SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's basketball team is coming off one of its best seasons in the past 20 years. Despite two last-second losses in the Capital Athletic Conference and NCAA tournaments to end the 2015-16 season, the Sea Gulls bring high hopes, and three former first-team all-conference selections into 2016-17.
"The core of the group from last year, even though we lost five seniors, have improved their level of play," second-year Head Coach Andrew Sachs said. "We have a good nucleus back, but we have a lot of new faces. It's a big learning curve for us right now. We've got a good mix of transfers and freshman, so we're excited, but we have a long way to go."
The back court is the area where the Sea Gulls lost the most depth, but have great young promise on the roster. With the graduation of Rocky Harris and Justin May, the Sea Gulls lost 44 minutes per game of playing time, but a bevy of young talent will lead the team into the future.
Senior Adrien Straughn will be with the team through Salisbury's contest against Christopher Newport University on December 17, with one semester of eligibility left. The New Carrollton, Maryland native started 19 games last year and averaged 28 minutes per game, dishing out just over two assists per game while scoring 9.9 points per game. He will have the task of getting the younger players comfortable in the system, and will stay on as an assistant coach through the spring semester.
The heir apparent taking over the point guard spot will be Al Leder. The freshman from Bethesda, Maryland played his high school basketball at the Bullis School, but missed much of his senior season due to injury.
"Al is a crafty player and has the ability to make tough plays, he is very hard to trap and turn over, tough to guard coming off ball screens and you can't leave him open because he can shoot the ball," Sachs said. "He has to get use to the speed and physicality at this level but has a toughness that is difficult to teach."
Junior transfer Chris Tan will come off the bench as well, getting valuable experience at the point.
Salisbury is comfortable in the shooting guard spot with 2014-15 first-team All-CAC pick Justin Witmer returning for his senior season. One of the top shooters in the region, Witmer has connected on 40 percent of his three-point tries in his career, scoring 10.6 points per contest a year ago.
"Justin has taken on a leadership role on this basketball team, he has been vocal in practice and wants to go out a winner," Sachs said." He has improved this off season and is poised to have an outstanding senior year."
Jordan Brooks will rejoin the team in early January. He appeared in 26 games, starting eight, scoring 5.4 points per game and hitting 43.6 percent of his shots from the floor last year.
Jeter, with inside-out talent, was a first-team All-CAC selection last year, scoring a team-high 13.7 points per game as he shot just under 50 percent from the floor and pulled in 6.8 rebounds.
"I challenged all of the guys to get better and work on their weaknesses during the off-season," Sachs said. "Gordon has worked on his ball handling a lot, and he's gotten stronger. I expect big things from him again."
Jeter will play primarily in the post, but will also see time at the small forward position.
"His versatility fits how we play perfectly, and I think Wyatt goes right along with that," Sachs said.
Smith returns to the court after missing the entire 2015-16 season due to a shoulder injury. His first year with the program, in 2014-15, ended with a flourish from the forward, as he took his game to another level, finishing the year with 14.7 points per game and 7.9 rebounds. In the closing three wins of that season, a pair of CAC tournament victories and the program's first NCAA tournament win in more than 15 years, Smith averaged 24.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
"He's got to knock off nine months of rust from not playing," Sachs said of his left-hand dominant post man, who injured his left shoulder. "But I will say, his right hand has gotten much better. He will help us, for sure, and we are happy to have him back. Last year we relied on the three a lot. We're going to be much more balanced this season. The ball has to go inside a lot more this year than it did last year."
Returners Chad Barcikowski, Chase Kumor and Jack Ferguson are expected to see an increased role this season. Barcikowski was one of the first players off the bench a year ago, averaging over 12 minutes per game in 20 games played, while scoring 6.1 points per game.
"Chad has really improved," Sachs said. "He's been in the system for a year, he can shoot the ball really well, he's worked on his ball handling and for him to make a major impact he's going to have to be able to defend for us."
Junior college transfers Terray Quickley and Barry Bratten bring experience, toughness and more versatility to the roster. Quickley scored 14.3 points per game and pulled down a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game at Dundalk Community College last season. Bratten is a Delmar, Maryland native who scored a team-high 14.2 points last season at Chesapeake Community College and grabbed 7.6 rebounds per game.
Sachs has brought in much needed height for the 2016-17 season in freshmen centers J.P. Krotulis, Nick Gittings, and Max Phillips The trio stands 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, and 6-foot-9, respectively, though Gittings will miss time early in the season due to illness.
Also coming in to help the front line are versatile forwards 6-foor-7 Lucas Martin who was second-team team all-state last season at Briar Woods High School in Virginia and 6-foor-4 power forward Antwan Pearson who has a high motor on the boards and sports a 6-foor-11 wing span.
Salisbury opens the season on Tuesday, November 15 hosting Goucher College. It's the first of five home games before the end of December, as the Sea Gulls will host the Optimist Tournament on November 18 and 19, opening the tourney with the College of Staten Island, then facing Cabrini University or Johns Hopkins University. The CAC schedule begins on November 30 with the Sea Gulls hosting St. Mary's College of Maryland. The Sea Gulls will then head on the road for two CAC games before finals and will host Christopher Newport University on December 17, just before the winter break.
The Sea Gulls get one of their toughest non-conference tests at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 28 and 29 taking on Ramapo College and the Hardin-Simmons University on consecutive nights. The Sea Gulls will renew their local rivalry with a trip to Washington College on January 2, then head into CAC play for good on January 5 at the University of Mary Washington.
Beginning late January, Salisbury gets a stretch of CAC games playing four out of five at home before hitting the road for their final two CAC games leading into the conference tournament, which begins on February 21.