By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — The eight returning members of the Niagara men’s basketball team accounted for 90 percent of the minutes played, 90 percent of the rebounding, and 95 percent of the scoring last year.
That’s an encouraging sign for the upcoming season — if not for the fact that last year’s team went 14-19 and was bounced in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
The Purple Eagles embark on the 2012-13 campaign with many of the same strengths and weaknesses they had last year.
The primary difference is that they no longer rank among the four youngest teams in the country, and are counting on the maturation process to to produce a winning season.
“Every team has its own personality,” coach Joe Mihalich said after a recent practice. “And even though we have basically everybody back from last year, I think this team will have a much different personality.”
Last year’s team was led by point guard Juan’ya Green, a 17.7 point per game scorer and the MAAC rookie of the year, and Antoine Mason, who averaged 15.1 points per game and was named to the MAAC all-rookie team as a redshirt freshman.
Green and Mason have emerged as even stronger leaders this season.
“They are making this their team,” Mihalich said. “We have an awful good backcourt.”
Green and Mason will be buoyed on the perimeter by junior guards Marvin Jordan, who is on pace to become the program’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, Malcolm Lemmons, a rugged defender who averaged 8.3 points per game last season, and Skylar Jones, an afterthought in the rotation the past two seasons who could see a greater role this season due to his size (6-5) and shooting ability.
Ameen Tanksley, a 6-foot-6 swingman, led the team in rebounding last season at 5.9 per game and will remain at the power forward spot in the Purple Eagles guard-heavy alignment. He scored 8.7 points per game as a freshman.
“We’re excited about our perimeter play,” Mihalich said. “We have question marks about the interior.”
Mihalich though he answered the big question in the middle when he recruited Devin White, a burly 6-8 center who played three years at LaSalle, to transfer to Niagara for his senior year. But White injured his Achilles tendon shortly after signing with Niagara, and won’t be back on the court until the end of December, at the earliest.
That leaves Joe Thomas, a sophomore who broke out with a 15-point, six-rebound effort in the MAAC prequarterfinal win over Canisius, as Niagara’s primary post player until White is healthy. The 6-7 Thomas will be backed up by senior Scooter Gillette, an agile 6-8 center with offensivel limitations.
The Purple Eagles will also be integrating two freshmen: 6-8 forward T.J. Cline, the son of Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, and Tahjere McCall, a 6-4 combo guard from Philadelphia.NU MEN'S BASKETBALL ROSTER No. Name Yr. Pos Ht. 0 T.J. Cline Fr. F 6-8 1 Malcolm Lemmons Jr. G 6-3 2 Devon White Sr. C 6-8 5 Tahjere McCall Fr. G 6-4 10 Juan'ya Green So. G 6-3 11 Ameen Tanksley So. G 6-6 12 Scooter Gillette Sr. F 6-8 14 Antoine Mason So. G 6-3 22 Skylar Jones Jr. G 6-5 24 Rayvon Harris So. F 6-5 30 Joe Thomas So. F 6-7 31 Lawrence Johnson Fr. G 5-11 32 Marvin Jordan Jr. G 5-11 NU MEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE Date Opponent Time Radio/TV Nov. 9 at Oregon St. 9 p.m. WGR Nov. 13 ST. FRANCIS 7 p.m. WWKB Nov. 16 BUCKNELL 7 p.m. WWKB Nov. 18 NM STATE 4 p.m. WWKB Nov. 24 vs. St. Bona. (at Rochester) 4 p.m. WGR Nov. 28 at Iona 7 p.m. WWKB Dec. 2 at Cent. Mich. 2 p.m. WWKB Dec. 5 at Loyola 7:30 p.m. WWKB Dec. 8 at Buffalo 7 p.m. WGR/TWSN Dec. 12 at Hartford 7 p.m. WWKB Dec. 16 VERMONT 7 p.m. WWKB/TWSN Dec. 21 at Notre Dame 7 p.m. WWKB Jan. 3 MARIST 7 p.m. WWKB Jan. 5 FAIRFIELD 3 p.m. WGR Jan. 8 at Saint Peter's 7 p.m. WWKB Jan. 13 at Fairfield 1:30 p.m. WGR Jan. 17 SIENA 7 p.m. WWKB/TWSN Jan. 19 MANHATTAN 3 p.m. WGR Jan. 25 at Siena 7 p.m. WWKB Jan. 27 at Canisius 4 p.m. WGR Jan. 31 IONA 7 p.m. WWKB Feb. 2 LOYOLA 3 p.m. WGR Feb. 7 at Rider 7:30 p.m. WWKB Feb. 10 CANISIUS 2 p.m. WGR/TWSN Feb. 15 at Marist 8 p.m. WWKB Feb. 17 at Manhattan 2 p.m. WGR Feb. 23 BRACKETBUSTER WWKB Feb. 28 RIDER 7 p.m. WWKB/TWSN March 2 St .PETER'S 3 p.m. WGR