Poly not just playing out the string

Junior Thomas Fabian hopes to earn a spot on the NYU roster next season, once NYU-Poly's athletics department gets absorbed.
NYU-Poly athletics photo

The NYU-Poly men’s and women’s basketball teams are enduring a tough year in more ways than one, but despite the struggles, both squads believe they’ll finish the season with a bang.

Unfortunately, unlike most teams that are looking forward to turning things around in the future, there is no next year for NYU-Poly.

The Poly athletics department will merge with its more powerful New York University brethren at the end of this year. So this is it for many of the Blue Jay men’s and women’s basketball players unless they earn a spot on the significantly more successful NYU teams.

Both teams have two wins each and none against Skyline Conference opponents. There are injuries to key players and low numbers for both squads. Yet, despite the obstacles and the impending end to the programs, apathy has not set in. The coaches won’t allow it and the players refuse to go through the motions. Instead, what’s evolved has been some strong performances.

The Blue Jays are cherishing every opportunity to compete, practice and travel this season. They are having fun and enjoying each other’s friendship.

“We really don’t talk about (the situation a lot) and right now we’re taking everything one game at time,” Thomas Fabian said. “It is sad that this will be the last year basketball for our program. Right now all everybody is focused on is playing as hard we can each game we have remaining for Poly. If the opportunity opens up, I would try out for NYU and I think it would be worth my time to play my senior year over there.”

The news didn’t come out of nowhere. There were rumors and rumblings much of last year. So when Guerin gathered with the team to deliver the official news, there wasn’t much shock, just disappointment. The NYU-Poly student-athletes will have an opportunity to earn a roster spot on any of the NYU varsity teams. For basketball, if interest is high, there could be junior varsity teams for both the men and women.

“For a month or so, they were asking what we knew,” Guerin said. “We didn’t know if the merger would be complete and that’s what we shared with the kids. When we met with them, they weren’t shocked, but a little disappointed. However, long-term they understood that this move was academically best. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I will say that NYU did a great job of getting us a waiver to play one more season and finish our sports until June.”

“I am making sure that to remind the guys every day that this is not the situation we wanted to be in,” Guerin said. “I tell them every day that there are a thousand kids out there that wish they could trade places with you right now to play basketball at one of the best schools in the country. Early on the season we addressed the situation and told them things could be a lot worse.”

In the meantime with Fabian leading the way, the Blue Jays are competing hard every night even if the final spread says otherwise. Fabian was one of the few players who could have transferred and continued his career. He decided against it because NYU has a great academic program and he wants to earn his degree. Plus he mentioned that for the guys who had no choice, but to stay, he didn’t want to abandon them.

This group of players stuck together and committed themselves to working hard for the upcoming season.

“We were disappointed when we heard the news,” Fabian said. “We had the understanding that the merge wouldn’t happen for another four years before the rumors had it. I knew the merge would happen at some point. We kind of saw it coming. This is a unique situation and we had built a strong core. We were looking forward to seeing how everything was going to play out if we could’ve stuck together all four years.”

Fabian has been playing basketball since 1994 ever since he saw the movie “Space Jam.” Once he saw Bugs “Hare Jordan” Bunny school Michael “Air” Jordan, Fabian figured he could do the same thing one day. Seriously though, Fabian played in many summer leagues in and around his hometown of Stroudsburg, Pa. He helped Stroudsburg High School to the district playoffs in each of his four years there.

He was one of Guerin’s first recruits a month after the Blue Jays endured an 0-25 season in 2011. Fabian is one of the smaller players in the Skyline Conference. Yet, he leads the Blue Jays in assists and has found time to average 7.2 points per game. Fabian has had his share of shining moments for NYU-Poly during his career. He scored 21 points to help the Blue Jays beat SUNY ESF 79-66 on Dec. 8. Fabian was named a team captain at the start of his sophomore season.

