Dec. 2, 2003
My, what a difference a year makes. Last year, JU entered the season with one of the most experienced teams in school history with eight seniors and all five returning starters. A year later, the Dolphins sport the most inexperienced team in NCAA Division I (and school history) with no returning starters and just three reserves back from last year's squad: Forward Nolan McBride, the team's lone senior who played in 28-of-29 games at the wing; back-up point guard Riley Didion, who saw limited action behind All-Atlantic Sun guard Kevin Sheppard; and forward Jarred Stockton, who played in the first six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Junior guard David Lee also returns after missing all of last season, but has not played in a regular-season game since the close of the 2001-02 campaign. All totaled, JU returns less than 10 percent of its scoring and rebounding from a year ago and just 38 of a possible 200 minutes of playing time per game.
After more than 1,000 games and more than 600 career victories, could this be the greatest challenge of head coach Hugh Durham's 35-year career?
"Without a doubt, this is the most inexperienced team I have ever coached," said Durham, who is just 12 wins shy of becoming the Dolphins' all-time winningest Division I coach in just his seventh season. "It will be a challenge, but I am looking forward to it. I relish the opportunity to mold a new group and help them grow together as a team."
Many would assume that expectations would be greatly reduced considering the Dolphins' lack of experience. Not in Durham's case. He strongly believes the goal every season is to compete for the conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
"We have enough talent to compete, but as a coaching staff we have to put them in a position to maximize each individual's strengths and bring them together as a team. We want to peak down the stretch and be in a position to compete for the A-Sun title."
"Without a doubt, this is the most inexperienced team I have ever coached. It will be a challenge, but I am looking forward to it. I relish the opportunity to mold a new group and help them grow together as a team."
Head coach Hugh Durham
What To Expect
Despite a lack of experience, the basis for Dolphin basketball will remain the same. Compete at the defensive end of the floor and play unselfishly on offense. JU has been one of the top defensive teams in the Atlantic Sun the past three seasons, limiting opponents to just 66.4 points per game, which ranks first among all league teams. The Dolphins have also led the A-Sun in blocks for three straight seasons and have defended the three-pointer at a record-setting clip.
"There will be a learning curve for the newcomers on defense, but there should be no lack of effort on the defensive end," said Durham. "We might not be as strong individually on defense, but our team defense can be just as effective."
The addition of 7-foot center Jure Lozancic and 6-foot-11 Ljubisa Vrcelj will provide an inside presence, while transfer guards Aubrey Conerly and Woury Diallo will provide excellent pressure on the ball. The biggest question mark for the Dolphins will be defending the power forwards on the blocks. At 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, freshman forward Haminn Quaintance has the athletic skills to compete immediately in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but he is raw and will have to learn to play defense at the Division I level.
Offensively, things are new for everyone. JU will return to the high-post offense Durham employed his first season at Jacksonville to better suit this year's personnel. The Dolphins are not a big and powerful team, so they will try and spread out the defense and take advantage of each player's individual skills. It gives everyone more options to make plays, whether by penetrating, posting, passing or shooting.
"We have talented big men who pass the ball well and can hit the open 15-footer," said Durham. "With that kind of versatility, this offense should provide more options on each possession, regardless of the matchups."
Guards are definitely the strength of the team, despite the graduation of Kevin Sheppard, one of the top point guards in school history. Redshirt sophomore Riley Didion played in 21 games off the bench last season and has gained valuable experience competing against Sheppard every day in practice for the past two seasons. The former walk-on has a passion for the game and his work ethic has helped him emerge as a leader in just his second season on the court. He will battle for time at the point with junior college transfer Aubrey Conerly. Conerly was fifth in the nation with 8.9 assists per game last season at Illinois Valley Community College, where he also averaged 13.7 points and 2.8 steals per contest. Conerly has an excellent feel for the game and can push the ball in transition. He also has the strength and quickness to become an excellent on-the-ball defender.
JU's strongest position is at shooting guard with the return of David Lee and the addition of junior transfer Woury Diallo, a 6-foot-4 athletic guard who can score in a variety of ways. Despite not playing last season, Lee came on strong toward the end of his freshman year in 2001-02, when he averaged 8.4 points in the final four games, while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. "David has improved in all areas of his game and we look for him to contribute immediately for us this season," said Durham.
Diallo continues to impress the coaching staff, both offensively and defensively. He shoots the ball well from outside, but is strong enough to take it to the basket. He has also emerged as the team's top perimeter defender, sporting a warrior-like mentality. Diallo averaged 14.0 points a game last year at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, but also pulled down 116 rebounds from his guard position.
Walk-on Matthew Kampfe, a redshirt sophomore who played strong safety on the JU football team during the fall, gives the Dolphins an additional physical presence at the guard spot.
Forward could become a pivotal position for the Dolphins, both offensively and defensively. Nolan McBride, the team's lone senior returns after playing in 28-of-29 games last season. He averaged 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in just over 21 minutes a game, but his role has changed this year. McBride will be counted on to provide all-around leadership and will need to score and rebound for JU to be successful. Although his strength is penetrating to score, he will need to continue to improve his outside shooting, while competing on the defensive end of the floor. Nagging knee injuries kept McBride from working out all summer, but he has had a good preseason and has shown the ability to get up and down the floor. "We need Nolan to be a leader for us on and off the floor," said Durham. "He has competed well in the preseason and continues to improve in all facets of the game."
Redshirt freshman Jarred Stockton is healthy again after injuring his knee six games into last season. Stockton has the physical skills to develop a total game and become a solid player in the Atlantic Sun Conference, and he will be expected to contribute immediately in his first full season. He is a deceptive leaper with good speed and huge hands. As he continues to improve his outside shot, he will rely on his strength to get to the basket and finish. Stockton averaged 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in just over 10 minutes a game last season before getting injured.
The Dolphins' most exciting newcomer is Haminn Quaintance, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound freshman forward with relentless energy. Although he is relatively new to the game of basketball, his raw abilities and his high energy should pay immediate dividends for JU. He has excellent quickness, runs the floor well and is a quick leaper. Despite less than two seasons of high school basketball, Quaintance was a first-team all-state selection last year after averaging 22.0 points, 12,0 rebounds and 6.3 assists a game, and wowed onlookers at the North-South Florida High School All-Star game by posting a triple double. "Haminn has the skills and potential to become a standout player in the A-Sun," said Durham. "He will make an instant transition to the college game and we are counting on him to score, rebound and defend at a high level."
JU will sport a different look in the post this season with less bulk, but perhaps more skill. With the conversion to the high-post offense, Dolphin post players are not limited to defined positions on the offensive end of the floor. Junior center Jure Lozancic, the Dolphins' first 7-footer since 1987, gives JU legitimate size in the paint. He can also square up and hit the 15-footer or take the ball off the dribble to the hole. His international basketball background translates into excellent passing skills, which fits perfectly with the high-post sets, and he has solid feel for the game, which enables him to create opportunities for others. The biggest question mark is on the defensive end, where he will have to continue to develop and provide solid rebounding. Backing up Lozancic is 6-foot-11 true freshman Ljubisa Vrcelj, who has good size and strength for a freshman. He can hit the 15-footer, has good hands and moves well for a big man. Despite his youth, Vrcelj can expect a lot of minutes in his first season.
Redshirt sophomore walk-on Jason Prince could provide some defensive relief off the bench once conference play begins and his eligibility is cleared. He played the 2001-02 season at Ohio Valley (West Va.) College, where he averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a freshman before transferring to JU last year. Redshirt freshman Scott Herold benefited from sitting out his freshman season as he made the transition to Division I basketball. He is stronger after a year in the weight room and understands his role of trying to make others around him better.
Early season non-conference games at UNC-Wilmington, a perennial NCAA Tournament team, and at upstart Arkansas from the Southeastern Conference will provide JU with a quick wake-up call. The remainder of the Dolphins' non-league schedule should help JU prepare for the rigors of a 20-game conference slate.
The A-Sun has returned to an 11-team, one division format, which means the Dolphins will play four more league games than a year ago. JU's first three A-Sun games are on the road at defending divisional champions Troy State and Belmont, as well as league newcomer Lipscomb in Nashville. After returning home for a pair of games against rivals Florida Atlantic and UCF, the Dolphins will hit the road again for three consecutive games against Stetson, Campbell and Garder-Webb. JU then plays eight of its last 11 games in the friendly confines of historic Swisher Gymnasium, starting with preseason favorite Georgia State in late January.