Bulls fans didn't get the best of news last week when Lamonte Bearden announced that he's transferring from the University at Buffalo. The soon to be junior guard made a huge mark on the last two years of UB Basketball and for many it's tough to see one of the best players on the team leave for greener pastures. Although Bearden may be gone, that doesn't mean Buffalo won't succeed without him and there are many reasons why.
Keep Calm and Look at the Roster
First and foremost, let's take a quick look at what a Bearden-less UB Basketball team looks like:
|PG||Christian Pino||Dontay Caruthers||Tyler Moffe|
|SG||Willie Conner||Nikola Rakićević||James Jones|
|CJ Massinburg||Graham Dolan|
|PF||David Kadiri||Nick Perkins||Quate McKinzie|
|C||Raheem Johnson||Ikenna Smart||Brock Bertram|
The table above should help put Bulls fans at ease for this year. There is such a high amount of talent returning to the point where Nate Oats still has 12 guys that can make contributions on any given night. UB had this kind of depth last season and it wasn't even used all of the time. Oats typically played with only 9-10 guys depending on the night.
Depth isn't the only positive here. The MAC Championship cast is almost back in it's entirety and the crucial pieces are still here. "Big Shot" Blake Hamilton returns to add on to an already surprising first year with the team. Hamilton could easily grab a few triple-doubles this year thanks to him being one of the better all-around players in recent memory. If Willie Conner is more consistent at shooting the three ball this year, then the lethality of UB's offense will be a force to reckon with.
CJ "Buckets" Massinburg and Nick Perkins are returning as experienced sophomores. We've all seen what they're capable of and if they can do that consistently, the MAC should watch out. Perkins has already received praise this summer:
Watching @UBmenshoops practice. 1 takeaway: Nick Perkins looks amazing. His body is sculpted, big difference from last year.— Mark Gaughan (@gggaughan) July 19, 2016
Kadiri, Rakićević, and Smart shouldn't be underestimated either. Kadiri may not have had the offensive game last season, but his post defense was some of the best on the team and that shouldn't be taken for granted. It's been a year away from home and Nikola Rakićević should finally be acclimated with American Basketball. Finally, Ikenna Smart has shown so much promise despite his inexperience in basketball. Smart has a high ceiling and could very well be a top big-man in the conference one day.
Remember Raheem Johnson? The #NateOatsPipeline is still alive as the Romulus grad will play after taking a medical redshirt last season due to a nagging foot injury. Johnson was showing a higher developed offensive game before his season ended on top of his already strong post defense. Raheem is probably one of the most forgotten pieces to this upcoming season and should shine a light of hope for UB fans.
Last season was quite the indication that Nate Oats and his staff can recruit extremely well. Last year's class proved to be successful but this one is arguably the greatest in the history of UB Basketball. Oats has brought in Brock Bertram, Quate McKinzie, James Jones, and a JUCO recruit in the form of Dontay Caruthers.
Bertram and McKinzie are both three star recruits. Although Bertram could get red-shirted for this season, both of these players may be able to bring in an immediate impact. Bertram will be one of the tallest players in the MAC at 7-0 and has a soft finishing touch. McKinzie's finishing ability has been regarded as impeccable along with a strong shooting presence.
The recruit that has been getting the most attention since he committed is James Jones. As a shooting guard with an all-around game, Jones has received praise from many corners of Chicago media and dubbed as a steal for UB. Many expected him to go to a high major team.
The one spot will be fine
With Lamonte leaving, it's could be tough to imagine who will take the reigns of point guard. In my opinion, I don't think there's anything to worry about. Blake Hamilton may be a 6-6 small forward but he showed last season that he can play four of the five positions on the court. If needed Hamilton could most definitely dish from the one spot. Not only would he be efficient, he'd be a gigantic matchup problem if he were to do so.
The addition of Dontay Caruthers and the return of CJ Massinburg should also halt any worries. When Jalen Harris decommitted from Buffalo, Oats and staff realized that another point guard was probably needed. Like Jones, Caruthers is getting praise for playing well so far this summer. On the other hand you have CJ Buckets. Since coming to Buffalo, Oats has worked on developing CJ into a combo guard. Like Hamilton, CJ has shown he can take over point guard duties when necessary.
Have you already forgotten last year?
A year ago, Buffalo was doomed. MAC Player of the year Justin Moss was dismissed from the University and second leading scorer Shannon Evans jetted off to Arizona State while Torian Graham soon followed suit. Maurice O'Field and Nate Navigato also decommitted from the program. To top it all off, Nate Oats was coaching high school only two years prior.
Everything that happened seemed like a recipe for disaster. Fortunately it proved to be naught in the end. Oats brought in the likes of Hamilton, Massinburg, Conner, and many key players in last seasons team. It was a bumpy out of conference showing but the Bulls came together and played just as well if not better at points than the year prior in MAC play. Considering the pandemonium Oats faced last season, this is nothing.
Lamonte Bearden was a great player, but his departure is not the end of the world.