Fordham's Tom Pecora Looks for Rams to Turn the Corner in Year 5

Charles CostelloContributor INovember 9, 2016

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

At Fordham University, the rebuilding continues.

Nearly two decades after it made the jump from the Patriot League to the Atlantic 10, Fordham is still trying to find its way in the world of big-time college basketball.

Just once in the last 22 years—which includes their last three in the Patriot League—have the Rams finished above .500. In 16 of their 19 seasons in the A-10, they've finished below .500 in conference play.

After winning 155 games in nine years as the head coach at Hofstra, Tom Pecora came to Rose Hill in 2010 to change that. While it's been a struggle, Pecora thinks the Rams are in a good position moving forward.

"I think everything is in place here," Pecora said during an interview in his office last week. "We've done everything here that we thought we would do, except win more games. I believe we're on the precipice of doing that." 

Pecora is 34-85 in his first four years in the Bronx, including 10-21 this past season. Still, he's talked a lot about how close his team is to turning the corner. Pecora expects that to happen in year five.

"I think it's very important for the growth of this program," Pecora said when I asked him if 2014-15 would be a crucial year for the Rams.

"Years one and two are easy because no one expects you to win. Years three and four are difficult because people expect you to turn the corner, but you're not quite ready to yet. And then in years five and six is when you start to reap the benefits of it. That's the way to build a solid program."

Coming off a three-win season in 2008-09 and a two-win season in 2009-10, the Rams won seven games in Pecora's first year at the school. They won 10 the following year, seven in 2012-13 and 10 this past season. Pecora expects better results next year, and he offered a quick response when asked why things would be different.

"Talent," he said. "We have more talent than we've ever had. The players we have are maturing. We played with one senior (Branden Frazier) this year. Next year we'll have players who got a lot of minutes as freshmen and sophomores."

"It comes down to maturation and talent," he would go on to say. "Talent wins basketball games."

That explains why Pecora has been so busy trying to secure talent. This is a process that started a while ago, of course, but over the past couple of weeks since the Rams' season ended, Pecora has been out on a daily basis trying to convince some of the best high school players to come to Fordham.

"The bottom line is you have to get talented players," Pecora said. "I don't think we've ever brought in more talented kids. And the other guys are developing and becoming better players."

His effort paid off in a big way last fall when Fordham landed Eric Paschall, the prep player of the year in New England this past season. At 6'6", Paschall is a dynamic player. He and Jon Severe, who just completed his freshman season, will be a big part of next year's team.

Severe averaged 17.3 points per game during his freshman season, but he struggled at times with his shot and with shot selection. Because of Paschall's size and athleticism, Pecora doesn't think he'll go through the same rookie struggles that Severe did. He expects Paschall to start next season.

"I think he's further along (than Severe) in a lot of ways," Pecora said. "His physical stature will allow him to get through a lot of the things that Jon struggled [with].

"The hardest thing[s] for high school players when they move to college are...playing with a yellow light instead of a green light, and understanding when you can and can't get to the rim. Eric will be playing above the rim. I think the transition will be smoother for him."

If you're looking for more reasons to believe that the results will be different next year, Pecora also pointed to the way his team competed this past season, even as the losses mounted.

The Rams almost pulled off two upsets late in the season—one against La Salle and another one week later in the regular-season finale against George Washington—and they won the play-in game of the Atlantic 10 tournament before falling to Dayton the next day.

"There was no quit in them," Pecora said. "We played in a lot of really close games in the A-10 this year. My first couple of years here we didn't." 

As if rebuilding isn't difficult enough, Fordham is trying to do it in a conference that's as strong now as it's ever been. Six teams from the A-10 made the NCAA tournament. One, Dayton, came within 40 minutes of the Final Four.

Pecora expects the league to remain competitive, but as teams lose key seniors and the Rams gain more talent and experience, he thinks they'll be able to move up in the conference.

"Each year I've been at Fordham the A-10 has become a better conference," Pecora said. "When you're trying to rebuild something it's a process. It makes it that much more difficult when everyone in the league continues to get better and better."

"I think it peaked this year," Pecora went on to say about the A-10. "It could be as good next year but I don't think it can be better. And I think we can be better."

"The league will come down and we'll come up a little bit," he added, "and that's how I believe we can make a move in the conference next year."

Pecora thinks the pieces are in place. Now, it's a matter of doing something that hasn't been done at Rose Hill in a long time.

"The last thing we need to do here is win games," he said. 

All quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.