Rider’s young core now the veterans for 2021
By Austin Ferguson
For the second season in a row, the men’s basketball team is losing a large portion of its roster.
At the end of 2018-19 season, the Broncs’ seven losses were headlined by the graduation of team captain Anthony Durham and the transfer of former All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Third Team member Jordan Allen to Division II Lynn University.
The abrupt conclusion of the 2019-2020 season has so far claimed the Rider careers of six more players, most notably the four active 1,000 point scorers the Broncs had.
The graduations of tied all-time Rider steals leader Stevie Jordan and four-year center Tyere Marshall were expected departures after spending four years each with the Broncs.
Shortly after, fellow 1,000-point scorers Dimencio Vaughn and Frederick Scott announced in quick succession that they planned to graduate and transfer.
Vaughn, a two-time member of the All-MAAC First Team, announced on April 5 that he was transferring to Ole Miss, while Scott’s decision is down to six schools, with multiple reports claiming Illinois State as the favorite.
In the wake of another large exodus, Rider has been hard on the recruiting trail, gathering six incoming freshmen and four transfers, with the most recent reported commits being Dwight Murray, Jr. from Incarnate Word, who will sit one year and have two years after of eligibility, and Dontrell McQuarter, a Hinds Community College transfer who will be immediately eligible.
Graduation and transfers force Broncs to look toward the future
Though a crop of new players can bring immediate success to a team as the Broncs saw in the 2017-2018 season with Vaughn and Allen, Rider will also have to lean on what’s left of its current roster to bring forth a veteran presence that holds the team together, like the Broncs cherished with Durham’s last two seasons with Rider.
Redshirt guard Tyrei Randall
Though Randall is currently the longest-tenured Bronc, having already spent three years with the team, the hope should not be to see him for much longer. Randall took to Instagram on April 4 with a story post that said “It’s been real Rider… time for the next chapter,” possibly alluding that he, too, will be transferring from the program.
Forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson
Should Randall transfer, Ogemuno-Johnson would be left as the lone junior on the roster. The original plan for the Nigerian native was to transition to the power forward position.
“To me, he will eventually evolve into more of a [power forward] for us,” Rider Head Coach Baggett told The Rider News during Ogemuno-Johnson’s freshman year.
With the situation the Broncs are in now, Ogemuno-Johnson looks poised to become the starting man in the middle. He will also likely serve as the veteran of Baggett’s system and a bit of stability for the Rider rotation.
Ogemuno-Johnson averaged 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in 2019-20 and shot 50% from the field.
Redshirt forward Tyrel Bladen
Bladen experienced his first season of play in 2019-20 for the Broncs in a limited capacity behind a crowded scene of forwards.
Next season, the 6-foot-10 forward will surely find more minutes in the rotation. His athleticism is his biggest upside, though he has worked hard to develop a post game, something that he could prove next season.
Bladen had a season-high four points on two different occasions and played hard defense in his limited minutes. If he looks to continue to be effective with heavier minutes, he will have to curtail the number of fouls he accrues on the court, which can be easily corrected with more playing time.
Guard Christian Ings
After the departures of this season, Ings is the lone starter that Rider returns for 2020-21, having begun 18 contests for the Broncs.
The guard was explosive throughout his rookie campaign, achieving multiple highlight dunks, including one that landed himself on SportsCenter, and developing a 3-point shot throughout the season, led by five games where he shot 50% or better from deep.
Inconsistencies on defense held Ings back toward the end of the season, especially in his final start against Monmouth on Feb. 2, when he played just four minutes.
With his freshman highs (and lows) behind him, Ings is likely the readiest player to be a mainstay in the Rider lineup as a viable two-way player.
Guard Allen Powell
“We just haven’t had enough minutes to give to him,” Baggett said about Powell after a strong first-half performance against Canisius on Feb. 7.
It should become easier to find Powell minutes to play next season and improvements would be sure to follow with the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, native.
Powell is a player that seems to be wise beyond his years as he kept his composure on and off the court and proved time-and-time again that he is able to make the right move in a game situation.
Powell averaged just over one point per game but his intangibles of being able to move off of the ball and play smart defense will give him plenty of opportunities with extended play in the near future.
Guard Khalil Turner
Turner did not get a lot of opportunities on the court in his freshman campaign, mostly from the arsenal of guards ahead of him. He only played in just 12 games, only reaching double-digit minutes in his first regular-season game, where he scored five points in 15 minutes of play.
Turner’s length is an asset to the guard position, standing at 6-foot-7. Once he is able to find his jump shot, he will be able to supplant himself as one of the first players off of the bench, being able to play at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
What’s left of Rider’s core is young, there is no doubt about it. With their oldest player as a junior, the Broncs will have to rely on every player, from top to bottom, in order to find success next season.
Graduate transfer Rodney Henderson, Jr. will likely be the veteran leader of the team, much like Willy Nunez, Jr. was in 2019-20. However, the young core will have to gel and produce in order to enjoy a good season in 2020-21.
In the MAAC, young teams often find success as the season carries on. The most recent example came in 2020 with the second-place finish of Saint Peter’s, who were led by freshman Aaron Estrada and took down the four-time defending MAAC champion Iona Gaels.
The Broncs also enjoyed success with a mostly young team, taking a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup in 2017 to a regular-season championship.
Baggett has proven before that he can take a young team and give it the tools to succeed quickly and the diverse core of players he has in front of him for next season can be more than prepared to do the same.
The biggest deciding factor for Rider’s future success will be time.