ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – High expectations for a young team was the theme commonly heard throughout the Reilly Center’s Hall of Fame Room Wednesday as the St. Bonaventure University men’s basketball team and head coach Mark Schmidt met with local media ahead with the 2019-20 season, which is only days away.
After coming one 3-point shot short from a second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament after a heartbreaking 55-53 loss to Saint Louis University in the Atlantic 10 Championship game, Schmidt, in his 12th season at St. Bonaventure, admitted the Bonnies will have a large task at hand in replacing the leadership lost in graduated seniors Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin.
“If you talk to any coach, you’d rather have senior guards and senior best players, because that means that they would have had the ultimate experiences,” he said.
Instead, the Bonnies are made up of one senior, one junior, six sophomores and three freshmen.
That lone senior, Amadi Ikpeze, last season averaged just 11 minutes while three of the sophomores – Dominick Welch, Osun Osunniyi and Kyle Lofton – have already made a large impact on the Atlantic 10. Osunniyi and Lofton were All-Rookie team choices in the Atlantic 10.
“We have guys, with Dom and Osun and Kyle who had the experience for one year,” Schmidt added. “Now they were put into the fire for one year, but it was still only one year. Those sophomores have experienced a lot. The hope is that the experiences that they had last year will be enough for them to handle what they have to handle this year.”
“We got our feet wet,” Osunniyi said of the experience he and his teammates have already had. “We know what it feels like to compete in the big games. We know what it’s like to be there and we know what it takes to get there. Us having that, we know what it takes to get to that next level and eventually make that winning shot for us to make it to the tournament.”
Schmidt also said that while the three sophomores are talented in their own right, they will be heavily scouted by opposing teams.
“Last year, they were third, fourth, fifth on the scouting report. This year, they’re one, two and three. They have to be that much better and need to understand that in order for teams to beat Bonaventure, they’re not going to have to stop Courtney and LaDarien and let those other guys go, they have to stop those three guys. It’s a different mindset.”
With six newcomers, Schmidt explained that there has been a lot of learning the system involved in the first three weeks of official practices.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “There are days where you leave the court and you feel like you’re getting better and there are days where you leave the court and say, ‘We didn’t get better today.’ It’s hard to incorporate when you have three or four guys who really know the system and one or two guys who don’t. The way we play, it takes five guys working in concert to be successful so if there’s one guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing, it messes everything up. So, it’s a work in progress.”
Osunniyi also noted that the team’s synchronicity has not been immediate.
“It’s a lot different than last year, learning wise,” he said. “Last year, we had three seniors. Practices are slower, there’s a lot more teaching. Last year, you taught it, you did it because you had seniors there. Now, it’s like ‘Slow down,’ but we don’t want to slow down that much.”
“Junior college kids, high school kids and prep school kids are all the same,” Schmidt added. “It’s not that they’re older or that they’re physically mature. They all have to learn the system. All of those guys, no matter if you’re a junior college kid or what have to learn. It’s just the way it goes”
One exception to that notion is redshirt-sophomore Bobby Planutis, a transfer from Mount St. Mary’s University who sat last season due to the NCAA transfer rules.
“Bobby is ahead of the junior college guys and the high school guys because he was here a year,” Schmidt said. “Last year was a year where he sat, he got better, he got stronger. He learned the system. You don’t bring in transfers to sit on the bench. He just has to play his role. He has a high IQ for the game; he can really pass. Our expectation for him is to be a guy who can play and shoot the three, score and defend.”
He noted that Planutis, who made 49 percent of his three-point attempts as a freshman for Mount St. Mary’s but only averaged nearly four rebounds per game, does need to improve his work on the boards.
“You look at (Griffin) and he was a guy at the power forward position who averaged six or seven rebounds,” Schmidt said, in reference to the player Planutis will replace at the power forward position. “Bobby has to be a guy that goes out and gets four or five rebounds. He can’t have zero.”
Overall, Schmidt’s hope is that the Bonnies will continue to improve so as to be ready not only for the beginning of the season, but for a conference schedule that is sure to be grueling.
“We have to understand it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “I do it to the guys all the time and say, ‘Look at your schedule, pick out the team you think is going to be the most difficult team and that’s who you practice against every day.’ That’s the mentality.
“We also have to understand that we’re going to be one of those teams on some people’s schedules,” he added, noting that the program’s development during his tenure has allowed that perception to exist. “That’s where the program has come. We’re the team they’re going to want to beat. We have to be that much better than we were before. We can’t get complacent.”
The Bonnies open their season with an exhibition matchup on Oct. 30 against Alfred University before kicking off their centennial season on Nov. 5 against Ohio University.
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