This isn't going to be a super in-depth post, but I want to acknowledge that Bulls Madness happened, that it was generally pretty cool, and that we learned some things from it:
I've made no attempt to hide my admiration for Coach Jack, but I had only ever seen her in action twice before today. Quite simply, the woman is out to build the UB community and will do whatever she needs to do to get it there. Her impassioned speeches to open the night and later urge the crowd to show up for women's games had people buzzing, and her commentary during the women's scrimmage was hilarious and had both the crowd and her own team on the floor laughing. It's clear that she loves her team and her team loves her.
Men's Basketball in the post-McCrea Era:
Coach Hurley was quick to point out that today's scrimmage from his team would be 'less of an all-star game' then last year, when our first look at the new coach's system showed a marked difference in pace from past years. But despite that warning, today's glimpse into the team revealed another step towards an even looser, free-flowing offense. Every UB big man handled the ball away from the basket at some point and several took outside shots.
Additionally, another year under Hurley has the guards playing more aggressive, as well. In a post for Hustle Belt's Top 25 players countdown that will publish tomorrow I point out that 2013 Shannon Evans was UB's first real slasher and rim-attacker since Rodney Pierce. Between freshmen Lamonte Bearden and Mory Diane and the increased space on the floor thanks to more mobile bigs, I think we'll see a lot more guards at the rim this year.
As in last year's Bulls Madness, the dunk contest was a chance to showcase some of the newer Bulls. While familiar face Justin Moss twice jumped over Shannon Evans for more of the low-post power we saw from him last year, it was junior transfer Rodell Wigginton teaming up with fellow countryman Jarryn Skeete to win the contest on a pretty off-the-side-of-the-backboard 180.
The slight would-be-sophomore was nowhere to be seen and isn't listed on any rosters anywhere. I can't off the top of my head remember any news, nor find anything online, though his Twitter account is still relatively UB-centric. Whatever happened, I hope it's best for Deyshonee.
Raheem Johnson and Ikenna Smart make Justin Moss look small. That is absolutely terrifying.— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) October 17, 2014
The New Guys:
We all figured that Bobby Hurley would be able to attract talented guards to Amherst, and Shannon Evans' strong freshman season saw him earn upwards of eight points, three assists, and two rebounds a game. Incoming guards Lamonte Bearden and Mory Diane had impressive high school careers in Milwaukee and Detroit, respectively, but it's the size of the new forwards that's stunning to me.
The picture above is of the freshmen, which in addition to Bearden and Diane include swingman Bobby Frasco, guard Christian Pino and forward Ikenna Smart (6'10'), but add in transfers Jamir Hanner (6'8") and Raheem Johnson (6'10') and there is a ton of body on this team. Effectively the UB frontcourt lost Javon McCrea and gained three guys as tall or taller than him. Will it be a seamless transition? Of course not, but the team has quickly gotten bigger across the board.
"We won't go two minutes without letting Kristen Sharkey touch the ball this year. You know this a drill!" -@UBCoachJack on commentary— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) October 17, 2014
Women's Forwards, too:
It's not just the men who are blessed with forwards ready to contribute. In the women's scrimmage Christa Baccas frequently brought the ball upcourt on the dribble, and Coach Jack reminded us about Kristen Sharkey with the quote above, which was shortly followed by "That's not a secret; you can tell all our opponents. They can't stop her!" and a bit of a cackle.
Of course, the women always have Alexus Malone, too.
SO GOOD to see Rachel Gregory on the floor again #bullsmadness— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) October 17, 2014
The Return of Rachel Gregory...:
As a freshman Rachel Gregory scored nearly 11 points per game while finishing second on the team in minutes played. As an academic sophomore she missed the entire season to a knee injury, but seems healthy and moved fluidly today.
... and the projected women's starting lineup:
Add Gregory into a returning foursome of Mackenzie Loesing (team leader with 16 ppg), Alexus Malone (8 ppg, 6 rpg), Kristen Sharkey (team lead in minutes, second in points, lead in rebounds), and Christa Baccas (second in minutes and rebounds, team leader in blocks, 7 ppg) and you've got a balanced starting lineup that collectively averaged 55 points in their most recent seasons. 55 points from your starters will get you pretty far.
The highlight of the night:
Without a doubt the highlight of the night was sophomore Joanna Smith in the three-point shooting competition. Going up against defending Bulls Madness champ Loesing, men's sharpshooter Will Regan, and newcomer Mory Diane, Smith electrified Alumni Arena by hitting 14 threes in her first 60-second round. She had her teammates bouncing and jumping all over the place - the lead picture for this post captures the emotion - and nearly matched it in the final, finishing with 10 triples to a white hot Regan, who hit 17.
I've been following UB Basketball twice as long as any other sport here, and it's back, and this is how I feel right now: