2011-12 Emory Men's Basketball Season Preview
The 2011-12 Emory men's basketball team looks to continue and build upon the momentum gained from last year's successful campaign that saw the Eagles post an overall record of 20-5 (the program's first 20-win season since 1989-90), including an 11-3 slate in the UAA, good for second place, with that win total the second highest in school annals.
Fifth-year head coach Jason Zimmerman eagerly awaits the upcoming season as he welcomes back an experienced cast the features 12 returning letterwinners, including four starters, from last season's club. Among those back in the fold are five seniors who will be looked to provide leadership on a daily basis as the Eagles aim for another big year that they hope will culminate in a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
"We have a great senior class that has been with us now for four years and who have taken steps every year," Zimmerman said. "They have been through a lot of battles – our first year they won seven games overall and two in the league – last season they won 20 overall and 11 in the conference. A process of learning how to win has taken place and I think that going those tough times and sticking with that process is going to help make that group, as well as our program, take another step forward."
After leading the UAA and ranking 14th nationally in scoring last season (83.6 ppg), Emory should be able to put out a potent attack with 90 percent of the scoring, 97 percent of the three-point field goals and 95 percent of the assists returning from a year ago. Aiding in the team's quest for a dynamic scoring attack is the fact that the top five point producers from '10-11 are back in the lineup. Emory scored 85 or more points on 12 occasions last season and eclipsed the 90-point mark in eight contests.
"We want to do three things – we want to defend you, we want to attack and finally, value the basketball," Zimmerman said. "Those three things we will continue to do well, and while we can get better in those areas, if this team defends well, they are going to have a chance to win some games because we do value the basketball (led UAA in turnover ratio) and we do attack."
Emory will have an extremely talented backcourt in 2011-12, headlined by 5-foot-9 Austin Claunch. The heady point guard is coming off a banner season that saw him post team-high averages in scoring (16.5 ppg), assists (7.4 apg) and minutes (36.3 mpg). A First Team All-UAA pick for two straight seasons, he ranked among the league's top-10 performers in six statistical categories and paced the loop in assists, minutes, steals (1.9 spg), free throw percentage (.875), and assist/turnover ratio (3.0). An All-South Region honoree as chosen by both D3hoops.com and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Claunch has garnered 2011-12 Preseason Honorable Mention All-America honors as picked by The Sporting News and DIII News.
"I think that we have the best point guard in the country for what we do," said Zimmerman. "Austin has been tremendous over the last three years, especially with his leadership both on and off the court. It's a great luxury as a coach to have a player who you can give the ball to and know that something good is going to happen when he has it. He is a great anchor for our backcourt."
Junior Alex Greven, 6-foot-3, is another member of the team who blossomed last year. A Second Team All-UAA selection, he drew starting assignments in all 25 games and held down the No. 2 spot on the team and No. 8 spot on the league's scoring ladder with a 14.5 points-per-game average. A double-figure scorer in 20 games last season, Greven's athleticism at both ends of the floor will be a key to the success of this year's squad.
"Alex has improved his game and how he can use his skill set in what we do to make people better and get us better shots as a team," stated Zimmerman. "He is a tremendous defensive player who can cause problems for opposing guards."
Seniors Alex Gulotta and Justin Resnick are key offensive contributors with their long-range shooting abilities enabling Emory never to be out of a game or giving it the opportunity to blow a contest wide open.
The 6-foot-1 Gulotta, started 24 games a year ago, and produced an 11.8 per-game scoring effort, good for 11th place on the UAA scoresheet. A double-figure point producer in 14 games, Gulotta knocked down a team-leading 71 three-point field goals, the third-highest seasonal mark in school annals, and his 2.8 triples per game led the UAA and stood 38th nationally. More importantly, he was successful on 45.8 percent of his opportunities from beyond the arc, good for 10th place on the national scene.
"Alex was leading the country in three-point shooting three quarters of the way through the season last year and he can really make shots," Zimmerman said. "He has added to his game during his career, playing off the dribble and also defending better. We look for him to continue those strides his final year."
Resnick, 6-foot-2, gave the Eagles instant heat off the bench last season, draining 34 three pointers, second high on the team, while averaging 5.6 points and 17.6 minutes per outing. He turned in 10 performances of two or more treys and ranked 13th among UAA players with a 37.8 percent mark (34-of-90) from distance.
