Bearcats eager to challenge for America East title
much-anticipated 2003-04 season will be one of great opportunity
and excitement for the Binghamton University mens basketball
After experiencing two seasons of regular-season-only basketball
as mandated by the NCAA after the Universitys divisional
upgrade the Bearcats are now eligible to compete at the
America East Championship for the first time. And with the conference
post-season appearance comes the reality of competing for the
Universitys first NCAA Division I tournament bid.
Being eligible for the conference tournament is the next
step, Walker said. Im looking forward to an
extraordinary year as we continue to build and get better for
the America East Championship in March.
Adding to the excitement is the anticipation of moving into the
schools brand new 4,500-seat Events Center, scheduled to
open during the 2003-04 year. The arena, which sits adjacent
to the 2,275-seat West Gym on campus, is another benchmark for
a rapidly-rising Division I program.
is a force in middle
At the center of the programs continued growth is seven-foot
junior Nick Billings an impact player who has both
captured the hearts of Binghamton fans and tortured opponents
with his shot-blocking prowess.
The former Alaska scholastic player of the year enjoyed a stellar
season last winter, rejecting 117 shots to rank second in the
entire country behind UConns Emeka Okafor. Billings, who
was selected as America East Defensive Player of the Year and
a second team all-star, also picked up his offensive game in
the second semester. Over his final eight conference games,
he averaged 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds.
While playing a modest 23 minutes per game, Billings reached
double figures in scoring 13 times, and ranked sixth in the conference
in rebounding. At the defensive end, he blocked seven or more
shots seven times and his mere presence in the lane discouraged
Nick continues to physically mature and gain in confidence
and understanding, Walker said. I anticipate he
will continue to improve dramatically as an offensive player,
and our offensive will run through him in 2003-04.
The likelihood of Billings having a dominant year is not lost
on the America East coaches, who selected him as one of five
pre-season all-conference players.
must replace backcourt tandem of Baker, Green
Much of Billings supporting cast is gone, however, from
BUs 14-13 team last winter. The biggest hole is in the
backcourt, where veteran guards Charles Baker and Anthony Green
have graduated. That pair were the unmistakable leaders of BUs
first two Division I teams, and the combination of Bakers
intensity and Greens scoring will be hard to replace.
In physical maturity and basketball experience, Charles
and Anthony were superior, Walker said. Certainly
their chemistry and ability to lead and make big plays at both
ends of the floor are elements we have to replace. Im
looking forward to watching our new and returning players grow
into these roles.
Without Green, a first-team all-conference player, and Jeffrey
St. Fort, a 1,000-point career scorer, Walker must replace his
top two scorers from 2002-03.
combination back on perimeter
What Walker does return is the 1-2 punch of 6-foot-3 wing players
Brandon Carter and Billy Williams. The pair provided
quickness, fast-break offense and tenacious defense in their
first seasons at Binghamton last winter.
Carter started 21 games, and averaged 6.9 points on 48% shooting.
He scored in double-figures seven times, and aggressively hit
the offensive boards for 43 rebounds just one behind seven-foot
teammate Billings. Carter is comfortable on the wing or in the
shooting guard spot.
Brandon is an unselfish and dedicated player who is determined
to fit smoothly into whatever role hes asked to fill,
Walker said. Does he have the basketball personality to
step up and be a 15-point scorer? Well see. He understands
whats required to win, and is a tremendous athlete.
Williams, who averaged 17 minutes a game, is another agile athlete
who can get to the basket and play the kind of defense Walker
expects of his players.
Billy is a high energy, impact player, especially off the
bench, Walker said. He is a great rebounder for
his size, and is a catalyst at the offensive end.
Six-foot-6 junior Robert Todd offers another element from
the wing perimeter scoring and passing. One of six newcomers
in 2003-04, Todd red-shirted last year following two seasons
at Air Force. As a freshman for the Falcons in 2000-01, he averaged
10.7 points and shot a school-record 46% from three-point range.
Robert has subtle strengths that will make us a much better
basketball team, Walker said. I anticipate hell
be one of the smartest players Ive coached.
faces dominate backcourt
With the departure of Baker and Green, Walker has brought in
a trio of newcomers who will vie for playing time alongside returnees
Joel Casseus and Brett Watson.
