The way the past few seasons have gone, one would be inclined to call them the backwards. But with a new year upon us, expectations of the front three rise again. And this time, the men’s basketball team’s forwards will be ready to answer.
This is a season of change. No more disappointments. No more silly mistakes. A highly emotional group of men are now ready to carry the team on their shoulders.
Senior tri-captains Greg Barratt and Ray Mercedes lead the forwards who have a difficult task in front of them — overcoming a disappointing 10-17 season. New head coach Steve Donahue has no doubt in his mind that his players will be able to face up to the challenge: “We need their leadership in everything we do. The younger players look up to these guys and see how they react to me, so they need to lead by example.”
Barratt and Mercedes will provide plenty of leadership both on the court and off.
“There is not a more skilled big person inside and out than Greg Barratt,” Donahue extolled. “He’ll be very good.
“Ray is the type of guy who puts a lot of pressure on himself. He’s one of the better players in the league,” Donahue continued. “He is very emotional and that’s part of the reason he’s so good.”
Mercedes started all but three games while leading the Red with 14.8 points per game last season. More impressive, however, was his three-point shooting, which stood at 41.1% — an extraordinary number for a guard, let alone a forward.
“The stand-still-three is one of his better shots,” Donahue commented. “That’s why he’s hard to guard.”
However, for all his strengths, Mercedes did have trouble with ball-control, recording a team-high 83 turnovers.
“There is room for improvement,” Donahue said. “He needs to make better decisions with the basketball and he can improve his shot selection. That said, he works very hard, and defensively, he can’t get better.”
Starting 16 games last season, Barratt was a force on the inside, leading the team with 7.7 rebounds per game. He was also third on the team in scoring.
“He’s a terrific low-post scorer who can step outside and shoot the ball,” Donahue said. “He needs to be more consistent than he was last year, but he will be good.”
Juniors Ryan Cheesman and Luke Vernon, sophomore Jake Rohe, and freshman Garn Smith round out the crew of forwards. Rohe and Vernon proved to be solid contributors last season. Rohe played in all 27 games, leading the team in free-throw percentage at 89%. In 16 games, Vernon shot an impressive 50% from the field and the three-point arc.
Newcomers Cheesman and Smith look to have an immediate impact on the squad.
“They will definitely be in the mix,” Donahue said. “Smith has good size and can shoot the ball. Cheesman shoots the three which is something we lacked last year.”
The front three positions look solid for the Red, with any of seven guys having the opportunity to start. But no matter who plays, the frontcourt will be pushed by the new offensive scheme.
“My whole system is based on how to play basketball — we’ll have more ball movement, more cuts, more reading, and more screening. We’ll have a quicker pace and will push ball foul-line to foul-line. If we have an open shot, we’ll take it,” Donahue explained.
“There are going to be some ups and downs but we have to be consistent everyday. In the long run everybody will be happy with the future of our program,” he continued.
With a strong group of forwards, there is no doubting that.
Archived article by Sumeet Sarin