Pat Skerry has quickly remade Towson's basketball roster

Pat Skerry
(Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)

Pat Skerry is in a perpetual rush these days at Towson University. If he isn't recruiting a prospect who can make the basketball team better, he's interviewing a strength-and-conditioning coach who can make it stronger.

If he's not doing those things, he's texting his coaching staff to ensure that all plans are in motion.

"I'm a big text guy with the staff," the Tigers' new coach said. "Are we doing this? Are we doing that? Everything has to be perfect. The reality is, it's not going to be, so we've got to figure out how to make it perfect."

Three months into his first job as a Division I head coach, Skerry, 41, is still moving pieces into place. In short order, the longtime assistant has ratcheted up the skill level at Towson, along with attitudes and work ethics.

On a team that went 4-26 last season, that endured its 15th consecutive losing record, this probably didn't take much. But last week, when Skerry secured his second Big East Conference transfer — 6-foot-7 Jerrelle Benimon of Georgetown — it signaled the first real warning shot at the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Tigers don't intend to be the CAA's doormat any longer. Skerry received a five-year, $335,000 contract to make sure that era ended. He made that point quickly when he met with holdover players last April.

"It seemed like he was all about business," said RaShawn Polk, one of just two players left who actually played for Towson last season and its only returning starter. "He was ready to win games."

With a roster depleted by injury, academic failure and one dismissal, the Tigers lost all 19 CAA games they played last season under Pat Kennedy. According to players who were there, it was an undisciplined, uncommitted group of players.

"There was a lot of individualism last year, and not everybody was together," said Erique Gumbs, a 6-9 redshirt sophomore who played in all 30 games. "Last year there would be a bunch of guys who wouldn't be here working out [in the summer]. This year, everybody's here, everybody's on time. As a team, we're able to talk to each other and hold each other accountable."

When six new recruits this week joined two Kennedy recruits (guards Will Adams of Philadelphia and Kris Walden of Richmond, Va.) and five players already in school, Skerry had his first Towson team at hand.

Several of the newcomers either passed up major Division I schools or top CAA teams to play for the Tigers. Jervon Pressley, a gifted 6-8 forward who got his release from Georgia State when it changed coaches, chose Towson over Missouri. Kelvin Amayo, a 6-4 combination guard from Hillside, N.J., eschewed offers from Providence and Seton Hall.

When Mike Burwell decided to leave South Florida and the Big East in the spring, the 6-5 guard from East Brunswick, N.J., opted for Towson and the CAA. Benimon, from Warrenton, Va., passed on a second chance to play at Old Dominion last week. He and Burwell will sit out the 2011-12 season under NCAA transfer rules, and they will have two seasons of eligibility left.

"Like anything, you get lucky in recruiting," said Skerry, who has served as a Big East assistant at Pittsburgh and Providence. "It's timing and everything. This is the right fit for Jerrelle for a lot of reasons."

Benimon had two unproductive years at Georgetown. The right fit at Towson included a bigger role.

"I think Jerrelle felt he could have a really big role in the building of this program," said Luke Murray, one of Skerry's assistants. "I think Jerrelle felt, in his transfer year, he had to make a decision that was best for him in terms of where he thought he could flourish on the floor."

Polk, a 6-2 senior guard, was eager for his new teammates to arrive: "It definitely excites me a lot to see a good group of guys coming in, dedicated, ready to win, working hard. We need that to win games."

Gumbs said he expects a smooth transition.

"I think it's good we have a lot of new people coming in ready to play," he said. "There's definitely going to be a lot of competitiveness through the summer and fall because everybody is going to be battling as teammates and to prove themselves."

Skerry, meanwhile, has to pull all these divergent personalities together and create a sense of togetherness that has eluded Towson teams. Three other times in his previous 19 years as coach, Skerry has been involved in major overhauls, where his school added six scholarship players or more.

It's about learning new roles, new disciplines, new schemes. It isn't easy, and there are no shortcuts.

"We're just trying to come in and implement our system," Skerry said. "I think the staff has done a really good job of working and getting things organized, a good job of recruiting. [But] we haven't done anything yet. We've ultimately got to win basketball games and graduate guys.

"Hopefully, we're laying some blueprints down that are going to allow us to do that. I believe we are. We haven't done anything yet."



Towson's incoming recruits

Player Size, class, position Skinny

Will Adams 6-4, 190, Fr. G Originally recruited by Pat Kennedy

Kelvin Amayo 6-4, 210, Fr. G Excellent penetrator, passer

x-Jerrelle Benimon 6-7, 237, Jr. F Perfect power forward

x-Mike Burwell 6-5, 210, Jr. G Played 50 games at South Florida

Marcus Damas 6-7, 200, Soph. F Juco transfer with 3 years of eligibility

Deon Jones 6-5, 190,Fr. F Delaware player of the year in 2011

Jervon Pressley 6-8, 230 Fr. F Great athlete with 7-5 wing span

Kris Walden 6-1, 165 Fr. G Recruited by Kennedy

x-Division I transfers, eligible to play in 2012-13.