By David Nostrand
SC Staff Writer
On February 12, the latest NABC poll ranked the East Stroudsburg University men’s basketball team number 9 in the country, which is the highest ranking ever achieved by the ESU basketball program.
Before losing 87-77 to Shippensburg on Saturday, the Warriors were on a 14-game winning streak, tying the longest winning streak in school history.
In all of Division II, ESU is ranked 18 in steals per game (10.0), 10 in turnover margin per game (+5.0), and 17 in scoring margin (+11.4). Warriors head coach Jeff Wilson attributed some of their success this season to their ability to turn the ball over.
“We have been in the tops of the country from a turnover ratio. That’s been a big factor for us. We run and we press in our forty minutes of pressure,” Wilson said. “We’ve been able to turn over our opponents a lot, which allows us to make some easy baskets.”
Wilson also recognized how strong play and leadership from the senior class, specifically Gerald Bridges, Duane Johnson, Terrance King, Dan Clapp and Blair Ramsey, has helped the team this season.
“We have great leadership,” said Wilson. “We have five guys in our senior class, four of which came here as freshman…those guys have given us great senior leadership. They’ve kind of steered the ship to where we’re headed.”
The four seniors who came to ESU as freshman were part of a team that got as high as number 12 in the national rankings back in 2010, and are now the class with the most wins in school history with 81 wins.
Despite the great success of this season, Coach Wilson and the Warriors do not plan to coasting through the rest of the season, as there is still a lot to play for: positioning and seeding in the playoffs (including a possible bye) and a potential NCAA automatic or at-large bid.
To win the PSAC regular season title again, the Warriors will have to hold their two-game lead over West Chester with three games left in the season.
Even with a talented senior class graduating this year, Wilson remains optimistic about the program’s future.
“We play a lot of people, and that’s a little bit by design: you run, you press, and you need to play a deep rotation. Typically we go nine, ten, and sometimes eleven deep, so a lot of young members of the team still get a lot of experience,” Wilson said.
Several underclassmen have been contributing to the team’s success: “Our leading scorer, Whis Grant, is a sophomore, our starting point guard, Matt Tobin, is a sophomore. Lamont Tillery comes off the bench, and he’s played a very huge role for us this year; he’s a sophomore,” says Wilson.
Because of the performance of the underclassmen, Wilson doesn’t expect the program to take a step back next year, even though he thinks others may look for that to happen. Part of this confidence comes from the coaching staff’s ability to recruit good players to the program.
Wilson is a veteran coach at the collegiate level, including six years spent as assistant coach at Lehigh University, and he has been able to build a strong network around the league.
Two players on the roster this year, Gerald Bridges and Blaire Ramsey, were brought in from Detroit, Michigan, thanks to a relationship Wilson maintained with former Mansfield coach Pat Donnelly.
Wilson doesn’t take all the credit for bringing in a strong recruiting class every year.
“My assistant coach, Justin Potts, he’s been with me for eleven years, so he’s done a great job in the recruiting process and identifies players for the program, he said. “we have a faculty coach, Jay Garrels, who has been with as for three years and adds to the stability. Our graduate coach, Gregor Van Pelt, does a good job of getting out there and seeing kids play.
The regular season finishes February 27th against Bloomsburg in the Koehler Fieldhouse, and the Warriors will attempt to defend their PSAC championship in the tournament that begins on March 2nd.
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