It's a point that's going to be stated over and over, not because those of us who cover Robert Morris basketball enjoy redundancy, but because it's true and equally important -- the 2014-15 version of the Colonials is going to be a relative unknown.
Such is life when eight of your 14 players were not on the team last season. Of those eight newcomers, five of them were playing high school basketball a few months ago.
With uncertainty come varied expectations. There's the promise of potential, but there are also the pitfalls that come with it. People are often optimistic about a new player's prospects, but they gloss over the potential downsides.
When you're dealing with unknown commodities, any small glance at what they bring to the table is helpful. That meant that this year's Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am took on a different kind of importance for those of us who follow Robert Morris. Not because the games meant more -- they're still exhibitions, after all -- but because this is our first look at a group of players that will make up the nucleus of the program going forward.
Below, I've got some brief evaluations of each player, both new and old, and how I think they'll project on the Colonials' roster this season.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 28.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 49.5 percent on FGs, 42.6 percent on 3s.
The story I did a week or so agoon Lucky covers this, but it's still worth repeating -- he has looked tremendous this summer. Granted, these type of leagues have a tendency of favoring older, more experienced players against younger ones -- just look at the NBA summer league -- but even that can't put too much of a damper on his numbers. Jones has done what we've seen so much of in his career -- strong defense, a good outside shot, loads of athleticism and a versatile game -- but it's almost as if it's been taken to another level. He looks faster, his shot's going down easier and there's a certain assertiveness that's becoming readily apparent, the kind that you see from a guy who knows he only has one year of college basketball left.
I think that observation's summed up by a conversation I had with him last week. After finishing an interview with Jones, I asked him if he was going to be heading home to Newark after the Pro-Am wrapped up. After all, the team's summer workouts are over by that point and with school not starting for another month. It's only natural for a guy, especially one who is an eight-hour car ride from home, to want to go back. His response? "Nah, I'm just going to be staying here, putting in work."
It's dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions from these games, a caveat that applies to each of these player evaluations, but I see Jones entering the season as a strong favorite to take home NEC player of the year honors. Awards like that are partially dependent upon how the team finishes, but with his combination of offense and defense, along with the strides he has shown, I have a hard time imagining a better player in the conference.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 25.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 49.1 percent on FGs, 35.7 percent on 3s
There was definitely more assertiveness in Oliver’s game. As opposed to the catch-and-shoot role he largely held last season, you would see him drive more to the basket and work off the dribble. On a couple of occasions, he showcased a nice move where he would step-back off the dribble and drain contested jump shots. There were some bad misses, sure, but you’re liable to get that in such a league.
It’s not realistic to expect him to have a Karvel Anderson-level jump when it comes to expanding his game, but given how many shots he took, those shooting percentages were pretty good. Perhaps he’s ready for a larger load this season. Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, I’d have to guess he begins the year as the starting shooting guard, despite some shakiness on the defensive end.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 10.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 62.1 percent on FGs
We hear so much about guys with high ceilings, but I’ve always had a soft spot for players with high floors. They’re the kind of guys that may not do anything spectacularly well, but regardless of how poorly they do, you’re going to get something productive out of them.
That’s how I view someone like Tate. Even if he’s off, he provides the team with a strong rebounding threat down low and a big body that can move its way around the post. He’s a prototypical junkyard dog of a power forward. Not much has changed, but he did appear more comfortable on the offensive end, particularly with a semi-effective pump fake he was showcasing. That could be a product of a more relaxed atmosphere, but it may also be a positive development that’s here to stay.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 8.5 ppg, 7.5 apg, 2.0 rpg, 44.4 percent on FGs, 40.0 percent on 3s
After a promising freshman season often come expectations of stardom or, at the very least, a sizable step forward. With more playing time, I believed even at the end of last season that Kavon Stewart would live up to those hopes. Those statistics above are just from two games, so it’s a small sample size, but he seemed to be in much greater control of the game than he was last season. His 7.5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is evidence enough of that fact.
