The Assignment: Orient your audience to the new-look Hofstra Pride.

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The best policy Hofstra can take towards 2012-2013 is to just forget it.

In Hempstead, a series of unfortunate events allowed a 3-2 start to dissipate into a 7-25 finish. Hofstra had the CAA’s least efficient offensive and defensive team. And for the second consecutive year, Hofstra garnered just one road win. Needless to say, it was a rough season for the Pride.

That isn’t a knock on former head coach Mo Cassara who, as Gary Moore noted, deserved a much better end result at Hofstra. Nor is it an insult to the players, who gave it their all every time out. That’s an old cliche, but when Bruiser Flint deems you the hardest playing team in the CAA, you can certainly believe it’s true.

Truth be told, there’s nowhere to go but up. You see, Hofstra played the bulk of last season drastically undermanned. Four (talented) players were dimissed from the team before December. Only three players played in all 32 of the Pride’s games. From December on, leading scorer Taran Buie and statsheet stuffing senior Stevie Mejia were Hofstra’s only scholarship guards who could handle the ball.

But with the bad comes some good, and Hofstra has a new head coach and a near spotlessly clean slate. Former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich is the new head honcho in Hempstead. Mihalich brings 265 career Ws (he’s the winningest coach in MAAC history) and an experienced, cohesive staff to Hofstra. Furthermore, Hofstra great and NBA veteran Speedy Claxton will roam the sideline as a special assistant to the head coach.

Only four scholarship players return from last year’s group. That sort of nonexistent continuity makes it difficult to talk about next year. Still, it’s hard not to be excited about the guys coming back…

- Rising senior Stephen Nwaukoni continued his progression ask one of the CAA’s best rebounders. Nwaukoni averaged 7.9 boards in his 23.4 minutes per game. Assuming a full recovery from the torn labrum that cost him the final five games of the season, he should be a top five rebounder in the Colonial this coming season.

- After Nwaukoni went down, rising junior Moussa Kone showed what he could do in extended minutes. As a starter, Kone averaged 12.6 points over Hofstra’s last five games. He’s an athletic guy who can run the floor and finish with ease.

- Jordan Allen had a sneaky good freshman season. The 6’6″ forward shot 53.7% from the field. His offensive game got better as the year went on, and he notched seven steals in a 65-56 at UNCW on February 9th.

- Darren Payen was an early season redshirt candidate, but did not have that luxury going after the events of November 30th. Payen provided some toughness in the low post, including a career-high five rebounds in his first collegiate game. Payen could develop into a feared shot-blocker in time.

- We’d be remiss to dismiss Adam Savion, a walk-on who “made things happen” (we trust Jerry Beach on that one) in his freshman season. He’s a glue guy who can give valuable minutes at point guard.

With nine open schollies, a coach has to get creative to avoid class imbalance. Since coming on board in mid-April, Mihalich has snagged four transfers and three recruits. Two of the transfers, Dion Nesmith and Zeke Upshaw, have completed their undergraduate studies and will be immediately eligible to play for the Pride.

Nesmith played the past two seasons at Monmouth, and averaged 8.1 points and 2.2 assists in 26.8 minutes this past season. Hofstra was in dire need of an experienced guard to handle the ball, and Nesmith can be that. Interestingly, Nesmith was a Northeastern QB before the university cut football in 2009. After jumping the fiery hoops of NCAA eligibility, Nesmith became eligible to play basketball at Monmouth.

- The 6’6” Upshaw played sparingly in his three seasons at Illinois State, but averaged a career-high 7.4 minutes per game in ’12-’13. Upshaw averaged 2.5 points per game, and scored a career-high 11 points against Creighton on January 2nd.

The other two transfers, Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, played for Mihalich at Niagara. They’ll probably be the most talented players on the floor in practice, which will positively effect Hofstra’s on-court product. Both will sit out this upcoming season before having two years remaining.

-  Green was the ’11-’12 MAAC Rookie of the Year, and an All-MAAC First Teamer in ’12-’13. Green averaged 16.5 points, 4.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game last season.

- The 6’6” Tanksley averaged 11.3 points per game, and was Niagara’s leading rebounder with 6.0 boards per game.

Thus far, Hofstra is scheduled to bring in three recruits. Daly Dose of Hoops discussed the three recruits with Mihalich, with some good quotes there.

- Within a week of Mihalich’s hiring, 6’4″ Chris Jenkins became his first commitment. Jenkins has a reputation as a sharpshooter, and once made seven 3-pointers in one quarter. Jenkins played his senior season at Gil St. Bernard’s.

- Mihalich’s second commitment came from 6’3” point guard Eliel Gonzalez. The Puerto Rico native averaged 11.6 points, 8.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds for the Florida Air Academy Falcons last season. His prep year should make him ready to play big minutes at the next level, and Hofstra will need that.

-6’5” Jamall Robinson was a Niagara commit who followed Mihalich to Hofstra. Robinson was a key contributor to Paul VI’s (VA) WCAC Championship team. Mihalich describes Robinson as versatile and physically ready to help.

Thus, Hofstra’s retooled roster looks like this:

Gonzalez – PG (Freshman)
Jenkins – SG (Freshman)
Robinson – SF (Freshman)
Allen – SF (Sophomore)
Payen – PF (Sophomore)
Green – PG (Junior)
Kone – PF (Junior)
Tanksley – SF (Junior)
Nesmith – PG/SG (Senior)
Nwaukoni – PF (Senior)
Upshaw – SF (Senior)

After sitting out the upcoming season, Green and Tanksley will be juniors in ’14-’15. That leaves two open scholarships. It wouldn’t be suprising to see Mihalich bring in another senior transfer. As we saw with Bilal Dixon at Towson this past season, those guys can do wonders to get the ball rolling for a program in transition.

With few holdovers from last season, it’s hard to say what last year’s team can teach us about next season. Hofstra did some things well: the Pride had the CAA’s best three-point defense (31%), was top 50 in offensive rebounds per game (11.1) and forced turnovers on 17.5% of plays.

For Mihalich, the big task will be finding a few of bucketgetters. Hofstra averaged just 58 points per game last season, which was 332nd in the D-I. That number dipped to 55.3 points in conference play. The Pride managed just 28.7% efficiency from three-point range.That’s bad news for a team that lost its top three scorers from a year ago.

But as you know, the personnel and makeup of this team will be much different across the board. You can bet that, with a healthy Nwaukoni, Hofstra can become one of the CAA’s better rebounding teams. This season probably won’t be pretty, but all of the new faces will make this one of the CAA’s most intriguing teams. Look for marked improvement from November to March, and expect this team to have a real chance to contend in ’14-’15.

Because really, there’s nowhere to go but up.

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