Men’s Basketball Preview: Bobcats have high hopes in 2006-07
LEWISTON, Maine — The men’s basketball team at Bates College has outdone itself each of the past three seasons — 18 wins in 2003-04 tied a school record, but that was exceeded by 19 in wins in 2004-05, and the 2005-06 Bobcats reached the 20-win mark for the first time in Bates history.
The Bobcats have one more year with the benefit of All-NESCAC point guard Zak Ray directing the offense.
Last season was special for Bates in numerous other ways. The Bobcats shattered the school record winning streak with 16 straight wins, and they went 11-0 at home. They reached the NESCAC Semifinals for the third straight year, and were the unanimous No. 1 team in the Maine Men’s Basketball Coaches Association poll from start to finish. Bates was 5-0 vs. CBB rivals (3-0 against Bowdoin and 2-0 against Colby). Head coach Joe Reilly was named NESCAC Coach of the Year.
Certain elements will need to come together, but the Bobcats believe in their chances to duplicate, even exceed, their recent success, for two main reasons: Zak Ray and Rob Stockwell.
The yin and yang of Bates men’s basketball, Ray and Stockwell enter their senior seasons as team co-captains. Their season tips off Friday night at the Williams College Invitational, with a game against Western New England College slated for 7:30 p.m.
Ray, a 5-11 point guard, is an excellent perimeter defender, ball distributor, scorer and leader. He averaged 12.4 points, 5.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and a league-best 2.5 steals per game last season. Ray is a two-time All-NESCAC Second Team selection, and has been named a preseason Honorable Mention All-America player by D3Hoops.com.
The 6-5 Stockwell, the Bobcats’ leading scorer and rebounder for two straight seasons, is also a two-time All-NESCAC Second Teamer, a dangerous three-point shooter as well as one of the top low-post players in New England. He was the second-leading rebounder and the eighth-leading scorer in the NESCAC last season.
Bates’ leading scorer and rebounder since he was a sophomore, Rob Stockwell joins Ray as a team captain this season.
But there is a bevy of talent and depth behind the Bobcats’ leading men, even with the graduation of two starters from last season, guard Sean Cahill and center Matt Chudomel.
Three seniors in addition to Ray and Stockwell give Bates a strong element of experience. Guard John Lattimer (Atlanta, Ga.), forward Damon McGinn (Thetford, Vt.) and forward Sam Taylor (Redwood City, Calif.) each averaged 8-11 minutes of playing time last season. The 6-5 Taylor, who had season highs of nine points and eight rebounds in a win over Bowdoin last December, will likely be in the starting lineup for the season opener.
Reilly is excited about the contributions that a healthy McGinn and junior guard Eric Shone (Portland, Maine) can bring to the table. The 6-3 McGinn missed his entire sophomore season with a torn ACL and was never better than “70 percent” last season, said Reilly, but has been impressive in preseason practices. As has Shone, a 6-2 combo guard who figured to see a great deal of court time last season, before he too blew out his ACL in the second game of the season. Shone, whom Reilly lauds for his on-court smarts, is also back to 100 percent after nearly a year’s worth of rehab work.
A pair of junior guards who had breakthrough seasons in 2005-06 will figure largely in Bates’ fortunes, as well.
Bryan Wholey had a breakout season in 2005-06, averaging 13.3 points per game as a sophomore.
Bryan Wholey (Marshfield, Mass.) had an excellent sophomore season for Bates while starting all 26 games. An effective defender and rebounder at the guard position, the 6-3 Wholey averaged 13.3 points per game last season, second on the team, and he was second in the conference in free throw shooting (.841). wholey scored 20 or more points four times last season, and grabbed as many as 13 rebounds in a game against Colby, averaging 4.1 per game. wholey led the Bobcats in total three-point field goals, with 43, shooting them at a .374 clip.
Pat Halloran (Plymouth, N.H.) received a grand total of six minutes’ playing time as a freshman, but emerged as perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the roster last season. The 6-0 guard came off the bench for 18 minutes per game, seeing some time at point guard, averaging 6.8 points and leading the team’s regular rotation players in three-point shooting percentage at .412 and in free throw percentage at .864.
Ben Thayer (Gorham, Maine) is the lone sophomore on the Bobcats’ roster. The hard-working 6-4 forward is emerging as a strong defender and “glue guy,” and may see significant minutes.
The Bobcats have a six-member freshman class that may vie with the Class of 2007 as Reilly’s best crop of recruits. To begin with, 6-0 point guard Chris Wilson (Brewer, Maine) and 6-6 forward Jimmy O’Keefe (Lexington, Mass.) both figure to break into Reilly’s regular rotation early on.
“Chris Wilson has been very impressive in the preseason. He’s exceeded my expectations in how quickly he’s picking up our system,” said Reilly. “Jimmy O’Keefe sprained his ankle in an early practice, but it won’t take him long to see some playing time.”
Reilly is enthused about his other four first-year players as well: 6-4 swingman Neil Creahan (Hingham, Mass.), 6-0 guard David Curley, (Bolton, Mass.), 6-4 forward B.J. Dunne (Medfield, Mass.) and 6-0 guard Marshall Hatch (Chicago, Ill.).
Bates’ calling card in 2005-06 was defense: the Bobcats led the NESCAC in scoring defense, allowing only 61.9 points per game, and they ranked second in opponents’ field goal percentage (.408). Equally as important, Bates tied with Tufts for the league lead in rebounding margin (+7.0). These are all areas in which Cahill and Chudomel were particularly important, and it remains to be seen whether Bates can continue defending at the same level.
Playing in the NESCAC always makes for a tough schedule, and this year is no exception. One wrinkle in the 2006-07 slate is that Bates will face both Colby and Bowdoin in non-conference games during the first semester, for the first time in Reilly’s 10-year tenure. Non-conference opponents will include 2006 NCAA Championship participants Endicott (Nov. 27) and Gordon (Feb. 6). And going undefeated at Alumni Gym again will be a very tough order, with the other three NESCAC semifinalists from last season — Amherst, Trinity and Tufts — all visiting Lewiston this season.
“The NESCAC is always very tough, but I think it will be tougher from top to bottom this season than it ever has been since I’ve coached here,” said Reilly.