His speed and ability to finish at the rim is uncommon at the low-major level. Don’t expect that to change. But if he truly wants to become a complete offensive weapon, he has to improve his jump shot. Two summer league games isn’t enough evidence to make a statement one way or another as to whether that’s the case right now. This much is certain, though: barring something unexpected, Stewart, along with Lucky Jones, is one of the players you can write in pen into Robert Morris’ opening game lineup.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 6.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 38.1 percent on FGs
One of the worst things that can happen to a player is a gradual regression in production during their career. That’s certainly not the case with Hawkins, but from what I was able to see this summer, I just didn’t see a whole lot of progress from Hawkins. He made some strides last season with more playing time – he’s miles from what he was even late in his freshman season – but he looked like largely the same player. A little aloof at times, solid (if unspectacular) defensively and not much of a refined post game, though the latter has been a point of emphasis for the coaching staff. His mid-range jumper, especially on the baseline, is still killer, though.
Based on his experience, there’s a good chance Hawkins is in position to be the starting center at the beginning of the season. But if much progress isn’t displayed, it wouldn’t be hard to envision someone like Elijah Minnie coming in and supplanting him.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 18.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 4.0 rpg, 47.9 percent on FGs, 30.0 percent on 3s
If there’s one freshman to keep an eye on right away – one who can fill the ‘if you had to pick one player to make an immediate impact?’ question that coaches are generally smart enough to avoid answering -- it’s Reed. He comes in with a certain reputation as a scorer after averaging 32 points per game as a high school senior and for that most part, that’s an accurate descriptor. He’s fast and assertive, two things that help him get to the rim often and easily. He’s not much of a distributor, so he’ll definitely fill the two-guard role. As great as he was offensively, his defense is equally strong. There’s a pesky, tenacious quality to it, one that routinely allows him to get steals and get his team on a fast break.
There’s a downside to that skill set, of course. Reed was reckless at times, forcing up bad shots or trying to move into traffic when there simply wasn’t room. But he’s still a player that has yet to play a college game, so that stuff will likely subside with time. Though he’s not as talented, he reminds me a little bit of Russ Smith in a general sense – a guy with an uncanny ability to score combined with a ferocity on the defensive end. Of all the freshman, I think Reed’s a safe bet to be the leading scorer of the group in Year One.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 17.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 44.4 percent on FGs, 21.4 percent on 3s
From covering him in high school, my question with Minnie was how he would do once he actually went against players close to his own size and not the pint-sized opposition he faced in Class A of the WPIAL. As his Lincoln Park team advanced to the state championship, he gradually began to answer that question with a ‘Yes.’ This summer, I saw much of the same.
Minnie’s about 6-foot-8, but I’d have to guess his wingspan is close to seven feet. His arms seem to stretch out into the abyss and especially on defense, he puts them to good use. Almost instantly, I think he’ll deter players from attacking the rim freely and he’s athletic enough that he should be fine on the offensive end. His 3-point shot isn’t as bad as the above percentage would indicate, but he can sometimes get a little trigger happy from deep, especially for someone his size.
If he can keep his head on straight and add some bulk, which will almost inevitably come with a Division I lifting regiment, he can play a major role this season.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 9.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 41.4 percent on FGs
The thing that immediately stands out about Gomis is his sheer size – not so much his height, but his bulk. A lot of the big men you see in the NEC are of the same ilk as Hawkins and Minnie. They’re the long, lanky guys who you’re not going to see overpowering everyone on a consistent basis. That’s not the case with Gomis, who has a muscular frame that allows him to enforce his will on the low post.
His post game can use some work, as the field goal percentage indicates, but he seems to pick his spots well on offense. Plus, his rebounding ability his undeniable. At the very worst, he’ll have a firm spot in the Colonials’ rotation, with room to grow.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 11.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 36.7 percent on FGs, 34.5 percent on 3s
Kinsey’s in a pretty solid position as a freshman. You have someone entrenched as the starter in front of you in Stewart, so you can kind of take your time to figure things out and learn the college game. It also works well for Robert Morris because he brings a different kind of skill set than Stewart. Kinsey’s a slightly taller, stouter point guard who may not have the same speed as his sophomore counterpart, but he has inherent physical advantages that should help.
