The Gaels made it back to the NCAA Tournament last year with a veteran team including six seniors, but now they must rebuild their team. Head Coach Tim Cluess is attracting nine new players to build around returning point guard Lamont "Momo" Jones and swing forward Sean Armand, as reported in a press release today.
This was Cluess' first real recruiting since coming to Iona prior to the 2010-2011 season. He had nine open scholarships to fill with six seniors graduating as well as the departures of Josh Gomez and Ra'Shad James. Returning on the roster along with Jones and Armand will be senior power forward Taaj Ridley, who started most of the games last year and Nyandigisi Moikobu.
"Momo" Jones averaged 15.7 points and 2.9 assists a game playing along side Scott Machado, who is now on the Houston Rockets' summer league squad. As a sophomore, Sean Armand averaged 20 minutes of playing time in 2011-12 and 9.5 points per game. Armand had a breakout 32-point game last year at Madison Square Garden and then started the Gaels last eight games of the year. Taaj Ridley at 6'7" and 225 pounds will be looking to improve his rebounding of four per game last year to increase his playing time. The fourth returning player is "Digs" Moikobu another 6'7" player who has seen only limited playing time for the Gaels.
The nine new players for the Gaels are:
Sr. Curtis Dennis is a guard who joins the Gaels as a transfer student from the University of Toledo, where he played in 27 games and averaged 12.7 points per game. Dennis made 49 three-point shots last season. Prior to Toledo, the 6'5", 205 pound swing man played 41 games at New Mexico. A local player from the Bronx, he played high school ball in New Rochelle at Blessed Sacrament-St. Gabriel.
Jr. DeSean Anderson, from Inglewood, California. DeSean is a 6'8", 200 pound forward, who played as a sophomore at Los Angeles Trade Technical College in a season highlighted by a 31-point effort and a four rebound effort. His freshman season was spent at San Bernardino Valley College in Colton, California. As a senior at Inglewood High School, Anderson averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Jr. DeShawn Gomez is a point guard who comes to Iona after playing at Antelope Valley College and at New Mexico State. As the second Inglewood, CA native in the recruiting class along with new teammate DeSean Anderson, Gomez led Antelope Valley to a 44-18 record in two seasons while completing 93 threes and generating 295 assists. An eye injury that he suffered at New Mexico State after seven games caused him to seek a medical waiver granted by the NCAA.
Jr. Brandon Parga from Pico Rivera, CA is a tall, 6'5" shooting guard-small forward who scored 17.8 points per game last season at Citrus College in Glendore, CA. As a freshman he shot 40.8 percent from the floor leading his team to the CCCAA State Championship game.
So. Michael Haynes, from Chicago, IL is a 6'7" forward who played at Indian Hills Community College scoring 6.9 points and grabbing 4.5 rebounds per game. Originally signed by Texas-El Paso, he led his Washington High School team to back-to-back appearances in the city championship.
So. David Laury, from West Orange, NJ is a 6'9", 240 pound power forward-center who played the 2010-11 season at Lamar State College in Texas and enrolled at Iona in January. He is described by Iona as a "Virtual Point Forward" and as a "Strong rebounder and a great passer". In 16 games at Lamar, the West Orange, NJ native averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Laury will be eligible to play at the end of the first semester.
Fr. Grant Ellis comes from Newark, NJ and a flourishing Hudson Catholic team, which had a 25-3 record in 2011-12. Considered a candidate to start as a freshman, the 6'5" wing had seven games in which he scored ten or more points for the Hawks including a 19-point effort this past February.
Fr. A.J. English III is a shooting guard who played last year at St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, CT and averaged 18 points per game. A 6'3" shooting guard, English is considered a scoring threat suited to Iona's uptempo offense. His dad played two seasons for the Washington Bullets from 1990-1992.
So. Tavon Sledge, from Spring Valley, NY is a transfer from Iowa State. Although he will sit out the 2012-2013 season, he will hold onto three years of eligibility. Sledge is a 5'9" guard who played at Half Hollow Hills West High School in Dix Hills and he averaged 25.3 points and 5.2 assists per year. Look for Sledge to compete for "Momo" Jones' point guard spot in 2013-2014.
Seven of these nine players are taking summer courses at Iona. The school has been invited to play in a Labor Day weekend tournament in Canada.
The class is a sharp contrast from Iona teams in the recent past which were composed primarily with players from New York City. This class attracted two players from New York, three from California, two from New Jersey and one each from Illinois and Delaware. Perhaps the numerous games that Iona played on national television last year helped attract such a diverse class.
Looking at the roster breakdown:
Guards are lead by Sr. "Momo Jones" at the point with Jr. Sean Armand given the option to play at the 2 or 3. Newcomer Sr. Curtis Dennis joins the Gaels' backcourt to pair with Jones. Backing up "Momo" should be Jr. DeShawn Gomez. Learning and competing for time will be the two freshmen Grant Ellis and AJ. English III.
Small Forwards: So. Michael Haynes, at 6'7" and 225 pounds has a shot to start at the 3 if Coach Cluess wants to play big and have Sean Armand at the 2. Another option is Jr. Brandon Parga, who at 6'5" can play the 2 or 3.
Power Forward-Centers: Sr. Taaj Ridley is the incumbent at the 4 and may play the 5 until Laury is available at the Christmas break. Jr. DeSean Anderson brings his 6'8", 200 pound size to the 4 or 5.
So. David Laury will come aboard in late December adding his 6'9", 240 pound size and giving Iona the true center that they have lacked. We might see "Digs" Moikobu (6'7", 235 pounds), cover time here as well.
Definitely a rebuilding and reorganizing year for Iona. A lot depends on the leadership ability of the returning big three of Jones, Armand and Ridley. Have to imagine that "Momo" Jones wants another chance to prove himself in the bright lights of the NCAA tournament.
Just a month of summer and half of a football season before another season of college basketball.
Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football and Iona basketball for WVOX 1460 AM and Sons of the American Legion Radio. @SAL50NYRadio.