The Hawks went 7-23 during the 2011-12 season, giving Allen a record of 34-89 at UMES. But Allen, the former Virginia Tech, Tennessee State and Howard coach, is optimistic that things will be better for the Hawks starting this year.
Joining those five veterans will be an “infusion of new blood.” Allen has added six players to his roster: Jarrod Davis, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound freshman forward from Lakewood, N.J.; Kevin Mays, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound freshman forward from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Troy Snyder, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound junior forward from Chicago who transferred last year from Wisconsin-Green Bay; Donald Williams, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior guard from Hyattsville who played at Prince George’s County Community College; Kyree Jones, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore guard from Indianapolis who comes from Kankakee (Ill.) Community College via Northern Illinois; and Francis Obumneme, a 6-foot-10 junior center from Nigeria who played at Monroe (N.Y.) Community College.
Allen spoke with The Sun last week about UMES’ newcomers, the MEAC, expectations for the Hawks and more.
We’ll start with the newcomers. Jarrod Davis is a guy who had some high-major interest at one point in his high school career. How did you land him and what do you expect from him?
He’s … a kid that had some injuries or health issues, but we really feel positive that he’s gotten past that. He had to have some surgery on his knee. The prognosis for his recovery is going well. We look forward to him being 100 percent and ready to go by December in terms of being able to play. We’re counting on him. Like you said, he had some interest from some high-major schools. I want to say he had committed to Seton Hall. But he’s really just a talented player. He’s kind of a 3/4. He has great offensive skills and explosiveness around the basket. The big thing is, hopefully he’ll be 100 percent recovered from his knee surgery and get back and regain that kind of physical ability that he had before the injury. He’s a very talented and skilled player. I’m excited about him coming in and really helping us as we get into MEAC play.
What do you see in Kevin Mays, a 6-4 forward from New York?
He’s 6-3, but a very powerful 6-3. He’s kind of a wing, but he’s just physically strong. It’s not so much the weightlifting and all that, but he’s just physically strong. He’s got a nice, strong, wide body and can score inside and out. What I think he has with his strength and quickness … is the ability to be a really good defender. A lot of times we have conservations – and not just with you, but fans and others – about how many points somebody could average and what they do on the offensive end. But I’m trying to put together a team with a lot of special athletes, and Kevin could be that kid [defensively]. Obviously he’s got offensive skills and is a tough kid, a strong kid that has the ability to be a really strong defender for you. He’ll maybe be able to guard bigger guys, but also guard guys that are a little bit smaller. He’ll bring a lot of versatility to the table once he gets squared away.
Next on the list is Troy Snyder from Chicago. What’s his story?
Troy sat out last year because of the NCAA rule. He transferred from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He played ball in the South Suburban League up in the Chicago area. At 6-6, he’s a very skilled player, a really solid wing. He runs well and can really score around the basket. He has pretty good range, up to 3-point range on his shot. And he’s athletic. He’s one of those kids that I look to be a very solid and consistent scorer for us. But he also does a good job rebounding. He’s more of a small forward type of player with good ball-handling skills. Again, just like talking about Kevin Mays, I think Troy has the ability to be a very good defender, too. He has good quickness and lateral movement. That’s something you look for in somebody with good offensive ability. We’re really hoping he’ll be a really good defender for us.
You’ve got an in-state guy in Donald Williams, who played at Prince George’s Community College. What do you like about him?
Oh man. Donald, he can really shoot the basketball. He’s got range past the 3-point line. He has other skills, too. He can put it on the floor and get to the basket. As an offensive player, he’s a guy who really scores. That’s kind of his mentality. He can score the basketball. He’s a kid who comes off screens. He’s got great form on his shot, great quickness. He’s really a scorer and a shooter, but not just a shooter. He has good skills, and I think throughout my lineup this year, it will be more athletic than what we’ve had in the past. Donald definitely fits the mode as a scorer and shooter, but also a very athletic player. He’s got great athleticism.
What do you see in Kyree Jones?
Kyree is another kid who’s a point guard but can play some over at the 2. He’s a big, strong kid at 6-3, another good shooter and scorer. He’s also a guy that has great ball-handling skills. He had some higher looks at one time. The University of Houston was very interested in him. He’s just a very solid player. He’s a strong, powerful point guard that has the ability to score. He’s a lead guard that can score. He’s also someone that can make the other people around him better. For a point guard, he has a really nice body. He has a big, strong body. That’s one thing I like about him. He’s also an excellent shooter. Really right from the beginning, Kyree has had a really solid impact on our entire team. [We're excited about] just having a point guard that can really get out there and be a leader and do the things that you expect from your point guard, but also be a more than capable scorer. He can really score the basketball, also.
Any other new faces?
