Fordham Basketball: Evaluating the State of the Program
Fordham head coach Tom Pecora knows exactly what it takes to build a winning college basketball program.
He was an assistant on Jay Wright's staff when Wright turned Hofstra into a tournament team.
When Wright left for Villanova, Pecora took over and won 155 games in nine seasons as the head coach of the Pride, taking them to the National Invitation Tournament three times.
In 2010, Fordham chose Pecora to be the guy to turn around a program that had been down on its luck for nearly two decades.
Though the Rams have won only 34 games in Pecora's first four years, there's great anticipation—and hope—heading into the 2014-15 season.
If you subscribe to what Pecora's been saying about how to build a winner at this level, the pieces seem to be falling into place.
"A very smart coach once said, 'It's about recruiting, it's about scheduling and then it's about coaching,'" Pecora said a couple of months ago, citing a line that's become one of his favorites.
"All three are challenges in different ways," he added.
Look at his four years at Fordham—or go back to the last 19 at Rose Hill—and you can see just how accurate that statement is.
After all, it's hard to imagine anything being more important than recruiting, scheduling and coaching.
Let's take a look at the state of the program in each of those areas.
Given Fordham's lack of success on the court, what Pecora and his staff have been able to accomplish on the recruiting trail has been remarkable.
How have they done it? By working relentlessly to convince young men and their families that Fordham is the right place for them. By selling the school, telling anyone who will listen that at Fordham they'll get a great education. Pecora likes to say it's about 40 years, not four years.
To be fair, that only goes so far. It takes a special kid to buy in. Fordham has found and convinced some to do just that.
In 2012, the Rams landed Ryan Rhoomes, who was heavily recruited following a very successful high school career at Cardozo in Bayside, Queens.
Though it's been a struggle at times—he averaged 3.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a freshman and 6.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore—when he signed, it was thought to be a huge coup for the Rams. This is a player who at one point had committed to TCU and had other schools going after him.
Rhoomes has two years left and could still become the player many thought he'd be.
Meanwhile, Jon Severe, out of Christ the King High School in Queens, came on board the following year.
Severe was the 2013 New York State Mr. Basketball, the New York Post's and New York Daily News' Player of the Year and a 2013 Parade All-American. He could have gone elsewhere.
As a freshman, Severe averaged 17.3 points per game, was named to the Atlantic 10’s All-Rookie Team and was the 2014 Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Rookie of the Year.
He's only going to get better.
And then there's Eric Paschall. He's the one everyone's raving about.
Last season, Paschall played at Connecticut's St. Thomas More and was named the New England Prep Player of the Year.
Paschall was already a well-known commodity before moving to the Connecticut school for his senior year.
In his junior season at Dobbs Ferry High School, he averaged 26.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, and was the Class B Player of the Year and Westchester County's Mr. Basketball.
He's big and he's athletic. Pecora says he'll start next season, and he could be a game-changer.
Consider, too, that this offseason, Fordham has brought in point guard Nemanja Zarkovic and forward Christian Sengfelder. Just last week, the school announced the signings of Dekeba Battee-Aston and Zaire Thompson.
Fordham is still a work in progress, but as a result of their recruiting, the Rams will have more to work with.
Scheduling remains a challenge. So does the schedule for that matter.
For starters, the Atlantic 10 has never been better.
Last year, the conference earned six bids to the NCAA tournament after getting five the previous year.
Think that's not challenging enough? In 19 years in the A-10, the Rams are 72-232 against conference opponents. And this year, they'll see more of the league than ever before.
For the first time since Fordham joined the league prior to the 1995 season, the conference is switching to an 18-game schedule.
Fordham will play five home-and-home matchups and eight single games against A-10 teams.
The Rams will see Dayton, La Salle, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Saint Joseph's twice and the remaining schools once.
Duquesne, George Washington, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth will visit the Bronx, and the Rams will go to Davidson, George Mason, Richmond and St. Bonaventure.
That will be a tough stretch.
Before they get there, however, Fordham must win games against non-conference opponents. The Rams are 24-29 against non-conference teams during Pecora's tenure at the school.
The Rams will play St. John's at Madison Square Garden and Manhattan possibly at the Barclays Center. Monmouth and Siena will come to Rose Hill, and Fordham will play at UConn and Maryland.
The rest of the schedule has not been announced. No matter what, it won't be easy.
Now comes the player development.
It's hard to imagine a coaching staff that works harder and is more enthusiastic doing what they do than the one at Fordham.
But at some point, you have to get results. In other words, you have to win. Pecora understands that better than anyone.
"It's got to pan out," he said. "I'm not naive. I understand it's Year 5. It's been quite a process here.
"I really feel we've never been more talented. You need talent to win basketball games in the Atlantic 10.
"It's about being able to turn the corner in the A-10. Hopefully this crew is good enough to do that."
Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.
Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Twitter: @CFCostello.