“We didn’t have many upperclassmen,” Fabian said. “It was nice to be able to start building the program from the bottom up. Being a sophomore captain was kind of weird at first, but I embraced it. It was a little intimidating as first, but as a point guard, I am a leader anyway. We had a senior captain and he showed me the ropes last year.”

Sophomore guard Brendan Gallagher leads NYU-Poly in scoring with a 16.8 point per game average. He has a sharp shooting stroke and has lit up the scoreboard this season. He dropped a career-high 40 points against Farmingdale State this year. Gallagher dropped 34 points against York on Monday afternoon in a 91-82 loss.

He has scored in double figures 12 times this season and has topped 20 points six times. In the win over Farmingdale, he scored from all over the court while making 11-of-18 shots from the field, 7-for-11 from 3-point distance and 11-for-13 from the foul line.

“Brendan one of the best shooters at this level I’ve seen and he’s special,” Guerin said. He has to take tough shots for us to be successful. When he gets going, he’s tough to stop. Our whole team continues to fight every game and they never give up.”

The men jumped out to an early six-point lead on the road at undefeated Purchase on Saturday. Sophomore guard Ed Klementowicz usually plays the opposition’s best player despite standing at 6-2. Guerin calls him a jack of all trades. He averages 9.0 and 5.1 rebounds per outing. He scored a season-high 16 points against Sarah Lawrence. He’s not called on to score, he’s counted on to do many of the little things that teams need to be successful.

Junior Jethro Auguste averages 10.8 points and a team best 6.9 rebounds per game. He burned St. Joseph’s (L.I.) with 25 points last week, which was a season-high.

Despite knowing that NYU-Poly’s program would conclude at the end of the year, Issac Neaves still chose to come from San Antonio to the Big Apple. Neaves is averaging 8.8 points per game for the Blue Jays and he has been a pleasant surprise according to Guerin. Neaves embodies the spirit and attitude of the Blue Jays. He has recorded two double-doubles this season.

Alyssa D'Apice has played 462 of 480 possible minutes for the Blue Jays in their 12 games this season.
NYU-Poly athletics photo 

“I explained our situation to him before he committed to us and to my surprise, he said Poly is where I want to be even if I only have one year. The team as a whole has done a good job of putting their best foot forward. They go out on the floor expecting to win. Every game we don’t win, they’re angry and ready to come to practice the next day and get better. They don’t go through the motions.”

On the women’s side, 5-3 sophomore guard Alyssa D’Apice leads the Blue Jays with a 17.5 point per game average and Tabitha Larsen scores at a 13.8 point per game clip. They have been bright spots in a difficult season. D’Apice opened the year with a 29-point, 10-rebound effort against Staten Island in NYU-Poly’s final season opener as a program. She had three straight games of 20 or more points recently. She has also recorded two double-doubles this season and made at least three 3-pointers in a single game nine times.

Larsen has scored in double digits nine times this season, including a season-high 23-point scoring show against New Rochelle. Larsen and D’Apice have combined to make 67 of the Blue Jays’ 68 3-pointers.

Overall, both teams are taking the season in stride, competing hard and enjoying their status as student-athletes. While neither team will most likely win a championship, they are already winners for continuing to play hard, representing their school and displaying plenty of character in the face of tough times.

“There is never a dull moment and we have lot of characters on our team,” Fabian said. “What keeps us motivated is we’re all competitors and we play for each other. You have the guy next to you that you have to play for. We know that NYU-Poly has had a great tradition in athletics and we’re trying to work hard to end it on a positive note.”

Kelly on fire for Stevenson

If the Stevenson women’s basketball team had a theme song, it would be Drake’s Started From The Bottom. The Mustangs have been on fire after opening the season with three consecutive losses. However, following consecutive dramatic triumphs over Commonwealth Conference heavyweights Lebanon Valley and Messiah, the Mustangs were in first place before losing on the road on Sunday at Lycoming.

Helping to keep the team together was junior captain Kayla Kelly, who leads the Mustangs in scoring with a 12.3 point per game average. Kelly has scored in double figures nine times. The Mustangs have won eight of their last 12 games to forcibly announce themselves as legitimate Commonwealth Conference title contenders. Kelly had her first breakout game against Alvernia when she scored 28 points.

