LIU-Brooklyn, Robert Morris, Wagner picked as top 3 in NEC preseason poll
NEW YORK – The top three teams in the Northeast Conference's preseason poll have as much experience on the court as any trio in the country. The big difference is on the bench, as in coaches.
The three men leading LIU-Brooklyn, Robert Morris and Wagner have a total of three years' experience as Division I head coaches and they all belong to Andy Toole of Robert Morris.
"On paper I am," Toole said when asked if he felt like the old man of the top of the conference. "But it was just a few years ago that I was in the same boat as those guys. These are three teams with experienced, talented rosters."
LIU-Brooklyn is trying to become the first team in the 32-year history of the conference to win three straight titles. The Blackbirds, who were the pick of the coaches in the preseason poll, have three all-league players back and assistant coach Jack Perri was promoted to replace Jim Ferry, who left for Duquesne.
"I'm not going to change a lot, that wouldn't be a real smart thing to do," said Perri, who was the head coach at Division III Rhode Island College in 2004-05. "We'll stay aggressive and stay disciplined on both ends."
The Blackbirds enter the 2012-13 season with a 27-game home winning streak, second in the nation only to defending national champion Kentucky.
They will have a new place to play some games this season, the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, about eight blocks from campus. The NEC was at the new building on Tuesday for media day.
LIU-Brooklyn will play the first college game in the Barclays Center, against Morehead State on Nov. 9. The second game of that doubleheader will have Kentucky facing Maryland.
"We love playing at home," Perri said, "but it will be quite a thrill for us to get a chance to play some games at an arena as nice as this and we'll get to stay in the neighborhood."
The Blackbirds received nine first-place votes from the coaches, while Robert Morris got the other three. Wagner was third in the balloting followed by Quinnipiac, St. Francis, N.Y., Sacred Heart, Monmouth, Central Connecticut, Mount St. Mary's, Bryant, Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Francis, Pa.
Wagner will be led by Bashir Mason, the youngest coach in Division I at age 28. He succeeds Danny Hurley, who left to take over the program at Rhode Island.
Mason said his first few weeks of practice have been uneventful.
"I think in the summer is when the players made their adjustment to me," Mason said. "Now that it's getting close to the games they're seeing a whole different level of intensity from me and they're adjusting to it."
The coaches thought having media day at Barclays Center was a big deal for a conference like theirs.
"I think it's terrific," Toole said. "When you talk to the other coaches, it's not that we were nervous, but we were curious to see how many people would show up. Was the buzz in the media the same as it was for the schools? When we were all having our picture taken this morning in the front of the room and we saw 25, 30 cameras you would have to say it worked. This is the real deal."
Julian Boyd of LIU-Brooklyn, the reigning conference player of the year, was chosen as the preseason player of the year. He was joined on the first team by teammate Jamal Olasewere, Ike Azotam of Quinnipiac, Shane Gibson of Sacred Heart and Velton Jones of Robert Morris.
Mason, showing he might just be more savvy than a rookie coach, said he wouldn't talk to his players about being picked third because "that's about where I figured anyway."
However, he will go back to the team with something to talk about from media day.
"You know what was unexpected?" he asked. "That we didn't have one kid on the preseason team. I will mention that to them."