Pat Skerry

Pat Skerry (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun / April 9, 2013)

In his first season at Towson, Pat Skerry’s squad labored through a 1-31 campaign. Then came the well-documented 17-game turnaround, a single-season NCAA Division I record.

So what can be expected from the Tigers in Skerry’s third year? In all likelihood, probably an even better season than 2012-13.

Towson returns four starters – senior power forward Jerrelle Benimon, senior small forward Marcus Damas, senior shooting guard Mike Burwell and sophomore point guard Jerome Hairston – in addition to valuable rotation players in junior wing Rafriel Guthrie and sophomore forward/center Timajh Parker-Rivera.  

Skerry spoke to The Baltimore Sun last week about his returning core, the Tigers’ newcomers, different expectations and more.

After two offseasons of lots of turnover, this year should be different for your team. The only departures were center Bilal Dixon (graduated) and guard Kris Walden (transferred). How does it feel to bring back the vast majority of your roster?

It’s good. We’re actually in practices right now because we’re going up to Canada in August. We’re much further ahead in terms of schemes and habits and experience. All those types of things.

You’re bringing in two freshmen in John Davis, a 6-foot-5 forward from Philadelphia, and Walter Foster, a 6-foot-8 forward from Atlanta. What have you seen out of them so far, and given that you return so much production, how likely is it that either of them will make an impact?

Also in the fall we have a transfer from Vanderbilt, A.J. Astroth. He’s a big guard. He’ll sit out this year.

I’ve been really excited with both of the [freshmen]. Both are very, very physically ready for our level. Foster is a shooter and scorer around the basketball. Davis is kind of a 4-man that we’re transitioning in the summer to the wing. Hopefully he’ll be a versatile, hybrid-type guy for us. Those guys have a chance to help us immediately.

Four McGlynn is another newcomer after redshirting last season following his transfer from Vermont. He was the America East Rookie of the Year and is known for his outside shooting. Do you see him filling a similar role this year for Towson?

He’s gotta shoot 3s. We were [tied for 258th] in the country last year in 3-point shooting. I think he’s going to be [what we need]. He’s a quick, accurate, deep shooter – there’s no doubt about that. That should help our spacing. Anytime a guy sits out, there’s high expectations. So hopefully he can deliver on some of those. Our hope is that he can.

What have you seen, in terms of growth and development, from guys like Benimon, Damas, Hairston, Burwell and Guthrie?

Hairston and Guthrie have been here also and had great summers. Their bodies have improved. Those guys expect to make big jumps. Jerrelle has gotten better – his ball-handling is better. We’ve got a pretty focused and motivated group that is extremely competitive. For us, basketball-wise, we’ve got to take care of the ball better. We’ve got to continue to rebound at the top of our league, which we’ve done. We struggled for a while early in the year. We weren’t on the same page. Maybe we were growing a lot as a group. But the chemistry has improved dramatically. The chemistry and leadership is there.

Is Parker-Rivera going to be the guy to replace Dixon at the 5?

Parker will step right in at the middle. He came in this summer at 230 – last year he was 197. He’s going to make a big jump. He’s a young guy in the program, and guys usually make the big jump starting in their sophomore year. We need a couple of guys to [make jumps] – [junior forward Jamel] Flash, [sophomore forward Barrington] Alston. We should be much deeper than we’ve been.

That leads right into my next question. Barrington Alston, Jamel Flash and redshirt freshman shooting guard Marquis Marshall round out the roster. Any expected jumps from that group?

Yeah, I think Flash and Alston absolutely have a chance if they can defend and rebound. We need size and length. Marquis has a tougher deal. Physically, he’s still a work in progress, but he can really shoot the ball. Plus, we have our entire perimeter back, plus McGlynn.

At least in the beginning of CAA play last year, you probably snuck up on some teams. With so many returners and coming off an 18-win season, that won’t be the case this year. What’s the overall expectation and how do you think the team will be able to handle that?

There are so many good coaches in this league. The league will be back at a high level. From a program standpoint, obviously we’ve made a lot of gains and I’m proud of the fact that we’re not an afterthought anymore. But I told our guys, with expectations comes responsibility. I think we’re ready to handle that. I’m real excited for it. But it’s a different deal when you have expectations. When you’re recruiting guys and trying to build a program, that’s what they’re signing up for.

With more success, your name will continue to be linked with other jobs, like Minnesota last spring. What do you tell your team and recruits about your future at Towson?

I would be very surprised, based on what’s going on at Towson, if we’re not able to be here a long time and build something. I’m more motivated than ever. We’re building something special. I love my president, love the people around the program. We’ve got a great athletic administration staff and there’s going to be a good AD in there. I’m working at a good place and working with good players.

mbracken@baltsun.com

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