ago and he is now experienced,” Baggett said. “I expect him to take the next step. I expect more [from] Danny Stewart [now] that he is more experienced. Anthony, before getting hurt last year, was really coming into his own. He has done a great job this summer getting himself healthy. I am counting on his scoring. Junior is a young man and if we’re going to be good, he needs to be good in the post. We keep preaching to him that he needs to average a double-double. If he can do that, then we’ll be there in the end. Jon is our glue guy. He brings the most experience and the leadership, being one of our captains both on and off the court. He can score in several different ways and defends and does the little things.”
However, Rider will be without three players from last year though as Mark Medley, Eddie Mitchell and Charles Oliver all transferred to play basketball elsewhere.
“Charles ended up going to a junior college because he wanted to transfer to another Division I school, Mark went to a Division II school and Eddie is now over at Westchester,” Baggett said. “I wish those guys well. They did a great job for us last year and I’m sure they’ll do a great job on their respective teams.”
Fans of Rider men’s basketball will see a new system implemented under Baggett, who will focus his team’s attention on high-energy defense and pressure.
“I would say more transition [and] more pushing the ball, make or miss,” Baggett said. “We were inconsistent with that last year, so I want to be consistent with that whether it be on a made basket or a missed basket I want to make sure we’re pushing the ball and [are] on top of the defense. We’re going to press more. I really want to hang our hat on pressing a great deal throughout the game.”
Official MAAC preseason polls won’t be out until November, but Yahoo! Sports predicted Rider to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the conference, and Lindsey to win Newcomer of the Year.
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