At the shooting guard, sophomore Casseus returns after what began
as a promising freshman season was quickly undermined by illness.
The powerful 6-foot-3 athlete has strong basketball instincts,
and has already drawn high praise from his coach.
Joel is one of our most improved players, Walker
said. I believe he has the chance to become one of the
premier players as his career unfolds in the America East. He
is a very difficult player to defend when he gets into the lane
and employs his strength and savvy.
Second-year player Louie Karis and freshman Troy Hailey
join Casseus at the 2 spot. Karis hit 60% of his
three-point attempts in a limited role last season, while Hailey
and Kloostra have the shooting touch to emerge as scoring threats.
Six-foot-1 Hailey was a three-point specialist for a Montrose
Christian High School team in Rockville, Md. that was ranked
as high as No. 17 by USA Today.
Troys job is to shoot the basketball, Walker
said. He has a beautiful stroke, and is also a good passer.
We anticipate he will work very well with Nick (Billings).
Troy has also added great size and strength this past spring
and summer. Hes worked hard preparing for a good freshman
Freshman Kevin Kloostra will play on the wing with Williams
and Todd. The Chatham, Ontario native averaged 27 points per
game for McGregor High School in Chatham, Ontario, and was considered
one of the best players in the province until a knee injury ended
his scholastic career.
takes over vacated point
At the point, Watson, a veteran guard with a high work rate,
will provide leadership, but all eyes will be on junior college
transfer Darel Lucas Walkers top recruit
of the spring. Lucas, who turned down Sweet 16 participant
Butler to come to Binghamton, led Redlands Community College
(Okla.) to a 32-3 record last season. He averaged 8.2 points
and 5.1 assists, and was listed among the top-10 junior college
point guards in the nation by The Sporting News.
Darel is a gifted athlete who can shoot at a high level,
Walker said. We need him to be a successful defender against
the explosive scoring guards in this league, and also be a creative
playmaker. I believe Darel has a package of athletic talent
and skills that will enable him to be a very successful point
guard in the America East.
will be a premium
The area Walker is eager to improve upon is rebounding, where
despite good size up front, BU ranked only seventh (out of 9)
in the America East last season.
Rebounding is an element that our team needs to concentrate
and improve upon from last year, Walker said. Nick
(Billings) has to improve his rebounding and his teammates at
every position must make a commitment to the glass.
Walker will turn to sophomore forward Sebastian Hermenier
for muscle around the rim. Last season, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound
Hermenier showed flashes of production, scoring in double figures
four times while averaging nearly five points and three boards
in just over 13 minutes per game. He also is a threat beyond
Sebastian is a great compliment to Nick because of his
ability to post-up and shoot the three cleanly,
Walker said. He needs to acknowledge his great strength
to draw fouls, rebound, screen and defend. I think he is a potential
star in the America East.
Six-foot-8 junior college transfer Alex Adediran will
also be counted on to control the boards. A two-year letterwinner
for a strong JC program at Seward County, Adediran averaged 9.1
points and 5.3 rebounds last season. He will begin the season
backing up Billings at center.
Alex has proven himself to be an outstanding rebounder
at a superior junior college level of play, Walker said.
He is an outstanding prospect for us. Were counting
on Alex to transition smoothly to our program
Versatile six-foot-9 forward Joe White returns for his
junior season, and offers a blend of jump shots and interior
play that also compliments Billings strengths. Joe
is an exceptionally smart player, Walker said. We
need him to continue to improve.
Six-foot-eight freshman Giovanni Olomo gives Walker one
more big man to rotate in the lineup. Olomo signed an NLI back
in December, 2001, but didnt receive a Visa out of his
hojmeland of Cameroon until this fall. He averaged nine points
and seven rebounds for Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque,
and possesses the athleticism that Walker likes.
Gio is a very talented athlete, Walker said. He
is long and athletic, and was noted as an outstanding rebounder
and shot blocker in high school. He will be a little rusty having
spent a year away from competitive baskeball, but its just
a matter of him moving into that confort zone once again.
is deeper this season
Despite losing four seniors and three of the teams top
five scorers from last season, Walkers 2003-04 squad appears
to be more balanced than a year ago particularly in the
backcourt. Unlike last season when Green launched more than
two times the three-point attempts of any other BU player, this
year Walker has at least a half-dozen players who can shoot the
three with accuracy.
