Defending National Champions Return Deep Veteran Lineup for Repeat Run
The 2007-08 Lord Jeffs enter the season ranked second in the D3Hoops.com national poll, and are favorites to compete for the 2007-08 NESCAC title.
The defending national champions will look to
repeat in 2007-08.
The Amherst College men’s basketball team could not have asked for a better season in 2006-07, as the Jeffs capped a 30-2 record with the program’s first National Championship. Amherst, once again, set a record for wins, and earned the right to host the NESCAC Tournament with the number one seed. The Jeffs were upset at Trinity in the final game of the regular season to deny the program its first perfect regular season, but easily defeated both Bates College and Colby College to set-up another Amherst-Williams NESCAC Championship. The Ephs edged Amherst 70-69 for the conference crown and the NCAA automatic qualifier, while the Jeffs were left to grab an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
For the sixth straight year, Amherst received a first round bye in the NCAA Tournament, before facing Widener College at home in the second round. The Jeffs cruised to a convincing win over the Pride, with the help of 24 points from Kevin Hopkins ’08. Amherst hosted the Sectional Rounds of competition for the third year in a row, and racked up a pair of double-digit wins over Stevens Tech and Rhode Island College to catapult into the Final Four.
For the third time in four years, Amherst traveled to Salem, VA for the national semifinals. Amherst defeated Wooster College 67-60 to earn a spot in the National Championship game for the first time in team history. The Jeffs would need to best defending champion, Virginia-Wesleyan University for the crown, and did just that. Amherst grabbed the National Championship with an 80-67 win, to bring home the hardware.
Amherst dominated its opponents all season long, holding an overall +20.6 scoring margin for the season. The Jeffs finished the season with five players averaging in double-digits, but no one scoring above 14 points-per-game. Amherst finished the season with the second best scoring offense in the NESCAC (81.4 ppg), the best scoring defense (60.8) and the best field goal percentage (51.1).
Senior captain Andrew Olson was the NABC National Co-Player of the Year in '06-'07.
The Lord Jeffs graduated four seniors in 2007 that currently stand as the most storied class in program history. Seniors Tim McLaughlin, Mike Salerno, Dan Wheeler and Dan O’Shea helped Amherst to three Final Fours, two NESCAC Championships and a national title. The Class of 2007 racked up an amazing 111-13 record during its four years on the team.
Amherst loses a pair of guards and a pair of front line players, including three starters. Starting at center for the ‘06-‘07 campaign was Dan O’Shea. O’Shea started in all 27 games in which he played, missing two weeks with a hand injury in January. The veteran big man set the tone for Amherst, with hard nosed play in the paint and winning almost every opening tip-off in trademark fashion. Joining O’Shea in the front court was classmate Dan Wheeler. Wheeler was the Jeffs’ leading scorer last season, averaging 13.8 ppg, while shooting 49% from the floor, and 39.5% from three-point range. Wheeler scored 1,132 points at Amherst to finish 15th on the all-time scoring list. He was a First Team All-NESCAC and NABC All-Region player, and a finalist for the prestigious Josten’s Trophy.
Amherst also must say goodbye to starting shooting guard Tim McLaughlin and back-up guard Mike Salerno. McLaughlin made an instant impact on the Amherst team during his first year, and ultimately finished his career one game shy of the all-time Division III record for games played in a career with 122. He was named to the Sixth-Annual Ken Wright '52 Invitational All-Tournament team and the NCAA All-Tournament Team last season as well. Despite being the only senior quad-captain to not be in the starting line-up, Mike Salerno was the heart of the Lord Jeffs. As a defensive stopper, Salerno often came off the bench in crucial minutes to draw the task of stopping the opposition’s best player. As a fan favorite dubbed the “Lord of Jeff Nation”, Salerno was a gutsy and unselfish player who finished last season with as many assists as points.
Junior Brian Baskauskas will help lead the Lord Jeff offense this season.
The Lord Jeffs return just two starters from the 2006-07 team that won the National Championship, but deep class of six seniors will look to guide the team late into the NCAA Tournament for a repeat bid.
Returning to the starting lineup are junior Brian Baskauskas and senior point guard Andrew Olson. Olson, the 2006-07 NABC Co-Player of the Year, was a D3Hoops.com First-Team All-American. Olson piled up a laundry list of awards last year, highlighted by being named the NCAA Tournament MVP, Sectional MVP and NESCAC Player of the Year. Olson was one of only two Division III players named as a finalist by the Basketball Hall of Fame for the Bob Cousy Award. Olson set the Amherst single game (15), single-season (243), and career (535) assist records last year. Baskauskas emerged as one of the best players in the NESCAC last season while averaging 11.1 ppg. He was tabbed the conference Player of the Week for January 15, 2007, and finished the season with a 57.5% field goal percentage. That mark was good enough for the 14th highest in program history.
Joining Olson and Baskauskas are seniors Kevin Hopkins, Brandon Jones and Fletcher Walters, as well as the much anticipated return of classmates Adolphe Coulibaly and Matt Goldsmith. Hopkins, a 6’10” center, turned heads last season coming off the bench to block 52 shots, good enough for second in the NESCAC, while shooting a blazing 64% from the floor. Jones will assume the back-up center role, and brings a high level of athleticism to the court. As the team’s best post defender, Jones will play a significant role this season. Walters was named the NESCAC Player of the Week coming off the bench last season, and will compete for a spot in the starting line-up or a large number of minutes off the bench again. The versatile swing-man is a terror for opponents with his perimeter game at 6’7”.
The Jeffs welcome back Goldsmith and Coulibaly who each missed a significant portion of last season with set-backs. Goldsmith, who played a significant role down the stretch in ‘05-’06, is returning from a season-ending injury last November, while Coulibaly suffered a death in the family. Both will be a huge boost to the defending champions’ already deep line-up.
Providing depth on the parameter will be guards Marcus Bradley, Glenn Wong, and Steven Wheeler. Bradley and Wong will look to shore up the outside game for Amherst, as each has worked extremely hard heading into their junior seasons to compete for playing time. Wheeler, the younger brother of recent graduate Dan, brings an extreme explosiveness to the floor, which should create mismatches across the NESCAC.
Amherst welcomes back senior Adolphe Coulibaly this season.
Backing up Olson at point will be second-year player D.J. Carcieri. The sophomore point guard suffered a fall injury, but should be healthy for opening day, and is a solid second squad player. Head Coach David Hixon ’75 explains that he will need to find minutes wherever possible for junior Mike Holsey. Hixon believes that “Holsey might be the best athlete in the NESCAC, and we need to find him time.”
Amherst welcomes newcomers Billy Butler, a 6’4” perimeter shooter from Poly Prep in New York City, alongside point guard Conor Meehan and 6’7” Kurt Bennett. The trio of first-years will have their work cut out for them to earn playing time this season, as the Jeffs are loaded with veteran talent. Also joining the team this season is junior Ben Kaplan. Kaplan was a highly touted player coming out of high school, who decided to take a few years away before joining the team this season.
The Jeffs once again open play this season with the Ken Wright ’52 Invitational Tournament at Amherst on Nov. 16-17. The Jeffs play host to Hunter College in the opening round, with SUNY-Purchase and Southern Vermont playing in the other game. Amherst plays 13 games before opening NESCAC play Friday, Jan. 18 at Tufts. Amherst will square off against Division II Florida Memorial University on Dec. 29 in a game that should test Amherst before playing Wesleyan and Williams in non-conference Little Three action in mid-January.