5 Questions Facing the Fordham Rams in 2014-15
Will Fordham finally turn the corner in 2014-15?
After seven straight losing seasons and nearly two decades worth of basketball frustration, the Rams will enter the new season with renewed hope, higher expectations and, as usual, a ton of questions.
Since head coach Tom Pecora has put a premium on recruiting and player development, the most pressing questions deal with those two areas: What impact will the new players have? And how much better will the returning players be?
With that being said, here are five questions facing the Rams next season.
Is Eric Paschall the Real Deal?
It's rare for a Fordham recruit to generate the type of publicity that Eric Paschall has since announcing last November that he would join the Rams.
Paschall, from Connecticut's St. Thomas More Prep, was named the New England prep player of the year this past season.
The prevailing wisdom was that Paschall would choose to go to a school with a better program, maybe one in a bigger conference. He chose Fordham, however, and people have been talking about how much of an impact he could have ever since.
Pecora has already said that Paschall will start. Because he plays above the rim, Pecora doesn't think he'll experience the same growing pains some freshmen—like Fordham's Jon Severe—often encounter when they make the transition from high school to college.
Pecora isn't the only one who has high hopes for Paschall. A headline in the New York Post referred to Paschall as a "stud," with one college coach telling the Post's Zack Braziller the following:
“With him and Jon Severe, Fordham goes from the bottom of the Atlantic 10 to the middle and has a chance to do something. It’s two good building blocks for them to have.”
If Paschall is the real deal, then Fordham may have, in Paschall and Severe, the best 1-2 combo in the Atlantic 10 for the next few years.
Does Jon Severe Take the Next Step?
If you look at numbers alone, and perhaps just read the press clippings, then you might conclude that Severe had a great freshman season.
He averaged 17.3 points per game, second on the team and fourth best in the Atlantic 10. His 536 points were the most ever by a Fordham freshman. He finished fifth in the nation in scoring among freshmen. Severe was named to the A-10's All-Rookie Team, and last week, he was named the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Rookie of the Year.
But there were times when he struggled, specifically with his shooting (.331 field-goal percentage) and also with his shot selection.
Still, Severe has a ton of talent.
“Jon is just like pure energy,” Pecora told the the New York Post's Howie Kussoy five games into the season. “He’s like a Super Ball with all this energy compressed together. He’s explosive.”
In that same article, Pecora compared him to Speedy Claxton and Charles Jenkins, two excellent guards who he coached when he was at Hofstra.
If Severe elevates his game—improving on his shooting percentage and taking the ball to the basket more effectively—then that 1-2 punch could be a dynamic one.
Will Nemanja Zarkovic Be Effective at the Point?
A week and a half ago, Fordham made news with the signing of Nemanja Zarkovic, the Serbian-born point guard who migrated with his family to Canada in 1998.
Zarkovic is a senior at Montreal's College Jean-De-Brebeuf where, earlier this month, he led his team to the provincial championship.
Fordham, in desperate need of a point guard due to the departure of senior Branden Frazier, had been actively recruiting players at that position.
Zarkovic, who can shoot, play defense and do a lot of other things well, is excited about getting the opportunity to play the point.
"I want to help lead and distribute the ball," he said in a phone interview just a few hours after signing his National Letter of Intent with Fordham.
"I don't need to score. I don't have that in my mind. I just want to help the team win. That's exactly the position I wanted and that's what they offered me."
His high school coach, Mike Chmielewski, is confident he'll be able to step right in and contribute. He praised his makeup just as much as he did his jump shot and defensive skills.
"He's got the mentality," Chmielewski said. "Everyone overlooks the mental aspect of being a point—leadership, holding your teammates accountable, making sure they're in the right spots or on the same page. That stuff doesn't show up on a sheet, but it's way more important."
Fordham can also turn to Antwoine Anderson, a redshirt freshman who was ineligible this past season, for minutes at the point, and Pecora won't hesitate to try out others at the position as well.
"A lot of teams I've coached I made sure there were three point guards," he said, one day before Zarkovic announced he was coming to Fordham. "I've played two point guards next to each other and had great success. They're going to go out and compete for minutes. It really doesn't matter who's in here."
What does matter is that someone—whether it's Zarkovic, Anderson, or both—steps up and proves to be a capable point guard.
Who Will Be the X-Factor?
Let's assume that Paschall is every bit the player people says he is, that Severe develops into a more effective shooter and has more success penetrating to the basket and that Zarkovic is able to give the Rams quality minutes at the point.
While that's a lot to assume, all three scenarios are very possible. And yet, Fordham will still need help; it'll need at least one additional player to step up to round out the Rams' version of the Core Four.
The leading candidates to fill the role will be seniors Bryan Smith and Ryan Canty, junior Ryan Rhoomes and Anderson.
Smith only averaged 7.3 points per game and struggled with his shot (.338 field-goal percentage) for most of the 2013-14 season, but he scored 28 points in Fordham's loss at Saint Joseph's on Feb. 22, a clear reminder of his potential.
Canty missed six games early on, and it took him two months to return to form. When he did, he was a major force, grabbing double-digit rebounds in five of the Rams' last six games.
Rhoomes is an interesting one. It's fair to say that his sophomore season could have gone a lot better. At 6'8" and 235 pounds, Rhoomes has the potential to be a major force down low. After averaging 3.6 points per game as a freshman, he averaged 6.3 points per game last year. His rebounds went from 5.1 per game to 6.9 per game. Fordham won four of the six games in which he had 11 or more rebounds. Without a doubt, Rhoomes has potential.
Here's what his high school coach at Cardoza, Ron Naclerio, told Braziller two years ago before Rhoomes' freshman season:
Tom Pecora just called me and he says Ryan is the best big man he’s ever gotten, whether he was at Hofstra or Fordham. They need a big guy. One thing they’re gonna find out about Ryan is he’s very efficient down low. He doesn’t take a lot of shots. He’s a team player. He’s gonna rebound, he knows how to play. He runs the court.
Two years from now, he can be vying for all-Atlantic 10 honors.
That didn't happen. If it does next season, Fordham will be in good shape.
Anderson was ineligible this past season and will certainly see time in the backcourt this year. A star at Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester, N.Y., Anderson could be a huge addition.
What Will the Atlantic 10 Look Like?
It's hard to imagine the A-10 being better than it was this past season, when it just may have been as good as ever.
Six teams made it to the NCAA tournament, with Dayton reaching the Elite Eight. There's no hiding from the fact that the strength of the conference has greatly impacted Fordham's growth.
The good news for the Rams is that not only will it have more talent next season, but as ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan points out, a number of teams in the conference are losing key seniors.
Pecora sees all this happening, and thinks the Rams will be in better shape as a result.
"That should be working in our favor as we become more of a veteran team," he said. "We bring in a little bit more talent, the product on the floor is better, they're more experienced. That's got to turn into W's for us this year."
Still, the Rams have their work cut out for them. Even if the A-10 does come down a bit, it will still be a very competitive conference. Fordham should be better, but the conference will still be good.
"It's gotten better each year since I've been here," Pecora said about the A-10.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.
Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CFCostello.