By Jordan Hall
Midnight MAACness kicked off in high gear on Friday, Oct. 15, pumping up the student body for the upcoming basketball season. Nationwide, schools with Division I basketball teams held similar events. Approximately 500-600 people attended the pre-MAACness festivities at Daly’s, which featured a circus theme and included various games, sword-swallowers, clowns, jugglers and stilt walkers.
There was a variety of food at the pre-MAACness event, and students could enjoy treats like corndogs, funnel cake and cotton candy. About 2,000 people attended MAACness at Alumni Gym during which the men’s and women’s basketball teams were introduced. Spectators were treated to performances from the cheerleading squad and dance team, as well as a dunk contest and a three-point shooting contest.
Three of the men’s basketball introductions were freshman, quality ones at that.
Head coach Tommy Dempsey has a proven track record — a history of recruiting prowess. This year he outdid himself, assembling what may be his best-ever freshman class for the 2010-2011 season.
Year in and year out, the former MAAC Coach of the Year brings in top-notch talent, strengthening the national profile of the men’s basketball program.
The trio of Anthony Myles, Danny Stewart and Tommy Pereira were officially introduced at the sold-out Midnight MAACness last Friday, and now it’s time for the three to put their stamp on the program.
Dempsey compiled a well-balanced rookie unit with impressive backgrounds. The new Broncs alleviate the weaknesses that Dempsey felt needed to be addressed, and it all starts with Myles.
The Dover, Del., native starred at Polytech High School, where he developed into a major Division I prospect. The 6’5,” 200-pound guard is the highest-ranked recruit in Rider history, according to The Hoop Scoop Online, and yielded scholarship offers from South Florida and Temple, but instead chose Rider.
“We had a lot to sell to with Anthony,” said Dempsey. “He saw opportunity to be able to come in and try to compete for some of the minutes that were leaving the program.”
The success and ability to send players to the professional ranks has been a productive sales pitch for Dempsey and it played a role in Myles ultimately passing on big-name programs.
“Some of the success that we’ve had developing guys over the past few years and moving them on to the next level has been attractive to a lot of our recruits,” Dempsey said.
Myles scored 1,300 points at Polytech and averaged 21 points his senior campaign. He finished as a two-time First Team All-Delaware player and received All-American honors from Reebok as well.
Myles, a high-profile recruit, was picked as the MAAC’s Newcomer of the Year in Lindy’s Sports College Basketball preview and has an opportunity to shine with the Broncs. The guard possesses tremendous length and size for his position and could potentially serve as a swingman.
Myles exhibits a smooth and fluid game and is a player who can score off the bounce or from deep. Overall, the sky is the limit for the versatile Myles and he should be a special addition.
When it comes to Stewart, nerves and jitters from playing at the Division I level will be a non-issue. The Philadelphia product played with the country’s best competition prior to college. Stewart graduated from Neumann-Goretti High School, where he started for the Saints on the fourth-ranked team in America and faced Division I talent on a consistent basis his final year.
His senior season, he led Neumann-Goretti to a 30-1 finish and captured three championship crowns — the AAA State title, AAA District 12 title and the Philadelphia Catholic League title — concluding a near-perfect year.
Stewart eclipsed the 1,000-point barrier with 1,293, but more importantly to college coaches, he became a proficient rebounder.
“He’s a very good rebounder, he can block shots and he’s probably one of the best athletes in our league,” Dempsey said.
Stewart is considered a big-time sleeper. The 6’7”, 210-pound power forward was graded an 86 — an excellent grade for a mid-major — by ESPN.com experts and thought highly of by many.
“The Broncs have got themselves a steal in Stewart,” said ESPN.com “He is a relentless rebounder that finds the ball and is a threat to put-back dunk any miss that comes off the rim.”
According to Dempsey, Stewart had around 14 scholarship offers, six within the MAAC and multiple from the Colonial Athletic Association, a testament to his hard work.
“I just want to improve my game all around and help the team get to the championship,” he said.
Pereira brings an aspect to Rider that it was lacking last season: three-point shooting. The 6’2”, 190-pound guard is a sniper from beyond the arc and Dempsey believes he’ll benefit the Broncs mightily in that department.
“He was one of the better shooters that I saw on the recruiting trail all year,” Dempsey said. “I thought he would give us a natural boost and shot in the arm from the perimeter.”
Pereira, unlike his other freshmen teammates, comes to Lawrenceville from a great distance. The three-point specialist is a citizen of Nottingham, England where he played basketball at a top level.
Pereira played for the under 18 and 16-year-old Great Britain National teams and led his squad to the gold medal at the English Nationals. Most recently, Dempsey found his three-point marksman playing at the Canarias Basketball Academy, one of the elite prep training programs in all of Europe.
“I went over there because they have 10-12 Division I guys in the program and Tommy was the guy on the team that I thought would be the best fit for us,” Dempsey said.
Hoopsfix.com marveled at Pereira’s shooting ability.
“The 6’2” England shooting guard is a flat out shooter, dominating the Nottingham qualifier with a range that extends way beyond the three-point line,” the website said. “Putting his shooting ability to one side, he also has a head for the game and plays smart.”
With his shooting touch, Pereira will stretch the floor and break down zones for Rider while bringing energy and intelligence off the bench.
The gunner had six Division I programs interested in his services, but Pereira wanted to be at Rider for many reasons.
“Tommy [Dempsey] explained everything so well to me and I thought the team really fit my style,” he said.
The talented threesome will have their first shot to impress on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 4 p.m. as Rider takes on TCNJ for an exhibition contest at home.