Fordham Finishes Winless Conference Season

John DeMarzoContributor IMarch 6, 2010

NEW YORK - JANUARY 13: Rayner Moquete #22 of the Fordham Rams handles the ball against the Dayton Flyers at Madison Square Garden on January 13, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, the head coach of the Fordham Rams men's basketball team, Dereck Whittenburg , was relieved of his duties after the team stumbled out of the gate to a 1-5 record, just one year after suffering a 3-25 season.

The news for Fordham fans only got worse: sophomore guard Jio Fontan , who was contemplating transferring during the summer but remained at Fordham, ended up transferring after all, to the University of Southern California at the end of the fall semester.

Assistant coach Jared Grasso was named the team's interim head coach, and just six days after the double dose of bad news, Fordham defeated Stony Brook , 93-77, at Fordham University's Rose Hill Gym. 

The 93 points was a reflection of Grasso's desire to install a "run-and-gun" offense, which was the same offensive style that Grasso played during his college years at Quinnipiac University. 

With the men's basketball program at Fordham being shaken up by the firing of  Whittenburg, and the installation of a fast-paced, energetic offense, maybe it was time for the Rams to reverse their fortunes following the aforementioned 3-25 season in 2008-09 and the 1-5 start to the 2009-10 campaign.

Unfortunately, that win would turn out to be the final victory of Fordham's season, as the Rams finished the season on a 21-game losing streak, finishing 2-26, 0-16 in-conference.

The streak was "lowlighted" by a 48-point annihilation at the hands of the Xavier Musketeers in Cincinnati, and the Rams also lost to the Villanova Wildcats by 38 points in a game played at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J.

The "highlight" of the streak was Fordham's final game of the season, where the Rams scored 100 points but still fell to Duquesne , 111-100.

Ironically, the last time Fordham had scored 100 points was 1999, when the Rams defeated Quinnipiac , 110-73. One of the players for the Bobcats that day? You guessed it, Grasso. 

Despite recording the fourth-worst winning percentage in Division I (.071), Fordham's season was not a total loss.

Freshman forward Chris Gaston proved to be a godsend, setting the Fordham University freshman scoring record with 504 points, breaking Bevin Robin's record of 495 points, which was set in 1997-98. 

His 11 double-doubles in conference play and his 11.4 rebounds per game led the conference, while his 18 points per game ranked fourth in the conference.

Gaston's efforts did not go unrewarded, as he was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year.

Red-shirt junior guard Brenton Butler also played well for the Rams, averaging 16.5 points per game, although the team was often at the mercy of his wildly streaky shooting.

Butler often needed many shots to record his point totals, and he shot 33.4 percent from the field in 2009-10, although he shot a team-best 81.3 percent from the free-throw line.

The times are clearly changing for the Fordham Rams' men's basketball program. A new head coach will be named in April, but it is certainly possible that Grasso will have the interim tag removed from his title and serve as head coach for the 2010-11 season and beyond.

In addition, the Fordham University Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $700,000 budget increase for the men's basketball team recently, taking the Rams' budget from the lower third of the Atlantic 10 to the upper third, as Fordham is making strides to field a more competitive team, hopefully starting in the 2010-11 season.

On the recruiting trail, Fordham has already secured the services of 6'5" forward Jayon James (Paterson Catholic, Paterson, N.J.), 6'4" guard Sean Armand (CJEOTO Academy in New Jersey), and 5'10" guard Danny Lawhorn (South Kent School, South Kent, Conn.). Scouts, Inc. gives James a grade of 90, Armand a grade of 85, and Lawhorn a grade of 78. 

With a new coach possibly on the way, the budget increase, and the three aforementioned recruits, all signs figure to be pointing up for the Fordham men's basketball program.

Only one scholarship player is being lost to graduation...senior guard Herb Tanner . The rest of the Rams return, led by Butler, returning for his senior season (he red-shirted in the 2008-09 season due to medical reasons), and Gaston.

How will the aforementioned changes affect the Rams? Starting in November 2010, we will find out.