Navy men's basketball adjusts to new-found respect

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Navy men’s basketball finds itself in an unusual position going into this season.

Throughout the seven-year tenure of head coach Ed DeChellis, the Midshipmen have played with a chip on their shoulder after being predicted to finish at the bottom of the Patriot League.

Things have changed going into the 2017-2018 campaign as Navy has been picked third in the Patriot League preseason poll. That is the program’s highest position since being tabbed to place second prior to the 2001-2002 season.

“I think it’s different for this program in terms of the Patriot League. The target is on our back a little bit and we’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” DeChellis said. “It’s a unique position in the sense we’re going to be the hunted now. We spoke to our players about that in terms of mindset. We’re not sneaking up on anyone anymore. That’s a different kind of pressure for our players.”

Indeed, there is new-found respect for Navy after it finished in sole possession of fourth place in the Patriot League last season. The Midshipmen also advanced to the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since 2001.

Navy has increased its win total within the Patriot League every year under DeChellis, who owns a 68-119 overall record in Annapolis. The Midshipmen posted a 10-8 conference record last season.

“It’s nice to finally get some respect and be appreciated. That being said, preseason rankings in this league don’t really mean much,” Navy senior captain Shawn Anderson said. “We’ve definitely put the program out there to the point that people know what Navy basketball is all about. We hope to keep moving forward. I think we have the pieces to be a 20-win team this season. It just comes down to sticking to the process and doing the little things every day.”

Navy returns four starters from last season’s team that finished 16-16 overall with center Edward Alade the lone loss to graduation. The Midshipmen bring back eight lettermen overall, including their top five scorers.

“I think we have a talented group, a pretty veteran group and a very competitive group,” DeChellis said. “I think we have the pieces to be a pretty good basketball team. We’ve got some veterans, some leadership. We have some young guys that I think will mold into our squad pretty nicely. Now we just have to put those pieces together.”

Anderson was a second team All-Patriot League selection last season after leading Navy in scoring with 12.2 points per game while ranking second in rebounding (4.4 average), assists (88) and steals (37).

“Shawn Anderson has shown he’s one of the best players in this league. He’s a tough kid that comes to work every day, has a great attitude and is an outstanding leader,” DeChellis said. “We need Shawn to show great consistency. He has the ability to step up his game on both ends of the floor.”

DeChellis wants Anderson to be assertive on the offensive end without feeling he needs to be a volume scorer. He believes the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder can become more of a lockdown defender.

Anderson is the team captain, a role that brings additional responsibilities around the academy and within the Brigade of Midshipmen.

“On the court, I think it’s important for me to understand where the team is at. Sometimes you need to push the guys more, other times you need to back off. Sometimes you need to challenge guys, other times you need to pull them aside for a pep talk,” Anderson said. “That’s been the biggest challenge. Having the pulse of the team. I’m trying to go back to when I was a freshman and sophomore and remember what people are going through. My job is to help all my teammates get through the season.”

Navy’s other returning starters are senior power forward Tom Lacey, senior wing forward Bryce Dulin and junior point guard Hasan Abdullah. Dulin enjoyed a breakout campaign a year ago, averaging 9.3 points and 4.1 rebounds while being named to the Patriot League All-Defensive team.

DeChellis believes Dulin can become an All-Patriot League performer by developing into a more dangerous scorer and creator.

“I think Bryce Dulin has really stepped up and become more of a vocal leader,” DeChellis said. “Bryce is our best perimeter defender, but I think he has the ability to do more on the offensive end.”

Lacey led Navy and ranked third in the Patriot League in rebounding with 7.1 per game. The rugged 6-foot-7, 235-pounder grabbed 100 offensive rebounds, the second-highest total in program history since the statistic was first tracked in 1987.

“We need Tom Lacey to expand his offensive game, to get on the low box and score a little more,” DeChellis said. “Tom brings a lot of energy and emotion, which is infectious for the whole team. He plays with a lot of physicality, whether it’s rebounding, defending or setting picks.”

Abdullah took over as the starting point guard as a sophomore and got better as the season went along, winding up with averages of 8.8 points, 3.3 assists and 1.9 steals. The 6-foot, 195-pounder led the Mids in assists, steals, 3-pointers made (48) and minutes played (28.4).

“Hasan is more mature, more comfortable in a leadership role. He has become a more vocal leader and is telling the younger guys what to do,” DeChellis said. “Hasan can break down defenses and get to the basket. He can shoot the ball from the perimeter and really pressure the ball on the defensive end. He has great quickness and gets his hands on a lot of balls.”

Abdullah has been bothered by a hip flexor that forced him to miss eight days of practice recently. The Alabama native returned to the court this week, but his status for Friday’s opener against Pittsburgh in the Veterans Classic is questionable.

Nourse Fox, a steady and reliable senior, would likely start at point guard if Abdullah cannot go. That would put pressure on sophomore Matt Cullen and freshman Cam Davis to perform in a backup role. Cullen did not see varsity action last season while Davis is a direct-entry recruit from Battlefield, Missouri.

As of Tuesday, DeChellis was still undecided about the fifth starter with sophomore Evan Wieck and junior George Kiernan the most likely candidates to replace Alade in the frontcourt. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound Wieck is a more traditional post player while Kiernan (6-7, 225) prefers to face the basket and is one of Navy’s best jump shooters.

“Evan Wieck has made a lot of improvement. He’s doing a better job of catching the ball in the post and scoring,” DeChellis said. “George Kiernan showed last season that he can really shoot the basketball. He had some big scoring games.”

DeChellis indicated the style of game along with matchups could determine whether Kiernan or Wieck gets the most minutes as they are vastly different players.

“Evan is a defensive center, a rebounder, a physical kid who hedges ball screens well. Kiernan can play on the perimeter and stretch the floor offensively,” he said. “So it all depends on what type of game is being played and what we need at that point in time.”

Navy needs to develop a bench and DeChellis is eager to see which players step up. Junior Ryan Pearson has flashed some offensive talent in terms of shooting, but needs to improve as a defender. Junior Mo Lewis (6-6, 240) has looked like the program’s most improved player during preseason and provides a physical presence in terms of rebounding and setting screens. Junior Dom Antonelli (6-1, 190) has shown he can make some outside shots.

Navy has brought in 10 freshmen, most of whom will spend this season developing on the junior varsity. DeChellis thinks Davis and forward Tyler Riemersma (6-8, 215) could be ready to contribute right away.

“We’re looking for that second wave off the bench. As a staff, we’re trying to figure out who is going to help this team in a reserve role,” he said.

Navy has only enjoyed one winning season (19-14 in 2015-2016) under DeChellis, who left Penn State in May, 2011 to take over the struggling program. That is why the coaching staff is cautioning the players to not get too confident about being picked third in the Patriot League.

“That’s always a concern, but my feedback to the players is 'What have we done?' We haven’t done anything. We really haven’t accomplished our goals at all,” DeChellis said. “Some days I think we’ve put this thing together well enough to have a chance to get something done. This is the first year that I can say we have a team that is capable of capturing the championship. I think we do have a chance if things fall into place.”

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