New-Look Jeffs Ranked 15th in Preseason Poll

Amherst head coach David Hixon '75 and his Lord Jeffs have a brand new look for the 2008-09 season.
Although they fell just short of the program’s second consecutive national title, the 2007-08 Lord Jeffs had plenty to celebrate. After getting off to a 7-2 start, Amherst rattled off 15 consecutive victories and finished the regular season a perfect 9-0 in conference games to grab the top seed in the NESCAC Championship as one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Jeffs earned an 86-69 win over Colby in the conference tournament’s first round, but a bid for a fifth NESCAC title was halted in the semifinal round with a 65-64 loss to Bowdoin.

Still, Amherst received a bid to its 11th overall and ninth straight NCAA Tournament, drawing a first-round bye before knocking off John Jay College at home in the second round, 96-74. The Jeffs headed to regional host Plattsburgh State, where they defeated Richard Stockton College and avenged a regular season loss to Brandeis University to earn a trip to the national semifinals in Salem, Va., for a third straight year. Amherst looked poised to repeat as champs after an 84-58 victory over Ursinus College, but Washington University pulled off a 90-68 win to end the Jeffs’ impressive season at 27-4.

Amherst led the NESCAC in scoring (81.0 ppg), scoring margin (+13.9), field goal percentage (52.1, second in Division III), assists per game (17.9), steals per game (7.55) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.28), and finished second in blocks per game (6.13).

Amherst will need to fill the void left by two-time National Player of the Year Andrew Olson '08.
Amherst loses five seniors to graduation, all of whom signed contracts this past summer to play professional basketball in Germany. The Class of 2008 matched the Class of 2007 by winning a program-best 111 games in four years, with the ’08s finishing at 16-0 in Little Three play, 34-2 in NESCAC games, 65-4 at home, and 8-1 against archrival Williams.

Leading the way for the last four years was point guard Andrew Olson, who established himself as one of the nation’s most outstanding point guards and one of the best players in Amherst’s illustrious history. In each of his last two seasons, Olson was named the NABC National and Regional Player of the Year and a finalist for the prestigious Bob Cousy Award, also earning NESCAC Player of the Year, All-NESCAC First Team and NABC All-America First Team honors. Olson holds the program record for assists in a game (15), season (243) and career (758), as he is ranked sixth in the NCAA record books for career assists. Olson also joined the 1,000 Point Club and finished 12th on Amherst’s all-time scoring list (1,238).

After a solid junior year, Fletcher Walters transformed into one of the nation’s best players last year. Averaging 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, Walters was named to the All-NESCAC First Team, NCAA All-Sectional Team, NABC All-Region First Team, was twice named the NESCAC Player of the Week, and was selected to play in the NEBCA Division III Senior All-Star Game. Walters shot 53 percent from the floor, while his 81.6 free throw percentage was the 13th best in program history.

Also breaking out during his senior season was Brandon Jones, who averaged 12.0 points and 5.3 rebounds last year as a dominant inside player with the ability to shoot well from the outside. Jones was named the MVP of last year’s Ken Wright ’52 Memorial Invitational, with his most impressive game coming against Rhode Island College when he connected on his first six three point attempts in the first half en route to a career-high 30 points.

Kevin Hopkins was a dominant force in the paint for Amherst, totaling 813 points (7.6 avg.) and 131 blocks while shooting 62 percent from the field in his four years. Last year, Hopkins was second in the NESCAC in blocks per game (1.52), while his 64.0 field goal percentage as a junior is the fifth best mark in program history.

Rounding out the Class of 2008 is Matt Goldsmith, who averaged 5.6 points per game as a sophomore before sitting out his junior season due to injury. Goldsmith came back to play a major role on last year’s squad, averaging 16.1 minutes and 4.9 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor.

Senior Brian Baskauskas has established himself as one of the best sharpshooters in Division III.
Highlighting the Class of 2009 is senior co-captain Brian Baskauskas, a preseason All-America Third Team selection and The Sporting News preseason All-America Honorable Mention honoree. Baskauskas burst onto the scene during his sophomore season when he came off the bench to earn NESCAC Player of the Week honors en route to finishing second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage (47.7), fourth in field goal percentage (57.0) and 10th in defensive rebounds per game (4.0). Averaging 12.0 points per game as a starter last year, Baskauskas shot 56.7 percent from the field and 47.9 percent from beyond the arc, both of which were the fifth highest averages in the NESCAC, while his 85.9 free throw percentage was the fifth best in program history.

