Brooklyn’s Blackbirds Go Fourth
Defending champs picked to finish in middle of NEC pack
LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball coach Jack Perri wasn’t the least bit insulted that his Blackbirds were picked to finish fourth in the Northeast Conference preseason coaches’ poll.
In fact, entering his second year at the helm of the Downtown Brooklyn program, Perri took the middle-of-the-pack ranking as a compliment to his new-look squad, which is in the midst of a significant transition after capturing an unprecedented third consecutive NEC title last season.
“We were picked [as high as] fourth based on what we’ve done the past few years,” Perri humbly noted after learning during Tuesday’s NEC media day at the Barclays Center that Wagner, Robert Morris and Bryant were all picked to finish in front of his reigning champions.
What the Blackbirds did over the last three seasons is put together the greatest run in the 32-year-history of the league.
They earned trips to the NCAA Tournament following the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns behind a core group led by the likes of former NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd, All-NEC First Team Selection Jamal Olasewere and last year’s NEC Tournament MVP C.J. Garner.
But with Olasewere and Garner gone from the roster following brilliant senior campaigns, and Boyd not due back until January at the earliest after suffering a re-tear of the anterior cruciate ligament that cut his season short a season ago, the Blackbirds will have to dig deep to find their way back to the top of the NEC in 2013-14.
“Patience is going to be one of the biggest differences with this year’s group,” admitted Perri, who led LIU to a 20-14 mark last season, including a 12-6 record in league play.
“We’re just learning what abilities these [new] guys have,” he added. “They have to learn our philosophy, but I like our young group.”
Fortunately for Perri, he’ll have what he calls his personal “security blanket” in returning senior Jason Brickman.
A key component of each of LIU’s previous three title-winning squads, the diminutive speedster made the All-NEC Preseason squad and is also a candidate for the 2014 Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard.
Brickman will try to lead Perri’s fast-paced offense up and down the floor with a different cast of regulars, including sophomore forward E.J. Reed, junior guard Gerrell Martin, third-year swingman Troy Joseph and newly arrived Iona transfer Gilbert Parga.
The San Antonio, Tex., native paced the nation a season ago with 8.5 assists per contest and made a league-best 46 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Brickman’s return for what could be his most productive season yet gives Perri at least some confidence that the Blackbirds will be a contender for their fourth consecutive NEC Championship.
“Thank God we have Jason,” Perri said. “To be able to lean on him this year will be very important. He’s got to understand that too. He’s going to have to be a little more aggressive, and figure out what these young guys can do. He’s such a brilliant player that he’ll figure that out.”
Perri is also hopeful that Boyd’s return will coincide with LIU’s NEC opener against Downtown rival St. Francis Brooklyn on Jan. 9.
After getting an extra year of eligibility this past offseason, the 6-foot-7 forward re-injured his knee during a shooting drill at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, but has been diligent in his rehab as he hopes to be a major contributor to the Blackbirds’ push toward Title IV.
“That’s the plan,” Perri said of Boyd’s possible return in early 2014. “There is a timetable that we’re hoping he could be back in January. He’s working hard to do that.”
The Blackbirds will open the season against non-conference foe St. Peter’s at the Barclays Center on Nov. 9.
It is one of three scheduled contests LIU will play in the Nets’ home arena, including a much-anticipated “Battle of Brooklyn” showdown with Remsen Street’s Terriers on Feb. 16.
St. Francis Brooklyn ranked seventh in the preseason coaches poll despite coming off its third consecutive NEC Tournament appearance under coach Glenn Braica.
Unlike the Blackbirds, the Terriers will have a very familiar look when they take the floor for their Nov. 8 opener at the University of Miami.
Junior forward Jalen Cannon, who received All-NEC Preseason First Team honors on Tuesday, will spearhead a lineup that returns fellow third-year forward Kevin Douglas, senior sharpshooter Ben Mockford and lightning-quick junior guard Brent Jones, formerly of Brooklyn’s Bedford Academy.
Cannon averaged 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds last year while making nearly 56 percent of his shots from his spot at power forward. Braica believes the 6-foot-6 bulldog beneath the boards could help the Terriers earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance come March.
“Jalen has been a terrific player for us and he’s still getting better,” Braica said. “I think he just needs to continue to progress in all areas of his game. He’s worked a great deal on his outside shot this summer and it looks really good.
“Obviously, he’s a great rebounder and he’s put up big stats in rebounding and scoring,” the fourth-year coach added. “Last year he was able to guard some people that he probably couldn’t have his freshmen year, so I think he’s made strides in all aspects of his game. I have also seen a change in respect to his leadership and I expect him to continue to grow in that area.”
Douglas was just rounding into form in 2012-13, averaging 7.4 points per contest, before tearing a ligament in his hand in early January. Mockford averaged 11.1 point while draining 82 3-pointers and Jones started 28 games at point guard, ranking sixth in the NEC with 4.2 assists per game.
The Terriers, who lost center Akeem Johnson to graduation, are eager to displace the Blackbirds as Brooklyn’s top team.
“I really like the composition of this team and I think the guys are hungry,” Braica said. “Our returning players have all worked very hard over the summer to become better players, and I think the new guys are talented and are excited about being here.”
In other local college sports news, the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s soccer team saw its dreams of climbing to No. 1 in the North Atlantic Rankings shattered with a 1-0, double-overtime defeat to top-ranked NEC rival St. Francis (Pa.) last Friday night at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Terriers were beaten when the Red Flash’s Stefan Sjekloca beat junior goaltender Jack Binks two minutes into the second extra session.
The tally ended Binks’ scoreless streak at 528 minutes, 29 second, and stopped the Terriers’ season-high seven-game unbeaten streak as well as handing them their first loss ever at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Despite the painful loss, St. Francis rebounded quickly with a 3-2 overtime victory against Robert Morris on Sunday at BBP as junior forward Kevin Correa delivered the winning goal.
The Terriers (8-3-1 overall, 2-1-0 NEC) will return to the pitch Friday night at Central Connecticut State in New Britain, Conn.
The LIU women’s soccer club, still in the hunt for its third consecutive NEC title, pulled out a 1-0 win over Sacred Heart on Sunday afternoon in Fairfield, Conn.
Freshman Jenn Peters scored her team-leading third goal of the campaign in the 27th minute and senior goalie Jessica Sexton made it stand with seven saves for her third shutout of the year as the Blackbirds (4-10-1, 2-3-0 NEC) remained on the outskirts of a postseason spot.
LIU hosts NEC rival Robert Morris on Friday at LIU Field, hoping to even its record and climb into at least a tie for one of the four remaining playoff positions for next month’s NEC Tournament.
Over at Brooklyn College, the women’s soccer club continued to soar to unprecedented heights Saturday afternoon at BC Field.
Freshman sensation Jordan Kerwin scored her team-leading 18th goal, junior Bergelle Louis also tallied and freshman goalie Michelle Cranston of Brooklyn’s St. Edmunds Prep posted a shutout in her first collegiate start as the Lady Bulldogs improved to 12-1 with a 2-0 blanking of CUNYAC rival John Jay.
The second-year BC program, which has posted 10 shutouts this season, will shoot for its sixth straight win Saturday against visiting College of Staten Island.