Fordham Basketball: 3 Most Encouraging Developments This Summer
Don't tell the Fordham Rams that the college basketball season is still months away.
When you're coming off seven straight losing seasons and have undergone a major overhaul of your roster, you treat every day like it's a game day.
The result has been an offseason of transition and pleasant surprises at Fordham.
Since late May, players have been on campus taking classes, working out and getting to know each other on and off the court. Meanwhile, coaches have been strategizing, recruiting and, well, coaching.
While you're only going to learn so much about a team in the summer months, there are some real encouraging signs coming out of Rose Hill.
When identifying and analyzing the most important developments, you have to start with the players. What's really plagued the Rams the past few years has been a lack of talent, and bringing in solid players has been the top priority as of late.
Therefore, anything that happens—good or bad—in 2014-15 will be a result of how that talent transitions to the college game, how individual players develop and how effectively everything blends together.
With that as the criteria, let's identify what we know about the Rams so far by taking a look at the three most encouraging developments this summer.
Rookies Seem Right at Home
You can't win without the players, and Fordham finally appears to have them in place. That's the most positive development of the offseason to date.
They come from all over.
Eric Paschall is from Dobbs Ferry, New York. Nemanja Zarkovic is from Canada. Christian Sengfelder and Zaire Thompson are from Germany. Dekeba Battee-Aston is from Australia.
Now, they're all in the Bronx.
Paschall was labeled a star long before he stepped foot on Fordham's campus. In the two months since he arrived, he hasn't disappointed.
At 6'6", the New England prep player of the year is expected to start in 2014. With his talent and athleticism, he should have an immediate impact.
When Zarkovic signed in April, he was hailed as a smart player who could run an offense. People talked about his maturity and his leadership, about the intangibles he'd bring to a team.
If it's possible, Zarkovic has been better than advertised. He's humble yet not afraid of the spotlight. He is talented talented yet willing to learn. And he's been a leader since day one.
"I can't be afraid to talk because we need leaders here," Zarkovic told Bleacher Report last month. "We have a few seniors, but most of the guys who I'll work with over the next four years are very young. I'm just trying to figure out a way to get everyone to work together."
If all goes as planned, he should be the starting point guard.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of July, Sengfelder, Battee-Aston and Thompson arrived on campus.
Sengfelder has been the most impressive. At 6'7", his ability to play away from the basket and knock down shots will be a huge asset. He's been one of the real pleasant surprises at the team's offseason workouts.
Before he arrived, head coach Tom Pecora described him as a player with a "good skill set and a really hard worker." After his first few workouts, he was even more impressed.
"Since he's been here he's been great. He plays with great energy," Pecora said.
Speaking of great energy, Antwoine Anderson and Manny Suarez, both redshirt freshmen who were ineligible last season, are back in the fold.
Anderson is a combo guard with great speed. Suarez is a 6'10" forward who can play outside. One player gives the Rams options in the backcourt. The other player provides much-needed depth in the frontcourt.
Both Battee-Aston and Thompson will be given the chance to prove they're worthy of receiving minutes next season.
This is a win-win for the Rams. Not only did they bring in guys who can contribute, but all have brought something else to the table: competition.
That's where we go next.
Influx of Talent Pushes the Veterans
Lost in all the buzz surrounding the new crop of players is the fact that the Rams return some key veterans.
There are only four upperclassmen—seniors Ryan Canty and Bryan Smith, and juniors Ryan Rhoomes and Mandell Thomas. There's only one sophomore—Jon Severe.
They return to a team that has a much different look and feel to it.
All five now have something to gain from the influx of talent. All have something to prove as well.
"Nothing's written in stone here," Pecora told Bleacher Report earlier this month. "It doesn't matter what you did last year. You have to go out and you have to compete for minutes. If someone new here is outplaying you, they're going to get rewarded. You're only going to get what you deserve."
That philosophy is already paying dividends.
In practice, not only are the veterans being challenged by the rookies, but they're pushing each other.
The perfect example of that is Jon Severe, who happens to be one of the most talented players on the Rams' roster, a guy capable of developing into an elite A-10 player.
Last year, if Severe was having an off-night, there wasn't much the Rams could do. He never played less than 21 minutes in a game, and he averaged 32.9 minutes per game for the season, despite there being nights when his shot was off.
This year, if he struggles with his shot or shot selection, there may be other players to turn to. Bryan Smith and Mandell Thomas are proving that in practice.
Last year, when Severe averaged 17.3 points per game, that wasn't the case.
When Pecora said in May that “there are going to be battles at every position on the floor,” he wasn't kidding.
His players have taken that to heart. They should be better off as a result.
Improved Team Chemistry
It's not that the team chemistry was bad last season, and the losing did not create an untenable situation.
In fact, despite dropping eight straight games to close out the regular season, Fordham almost pulled off upset wins over La Salle and George Washington in the final week of the season. They then beat George Mason in the play-in game of the Atlantic 10 tournament before losing to Dayton a day later.
The bottom line is that the Rams stayed together as best as you could expect from a team that suffered through many losses with really only one senior to provide leadership.
But whether it's been trips into New York City, or the offseason workouts and conditioning sessions, it seems everything they do is centered on building chemistry.
Talk to any coach or player, and they'll tell you that it's already had an impact. The confidence is building.
Can't wait until the season start. Fordham basketball going to shock a lot of people. #facts 👌— Jon severe. (@Jsevere23) July 16, 2014
Improved morale comes in many different shapes and sizes.
After a recent workout, Anderson and Smith put in some extra time working on their jump shots. Sengfelder, Battee-Aston and Thompson talked after their first practice about how they felt the veterans had already embraced them. Rhoomes doesn't just look like a better player; he looks like a better leader.
Of course, it's only July. Pecora told Bleacher Report that while he's happy with the way his team has come together, it's still early.
"You want to keep them up as you go through the battles," he said after a recent workout.
The Rams are hoping to win a few more of those this season.
They're off to a good start.
Quotations and paraphrases were obtained firsthand.