As frustrated as he was with last year's group, Jason Smith can't stop raving about his team. Gushing, in fact.
Two key returnees are Washington-bound 6-4, 205-pound wing Joel Smith, an athletic California native who has realized his dream of playing in the Pac-10, and Milwaukee native Deion James (6-2, 190), a shooting guard who played at Vincent High and has successfully made the transition from an off-guard to a floor leader.
``Deion has become a terrific leader and he challenges his teammates to bring it each and every day," Jason Smith said. Gone are Mike Pilgim (Cincinnati), Blake Schilb (Loyola), Norman Plummer and others from last year's erratic 17-14 team that advanced to the NEPSAC semifinals.
In are guys like 6-2, 185-pound wing Marcus Hammond, a Memphis, Tenn., native who has already committed to Charleston; Virginia-bound 6-7 forward Adrian Joseph and 6-9, 230-pound Illinois native Coley LeClair, who is attracting interest from the likes of Oakland, Southern Illinois and Maine.
Those five will likely comprise the starting lineup for Jason Smith, but the second unit can hold its own.
``The words to best describe the group are competitive, versatile and skilled," Smith said. "We realistically can play 10 or 11 guys every night and not have a drop-off from four to nine or 10. We really don't lose much at all."
Marlon Howe, a 6-9, 220-pound junior big man, could work his way into the starting lineup in due time. Point guard Cedric Middleton (6-0, 182), who is receiving interest from Florida International, Wright State and Loyola, should get plenty of playing time. Cameroon native Fabrice Tafo, a 6-6, 210-pound junior power forward, and 6-7, 215-pound power forward Michael Binns, will also see extensive action.
Others coming off the bench include 6-foot, 175-pound senior point guard Nathan Winkler (Boone, N.C.), 6-foot, 175-pound junior floor leader Will Riley (Hampton, N.H.), 6-4, 205-pound wing James Pike (Amherst, N.H.), 6-4, 190-pound wing Shae Pinckney (Ed Pinckney's son) and 6-7, 200-pound forward Chris Pitcher (Seattle, Wash.).