After losing Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanksley, T.J. Cline and others from last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion, one could conclude that Niagara was totally decimated.
But while expectations coming into Chris Casey’s first season have been dialed down several notches, Niagara does return its leading scorer in junior Antoine Mason.
“The biggest word that I can use to describe Mase is loyalty, he loves Niagara University,” Casey said during Big 4 basketball media day Monday at First Niagara Center. “He’s very much a team guy, he’s concerned about his teammates, and people tend to see the good or the bad in something, he sees the good in it. He sees, ‘Well, this is a new challenge for me.’ That’s the way he’s approached it. ‘This is something for me to overcome and meet head on.’ and he’s done it well."
The 6-foot-3 junior guard from Queens, has embraced his role as a leader and has been named one of the team’s captains along with senior Marvin Jordan.
“He always leads by example and he’s beginning to lead more vocally which is positive,” Casey said.
Mason will be relied on heavily to score, something he will do quite often now that Green and Tanksley are at Hofstra with former NU coach Joe Mihalich. Mason, the son of former New York Knicks forward Anthony Mason, averaged 18.7 points and 4.1 rebounds last year as a sophomore.
The most impressive and experienced newcomer at Canisius is senior guard Chris Perez, who graduated from Stetson and will use his final season of eligibility with the Golden Griffins.
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Santiago, Dominican Republic, who turns 23 on Wednesday, was an All-Atlantic Sun second-team selection last season after averaging 15.1 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Perez is expected to take on the role vacated by the graduation of Isaac Sosa, the Griffs’ third-leading scorer behind Billy Baron and Harold Washington.
“He’s very physical and very aggressive,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said of Perez. “I think he’ll complement the guys that we have because he works so hard. He’s a guy who’s a proven scorer. … When you graduate Harold Washington, Isaac Sosa, Alshwan Hymes and Reggie Groves, you’re going to have to fill that void and that’s what we’re looking forward to doing.”
Last year at this time, coach Felisha Legette-Jack was happy she had learned the names of her players. And those players were trying to figure out the craziness of their passionate new head coach.
After a season together that included a win over Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference tournament and a near-upset of Akron, the University at Buffalo women are experienced and poised to make a run in the MAC. Among the leaders will be sophomore Mackenzie Loesing, who was named the Preseason Big 4 Player of the Year on Monday along with Canisius’ Baron.
“She’s relaxed a little more,” Legette-Jack said. “She’s working hard at trying to get better, trying to understand the system a little bit more but it’s not nerve-wracking. She’s not wondering, ‘Where is coach coming from?’ She’s really in a great place. I think they all are.
“Last year, we played every game like it was our first kiss. We were like WOW. This year they’ve already been through it. They already understand the trenches. They already understand their crazy coach. They already know the passion that’s necessary for us to make our team relevant.”
Joining Loesing on the All-Big 4 women’s preseason first team were Rachel Gregory (Buffalo), Jamie Ruttle (Canisius), Meghan McGuinness (Niagara) and Katie Healy (St. Bonaventure).
Joining Baron on the All-Big 4 men’s preseason first team were Javon McCrea (UB), Will Regan (UB), Chris Manhertz (Canisius) and Mason. The teams were voted on by the media and Big 4 athletic communications staff members.
The St. Bonaventure women are coming off a difficult season where upperclassmen leadership was lacking, a result of releasing Doris Ortega and CeCe Dixon from the team, and a talented freshman class having to find a way to play together, quickly.
The Bonnies still are looking to accelerate the learning process for their sophomores and may take some lumps again. Senior Chelsea Bowker returns after redshirting last season with an ankle injury. She is seventh on the school’s career three-point list with 146.
Expectations are also high for Healy, a sophomore forward from Lancaster who started in 16 of the 29 games she played, averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds.
“Katie had a terrific summer,” Bona coach Jim Crowley said. “She could be one of the best players we’ve had in our program and you’re not supposed to say that. She’s struggling with that expectation at times. When she just kind of goes and lets her competitiveness take over and lets her skill take over, she can do a lot of things.
“She’s got a lot of talent. She’s just got to keep growing as a player. … She needs to have a big year. … Her teammates have full faith in her and she’ll get there.”