What weve done at positions 1-4 is to surround our
seven-foot post with four people who can stretch the defense,
Walker explained. If Nick becomes as successful as I envision
in the low post, then he will consistently be double-teamed,
and as that ball is played inside-out, we will have opportunities
to shoot the three. I expect we will continue to
be one of the top teams in made threes per game (BU ranked second
with 7.67), but it will be a series of shots dispersed throughout
the lineup, as opposed to one player dominating the attempts.
In sheer quantity, this years squad size of 15 is three
more than a year ago, and the competition on the practice floor
might very well rival that of game time.
success on road a key
To continue the programs rise in the America East, the
Bearcats will have to reverse a tough trend of road woes. While
the team has been outstanding at home (10-2 last season), it
has struggled on the road particularly in conference play.
In two seasons of America East competition, BU is 5-11 away
from West Gym - including a combined 0-8 record against Boston
University, Vermont, Maine and Hartford - the leagues upper
Last year we had an absolutely incredible home atmosphere,
Walker said. And it gave us great momentum and energy
on the basketball floor and helped us become a very good home
team. But weve got to be able to manufacture that energy
as best we can away from our house. That is the psychological
toughness issue - to be able to bring a similar level of performance
without all of your friends, family and fans giving you that
extra juice. Thats a maturity level. When we get to that
point well be ready to win this league.
will face both NCAA tournament finalists
The teams 27-game schedule is again dotted with several
high-profile opponents, most notably defending NCAA champion
Syracuse and runner-up Kansas. The Bearcats are one of just
four teams to boast both reigning NCAA finalists on their regular-season
In addition, BU will open its season at the 8th Annual Top of
the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska on November 20-23. In
the eight-team tournament, the Bearcats will open against St.
Marys (Calif.), and either face Rice or Idaho State in
the second round.
Binghamton will also play in the Central Connecticut State tournament,
where they will meet Loyola Marymount (Calif.).
Were in some very competitive tournaments, which
were excited about, Walker said. The Alaska
tournament is a great opportunity for our program to compete
in a national field at an elite, certified event. Its
special for us, and especially exciting for Nick (Billings) to
go home and play in front of family and friends. When its
all said and done, St. Marys will be one of the best teams
on our schedule. Thats a very challenging game.
At home, BU has just 11 games - something Walker says is understandable.
When youve got one of the best young big guys in
the country, there arent many teams that want to play you
games to air on television
Billings and the Bearcats will also enjoy unprecedented exposure
on television in 2003-04, as five BU games will be broadcast
on regional cable networks as part of the America East Game of
the Week package. Three home games including two late
February games that will showcase the new Events Center
will be broadcast. The five televised games are the most of
any team in the conference, and include the home-and-home series
with defending regular-season champion Boston University.
will focus on winning conference crown
For the first time as a Division I program and first time in
six years, BU is eligible to compete for a conference title in
2003-04. Walker feels that the push for tournament seeding and
post-season preparation will provide his team a focus that was
missing last February when BU ended its season with a pair of
losses on the road one of which cost the Bearcats a share
of third place in the league.
There is no question that in our final two road games we
couldnt duplicate the incredible energy we displayed at
home, he said. With no post-season available to
us, it was understandable, though disappointing.
In 2003-04 Walker is setting his sights on the programs
first conference championship at any level, but acknowledges
that the America East competition is on the rise.
Our primary goal is to win the America East Championship,
Walker said. We also want to improve upon last year, maintain
our level of excellence at home, and improve our conference road
record thats very important. It will be difficult,
though. The league has taken one step up. The best teams return
the majority of their best players. Certainly the top two teams
Boston and Vermont did have some losses but they
were minimal in comparison to what talent they return. And Northeastern
has perhaps the most talented team in the entire conference.
Those three teams appear to be the ones that everyone will be
continuing to raise bar
We are establishing ourselves as a very good low-major
to mid-major basketball program, and we will continue to improve
as we mature and understand how to be successful every day at
practice, in the weight room and when the lights come on,
Binghamton faithful hope the lights shine brightest in March.