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Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Season Preview

Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Season Preview

11/14/2016 — Last year, the Penn State Altoona men’s basketball program took a significant step forward. The Lions developed their core group of players and showed improvement over the course of the season. The team won six Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference games, the most conference wins by the program in three years.

As the Lions prepare to embark on their 19th NCAA Division III varsity season, there is much reason to believe that the team could surprise many people around the AMCC. Penn State Altoona will feature a strong core of veteran players, as well as several newcomers who have the potential to make big impacts on the program.

Lions basketball will be led by first-year head coach David McGreal, who was most recently the associate head coach at Division III LaGrange College (GA). During his five-year stint at LaGrange, McGreal helped guide the program to three consecutive NCAA Division III Tournament appearances. He hopes to build the Penn State Altoona men’s basketball program into a consistent winner, and he is optimistic that the success will start as soon as the 2016-2017 campaign.

"When I met all of the returners and recruits over the summer, I was very honest in telling them that I want this year to be something special for them," McGreal explained. "Returners will play a big factor in our success. From last year’s team, we bring back our leading scorer, leading rebounder, leader in assists, and leader in steals. I do believe that those guys who have been through the year-long battle of conference games should really help alleviate some of the newness that I will have with our conference and our opponents."

At the heart of the Lions’ roster are four seniors who are entering their fourth years with the program: guards Javon Wilson (Washington, D.C./T.C. Williams) and Quinn Luhr (Johnsonburg, PA/Johnsonburg) and forwards Anton Lucas (Alexandria, VA/Mount Vernon) and Jordan Smith (Pittsburgh, PA/Taylor Allderdice).

Wilson started all 22 games for the Lions last year and was a third team All-AMCC pick, ranking sixth in the conference in points per game (16.8) while shooting 40.7% from the field. In addition to leading the team in scoring, he was also first on his squad in three-pointers made (57), steals (34), and assists (50). Luhr settled into a role as the Lions’ sixth man last year, appearing in all 22 games and playing for an average of 18.5 minutes per game. He displayed a knack for hitting big three-pointers off of the bench, connecting 26 times from beyond the arc. Luhr averaged 6.7 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game.

Lucas started 21 games for the Lions last season and continued to showcase his abilities as a versatile defender, tying for the team lead in steals (34) and blocked shots (22). He was also second on the team in assists (48) and rebounds per game (6.4), and he added 7.0 points per game. Smith also started 21 games in 2015-2016 and finished 20th in the AMCC in scoring, putting up 12.8 points per game. He was also fifth in the conference in rebounds per game (8.7) and 10th in field goal percentage (49.4%).

"Javon was third team All-Conference last year and was sixth in the AMCC in scoring, and he has the potential to have a big time senior campaign. Quinn has really stepped his game up in the preseason with his ability to shoot the ball, and his overall work ethic has really made him a factor for us," said McGreal. "Anton has really worked on his offensive skills in the offseason, which, along with his ability to play defense, makes him a really big asset for the team. Jordan almost averaged a double-double last year, and he has the potential to have a big senior year."

In addition to the seniors, returning sophomore forward Marshall Higley (Sayre, PA/Sayre) projects to see a significant uptick in minutes this season after appearing in nine games last year.

"As a freshman, Marshall barely played, but his role will be very significant this year," McGreal said. "He has worked on his ability to shoot the basketball, and being a post player who can stretch the floor really fits in well to the system we’re implementing."

McGreal also expects two incoming transfers to make impacts on the team this year: junior forward Ishimeal Nance (Muscle Shoals, AL/Muscle Shoals) and junior guard Marquis White (Mims, FL/Astronaut). Nance, a transfer from Snead State Community College (AL), is a versatile wing/post player who can shoot with range and also finish at the rim. White, who transferred from McCook Community College (NE), is a tough-nosed defender who can also push the ball and create scoring opportunities for himself and teammates.

"Ishimeal can do a little bit of everything. He shoots it pretty well from distance, can handle the ball and pass really well, and he’s a guy who makes a lot of hustle plays. He could be a real big factor in the success of our team," McGreal explained. "Marquis has a lot of basketball skill and a good IQ. He is a really good passer and a tenacious defender, and he has the ability to set up his teammates in positions to score."