Joining Baskauskas as a senior co-captain is Mike Holsey, who last year saw a significant increase in playing time. Known for his dominant defensive presence, Holsey blocked 22 shots and added 12 steals in only 24 games as a junior. Averaging 7.3 minutes per game, the 6’5 center shot 55 percent from the floor and pulled down 2.1 rebounds per contest. Rounding out the senior class are guards Glenn Wong, Marcus Bradley and Ben Kaplan, all of whom have the ability to bring the ball up the court and shoot effectively from the outside. While Bradley and Kaplan will give the Jeffs plenty to work with at the point guard position, Wong will give the team depth as a shooting guard.

Playing in 29 games last year, junior Steven Wheeler joins Baskauskas as one of the best sharpshooters in the NESCAC. Wheeler averaged 15.9 minutes per game as a sophomore, scoring 6.9 points while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three-point range. With his ability to drive to the hole making him even more dangerous, Wheeler is capable of leading Amherst in scoring on any given night, which he displayed by scoring 19 points at Williams in a conference game last season. Rounding out the junior class is D.J. Carcieri, who will be looking to rebound from an injury that kept him sidelined for the majority of the 2007-08 season.

Teaming up with Holsey to form a deep but inexperienced group of centers are sophomores Reggie Fugett and Kurt Bennett. Fugett missed the majority of his first season due to injury, but he is looking to rebound in a big way by becoming a significant presence in the paint. Bennett played in only nine games as a first-year but has shown vast potential and should see an increase in playing time as a sophomore.

Junior Steven Wheeler shot 47 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore.
Returning with the most experience from last year’s rookie class is point guard Conor Meehan, who averaged 8.1 minutes and played in 29 games as a reliable backup. Like Olson, Meehan has tremendous court vision with the ability to shoot effectively from anywhere on the floor. While he will not be looked upon to lead the team to the degree that Olson did, Meehan will provide valuable experience and leadership to one of Amherst’s youngest and least experienced teams in recent history.

Head coach David Hixon welcomes six promising first-years to the team. A native of Tampa, Fla., David Waller was named to the All-State 2A First Team, All-County Team and was named an All-State All-Star and McDonald’s All-America nominee after averaging 19.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Putting up similar numbers was shooting guard Taylor Barrise of Allendale, N.J. For averaging 20.5 points and 10.6 rebounds, Barrise was named to the All-State Third Team, All-North Jersey Second Team and All-County First Team, adding three All-League First Team selections. Jeff Holmes was just as impressive as a power forward at Saint Raphael Academy in Rhode Island, as he averaged 20.5 points and 15.7 rebounds en route to a Second Team All-State selection.

Also set to begin their collegiate careers as highly touted players are Connor Johnson, Tim Prowitt and David Zaitz. As a shooting guard at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, Calif., Johnson earned an All-League First Team selection for averaging 10 points, six rebounds and five assists per game. Prowitt played as a small forward and power forward at The Potomac School in Maryland, averaging 17.0 points and 9.5 rebounds as a two-time All-State First Team selection and three-time All-Conference First Team member. Rounding out the Class of 2012 is Zaitz, an All-League, All-Conference and All-Tri County First Team selection at Scarsdale High School. Zaitz averaged 21.0 points and 11.4 rebounds per game as a small forward.

Amherst is ranked 15th in the preseason national poll, but this year will be an interesting one for the Lord Jeffs, who have a completely different look from just one year ago. With a team full of good shooters and guard-forward combo players, the Jeffs will feature a unique, multidimensional lineup formation. Coach Hixon will hope the returning players learned from the Class of 2008, as this year’s starting lineup is wide open due to inexperience.

Amherst’s schedule features two four-game home stands and a pair of seven-game road trips, one of which includes five NESCAC games, as the Jeffs’ schedule has a much different look from recent years. The 2008-09 season kicks off Tuesday, Nov. 18 when Amherst hosts Curry College at 7:30 p.m.