Rider underrated in preseason ranks with top-recruited class, key returners

Sophomore Matt Griffin jumps for a lay-up in Rider’s 69-55 win over East Stroudsburg in an exhibition game.By Josh Veltrie

Even after the graduation of Jason Thompson, the 12th lottery pick in the NBA draft, the men’s basketball team at Rider has high hopes for the upcoming season.

Head Coach Tommy Dempsey, who won MAAC Coach of the Year last year, recruited one of the best classes he has had during his three-year tenure at Rider. Jermaine Jackson, Novar Gadson and Brandon Penn highlight this year’s freshman class.

“I expect all of them to have an impact right away,” Dempsey said. “They all have the potential to do big things over the course of their careers.”

Junior forward Ryan Thompson, Jason’s brother, was on second team All-MAAC and averaged 15 points and 6.2 rebounds a game last year.Now he is on the preseason first team All-MAAC. Also returning is the team captain, senior guard Harris Mansell, who was on the third team All-MAAC averaging 13.7 points and 3.2 rebounds last year.

“Ryan and Harris have been in the program for a few years now and I’m sure they will step up as leaders of this team,” Dempsey said. “Last year there was a sense of urgency and a pressure to play well and have a good season.”

The Broncs ended the regular season last year in a tie for first place with Siena, who ended up beating Rider in the MAAC conference championship.

“We have to take a step forward this season, I think a lot of the players took a back seat to Jason last year,” Dempsey said. “Everyone’s roles are going to increase greatly this year.”

Rider is ranked 21st nationally in collegeinsider.com’s preseason mid-major poll and the only other MAAC team ahead of them is Siena at No. 5. However, the Broncs are projected to finish third in the MAAC, behind Fairfield in second and returning conference champions Siena in first.

“Our goal is to make another appearance in the MAAC championship and be able to pull out a win so we can cause some damage in the NCAA tournament,” said Ryan Thompson.

Rider is returning four starters from last year’s squad. Accompanying Ryan Thompson and Mansell are sophomore guard Justin Robinson and sophomore forward Mike Ringgold. Ringgold averaged 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last year while being named to the All-MAAC freshman team.

Sophomore Matt Griffin is expected to take Robinson’s place for the first month of the season because of a knee injury Robinson suffered during the preseason.

“I think Matt is ready to step up and play a big role in the beginning of the season,” Ryan Thompson said. “Matt and Justin really go at it in practice, which helps them both out a lot and when Justin comes back I think they will both do a good job running the team.”

Also contributing for Rider are senior guard Lamar Johnson, sophomore guard Patrick Mansell, junior forward Robbie Myers and senior forward Kevin Vosilla.

“I expect Lamar to step up and play well during his senior season, he has shown a lot of good signs,” Dempsey said. “When he was a freshman he was named to the All-MAAC freshman team and although his role diminished over the past couple years, he will play a big role this season.”

Junior Jhamar Youngblood, a transfer from Monmouth, is also on the team but is not eligible to play until the 2009-10 season.

The Broncs recently overtook East Stroudsburg 69-55 in a preseason exhibition game.

Thompson compiled 17 points and seven rebounds while Harris Mansell added 16 points. Also adding to the win was Griffin with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Ringgold added 14 points and six rebounds.

The Broncs started the game with a 17-4 lead. The Broncs maintained their lead for the remainder of the game in order to pick up their preseason victory.

The Broncs open their season at the Wachovia Center facing St. Joseph’s on Friday, Nov. 14. They then play two more away games against Lehigh and Lafayette before their home opener against Cal State Northridge on Saturday, Nov. 29.

“It is going to be an adjustment early on, getting familiar with everyone, but we just have to be patient and try to get better every day,” Dempsey said. “Hopefully we can progress so we are playing at our best in January and February so we can try and compete with Siena for the MAAC Championship.”

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