CAREFUL CONSTRUCTION VERSUS TALENT COLLECTION
Rhode Island’s 2022-23 roster looks set, offering a prime opportunity to resurface one of my favorite messages from Dr. John Giannini, then (2004-18, and who still should be) current head coach at La Salle. I sat with him at Media Day in 2013 and asked him to relay one of many great lessons he’d learned during his time helming the A-10 program.
“You can’t just collect talent. Role definition is critical, especially in this league with its great opposing coaches.”
Strategy means deliberate tradeoffs. Such as: ‘We’re going to prioritize finesse and ball skills 1 thru 5 (and perhaps sacrifice on the defensive rebounding side; i.e. Richmond).’ We’re going to impose our will defensively with superior athleticism but may sacrifice on perimeter shooting percentage. We’re going to stand for something.
Archie Miller and staff are assembling puzzle pieces matched to the hard, smart, fast, together mantra, balancing program needs against returnee skills. They’re not simply collecting talent with no role definition – an alluring temptation but one that all but guarantees the whole will be lesser than the sum of its parts.
Here are a few roster construction observations:
BIGGER GUARDS BRIDGE
It’s no secret the Rams will be undersized next season at the forward spots. Malik Martin at 6-foot-6 is the lone veteran and significant contributor to return – and he’s not a prototypical big. But he has the toughness and grit Miller values. Inexperienced RS freshman Abdou Samb also returns to compete for minutes alongside a spate of frontcourt newcomers, from 6-10 Josaphat Bilau and 6-11 Jeremy Foumena to 6-8 stretch option Rory Stewart (more on that below) and 6-7 wing Louis Hutchinson. The latter three are true freshmen – while Bilau is less wet behind the ears from his time at Wichita State and the JUCO ranks. Nevertheless, it’s an inexperienced bunch behind Martin.
In the backcourt, 6-1 Sebastian Thomas, 6-2 opportunistic rebounder Ishmael Leggett, and the athletic 6-3 Jalen Carey are back in Keaney Blue. But Miller and staff added GW transfer Brayon Freeman, a 6-2 guard who averaged about 2.5 boards per game a year ago, along with a pair of strong guards in 6-4, 195-pound, North Carolina transfer Anthony Harris and 6-5, 200-pound, Seton Hall transfer Brandon Weston. All will be expected to disrupt out high and crash the boards, particularly the defensive glass, as the young bigs acclimate.
In the same vein, Miller and staff are constructing a roster capable of operating without an upperclassman, back-to-basket pivot presence this year. Keep in mind Miller’s 2014-15 team which beat Providence in the NCAA Tournament featured a frontcourt of Kendall Pollard, Dyshawn Pierre, and Bobby Wehrli – none over 6-6. Now they were vets — and most of these Rams are not. Yet the spacing game within the game fascinates me – and two quotes from Miller about the newcomers stand out.
- On Bilau: “…he’s also unique in that we believe he’ll be able to play with other front court players and without.”
- On Stewart: “Without question coming in the door, his 3-point shooting ability was something we really looked at.”
Games are won incrementally. A big shot here. The right pass there. These plays accumulate over 40 minutes to keep teams in games or push them to the winner’s circle. I find these two quotes telling. They are drenched in intentionality and get you excited about seeing how the staff will fit pieces together. It’s about movement, shooting, passing, and creating real estate for the guards to exploit – there are roles, big and small, for all to play.
Get old. Stay old. It’s an adage in college basketball that is tougher to chase and preserve than ever with the transfer portal and NIL. Character kids count, transparency counts, and program identity counts more than ever. Miller and staff are constructing this roster to compete now and excel down the road. There’s no significant difference, for example, between winning 9, 13 or 16 games in year one. Any way you miss meaningful postseason.
Building a team that can learn, coalesce, understand how to win, and achieve excellence in the longer term is the goal.
— Brandon Weston (@BWest233) May 19, 2022
Bilau is originally from France, Stewart an England native (by way of Orangeville Prep in Canada), and Foumena from Montreal, Canada (also via Orangeville Prep). There are great players everywhere, not just in Philly, NY, and DC. This staff is showing an early commitment to widening its lens.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow on Twitter for five straight years, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44