CNU basketball coach John Krikorian optimistic as debut approaches

John Krikorian looked none the worse for the wear. He'd driven 500-plus miles, arrived home at 2 a.m., awakened at 6:30 for Sesame Street — ah, fatherhood — and hit the office by 9.

His debut as Christopher Newport's basketball coach was rapidly approaching, and his energy and intensity were palpable.

"We basically have 17 freshmen," Krikorian said of the Captains' roster. "When you talk about implementing an entire system of offense and defense that is unlike what they've been used to either in high school or here, there's nobody on the court who can step up and say, 'Do it like this,' because nobody knows, including my assistant coaches.


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"So it's like a one-man wrecking crew for three hours a day (in practice). Fortunately for me, I've been through this process, so I feel comfortable."

Prior to succeeding C.J. Woollum, CNU's coach for 26 years and still its athletic director, Krikorian guided the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy program. His four teams were a combined 65-42, and last season the Mariners earned their first NCAA Division III tournament bid since 2003, advancing to the second round.

The Captains appeared in 17 NCAA tournaments under Woollum, and Krikorian's quest to enhance that tradition begins Friday when CNU hosts Lynchburg College. The opener starts a five-games-in-nine-days stretch that will test the Captains against national-caliber opponents such as St. John Fisher from New York and Virginia Wesleyan.

"Our vision here is to be the very best," Krikorian said. "So we have to go out and play the best early and see how far we have to go. I don't think by any stretch we're going to be ready. I think we'll compete … but you want to get a barometer of what we need to work on, especially for when we get into the conference."

Krikorian is immersing himself in CNU's USA South Conference, hence his grueling roundtrip Monday to Ferrum College in southwestern Virginia. The Panthers were hosting Lynchburg, a chance for Krikorian to scout not only his opening opponent but also the league's preseason favorite.

The Captains are defending USA South tournament champions, and led by junior guard Conley Taylor and senior forward Mike Green, they return four of the eight players who averaged between 5.1 and 13.2 points last season. Add talented newcomers such as freshman guard Tra Benefield, and Krikorian envisions similar balance.

One disappointment: Wing Luc Atangana, a transfer from Division II University of Charleston in West Virginia and a former teammate of Virginia Tech's Erick Green at Paul VI High in Fairfax, will miss the season with a knee injury.

CNU scrimmaged Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee, and "in the first one we showed our youth and immaturity," Krikorian said. "In the second one we took steps forward. … That leaves me pretty optimistic heading into the season."

Krikorian teaches constant pressure on defense and proper spacing on offense. The offense is more concepts than set plays, "and that can be very ugly early because there's not a lot of set rules," he said. "It's much more feeling the defense, reading and reacting."

Krikorian's read on his new school is a campus crazy about sports, from football to field hockey.

"I haven't seen anything like it at any level," he said. "I haven't been in the ACC, but at places (I've been an assistant) like Penn, Lafayette, Navy, there's a lot of enthusiasm about their sports. But I've never been to a volleyball game with 1,000 people, nor watched a volleyball game and been excited by the play.

"They're good, they're talented. The student-body has really gotten into it, and it's exciting to be around that kind of energy."

In fact, Woollum will miss Krikorian's opener to travel with the volleyball team to St. Louis, where the Captains are competing in the NCAA Elite Eight for the second consecutive year.

"I'd go to St. Louis, too," Krikorian said with a smile. "Those girls are much more exciting to watch than our team."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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