After guiding the John Jay basketball team to its first playoff win in a decade last season, head coach Tom Nelligan isn’t expecting instant success this season as the Indians face a daunting rebuilding task.
“There’s not a whole lot of expectations, but we’ve competed well in all our scrimmages. The chemistry is good and it’s a really nice group of kids,” said Nelligan, whose team opens the season on Wednesday at Sacred Heart in Yonkers (4:15). “I’m hoping if we continue to work hard and grow every day, we’ll knock off a couple of teams along the way.”
Last year, the Indians had one of their best seasons in some time, going 8-12 and notching a playoff victory for the first time since 2001, before giving Peekskill all it could handle in a second-round loss.
But almost all of the key players from last year have graduated, including swingman Matt Ferentini, the team’s top scorer for three straight years. Ferentini led the team in scoring (21 ppg) and three-pointers (43) last year.
Also gone are three other starters in point guard Thomas Weingarten, forward Brad Goldman (11.4 ppg) and forward Justin Andrews, in addition to sixth man Brian Kehoe (26 three-pointers).
“We lost a bunch of people,” said Nelligan, in his third year as head coach.
With no scorer like Ferentini this season, the Indians will have to be more balanced on offense, looking to get points from a variety of players. Nelligan has been pleased with how the team has fared thus far.
“It’s really been a fun team to coach. I’m anxious to see how we do,” he said. “We had a good preseason. The attitude’s been great. The kids have worked very hard.”
The lone returning starter is 6’3” senior center Will Jahn, a rugged player who was the team’s top rebounder and interior defender last season.
Two other players who saw significant minutes off the bench last year will move into starting roles this season — 6’6” senior forward Jack Paccione and 6’0” senior guard Nick Kiger.
Another returning varsity player, 5’5” senior Matt Berstein, will take over the point guard duties.
Also in the starting lineup will be 5’9” sophomore guard Jack Weiller.
Two other returners, 6’4” senior forward Joe Kells and 5’7” senior guard Scott Owen, will be key players coming off the bench.
In addition to Weiller, the Indians have seven other newcomers — 6’0” senior guard Spencer Marshall, 6’0” junior forward James Kelly, 6’1” junior forward Nick Ferrer-Gonzalez, 5’6” junior guard Matt Wilmot-Stroud, 5’6” junior guard Alex Garcia, 6’3” junior forward Brandon Baryluk, and 5’9” sophomore guard Matt Palacio.
Nelligan hopes that in the long run, last year’s season will be a catalyst for renewed interest in basketball at John Jay, and with it, success.
“We had a little run last year towards the end. Hopefully, as some of the younger players come through, we’ll have a chance to be a little more successful.”