Wednesday, August 23, 2017

After CIT championship run, Saint Peter's now braces for rebuild

John Dunne took Saint Peter's to CIT championship last season, but must now rebuild Peacocks as he enters his 12th year at helm in Jersey City. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

John Dunne has been down the road he must travel again this season.

Head coach at Saint Peter's since 2006, the affable 47-year-old Dunne faced a full rebuild six years ago, after the Peacocks emerged from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament with an automatic NCAA Tournament berth and league championship in their grasp. Hard times soon followed, but the program gradually picked itself back up in a manner similar to the grind-it-out style Dunne's teams employ on the hardwood. And after a similar deep postseason run that culminated with Saint Peter's capturing the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament championship, the program must start over again.

In many instances, a rebuild from a championship season where three starters; including a pair of all-conference talents, have graduated, can be a bear of a challenge. Yet having done this before, Dunne is a calm voice of hope heading into the 2017-18 campaign, and insists that this situation is much better for the Peacocks than the aforementioned 2011-12 overhaul, one that resulted in a 5-26 record at its conclusion.

"I think we're lightyears ahead of where we were for '11-12," he admitted when assessing his roster, one that must replace the immeasurable contributions of point guard Trevis Wyche, imposing post presence Quadir Welton, and MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Chazz Patterson among others. "We had very good role players that season in '11-12 that were an integral part of helping us win that championship, but we lost all our scoring. Even though we lost a ton of scoring with this year's graduating class and even with (Antwon) Portley transferring, we're very confident that we're going to have the ability to put the ball in the basket next year. We know we're not going to have the same experience, we know we're going to have build towards being a good defensive team, but we're confident that we have enough talent in the program."

Whereas Wyche and Welton split the reins as leaders on the offensive end last season for Saint Peter's, that task now falls into the hands of senior shooting guard Nick Griffin, the George Washington transfer who emerged as not only a lethal outside shooter last year, but also a formidable scoring threat from all ranges. With a year under his belt in the Peacocks' system, the Maryland native is poised to take an even greater jump than he did a year ago.

"Nick is the ultimate teammate," Dunne gushed. "He, more than anybody, sacrificed his game last year for our team, and I think he could have easily been playing 30-plus minutes for us. We expect him to have the same shooting consistency. I think he'll be able to do some more this year when we use some ball screens, and his minutes per game will increase."

Griffin and Nnamdi Enechionyia will be the lone returning starters from last season's 23-win outfit, but as mentioned before, a glut of role players are back in Jersey City for a greater share of the responsibility, which makes Dunne as optimistic as he has been heading into a year where casual observers of the MAAC will consider the Peacocks to be a team firmly positioned in the middle of the pack. Forward Samuel Idowu will be one of many who goes about trying to replace Welton, and Dunne anticipates him being able to play 20 minutes per game in the hopes of becoming "a nice weapon" for the Saint Peter's arsenal. Cameron Jones, who redshirted last season, joins Quinn Taylor and a healthy Mamadou Ndiaye as those who will see additional minutes. At the point guard spot, Dunne admitted losing Wyche will hurt, but he expects junior Davauhnte Turner to step in and fill the void with a seamless transition.

"He sat out last year and he was with the program the entire year," said Dunne of Turner, a redshirt junior. "He actually is a guy that's got a year under his belt with the program, which goes a long way in understanding what it takes at this level. He's also a guy that could play on or off the ball, put it in the basket; a strong, quick, athletic guy. He's got the same size as Trevy, just as strong, just as tough."

A handful newcomers arrive in the program this year, including Julian Powell, a 6-foot-9 Texan praised by Dunne for his athleticism and ability to run the floor, but is also an admitted work in progress. Jeremiah Livingston is a 6-foot-1 guard by way of Odessa Junior College, and is a penetrating combo guard who will be part of the backcourt stable along with Turner and Griffin. Finally, Manny Dixon is a 6-foot-5 wing from Trenton by way of Notre Dame High School who also figures to be part of the mix for a team whose future is brighter than some may suggest, and one whose brand of basketball may undergo a few cosmetic changes, but will remain largely unchanged on the surface.

"I think it'll be more of the same for us," Dunne opined. "We won't be as reliant on throwing the ball into the low post this year as we were with Welton, but we have some forwards that could play out on the perimeter a bit, so the court should open up a little bit more for us. We were efficient offensively, and I think we could score the ball with just about everybody in the league. We proved that even though people knock our style, and I think you'll see the same this year." 

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