The Colonial Athletic Association held its annual Media Day on Wednesday morning. We got a chance to hear from all 13 head coaches in addition to a student-athlete from each program.
First up on the day was the College of Charleston's Pat Kelsey and Dalton Bolon. Kelsey mentioned "culture" multiple times throughout his availability, harping on the importance of trusting the process.
"The focus is always the same and that's daily excellence...we focus on the next repetition, the next drill, and our belief in our culture as the results take care of themselves..."
Kelsey, in his second year at the helm of the Cougars, also discussed the transition from year one to year two.
"I don't think there is any question that year two is more seamless in terms of we're not building from the ground floor in terms of implementing our culture. We have a core group of guys returning that played significant minutes last year that now have a year under their belt in our culture and know the way we do things..."
Jameer Nelson Jr, now in his second season with the Blue Hens after transferring from George Washington, was asked what has made Delaware such a good fit.
Nelson, who led the Hens in scoring a year ago, is expected to play an even bigger role for the program this season with the departure of four double-digit scorers and the leading assist man from last years' squad.
"He's going to be the floor general for us and have the ball in his hands and be a leader and running our team...he's really growing as a point guard and that's what we've envisioned for him, that's the role he has." Coach Martin Inglesby told the media about Nelson's role and growth as a player.
Drexel coach Zach Spiker is a man after Philadelphia's heart. After starting his availability off by talking up the recent pro sports success in the City of Brotherly Love, Spiker talked about how "a level of toughness and nastiness" is important to the culture he's trying to build at Drexel.
Spiker also spoke about the challenge of assimilating eight new faces onto this roster and how important their August trip to Italy was.
"To have a new group...a lot of new pieces to mix in with some older vets. I thought that those four games and that trip in Italy was great from a basketball standpoint but even better from a team-building (and) just family cohesion standpoint."
Billy Davis is taking over his third division one program after previous stops at Lehigh (02-07) and Ball State (07-13). Davis, a longtime assistant on Fran McCaffery's staff, was asked about the style of play he expects to implement and invoked the name of his mentor.
"I want to be able to play fast, we want to play with pace, we want to play with tempo but at the same time, we're not going to play nuts...I had the opportunity to work alongside Fran McCaffery for a number of years, he's a huge mentor and influence...our offense at Iowa was one of the top in the country and we played with a certain pace."
The Hampton Pirates are one of four new programs entering the CAA this season but Head Coach Edward Joyner, Jr.'s focus lies on what he can control.
The Pride's Aaron Estrada is back to defend his 2022 player of the year award and was again chosen as preseason player of the year but hopes to see his personal success take back seat to the team's success this upcoming season.
Coach Speedy Claxton, perhaps the most famous Hofstra alum, made reference to the long lineage of guards at the school and how Aaron Estrada is continuing the tradition.
Claxton, now in his second year in charge also talked about the differences between being an assistant to the lead man.
"It's a lot different sitting in that head seat...your relationship with the players overall has to be stronger and usually when you're an assistant coach you're closer with the guys you recruit but as a head coach you have to be close with everyone on the team."
King Rice and his Monmouth program find themselves in unfamiliar territory this season. The Hawks make the move to the CAA after spending years as one of the top programs in the NEC and then making the move to the MAAC and will make the transition from the hunted to the hunter.
"In the league we're coming from we were starting out one of the top teams in the league...Now we're in the CAA and our building is about the same as some of the other buildings so that advantage already is different for us. The level of basketball, we've played teams in this league, we played Towson last year and we were very fortunate to start great against them and get a big lead and then they probably outplayed us for the rest of the game and we were able to hold on. We've played Hofstra and they've really had our number. We've left that game feeling like man, they're just better than us and now we're in a league with both of those teams..." Rice explained when asked about making the move to the CAA.
North Carolina A&T
NC A&T is now on their third conference in three years after a brief stop in the Big South last season. Coach Shumpert was asked about the constant shuffling and explained that although its been uncertain times, ultimately its a good thing for the Aggies.
"We're used to the changes and adversity. It's been a good thing...as we've moved up leagues we've been able to move a step higher and a step higher and that shows our university and athletic programs are growing and its exciting times for us getting to play in the CAA..."
I asked junior forward Marcus Watson, the team's leading scorer from last season, about the challenges of taking more of a leadership role as one of the team veterans this season.
"It's been a challenge...everyone comes in expecting this and that so I think the challenge has been for guys to accept their role... or just know what's needed on this team...Everybody staying consistent and then being positive, thats the biggest thing i've been leaning on every single day...it just shows in our everyday practice just getting after it...we're pushing players to be better."
Chris Doherty described his decision to return for an extra season of eligibility after a disappointing 2-16 conference record a year ago.
Coach Geno Ford was one of the coaches I was most impressed with throughout the media availability. Ford's personality is infectious and the relationship he and Frankie Policelli have was apparent throughout. Ford raved about joining the CAA and its place amongst the other "mid-major" conferences.
Policelli was asked about his shooting ability, including his propensity at times to dial it up from very deep, and gave the credit to his father.
"My dad... he was always a shooter so he always wanted me to become a shooter. We'd have shooting competitions even since I was young on like a nerf hoop and he'd always just tell me back up, back up...so it started when I was young."
When pressed about how many of those contests he managed to win Policelli smiled but pulled no punches.
"All of em"
If there was a star of the day it was without a doubt Head Coach Pat Skerry. Skerry, now in his 10th season at Towson, leads a team coming off a 25 win season and returns it's three leading scorers from a year ago. The Tigers were a unanimous selection to win the league in the preseason poll by the coaches but you can color Skerry unimpressed.
"My old man reminded me that preseason polls and two dollars will get me a bet at the racetrack. It's great for our guys, its a credit to all the guys that came back to the work they've put in and anytime we can shed some light on our great university and our athletics program we're happy for it but we're keenly aware that they don't mail you trophies this time of year and as a coach you try to get your players to understand that you don't start where you finished a year ago so we're just trying to build good habits and get better everyday."
Skerry went on to talk about not only his players on the court but how proud he is of how they represent the university.
If Towson manages to pull off another season like the one they had a year ago, Skerry will be taking a lot of phone calls from bigger schools throughout the Northeast this offseason.
Coach Takayo Siddle and the Seahawks of UNCW are coming off an impressive finish to last season that saw them take home the CBI tournament title. Despite losing a lot of talent expectations remain high in Wilmington this season.
Coach Siddle talked about the importance of building an identity for this squad early in the season versus later which is something he felt they had to do throughout last season.
I also asked Siddle about incoming sophomore Eric Van Der Heijden, a versatile wing, and Raleigh, NC native who transferred back to his home state after a stint at Ole Miss.
"...Eric has a chance to be one of the best shooters in this league, if not throughout the whole country."
William and Mary
The Tribe return star forward Ben Wight who wasn't shy about the improvement he's made throughout the offseason.
Coach Dane Fischer made clear that he expects Wight to be the focal point but also expects the talent around him to be a step up from what they had a year ago.
"Certainly we are building the thing around Ben Wight and what he was able to do for us last year. I think we put some really good pieces together, we got much more shooting this year, much better play in the backcourt and experience in the backcourt which was needed...we've added some really good athleticism up front to pair with Ben Wight. Noah Collier from Pittsburgh is a different level athlete than we see in our league a lot."