“We knew we were capable of beating anybody in our conference,” Kelly said. “We are not where we could be right now. Now, it’s up to us to go past the good part and be great. (When the conference preseason predictions came out), we saw it as a little disrespectful because we knew where we could go. We don’t take it out on anybody but we just go out and give 100 percent of ourselves and play with and for each other.”

In addition to carrying a full course load, Kelly is also a resident advisor at Stevenson. The demands on her time should help her once she earns her degree in bio-tech. Kelly was the point guard last year and at times struggled. This season, she has reaped the rewards of having Ty Bender run the show for the Mustangs. Now as an off-guard, Kelly has been frequently devouring defenses.

Gwynedd Mercy has been golden

The Gwynedd Mercy men’s basketball team has been on a nice roll to raise its overall record to 12-4. The Griffins have won five straight games and nine of 10. In their 78-64 win over Marywood, the Griffins received a game-high and season-high 20 points from sophomore Darnell Artis. Junior Seth Heinicke added 15 points while Colin Gates and Justin Knight chipped in 13 apiece. It was the first time this season that Artis has led the Griffins in scoring in a game this season.

Freshman Aaron Goodman has enjoyed a fantastic season for the Griffins, leading them in scoring (19.3 points per game) and rebounding (10.5 rebounds per game). The Cabrini transfer has nine double-doubles this season. He had 31 points and 12 rebounds against Centenary. Goodman has scored at least 30 points twice this season for GMC. His season-high is 33 points against John Jay. Knight is averaging 14.0 points per game for the Griffins.

Gwynedd Mercy has played five of its 16 games at the cozy Griffin Complex where it is undefeated. After its game at Immaculata on Wednesday, Gwynedd Mercy will play five of its last eight games at home, including a showdown against No. 3 Cabrini on Jan. 29. As a team, the Griffins are averaging 82.2 points per game and they have topped 90 points five times. Since dropping a 95-84 decision to Cabrini, GMC’s only setback was a 70-68 decision to Northwood in Florida.

Keeping Messiah upbeat

The Messiah women have endured its share of tough losses. The most recent was last Wednesday at Stevenson when the Mustangs’ Stephanie Martinez drilled a 40-footer that banked off the glass with 0.3 seconds remaining.  It was the latest in a string of last-second defeats for Messiah, which has won five of its last six games to remain in the hunt for a Commonwealth Conference title. In its 58-42 win over Arcadia on Saturday, Messiah’s Taylor Miller scored her 1,000th career point.

Since leading scorer Chelsea Danel grew up with her parents as her coaches, it’s no surprise that she’s one of the leaders for Messiah. Danel, who averages 12.3 points per game, has scored in double figures nine times this season. The health and physical education major from Johnstown, Pa., plays with a fierceness on the court that matches her favorite player growing up, former UConn standout Diana Taurasi.

“This season has had its challenges,” Danel said. “I think we’ve come together well as a team through some of these losses that we’ve had. It’s been good to regroup after tough losses and see where we need to get better. We are just continuing to work as a team and finish strong.”

Scoring, anyone?

Depending upon one person’s view, last Wednesday, New Jersey City and Rutgers-Camden needed 45 minutes to score a combined 77 points in an ugly 39-38 overtime win for the Gothic Knights. Meanwhile, Stevenson and Messiah combined to score 91 points in the first half alone. Either instance could be taken as a good defense or good offense. For my money, give me Messiah and Stevenson anytime. Just my opinion.

