On a Long Runway, Fordham May Finally Be Ready for Takeoff

Charles Costello@@CFCostelloContributor IJune 25, 2014

Nov 12, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA; Fordham Rams head coach Tom Pecora watches his team during the second half of a game against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse won the game  89-74. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Fordham basketball is in a much better place than it's been over the last two decades.

There have been far too many years of disappointment and shattered hopes; perhaps a little history lesson is in order.

Nick Macarchuk, who coached Fordham for 12 seasons, guided the Rams to the NCAA tournament in 1992, but that's when they were still a member of the Patriot League.

When it upgraded to the Atlantic 10 prior to the 1995 season, Fordham didn't have A-10 talent, making rebuilding an impossible task. Macarchuk was gone after the 1998-99 season.

He was replaced by Bob Hill, the former NBA coach who brought name recognition. Hill's final season in the Bronx (2002-03) was one of the program's worst ever, with the Rams finishing 2-26.

Then it looked like Dereck Whittenburg might be the answer. His team finished .500 in 2005-06, his third year at the school, then 18-12 the next season. It went downhill from there. In Whittenburg's final two years, the Rams won four games. When he was let go in December of 2009, the program had hit rock bottom.

Tom Pecora was brought in to fix what had become, for a number of reasons, a huge mess.

Pecora was hired on March 25, 2010. Four years later, he appears to have the Rams, who have won just 34 games in that time, positioned to win for the first time in a long time.

It's not that we haven't been able to say that before.

Longtime observers of the program remember the optimism when Hill, big name and all, was brought in. He was able to bring in some talent, and the team did win 26 games in his first two years.

But the general feeling was that it wasn't about building a program so much as it was about winning in the present. That's not how you have sustained success in college basketball.

Meanwhile, after Whittenburg's team won 18 games, it looked like the Rams had arrived. But a year later, following a 12-win season, five seniors who were all instrumental in turning the program around were gone. Finding replacements proved to be a difficult task.

And that brings us to 2014. For the first time in Pecora's tenure at Rose Hill, the necessary pieces appear to be in place. Translation: There's more A-10 talent on the roster.

It's a credit to the coaching staff that they were able to convince young men like Eric Paschall, the New England Prep Player of the Year last season, and Jon Severe, Mr. New York Basketball in 2013, to be part of what could be something special in the Bronx. Both could have very easily gone to programs that have won in bigger conferences.

The coaching staff also gets credit for going the international route, selling the school and their philosophy to players like Nemanja Zarkovic, the Serbian-born point guard who migrated to Canada and played for Montreal's College Jean-De-Brebeuf. Also, Christian Sengfelder (Germany), Dekeba Battee-Aston (Australia) and Zaire Thompson (Germany) will join the Rams next week.

Those young and new faces join a core group of returning players. Ryan Canty, Ryan Rhoomes, Bryan Smith and Mandell Thomas have been around for a few seasons, and you hear the same thing from and about all of them: They're tired of losing.

Antwoine Anderson and Manny Suarez, ineligible last season, are in the mix as well.

There are questions, of course, and June can produce few answers.

But the early returns are good. Paschall looks like he could be a star. Zarkovic has been here for a few weeks, and already you can see him asserting himself as a leader. Rhoomes seems rejuvenated and determined. Severe has a year of experience under his belt. I could go on.

It's easy to knock Fordham. That's what two decades of basketball frustration will do. But it's also impossible to ignore what could be.

Pecora talks a lot about talent, about turning the corner and about the runway being long. He's about as honest a guy as you'll find.

I think he's right. The runway to building a winner was a lot longer than people thought. But now Fordham seems poised to turn the corner. It appears the talent is there.

That doesn't mean it'll be easy or that it'll happen overnight. It's hard to ask for more patience, but this will take time.

In December of 1994, the university made the jump from the Patriot League to the Atlantic 10. No one could have predicted how difficult the next two decades would be.

But in its 20th anniversary season in the Atlantic 10, Fordham, on that long runway, may finally be ready for takeoff.


Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Twitter: @CFCostello.


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