McGreal also points to three freshmen who can be important members of the team in their first seasons of collegiate basketball: forward Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Latin Boys Charter), guard Andrew Gal (Malvern, PA/Great Valley), and forward Tyson West (Wheeling, WV/Linsly School).

"Cameron should have a big role in patrolling the paint area on the defensive end. He is already a great shot blocker and a pretty good rebounder, and with an improved offensive game as the year goes on, he’s going to have a good-sized role," said McGreal. "Andrew is a flat-out shooter who can pull the trigger from anywhere on the floor, which puts a lot of pressure on the other team’s defense at the three-point line. Tyson, the son of former Penn State Altoona men’s basketball head coach Doug West, is a very versatile player. He can play some post and play the perimeter, and he’s very athletic and is a good shot blocker and defender."

McGreal hopes to install a very up-tempo style of offense. With well-conditioned players and versatile athletes, combined with a variety of skillsets, he believes that the players on his roster this year will adapt well to that system.

"We have pretty good shooters, which is a necessity for that style. Having guards that can also push it up the floor and find the open man is an integral part of this system, and having a post presence inside will also help," said McGreal. "Since the first day of practice, we have seen an honest improvement in the ability to play fast. Most of the guys are accustomed to playing a different style, but they are really adapting now."

Defensively, McGreal wants his team to adhere to a similar style by being aggressive and forcing the opponent into turnovers.

"We want to try and force teams into making mistakes," he stated. "We want to force teams out of their comfort zone and make them react to what we’re doing, not the other way around."

But McGreal knows that his team’s success this year will have as much to do with its collective mindset as it will the physical attributes and the style of play they will implement. Last season, the Lions lost six games by five points or less, and five of those losses were against AMCC opponents. McGreal understands that his players will need to be focused and mentally resilient to pull out wins in close games.

"Everything we try to do in practice is up-tempo, with the idea that hopefully they become more comfortable playing in that environment. When crunch time comes, or when we experience some adversity, I want our guys to be used to being in that type of situation so that we have the upper hand," McGreal explained. "The idea of the system that I want to implement is that, by the end of the game, the other team is the one that’s making mistakes because they’re tired and not mentally sharp. We hope that, by the way we practice every day, we’re the ones who are focused and sharp in those chaotic times."

McGreal is aware that the men’s basketball program needs to develop a winning culture. The Lions have not reached the AMCC postseason since the 2009-2010 season, and the team was voted eighth out of 10 squads in this year’s edition of the conference’s preseason coaches poll. But despite the detractors, McGreal knows that this group has a very real chance of putting together a season to remember.

"For the seniors, I’m their third coach in three years. They may not have had the experience that they deserved when they decided to come to Penn State Altoona to play basketball," he said. "But I will do my best to make sure that this year is an enjoyable year for them, something they can hopefully be proud of. When they leave here and graduate, I want them to look back and say that they were part of something special."

The Lions’ 2016-2017 campaign will include one of the stronger non-conference schedules in the AMCC. Apart from its conference opponents, the team has matchups against St. Mary’s College (MD) (Capital Athletic Conference), Juniata College (Landmark Conference), Bethany College (Presidents Athletic Conference), Lycoming College (Middle Atlantic Conference), Keystone College (Colonial States Athletic Conference), Walsh University (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Association, NCAA Division II), and Baruch College (City University of New York Conference).

"We have a very challenging non-conference schedule this season against teams that compete in strong conferences outside of the AMCC," said McGreal. "With all of those games being on the road, we hope that it will help us prepare for our AMCC opponents and provide us with good tests during the season."

Penn State Altoona men’s basketball opens its regular season on Tuesday, November 15 when it travels to play non-conference opponent St. Mary’s at 6:00 p.m. After that, the Lions will compete in the two-day Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament, hosted at Mount Aloysius College on Friday, November 18 and Saturday, November 19. During that tournament, the Lions will face Juniata on Friday at 6:00 p.m., and then they will play either Bethany or Mount Aloysius on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m.

After a non-conference game at Lycoming on Sunday, November 27 at 2:00 p.m., the Lions will host their first home game and first AMCC contest of the year on Wednesday, November 30 at 8:00 p.m. in the Adler Gym against Pitt-Greensburg.

Photo (left to right): Penn State Altoona seniors Javon Wilson, Jordan Smith, Anton Lucas, and Quinn Luhr will be key players for the Lions this season.

TAGS: men's basketball