Point guard Hasan Abdullah must become an assertive floor leader who can create for himself and others.
Forward George Kiernan needs to develop into a go-to scorer who can do more than just shoot 3-pointers.
Pivot man Evan Wieck has to find a way to evolve into a reliable low-post threat, able to finish off set plays as opposed to just putting back offensive rebounds.
Navy men’s basketball lost a lot of offense to graduation and those three returning players are the most obvious candidates to fill the void.
Abdullah and Wieck are the lone returning starters as Navy graduated forward Tom Lacey along with wing guards Shawn Anderson and Bryce Dulin. Anderson and Dulin were one-two on the team in scoring last season and averaged 23 points between them. Lacey led the Mids in rebounding and contributed just shy of nine points per game.
Head coach Ed DeChellis has determined three starting spots going into Tuesday’s season opener at Old Dominion. Abdullah will be the point guard, Kiernan will play the four position on the floor while Wieck will be in the middle.
DeChellis said late last week the two starters on the wing were still up in the air, although there is a strong possibility that sophomore Cam Davis will likely be in the lineup to begin the contest at Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
“We’re still somewhat in flux. Early on, I think the wing positions will be manned by committee,” DeChellis said.
Replacing the lost scoring will be important for Navy, which boasts an impressive 16-0 record when totaling 70 points or more over the past two seasons.
It’s ready or not here they come for the Midshipmen, who also lost several reserves with point guard Nourse Fox graduating, forward Tyler Riemersma transferring to Augustana College and forward Mo Lewis leaving the program.
“I don’t know if you are ever ready as a coach,” DeChellis said when asked about beginning the regular season. “I think in terms of offenses and defenses we have enough stuff in. Now it’s about execution and seeing if certain players can perform.”
Abdullah is the most accomplished among the returning players with 59 career starts under his belt. The 6-foot junior averaged almost 10 points per game and ranked second on the squad with 101 assists last season.
DeChellis agreed that Abdullah must score a bit more as a senior while also being aggressive driving the ball and dishing in order to help others get open shots. Abdullah, who is fast with quick hands, swiped 125 steals as a sophomore and junior. The Alabama native will be tasked with harassing the opposing point guard and making it difficult for him to run the offense.
“Hasan really affects the game defensively and we need him to do that more than ever,” DeChellis said. “I’ve challenged Hasan to lead the league in steals.”
Kiernan has been somewhat of a 3-point shooting specialist during his career, netting most of his points from beyond the arc. When the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder gets hot he can score in bunches, but there have also been prolonged disappearing periods on the offensive end.
“I think George Kiernan needs to be a consistent perimeter shooter and needs to find other ways to score,” DeChellis said. “He needs to drive the ball, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.”
Wieck scored just 5.5 points per game a year ago despite starting all 32 games and averaging nearly 20 minutes. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Texan has been working on refining his low-post moves, adding a jump hook and a drop step.
“We have to get the ball inside to Evan more and we need him to be an effective interior scoring threat,” DeChellis acknowledged.
Sophomore Luke Loehr is going to back up Wieck at the four spot and is a bit more versatile, able to knock down threes and score with his back to the basket. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward was on the Navy development team as a plebe and got into three varsity games.
“I think between Evan and Luke we can get 15-16 points per game. If we can get that type of production out of that position that would be good,” DeChellis said.
Davis played in all 32 games with two starts as a freshman and contributed 5.2 points. The 6-foot-1 Missouri resident must become a more consistent perimeter jump shooter when playing off guard and emerge as more of a playmaker when relieving Abdullah at point guard.
“Cam’s had a solid fall and I’m looking forward to seeing him progress as a sophomore,” DeChellis said. “Cam is a versatile sort of player who can do a lot of things.”
Davis is another candidate to drive the basketball and replace the penetration ability of both Anderson and Dulin.
“A big part of our offense is to penetrate and pitch. We always talk about making that one more pass,” DeChellis said. “We also need to find ways to get to the foul line. Shawn Anderson, Bryce Dulin and Tom Lacey were our top players as far as shooting free throws.”
DeChellis mentioned seniors Ryan Pearson and Dominick Antonelli, sophomore Isaiah Burnett as well as freshmen John Carter Jr. and Greg Summers as other candidates on the wing.
Pearson, the team captain, has played in 72 career games and shown flashes of scoring ability. Burnett, a 6-foot-5 Annapolis resident who prepped at Glenelg Country School, played exclusively on the junior varsity as a plebe. Antonelli has appeared in 11 varsity games over the past two seasons.
Carter, out of Summit High in Spring Hill, Tennessee, led the Naval Academy Prep School basketball team in scoring during the 2017-2018 campaign. The 6-foot-4, 188-pounder has been described by DeChellis as a superb shooter with above-average athleticism.
“John Carter played very well at the prep school and has shown he can really shoot the basketball,” DeChellis said. “He has a good feel for the game and when he takes a perimeter jumper you think it’s going in.”
Summers, a direct-entry recruit from First Academy High in Ocoee, Florida, reminds DeChellis somewhat of Anderson as the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder can take the ball strong to the basket.
Navy has been picked eighth out of 10 teams in the Patriot League preseason poll, not surprising considering the graduation losses and reliance on so many young, inexperienced players.
“I think we’re better than that, but I understand why the other coaches would put us near the bottom. We have a lot of unknowns,” DeChellis said. “I’m anxious to coach this team and see how it improves. We’re going to be young early and the only way we can get better is to gain experience.”
DeChellis, entering his eighth season at the helm, has always preached playing tough defense, rebounding and limiting turnovers as the keys to victory for Navy.
“We need to play to our pillars. When we get after people on defense, out-rebound our opponent and take care of the basketball we can be pretty good,” DeChellis said.
Abdullah, for one, is confident Navy will finish in the upper half of the Patriot League standings. The Midshipmen finished tied for third and earned the No. 3 seed for the Patriot League Tournament in 2017-2018.
“On the outside looking in it’s easy to say we’re young and lost a lot, but I know the type of talent we have and I’ve seen how hard everyone working during the offseason,” Abdullah said. “I feel pretty good going into the season. As far as top to bottom in terms of talent, I don’t think we’re going to have a big drop-off at all.”
Pearson may be the team captain, but Abdullah is the unquestioned floor leader for Navy, which finished 20-12 overall and 11-7 in the Patriot League a year ago.
“My job is to fill that void as far as leadership and experience. I see my role as being a coach on the floor and talking guys through things on both ends,” he said. “I also have to help the younger guys with their mental prep such as studying the film and playbook.” Abdullah has been particular impressed with the development of several sophomores such as the aforementioned Burnett and Loehr along with 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward Danny Ogele among others.
“I feel like our sophomore class is really strong. I see a bunch of those guys stepping up,” he said. We have a lot of young guys with ability and skills. It’s the job of the older guys to push the younger guys to play at the necessary level.”