SALISBURY, Md. – As the weather and leaves change, a new season begins for the Salisbury University men's basketball program. Head coach Andrew Sachs has his sights set on another trip to the Capital Athletic Conference championship and a return trip to the NCAA tournament, but knows the road will not be an easy one.
Coach Sachs has had to rebuild the team after the departure of three outstanding members of the basketball program in Justin Witmer, Gordon Jeter, and Wyatt Smith. "We are a young team this year, but we have a lot of talent from some of the transfers and freshmen players," Sachs said. The team will have to play a little different this year with the loss of those three players, who accounted for a combined 968 points, 501 rebounds, and 152 assists last season. "We'll have to spread it out more and figure out how we want to play with our lineup. A lot of guys will get an opportunity to get quality playing time for us," Sachs said.
The team has made its youth movement behind three new freshmen and four transfer players. "These new players have created competition amongst the returning players and have brought an energy to the program," Sachs said. The team has gotten younger in the post with the arrival of James Foley, Johnson Ogunyoye and face-up power forward Bryce Thurston. Salisbury will also look to returning players J.P. Krotulis and Lucas Martin to compete in the post and challenge the newest Gulls.
The other area that has seen great competition this offseason and preseason has been the point guard position. Rising sophomore Al Leder has come back in great physical shape, according to Sachs, and has been working hard this offseason. Leder has been challenged by junior transfer Blair Davis though. Davis, a transfer from Lincoln University, turned in a solid sophomore campaign for the Lions, appearing in 25 games, scoring 93 points, pulling down 47 boards, and dishing out 35 assists. Freshman combo guard Johnny Fierstein has also performed well in the preseason.
Overall, Sachs has been most excited about the depth of his new squad from returning players to the newest additions. "We have to work to improve," Sachs said. "Guys will receive quality playing time, but your hope is that guys continue to improve and everyone gets better individually and collectively. You hope the guys from last year can show improvement and the new guys learn our system, get better each day, and use the experience of the veteran players to their advantage." At the wing positions, returning seniors Chad Barcikowski and Jordan Brooks should provide quality experience. Barcikowski was the Sea Gulls' second leading scorer last season and one of the top three-point shooters in the CAC. Returning sharp shooters Jack Ferguson, Braedon Dorsey and Alex McNaughton provide quality depth. The two freshmen wings, Mike Ward and Gary Briddell, have been impressive in the preseason, bringing big time energy in practice. "These guys are making everyone get better, and that's what you want to see in practice," Sachs said.
The other area of the team that has seen some major changes is the coaching staff. Former graduate assistant Mike Fitzpatrick graduated from Salisbury and took a full-time job at Susquehanna University. Sachs brought in former Old Dominion Athletic Conference standout player Daniel Eacho, who starred at Roanoke College. After graduation, he served as an assistant at his high school, Monacan High School, and helped it win a state title. Last year, he served as an assistant at Hampden-Sydney College, as well as being the head girls high school coach at Fuqua High School. Sachs also brought in some veteran coaches with Sea Gull ties in Shawn Tucker and Brian McDermott.
Tucker played a year at Salisbury and has spent time coaching at some of the local high schools after his playing days. McDermott is also a former player for the maroon and gold and was on the 1997 Elite 8 team, which was the last team to advance that far in the NCAA tournament for Salisbury. He has also spent time as a head coach at the high school level.
According to Sachs, the most important aspect for this year's team is leadership. "Any player can be a leader, but the veteran players will be expected to lead from the outset," Sachs said. Sachs has named junior face up forward Chase Kumor the captain of the 2017-18 team, but expects senior wings Jordan Brooks and Chad Barcikowski to help in leadership roles as well. Kumor is a three year member of the men's basketball program, appearing in 25 games for the Sea Gulls during that time. Brooks is a four year member of the program and is one of just four players in program history to play on three NCAA tournament teams. Sachs expects him to use that experience to help the younger players understand what it takes while also reminding the veterans the same thing. Sachs also expects Barcikowski to be the emotional leader, playing with great emotion, but not letting those emotions control his play.
The team has challenged themselves with a tough schedule that includes out of conference matchups with Virginia Wesleyan University on November 21, and two improved teams from last season in Arcadia University on December 16, and Rowan University on December 20. The Sea Gulls will also take on a historically good College of Staten Island team at the Staten Island Tournament on December 29. In conference, the challenges will be the same with an early season showdown against Christopher Newport University, who defeated Salisbury in the CAC finals last season, on November 29. York College of Pennsylvania returns all of their starters from last year and will be a major challenge. "Everyone in the CAC is good and everyone is capable of beating each other," Sachs said.
To be successful this season the key is simple, according to Sachs. "We need to be playing our best basketball in February," Sachs said. "We need to be healthy, and most importantly we need everyone to step up and keep improving each week to give us the best chance to win the CAC and advance to the NCAA tournament."
Salisbury kicks off its 2017-18 season on Wednesday, November 15 when it hosts Eastern Shore rival Washington College. The Sea Gulls defeated the Shoremen 99-84 last season in Chestertown, Maryland. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.