"Justin will be in the mix to possibly start while playing many minutes," said Zimmerman. "His basketball IQ is high and he can shoot it. Those two things allow us to take advantage of schemes that teams try to use against us."
Zimmerman believes that junior Nash Oh, who provided steady minutes last year as a reserve in 24 minutes, is ready to assume a bigger role this year with a year of the Emory system under his belt.
"Nash will play back-up at the 1 & 2 spots," Zimmerman said. "He had a great summer and he is somebody who is talented at scoring the basketball."
Freshman Mike Florin is a gifted first-year prospect who will find his way into the lineup. The 6-footer averaged 15.0 points and 8.0 assists per game during the 2010-11 campaign in helping his Long Island Lutheran squad to a New York Federation championship.
"We are looking forward to Mike getting involved in our system and learning how we do things," Zimmerman said. "He enjoyed a tremendous senior year in high school and subsequent summer."
Players who will provide depth in the backcourt include senior Chris Cohen, sophomore Joey Friess and freshmen Josh Schattie and Josh Wintermantel.
Heading up the frontcourt for Emory will be a pair of players coming off extremely productive seasons, junior Michael Friedberg and sophomore Jake Davis.
The 6-foot-6 Friedberg started 23 of the 24 games he saw action in a year ago and averaged 8.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest with his rebound total ranking second on the team and ninth among UAA performers. Friedberg's length and anticipation skills helped him become a formidable force on the defensive end of the floor with his 51 blocked shots the second-highest mark in school history and his 2.1 rejections per game, good for the No. 2 spot on the UAA ladder.
"Despite battling a broken hand for most of the season, Michael had a great year," Zimmerman said. "He has come back with an improved skill set and increased confidence level with his left hand. He does an outstanding job on the defensive end and causes some problems with his length and shot-blocking ability."
Davis had an immediate impact on the program his initial year, capturing UAA Rookie of the Year honors as well as Second Team All-UAA acclaim after leading the club and standing sixth in the conference in rebounding (6.5 rpg) while tossing in 13.3 points per game, tops among the league's freshman class. A double-figure scorer on 18 occasions, his 332 total points represented the third-highest total by an Emory freshman.
"Jake came back to school in good shape which was important because he is going to be playing more minutes this year," stated Zimmerman. "He is a versatile player who fits in, both inside and outside, in our offensive system."
With improved defensive play that he has shown in preseason drills, junior Ollie Carleton, who has seen limited action his first two years, could emerge as a key contributor. The 6-foot-4 Carleton has impressed the Emory coaching staff with his development which bodes well for the team.
Freshman Alex Foster, 6-foot-7, is a skilled player with a good scoring touch that should help him land some game action.
The team will miss the services of senior Corey Spraggins for the first half of the season after suffering a torn ACL last spring. Spraggins, 6-foot-5, played in all 25 contests off the bench in 2010-11 and is one of the team's more experienced cagers, playing in a total of 75 games as an Eagle, 34 in a starting capacity. His return will certainly boost the fortunes of the contingent.
"Corey gives us a great leadership and energy," said Zimmerman. "He knows the program and is one of our seniors who has gone through the learning process of how to win. It will be good to get him back."
Others battling for game action up front include, junior Ryan Peters, 6-foot-4, who played in 13 games last year, freshman Tore Vicarisi and junior Caesar Anyogu.
The combination of 2010-11's breakout year, the experience that returns and the influx of promising talent has not gone unnoticed by college basketball prognosticators with the Eagles being ranked 13th in the D3hoops.com Preseason Poll and 19th by DIII News. As the season draw nears, and with Emory being recognized as one the top teams in the D-III ranks, Zimmerman is sure of a couple of things.
"Before anybody forgets, we were 20-5 last year, 11-3 in the league, and did not make the NCAA Tournament," says the Emory leader. "This team understands that it does not want to be sitting in a room at the end of the season like last year feeling disappointed. So, people may respect us a little bit more than in the past because of the success of the past couple of seasons but this team has taken each game as the next game and hasn't looked past anything. That's what we will continue to do with our older players understanding how important each practice and every game is."