The 2013-2014 Lehigh Men’s Basketball season has officially commenced with the team just having begun practice, and the first game against the University of Minnesota is just about 5 weeks away. Change is never easy, but change is the one definite thing Lehigh fans will notice when the Mountain Hawks hit the court this season, as 7 players on the 15 man roster have never played a minute of college basketball and current professional basketball players CJ McCollum, Gabe Knutson, and Holden Greiner are not a part of the program for the first time in four years. Any time you lose a lottery pick and two other pros that combined for career totals of 4,900 points and 1,900 rebounds, change is apparent. However, change creates opportunities, and in basketball that translates into minutes, and the 2013-2014 Lehigh team has a lot of minutes available for talented returning players and newcomers to occupy. For a team returning roughly 43.5% of its scoring and rebounding, Lehigh will need big contributions from many newcomers to keep Lehigh among the top competitors in the Patriot League.
Backcourt Analysis: Despite the loss of CJ McCollum and the underrated BJ Bailey, the backcourt is the veteran part of this Mountain Hawk team, and should be one of the better ones in the Patriot League.
Most conversations about the Lehigh Mountain Hawks ’13-’14 team will begin with their four year starter at point guard in Mackey McKnight, who was 2nd team all Patriot League a season ago. Mackey enters his senior year having started approximately 90 games for the Brown and White and his production has increased every year, as he finished ’12-’13 with a career best in points, assists, and minutes per game at 12/5/33. In McKnight, Coach Reed knows exactly what he is getting every night, a fearless and scrappy point guard who has the ability to get others involved but also hit open 3’s and slice to the hoop for driving layups. Mackey has shown he is at his best in the biggest moments, as no Lehigh fan can forget the roll he was on in the five elimination games that Lehigh played in the Patriot League and NCAA Tournament in the magical ’11-’12 season. With so much scoring prowess having graduated, Mackey is going to be asked to shoulder more of the scoring load this year and should spend some of his game action in a scoring guard role. Perhaps as important as Mackey’s on court productivity this season will be his role as a leader of an extremely young Lehigh squad. During his first three years at Lehigh Mackey hasn’t had to take a leadership role on the team due to the strong leadership that CJ, Gabe, and Holden provided, but how quickly he can grow into the role of team leader will be critical to the success of this young Lehigh team.
Also returning to the backcourt is three upper classmen in D’Orazio, Schaefer, and Cvrkalj. Anthony D’Orazio enjoyed his best season at Lehigh last year in his junior campaign, starting 29 of 31 games. The Camden, NJ native saw both his points and minutes per game double from his prior two years on campus. Anthony brings relentless energy to the team and is a very athletic guard who can get out on the break and finish in transition. Importantly the senior will be one of the leaders that Reed relies on to help bring this young team along, and he has the inside track to be a starter alongside Mackey in the backcourt. Corey Schaefer enters his junior season having established himself as a prototypical point guard who values ball control and can knock down an open jump shot. Schaefer, the son of a coach, had an assist-to-turnover ratio of over 2.5 to 1 last year, and shot the basketball at a tremendous clip, knocking down 40% of his three point attempts, 45% overall from the field, and 76% from the charity stripe. As he enters his junior year, Corey is primed to take on a bigger role for the Mountain Hawks, and if Reed maintains his preference for three guard line-ups it is easy to imagine seeing Corey in the starting lineup when the season opens at the University of Minnesota on November 8th. With Lehigh looking to fill the void of having graduated over 5,000 points, many Lehigh fans envision lineups that feature Corey in the backcourt alongside Mackey, sliding McKnight off the ball and into more of a scoring role. Cvrkalj, a deadly marksman from deep, is a three point specialist who shot it at a 38% clip from downtown last year. Stefan had a few big breakout games(20 points against FDU) last year, and should continue to be an instant offense guy off the bench. Stefan is still recovering from a patellar tendon tear in his knee, and hopefully he is 100% healthy by the opener on November 8th. Speaking of returning injured Mountain Hawks, sophomore Devon Carter returns to Lehigh after a difficult freshman year in which he only played sparingly in 9 games before tearing his ACL. Devon is athletic and strong enough at 6’4 to guard multiple positions on defense and pitch in on offense in an off ball role, but he will have to show he is fully recovered before gaining any significant minutes off the bench.
What’s exciting for Mountain Hawks fans this season is that Coach Reed and staff brought in two freshman scholarship guards with strong basketball pedigrees to push the upper classman and fight for immediate minutes. First is Austin Price, a 6’3 shooting guard from well known Detroit Country Day School, a basketball factory that has helped mold NBA stars in the likes of Chris Webber and Shane Battier. Austin is known as a shooter and is armed with a feathery soft jump shot and an important quick release. Austin will play off the ball and in a scoring role while at Lehigh, and with his big game experience winning a State title last year in high school and the big games he played for the AAU program The Family, he could push for significant minutes early on in his career. Coach Reed also brought in a point guard during the spring signing period, as he obtained a commitment from a dynamic and athletic 6’0 point guard in Miles Simelton out of the Chicago suburbs. Miles starred at Oswego high school and for the Illinois Attack AAU program, and was a player who trusted his talents and elected to play out his senior season before signing in an attempt to boost his stock. Miles is a scoring point guard who knows how to get others involved and can get his own shot off in isolation situations. Lehigh will not be short of ball handlers this season with Mackey, Corey, and Miles all capable of running the point. If Miles proves to be day one ready, he will find minutes in a crowded backcourt.
