SALISBURY, Md. – When the Salisbury University men's basketball team takes the court in Maggs Physical Activities Center on Tuesday, Nov. 15, it will be with a new coach, Josh Merkel, at the helm of the program for his first-ever game as a head coach. The team has had 25 days of practice before the season tips off for real and it has been a hectic 25 days as the team picks up its new offensive and defensive systems.
"I'm very excited to see how our young men perform and compete against someone other than ourselves," Merkel said. "We have an incredibly unselfish and coachable group. One thing that has impressed our staff is how well our players respond to coaching. Everything is new to them; it's like having 15 freshmen out there learning our offensive and defensive terminology. They have learned on the fly and are now beginning to coach each other as they see things develop on the court."
The 2011-12 Sea Gulls will feature a core of returning players from last season's team and a host of new players looking to make an impact right away.
The Salisbury roster features a number of guards, with a balance of veterans and talented new comers. Senior guard Devin Posey leads the way and will be called on to be the floor general.
"Devin started every game last year and is a proven winner," Merkel said. "He's a strong guard, a very good defender. He's very fast in transition and he has a high basketball IQ. He leads by example, but we want him to help his teammates by being more vocal. We're relying on him to use his speed and decision making to create and break down the defense."
Posey started all 27 games last season and led the team with 3.8 assists per game. While Posey has proven to be a play maker, Merkel would also like to see him create scoring opportunities for himself this season, having averaged 5.2 points per game a year ago.
Junior Dylan Robeson, who saw time primarily in relief of Posey at the point last season, averaging 8.1 minutes per game, will see an increased role as he will be called upon as one of the players in a four-out offensive set under Merkel's guidance. Robeson played in all 27 games a year ago, but attempted just 20 shots.
"Dylan helps our team with his ability to shoot from the outside. He is also a very active and tough defender," Merkel said.
Among the fresh faces in the back court, Merkel expects to see an early impact from junior transfers Elijah Gore and Matthew Jackson and sophomore Tim Harwood. Jackson brings great speed to the court which is evident on both ends of the court, creating scoring chances while also being a solid on-ball defender. Gore is an excellent shooter with the ability to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Harwood will add another outside shooting threat to the backcourt mix. Gore, Jackson, and Harwood all come from excellent Maryland high school programs.
The play up front will be led by senior captains Mike Maczko and Mike Atkins. Maczko, the team's top returning scorer from a year ago when he averaged 10.9 points per game, is a versatile player that should cause match-up problems for most teams the Gulls take on this year. At 6-foot-6 Maczko has the size to post up a smaller player, and the athleticism to take a taller pure post player off the dribble.
"He is able to step out and shoot from three and really stretch the defense," Merkel said. "And he's able to drive and finish or find the open man because he is so unselfish. He's also a very good rebounder with a nose for the ball. He averaged seven rebounds a game last year [second in the CAC] and we want him to build on that."
Atkins was second in the Capital Athletic Conference in three-point percentage in 2010-11, connecting on 44 percent (40-of-91) of his shots from outside.
"Mike brings a toughness to our team in addition to being an excellent shooter," Merkel said. "For our style of play, he really stretches the defense. There will be times when defenders will not leave him which creates more space to drive and cut."
Nwosu, who saw just under 10 minutes of play per game in 2010-11, will be expected by the coaching staff to see more action this year. At 6-foot-3 he is undersized for a frontcourt player, and Merkel says he will have to work hard to earn his time on the floor.
"He's a guy that has to be tough and do all the little things like getting on the glass and defend the post. But he's also skilled where he can score in the post," Merkel said. "Jason has been extremely coachable and one of our hardest workers this preseason."
Righter, often the first player off the bench last season as he played in 25 games with three starts, has "been a warrior in practice," Merkel said. "He brings his best every day. Things are new for him, like everybody else, but certain guys have picked up things well and he has picked up things quickly and he brings a toughness to the court."
Senior transfer Trent Epps is a 6-foot-6 center with face-up skill, as he will have the ability to play with his back to the basket or bring his defender outside and use his jump shooting and dribbling ability to score.
Merkel brings a defense-first mentality to the Sea Gulls, looking for strong defense to lead to offensive opportunities.
"It starts defensively with getting stops," Merkel said. "We're going to play man-to-man defense and keep the ball out of the paint. We must pressure the ball knowing that our teammates are in position to help."
The Sea Gulls will look to keep the opposition from getting layups, open threes, and any second shots.
On the offensive end of the floor, with a four-perimeter, one-post system, fans will get to see an exciting style of basketball as the ball will move quickly, and players will read the defense while playing to their strengths."
"It's a fun style to play and to watch," Merkel said. "Three points are more than two, and we practice shooting the ball every day. By bringing our post away from the basket, we open the paint for angles to drive and cut to the basket."
Salisbury opens the year looking for bragging rights within the state, as Tuesday's game against Stevenson University is a non-conference tilt in the opening round of the Pride of Maryland Tournament. After the tournament's conclusion over the weekend, the Sea Gulls will come back to Salisbury for a showdown with the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the nation, Virginia Wesleyan College. Early December features the annual Optimist Classic Tournament at home, featuring John Jay, Medgar Evers and Penn St.-Abington.
Salisbury will get heavily into the CAC slate after that, with two meetings scheduled against preseason No. 15 St. Mary's (Md.) College. The Sea Gulls finish their non-conference slate with games against Elizabethtown College, Washington (Md.) College and Christopher Newport University.