Woods’ historic scoring effort

Michael Woods scored 44 points to set a single-game record for York (N.Y.) which crushed Medgar Evers, 103-68 last Wednesday. Woods broke the record of Elliot Bruce — who happened to be in attendance for the game — set way back in 1987.  Bruce netted 43 points almost 27 years ago to the day on Jan. 16, 1987 against NYU.  His 44 points scored are also the sixth highest total in Division III this season. Woods was extremely efficient on the night as he shot 17-of-24 from the field and 8-of-11 from the free throw line.  He also had seven steals—which led to several fast break baskets for him. ... York takes its eight-game winning streak on the road to the College of Staten Island, which has won 12 straight Wednesday night in a key CUNYAC showdown

Atlantic Rim-Rockers

Kean’s women snapped Montclair State’s 27-game NJAC winning streak with a 74-69 home victory...The Red Hawks' last NJAC regular-season loss came against William Paterson 58-53 in Wayne on Feb. 1, 2012. ... Kean freshman Jacquetta Owens finished with a career-high 26 points against Montclair State…Heading into the home stretch of conference play on the men’s side in the NJAC, Rutgers-Newark, William Paterson and Richard Stockton are tied for first with 7-2 records…. Highlighted by a pair of 30-point double-doubles and the 1,000th career point for junior forward David Louison, the St. Joseph's (Bklyn.) men's basketball team defeated Brooklyn College, 88-75, on Monday evening at Brooklyn Technical High School. Louison and Michael Megafu posted 30 points each, one shy of their career bests, to lead St. Joseph's to its first win over the Bulldogs since 2006. ... More on Louison in a future column.

Mid-Atlantic Crossovers

Cairn had four players score in double figures (Obed Rivera 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists, JD Zamroz 16 points, Reuben Lacy 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two blocks and Omar Askia 13 points) to earn its first victory of the season, 78-65 over Centenary last week. ... Brad Bolen and David Fernandez combined for 47 points on Saturday as Messiah rebounded from its double overtime loss to Stevenson with a 78-70 win over Arcadia. ... Catholic’s Bryson Fonville scored a career-high 33 points and played turnover-free ball for 40 minutes to lead CUA to a 78-63 victory over Juniata last Wednesday. It was the Cardinals’ second 33-point performance by a player during their five-game winning streak as Steve Limberiou had 33 points in an 87-61 win against St. Joseph’s (Maine). ... Dickinson junior forward Gerry Wixted has scored 22 points in each of the past four games, recording four straight double-doubles. He was just shy of a fifth straight double-double, recording 22 points and nine rebounds at Haverford in a 77-72 win to help the Red Devils improve to 8-0 in the Centennial Conference. ... Gettysburg’s Caroline Murphy averaged 16 points last week to help the Bullets beat Ursinus and Swarthmore. ... Meghan Nowak scored 21 points to lift Eastern to its fourth straight win, a 65-50 conquest over King’s. The Eagles are 4-0 in the Freedom Conference just in time to host FDU-Florham in a first-place showdown Wednesday night. ... Brittany Wood scored 13 of her game-high 15 points in the second half as Delaware Valley rallied from a nine-point deficit to notch a 55-53 home victory over The College of New Jersey in a non-conference game. It was a big win for the Aggies, who have won three straight and eight of 10. They are 10-5 overall.

Just my thoughts

The new D3hoops.com site is awesome and much easier to navigate. This reporter loves it. ... I’ve been to Stevenson four times this year and have been treated to some awesome hoops. I’ve seen two buzzer beaters, a double-overtime game, showdowns between nationally ranked teams and treated to some outstanding hospitability by the Stevenson staff and student-athletes.

Help me

This column will only be as good as your submissions and assistance during the year. Feel free to send any noteworthy items, potential feature ideas, upcoming milestones, point out mistakes, say hello, etc. to me at rob.knox@d3sports.com. Don’t worry about overwhelming my inbox. As a former SID, the more in-box traffic, the better. Also, follow me on Twitter at @knoxrob1. With over 80 teams to cover between men and women in two regions, it is really helpful if you send me suggestions. Three notes in this column are directly from emails to me.

Ryan Scott

Ryan Scott is a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College and is immensely happy this is no longer a laugh line among the D-III basketball community.
2013-14 columnist: Rob Knox
2012-13 columnist: Pete Barrett
2011-12 columnist: Brian Lester