Two other freshman guards joined the program in Cole Renninger and George Pilitsis. Cole comes to Lehigh from Lock Haven, PA and Central Mountain High School, where as a senior he led the entire state of Pennsylvania in scoring. Standing at 6’3, Cole is an athletic combo guard with a college ready frame and toughness from his years on the football field. The former two sport star in high school elected to focus on basketball in college after having a huge senior season on the hardwood. George is a walk-on point guard who hails from nearby Thessaloniki, Greece! George is listed at 6’2 and has a lot of experience representing Greece in different European championship events.
Frontcourt Analysis: The graduation of over 2,500 points and 1,200 career rebounds from the frontcourt leaves the Mountain Hawks with a young and inexperienced unit, but one that possesses a lot of upside due to the arrival of three talented forwards who have yet to suit up for Lehigh.
While Lehigh has some experience in the backcourt, how well this young frontcourt comes together will determine how far the Mountain Hawks fly in ’13-’14. The returning frontcourt members Conroy Baltimore and Justin Goldsborough bring back with them a combined total of 167 points and 174 rebounds over a combined three seasons. Baltimore is the elder statesman of the frontcourt unit, as the 6’6 New York native enters his junior campaign having played sparingly through two years in Bethlehem sitting behind talented upper classman. The strength of Conroy’s game is his rebounding, having led the team in rebounds per minute in both seasons at Lehigh. Conroy will have his opportunity to carve out a bigger role in a wide open frontcourt battle, but he will have serious competition for minutes from his four younger frontcourt teammates. Goldsborough is the other returning member of the frontcourt, and the 6’8 sophomore big showed some serious flashes of brilliance during his freshman season, which has many Lehigh fans excited about what the future holds for Justin. He has a long and wiry frame, and is a very athletic big who can get up and down the court with gazelle-like speed for a man of his size. He possesses a long wingspan and a quick first jump off the ground which should help him turn into an above average rebounder and shot blocker as he continues in his Lehigh career. Justin obtained some good experience as a rookie last year, playing in all of Lehigh’s 31 games, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started the November 8th opener at one of the forward spots.
What Lehigh lacks in experience up front, it makes up in spades in terms of athleticism and upside of the three frontcourt remaining players who have yet to play a minute of college basketball. While sophomore Jesse Chuku didn’t just arrive on campus, the native of London who had to sit out his freshman year due to NCAA regulations is a physical specimen at 6’8, 230 pounds, and a wingspan of 7’4. Jesse played some high school ball here in the United States at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, a school that is part of a competitive New England prep school league. Chuku is a hybrid forward who possesses the rare ability to shoot the basketball from 3 point range but also bang down low in the paint. Jesse has a strong, athletic frame and he should be an immediate help on the rebounding front. Jesse has a really high upside and should be a big part of the team and in the frontcourt rotation from the beginning of this season, probably starting at the power forward spot when the ball tips off in Minnesota on November 8th.
Another newcomer to the frontcourt is Tim Kempton, a true freshman big man who hails from Scottsdale, Arizona. Tim bring legit center size to the program at a full 6’10 and 225 pounds, and he also brings a strong pedigree, as he is the son of the former Notre Dame star and NBA player with the same name. Tim joins Lehigh having excelled at Brophy Prep, where he was named 2013 Arizona Preps Boys Player of the Year. Tim should help defend and rebound the basketball on defense, and on offense he is known to have a nice jump shot and some classic big man post moves. Tim’s upside is as big as he is, and the opportunity for major minutes as a true freshman is there for the taking. The fifth member of the ’13-’14 frontcourt is the talented Shane Whitfield. Shane is a 6’7 point forward from the small town of Bayboro, North Carolina. Shane played 3 years of high school ball at Pamlico County High School before transferring to Word of God Christian Academy(alma mater of John Wall) in Raleigh, where he reclassified into the 2013 class. Whitfield is a highly versatile player who fits cleanly at the small forward position at Lehigh as an athletic 6’7 player. Shane will fit Lehigh’s up tempo offense quite well, as he’ll run and fill the lanes with ease. He has a versatile game, as he can hit the 17 foot jump shot, but can also break guys down off the dribble and finish in traffic while absorbing contact. In the half court game he can penetrate on bigs and shoot over smaller defenders, and Shane sees the court extremely well which helps him distribute the rock and be a good distributor. Shane’s senior year got cut short due to an injury, but assuming 100% health, he should be a serious factor in the Lehigh frontcourt in ’13-’14.
In conclusion, Lehigh fans should be really excited about the prospects of this extremely young Mountain Hawk team. While growing pains early on in a tough non-conference schedule should be expected, if a few of the highly talented newcomers can quickly acclimate to the college game, Lehigh has a legitimate shot to be competitive in the Patriot League in 2013-2014.