Like Stewart, he’s going to have to work on his shot, but even when his shooting was off, he still seemed to find a way to score. That’s an important quality. His decision-making was questionable during the summer league – he averaged 1.2 turnovers per game – but that should theoretically improve with time.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 3.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 57.9 percent on FGs
When I saw Frederick’s statistics from the regular season, I was kind of taken aback. The numbers that you see above indicate some solid performances in limited time, but so often what I saw from Frederick was something else. He looked almost lost on the court at times, like he was a gear or two slower than other players on the court.
Again, as a freshman, this could be natural, especially because he was sporting a knee brace throughout the tournament. I’ll be intrigued to see what Frederick can do once practices start because what I saw out at Montour was a player who’s simply not ready yet. Based on those observations, he seems like as good a candidate as any to redshirt.
Pro-Am regular season stats: 8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 27.3 percent on FGs, 41.7 percent on 3s
I don’t know if Andy Toole would be down for adopting the “run-on” term Bill O’Brien popularized at Penn State (I hope not), but when you think of walk-ons at the lower levels of Division I, the guys you think of aren’t typically good. With all due respect to the likes of Treadwell Lewis, Skovranko is much better than a traditional walk-on.
That’s not to say he didn’t also look lost at times. Like Stewart and Minnie, his former Lincoln Park teammate, Skovranko only played in two games, the first of which he looked completely overmatched in. He airballed shots, played shoddy defense and made some really glaring mistakes. His other appearance, however, was a completely different story. He was more in control on the offensive end and was knocking down 3 after 3. He’s not going to be a world-beater early in his career, but if he can carve out a niche as a taller player who can come off the bench and knock down outside jumpers – a tough matchup for any team – he’ll be a valued contributor.
NOTE: Jairus Lyles, Rodney Pryor and David Appolon did not participate in the Pro-Am.
So, as a collective unit, what does do all of these individual assessments mean?
We’re still almost four months away from the start of the season, but I think these early signs are encouraging, more so than I thought entering the summer.
I’m always dubious of teams that have so many new pieces. For all of the talent there can be, there’s still a feeling out process with an indefinite length. Some of these teams find a way to click while others never can. It’s imprecise.
But there’s real potential with this team. I think all six of the returning players – Jones, Oliver, Tate, Hawkins, Stewart and Appolon – will all have a role in the team’s main rotation (let’s assume that will include a group of 10 players). Of the new guys, I think you can add Reed, Kinsey, Minnie and Gomis to that group. They’ve been impressive at times over the summer and you can envision them in a particular role in the team’s paradigm.
That’s a good group of players. Jones is your go-to guy, your star. Stewart is primed for a big leap this season, with Kinsey getting experience as a reliable back-up. Neither Oliver nor Reed will fill the void left by Karvel Anderson, but as a two-man platoon, they’re going to be strong, especially because they possess different skill sets. Appolon’s your do-everything guy who finally hit the maturation point last season fans hoped he would. Tate and Gomis are your grinders at the four, maybe a little offensively limited, but strong rebounders who will make plays. And Hawkins and Minnie are your bigs, the guys who will protect the rim with absurd length and even stretch out the floor.
Of course, there’s a lot of uncertainty, but isn’t the NEC going to be defined by that this season? When you take a team-by-team look, it’s not going to be a very good league. LIU, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s lose almost everyone significant. Fairleigh Dickinson loses key pieces, as does Bryant. Sacred Heart still has a ways to go. If I had to pick, I’d put Robert Morris somewhere in the top three, along with the St. Francis’ (Brooklyn and PA).
So many variables still need to be figured out, but if the Pro-Am did one thing, it at least gave an idea of what’s possible. And, for the time being, that possibility is alluring.