Fordham Basketball: Key Players in 2014-15

Charles Costello@@CFCostelloContributor IApril 13, 2014

Fordham Basketball: Key Players in 2014-15

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    Fordham's basketball program has been in rebuilding mode for two decades.

    Ever since the school made the move from the Patriot League to the Atlantic 10 prior to the 1995 season, it's been trying to get it right. The process has been long, challenging and, at times, agonizing.

    For example, the Rams are 34-85 in Tom Pecora's first four years at Rose Hill after winning just five games combined in the two seasons prior to his arrival.

    Still, it's fair to expect progress in Year 5.

    If 2014-15 is going to be the season Fordham turns the corner, these players are going to have to contribute in big ways.

Eric Paschall

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    When Eric Paschall committed to Fordham last November, the news sent shock waves across the recruiting world.

    Paschall, who was named the prep player of the year in New England this past season, is expected to have an immediate impact. The Rams better hope that's the case.

    ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor summarized how big of a signing this was.

    Tom Konchalski, the widely respected talent evaluator who produces the scouting newsletter HSBI Report, said Severe and Paschall represent Fordham's most promising package of recruits since it landed future NBA players Kenny Charles and Charlie Yelverton in the late 1960s.

    Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said he expects Paschall to start next season.

    "We expect him to come in and be a big part of everything we do right from the get-go," Pecora told WFUV Radio back on Mar. 15.

    Everyone seems to agree Fordham hit it big with this signing.

    The New York Post's Zack Braziller, who covers the local hoops scene, had this report last year on Paschall.

    One college coach familiar with the 6-foot-6 Paschall said he is a “steal” for Fordham, a versatile inside-out threat capable of making an immediate impact. Another said if uncommitted, he would have high-major programs blowing up his phone.

    “With him and Jon Severe, Fordham goes from the bottom of the Atlantic 10 to the middle and has a chance to do something,” the first coach said. “It’s two good building blocks for them to have.”

    It's a lot of pressure to put on a freshman, but Paschall is a difference-maker. More than anyone else, he holds the key to the new season.

Jon Severe

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    These days, Pecora talks at length about two things: recruiting and player development. Jon Severe represents the importance of the latter.

    In his freshman season, Severe finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game. He scored in double digits in 25 of Fordham's 31 games. And he scored 21 or more points in 11 of those games.

    But he was inconsistent, and he struggled throughout the season with his shot and shot selection, something that's not totally unexpected from a freshman.

    "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," Pecora told me after the season ended.

    You have to hope a year of college basketball experience, and playing alongside Paschall, will help Severe's development.

    If Paschall is as good as advertised, and Severe, Mr. New York Basketball in 2013, takes his game to the next level, that combination of star power could become the best in the conference.

Ryan Canty and Co.

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    The final numbers aren't particularly impressive—3.0 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game—but if you watched Fordham at all this past season, you know the impact Ryan Canty could have on a game.

    Canty didn't do much in the Rams' first three games, then took a leave of absence and missed the next six. It took him a while to get back in sync, but by the end of the season he was one of Fordham's best players.

    In five of the Rams' final six games, he had 10 or more rebounds, grabbing 16 rebounds in the regular season finale against George Washington, 19 in the Atlantic 10 play-in game against George Mason and 10 more in the Rams' first-round loss to Dayton.

    "As Ryan moves into his senior year we have to make sure that he has the kind of offseason that can lead him to come in as a senior starting center for us and have the ability to put up big numbers," Pecora said during his season-ending interview with WFUV.

    Fordham will need him to be a force down low, and as a senior it'll need his leadership, too.

    But it's not fair to pin it all on him. When it comes to play from their forwards, the Rams will also need better seasons from Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard, who will both be juniors next year, and Manny Suarez, who was ineligible this past season.

Bryan Smith and Co.

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    In 2013-14, the Rams struggled all season to find a third scorer. Bryan Smith could have been that guy, but he finished the year averaging just 7.3 points per game.

    In the Rams' 87-72 loss to Saint Joseph's on Feb. 22, Smith scored a career-high 28 points. In only six other games did he finish in double digits. As Smith struggled, so did Fordham.

    But Pecora stuck with him, and now he'll look to Smith to step up his game in his senior season.

    "I know what he's capable of doing," Pecora told WFUV Sports before the Saint Joseph's game. "Trust me, he's a very bright guy. He loves Fordham. He's got a great passion for the school and he wants to represent and play well. He's in the gym every day shooting."

    Like Canty, it would be unfair to put it all on Smith. Mandell Thomas, who averaged 11.9 points per game but who was up and down all year, has to play better as a junior. Antwoine Anderson, who was ineligible this year, will also get a look.

    Pecora talks a lot about senior leadership. That's one reason why Smith will be such an important piece for Fordham.

The Point Guard

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    Who this will be is anyone's guess.

    We know it won't be Branden Frazier, who just completed his senior season at Fordham. His loss will be felt. He was the Rams' point guard, their leading scorer and only senior.

    Pecora hasn't hid the fact he's been out there looking for a point guard.

    "We are out and we're actively recruiting point guards," he said last month on WFUV.

    This weekend, Zach Braziller, who writes frequently about Fordham's recruiting efforts, reported Nemanja Zarkovic, a Serbian point guard, would be visiting Rose Hill.

    He's one of many to have been mentioned as Fordham tries to find an answer at that important position.

    Pecora has talked a lot about talent, and how he thinks the Rams will have more talent on the roster this year than they've had in previous seasons.

    A lot of that depends on who he gets to run the point.