Junior forwards Duane Johnson and Terrance King, both preseason All-PSAC East picks, headline the 2011-12 East Stroudsburg University men’s basketball team that will look for the Warriors’ third straight PSAC semifinal appearance and the second conference championship in school history this winter.
Johnson and King, the only duo in school history to both score 500 points by the start of their junior year, have played key roles on the Warriors’ first two trips to the PSAC Final Four – Johnson as the team’s top scorer and a second team All-PSAC East selection last season, and King as one of the PSAC’s top shot blockers and the PSAC East Freshman of the Year during the 2009-10 NCAA Tournament season.
Both will assume even larger roles this year with the graduation of three seniors – Mike Tobin, Micah Covert and Mike DeMarco – and the loss of sophomore guard Will Brown to a season-ending injury suffered this fall.
Head coach Jeff Wilson, entering his 10th season, has led the Warriors to five PSAC Tournament bids in the last six years to return the program to its status as an annual contender in the PSAC East.
Wilson was on the bench for nine seasons under Sal Mentesana from 1988 through 1996, which included the school’s only PSAC championship to date in 1990. As he finishes his first decade as head coach, Wilson and assistant coach Justin Potts look to turn back the clock for a memorable season at Koehler Fieldhouse.
The return of senior Russell Graham III is a great start for the Warriors, who played just six games with their starting point guard last season. A transfer from New Hampshire and one of the Division I leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio two years ago, Graham averaged 10.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists in six starts and played three minutes in a tournament at Gannon on December 29 before missing the rest of the season due to injury.
While Covert and DeMarco performed admirably in sharing the point guard spot, Graham’s experience will drive the Warriors’ up-tempo offense and his on-ball defense will key the full-court, pressing defense that has been a hallmark of ESU basketball under Wilson and Mentesana for more than 20 years.
Johnson emerged as ESU’s top all-around player after scoring 6.9 points per game as a freshman, leading the team in scoring (12.4 ppg), ranking second in steals (41) and blocks (20), third in rebounding (4.9 rpg) and fourth in assists (50) while playing next to fellow All-PSAC East second team selection Mike Tobin.
He has scored 555 points in his first two seasons while doing a little bit of everything, shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 72.7 percent from the line on 198 attempts and 36.8 percent from long distance with 25 three’s. He had four 20-point games last season, all on the road, including a career-high 26 points in ESU’s 83-70 win at Kutztown in the PSAC quarterfinals.
King also made a jump from his freshman to sophomore year and was third in the PSAC with 2.0 blocks per game. He raised his averages in scoring (10.3 from 8.8), rebounding (5.0 from 4.4) and free throw percentage (65.1 from 57.9) and is shooting almost 56 percent from the field through two seasons. He has scored 542 points – 263 as a freshman and 279 as a sophomore – with four double-doubles and should be a threat for a double-double every night as a junior.
Senior forward Eric Bryan, a three-year letterwinner, moves into the starting lineup full-time this season after averaging 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds a year ago. He brings a physical presence to the four-spot, held by Tobin over the last two years, and will be counted on for interior defense and rebounding alongside King in the frontcourt.
Redshirt sophomore Dan Clapp and freshmen Kevin Anema (Pocono Mountain West) and Lamont Tillery (Pocono Mountain East) will play key roles behind Bryan and King. Clapp played in eight games last season and will back up both spots, while the quicker Tillery and 7-0 Anema will play at the four and five, respectively.
Tillery and Anema faced each other in last year’s Mountain Valley Conference championship game, won by Anema and Pocono Mountain West, and now team up for the Warriors. Tillery was All-MVC in basketball and football as a wide receiver and averaged 15 points and nine rebounds per game. Anema had 127 blocks as a senior while averaging 11 points, seven rebounds and 5.5 blocks.
A host of players will see time in the backcourt with Graham starting at the point, freshmen Whis Grant and Matt Tobin set for action at the shooting guard spot vacated by Brown’sinjury, and Johnson as a swingman or small forward.
Graham will be backed up by junior Blair Ramsey and Tobin, the younger brother of Mike Tobin who was the Warriors’ top rebounder and second-leading scorer over the last two seasons.
Ramsey played in 27 games and averaged 11 minutes per night, posting 2.9 points and 2.2 assists per game in his first season at ESU after transferring from Division III Adrian College (Mich.).
Brown averaged 8.8 points off the bench last season, going 48-for-100 from the three-point line to set the freshman record for made three-pointers and the school record for three-point percentage. Wilson will turn to a pair of top freshmen to fill the void in Grant and Tobin.
Grant played on a championship team at Plymouth Whitemarsh in 2010, contributing 17 points and 11 rebounds to beat Will Brown’s Penn Wood team for the AAAA state title. He spent a prep year at St. Thomas More (Conn.) which won the National Prep Championship last year.
Matt Tobin will bring a scorer’s mentality to Koehler Fieldhouse, setting the Sussex County record with 2,350 career points at Hopatcong (N.J.) while Mike was a four-year letterwinner for the Warriors. He averaged 27 points as a senior and led his team to two straight conference championships.
Redshirt junior Matt Labick, first team All-Suburban One at Plymouth Whitemarsh, and redshirt freshman Muhamadou Kaba, first team All-Super Essex Conference at East Orange(N.J.), will also see minutes at shooting guard.
Junior Gerald Bridges, Jr., a high school teammate of Ramsey at University of Detroit Jesuit HS in Michigan, has lettered the last two seasons as a backup guard and moves to a backup spot behind Johnson at small forward. Sophomore Zechariah Runkle played safety for the Warriors’ football team for two seasons and will add a physical presence similar to the role he played back-to-back District championship teams at Harrisburg HS.
ESU was picked second in the PSAC East preseason poll and has played two Division I teams during its preparation for the season, a closed scrimmage at Lehigh and exhibition at Rider.
The challenging preseason slate will help the Warriors get ready for the Wolf’s Bus Lines Tournament at Shippensburg on the opening weekend of the season, when they take on two of the top three teams in the WVIAC in national semifinalist West Liberty, ranked No. 6 by the NCBA, and Charleston.
After a tune-up against PSU-Schuylkill in their home opener on November 15, the Warriors begin their 22-game PSAC schedule against Gannon and Clarion on November 19 and 20 at Koehler Fieldhouse.
This marks the first time that crossover games will count towards the conference schedule, with ESU also hosting defending PSAC champion IUP and California (December 9-10) and making trips to Slippery Rock and Mercyhurst (December 3-4) and Lock Haven and Edinboro (January 6-7) for conference action.
The traditional 14-game schedule against the PSAC East tips off against rival Mansfield on January 11. A key stretch of the season hits on February 1 when ESU plays three straight games on the road at Cheyney, preseason favorite Kutztown and Mansfield before returning to Koehler for three of its final five games of the regular season.