One other kid we signed late is Francis Obumneme. He’s from Nigeria but he played junior college ball at Monroe up in Rochester (N.Y.). He’s 6-10, about 250. He’s got excellent size and is more of a defensive presence right now. But he has pretty good offensive skills around the basket.
You lost a lot of experience and production in Tyler Hines, Hillary Haley and Percy Woods. How do you make up for that?
Well, we hope the infusion of new blood [helps]. We struggled at the end of last year. Some of that was we had some injuries, some people were out, so we didn’t finish. It’s really disappointing that we didn’t finish strong. I think the fact that we’ve got these new kids coming in -- you hear it a lot, it’s a cliché – but we really feel like it’s a new day. With the kids we’ve talked about and all the kids we do have returning, we really feel like we’ve got a really solid team with pretty good depth. When you’re struggling a little bit, you want that infusion of new blood, new talent. The rejuvenation of our juices, so to speak. … We’re excited about this season. With the new kids we have and the kids returning, I really feel like we’ve got the basis for really having a productive year. … We really feel like we’ve got good, young talent, and the junior college kids. We really feel like it will be a good year for us, and it’s the beginning of really turning the program around to the [point where we’re] in the top tier in our conference over the next few years.
After the offseason practices, who do you expect to make a big jump this season?
Well, even though he didn’t play last year, he practiced with us the entire year, Troy Snyder. I think Troy is just a very solid basketball player. He’s somebody that I think can be a leader for us out there. I really feel that he showed tremendous improvement. Another young man who played a lot toward the end of the year, Ron Spencer. He’s a 6-10 kid, and he does the little things. He’s gotten stronger, picked up a few pounds. He’s got some great basketball skills. You start talking about those two guys who are all-purpose players for us. Last year, a guy who started a number of games and broke his hand and missed the last six or seven games is Ishaq Pitts. He’s a big, strong kid who can play the 1, 2 and 3. Even in a small lineup, at 6-4 he can play the 4. And then we had a kid Louis Bell. When things went bad for us, both Lou and Ishaq broke their hands in the same game against Howard. Lou is a capable scorer. He was coming along. The new kids, we’re really counting on.
One kid I didn’t mention that also had a great summer and is working hard to get better is a 6-10 kid named T.J. Kosile. He played well for us and got a lot better. He’s been able to work out in the offseason. In the summer we had six or seven guys getting stronger. T.J. is one of those guys. I really feel it helped our new blood, with four or five kids returning. We’re getting a pretty good nucleus of kids that can get out at the start of the season and get the ball rolling. We open up our season in the tournament out there in Hawaii. So I’m hoping that trip, being far away from home, helps guys bond and do a pretty good job of getting a lot of good experience. I’m excited. Hopefully we can do a lot better than what we did. Like I said, for a number of reasons, we just had a lousy finish last year. You always remember how you finished. Last year we just didn’t finish well for a number of reasons. People say life is 80 percent looking back and 20 percent moving forward. We’re looking forward 80 percent.
Did you think the program would be further along by now?
A little bit. I thought last year, if you know me, I’m pretty candid about things. I thought last year we did not take a significant step forward. In fact, with injuries, we didn’t do as well as the year before that. After my second year here, I really thought we had things going in the right direction. I thought my third year we kind of treaded water a little bit. Last year, for a number of reasons, we didn’t get the production out of the seniors I thought we would. We had some injuries. It was Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong will go wrong. But I thought last year we didn’t make the progress that I thought we needed to make, hence some changes and the infusion of new blood. I really feel good about the guys coming into the program. I know myself and my staff. We’ve worked extremely hard the last year to recruit the kind of talent I think you’re going to need to win in the MEAC.
The MEAC is an underpublicized at times, sometimes underappreciated, conference. Every now and then people take notice, like when Norfolk State beats Missouri in the first round [of the NCAA tournament]. A few years [prior to that game], Coppin beat South Carolina, and Hampton, more recently, beat Iowa State. We don’t get many chances in the MEAC to get on the national level. But for somebody like yourself that follows the sport, they don’t talk about it in College Park, but Morgan beat the University of Maryland. Sometimes our league, we’re out there and people don’t really take notice. But having coached in the MEAC for a number of years – this is my second stint after I was the coach at Howard and had some decent teams there – hopefully we’re building the program to the level of success I had at Tennessee State and Virginia Tech.
I consider myself a veteran coach. We have a very, very strong league in the MEAC, especially when you’re talking about point guards, shooting guards and small forwards. Sometimes at the national stage, the higher-level teams have more solid inside players at power forward and center. But I’m just really excited about the league in and of itself. There are a number of good teams there. Hopefully we can get up in the top tier of the league. I know we’re making progress toward having a much better program, and building the program to the level of being considered in the top tier within the league.