In an offseason punctuated by signings and new arrivals, it's important to remember that Fordham will return some key pieces in 2014-15.
Mandell Thomas is one of them.
By his own admission, after a strong finish to his freshman season, Thomas did not take the next step as a sophomore.
As a rookie, he started 21 games, averaging 15.5 points over the last 12 games of the year and 13.9 points in Atlantic 10 play, including spectacular scoring efforts against Saint Louis (22 points), Xavier (23 points) and St. Bonaventure (22 points).
He finished the season averaging 9.8 points per game, third best on the team.
Last year, Thomas got off to a quick start, scoring at least 10 points in 11 of the Rams' first 13 games. But he was inconsistent after that—too many clunkers mixed in with reminders of his potential.
He averaged 11.9 points per game as a sophomore.
In 2012-13, he finished strong. In 2013-14, he started strong. This season, he'll try to put it all together from start to finish.
"[As a freshman], he ended the season with a great month of February," Fordham head coach Tom Pecora told Bleacher Report.
"Last year, he didn't build off that. He got it going again later in the year, but he has the talent and ability to become a more consistent, high-octane player in the Atlantic 10.
"That's what he's been working on this summer and so far he's done a good job with that."
Pecora is familiar with the Thomas family. Though he couldn't recall to what extent he recruited him, Pecora did say he saw a lot of Thomas' dad, Chad, when the latter was in high school.
Chad ended up attending Rhode Island, where he played with future NBA star Lamar Odom. To this day, Pecora remembers what it was that stood out about Mandell's father.
"His dad was a very good basketball player, but he played as hard as anyone I've ever watched," Pecora said. "I always tell (Mandell), 'If you play as hard as your father, you'll be an all-conference player.'"
Based on what Thomas gave the Rams down the stretch of his freshman season, he appeared to be on a good track.
But not every ride is a smooth one, something Thomas certainly learned last season. He knows he'll have to be better in 2014.
"I felt I could have done better," Thomas told Bleacher Report when asked about his sophomore campaign. "Coming into my sophomore year, I started off good but ended up a little slow. This year I need to progress more and get my game more steady."
Thomas talked about needing to work on his ball-handling and getting more consistency with his jump shot.
"I definitely have to get better," he said. "I'm not where I want to be right now. I just have to do everything I can to continue to improve my game."
Thomas also talked about leadership.
This year, he'll be one of four upperclassmen on the Rams roster, joining Ryan Canty, Bryan Smith and Ryan Rhoomes.
It will be a young team, one where the players have spent the past few weeks getting to know each other on and off the court. As a junior, Thomas will play a huge role in the team's development.
"I expect more out of him," Pecora said. "We have four upperclassmen. Those four guys have to coach the locker room. Your upperclassmen have all got to be on the same page and have to be united in moving guys forward."
"Young guys need guidance," Thomas said. "It's my place to teach the new guys what they need to know."
Just like there will be higher expectations for Fordham this season, there will be additional pressure on Thomas as well.
He says the team chemistry has been better this summer, but he knows there's still a lot of work to be done.
"At the end of the day I have to go out on the court and prove myself," he said. "If I can go out there and prove myself...that would be good."
Pecora is holding out hope for Thomas.
"Potential's a scary word," he said. "He oozes potential. Now it's time to step up and play like an upperclassman."
Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.
Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @CFCostello.
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