Young Amherst Team Ranked 25th in Preseason Poll

2008-09 RECAP
Despite a difficult schedule that featured a pair of seven-game road trips, Amherst posted a 21-7 record last year to mark its ninth consecutive 20-win season. The Lord Jeffs won their first nine games and 13 of their first 14 to climb to No. 5 in the national rankings, but they would eventually snap a streak of 104 consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 25 Poll.

Amherst upset 13th-ranked Middlebury in the regular season finale to grab the No. 2 seed in the NESCAC Championship with a 7-2 conference record. The Jeffs earned an 80-66 win over No. 7 Trinity and an 86-74 victory over archrival Williams in the first two rounds of the conference tournament, but Middlebury would get its revenge with a 77-68 win over Amherst in the finals.

Amherst won 21 games last year and made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for a 10th consecutive year.

The Jeffs earned an at-large bid to its 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament—the second longest active streak in Division III—but fell in the first round to Gwynedd-Mercy College, 68-62. It was the first time in 12 appearances Amherst had failed to advance to the tournament’s second round. The young Amherst squad led the NESCAC in field goal percentage (46.6) and finished second in three-point field goal percentage (38.5), field goal percentage defense (38.7), scoring margin (+12.4) and scoring offense (76.0 ppg).

The Class of 2009 is the third winningest group in program history, compiling a record of 106-17 overall, 14-2 in Little Three play and 8-2 against archrival Williams. Amherst loses five players to graduation, most notably All-American Brian Baskauskas ’09. As the program’s 23rd member to reach 1,000 career points (1,204), Baskauskas led the Jeffs in scoring (16.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg) during an outstanding senior season. He was named MVP of the Pioneer Valley Classic and Ken Wright ’52 Memorial Invitational, and on Dec. 10 was named to the National Team of the Week. At season’s end, Baskauskas earned All-NESCAC, D3hoops All-Region and NABC All-Region First Team honors, with D3hoops also naming him to its All-America Fourth Team.

The Jeffs lose a big presence in the paint with the departure of Mike Holsey ’09, who started in 27 games as a senior. Known for his outstanding athletic ability, Holsey finished fourth in the NESCAC in blocks per game (1.67) while adding nearly five points per contest. Marcus Bradley ’09 earned a spot in Amherst’s starting lineup by season’s end and took advantage of his playing time, averaging 2.0 assists and 5.9 points per game while sharing point guard duties. Shooting guard Glenn Wong ’09 knocked down 21 three-pointers at a .412 clip during his senior year, averaging 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game while providing valuable minutes off the bench. Rounding out the Class of 2009 was Ben Kaplan ’09, who was named to the NESCAC Winter All-Academic Team as a sharp-shooting backup point guard.

Steven Wheeler '10 averaged 12.3 points per game as a junior despite battling injuries.

Serving as two of the team’s three captains will be seniors Steven Wheeler and DJ Carcieri. Wheeler has developed a reputation as one of the best outside shooters in the NESCAC, and last year led the conference in three-pointers made per game (2.7). Thanks to a shooting percentage of 41.1 from beyond the arc, Wheeler averaged 12.3 points per game as Amherst’s second leading scorer, and this year will once again be looked upon as a prime scoring option. Carcieri will once again provide depth at the point guard position, as last year he shot 51.1 percent from the floor and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the line in 18 games played.

Amherst’s third captain will be junior point guard Conor Meehan, who went from averaging 8.1 minutes per game as a first-year to 28.0 a year ago, and seemed to get better as the season progressed. Less than a week after scoring a career-high 26 points in a win over Williams in the conference semifinals, Meehan was only two assists shy of a triple-double against Gwynedd-Mercy in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 11.2 points per game and led the NESCAC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.88), also finishing among the conference leaders in assists per game (4.29; 4th), free throw percentage (.782; 9th) and steals per game (1.5; 3rd).

Joining Meehan in the Class of 2011 is center Kurt Bennett, who last year averaged 3.1 points and 3.2 rebounds while playing in 24 games. In a 100-97 victory over Skidmore last year, Bennett had eight points, 12 rebounds and a pair of blocks in only 13 minutes of action. Bennett averaged nearly 10 minutes per game as a sophomore, and this year is expected to fight for a starting role as a valuable big man.

Five sophomores return to the court this year hoping to build on what was a very successful season for the Class of 2012. As the lone returning starter from this impressive group, David Waller ’12 provided a youthful spark as an explosive guard with the ability to do damage from anywhere on the court. Waller averaged 7.0 points per game and shined in the postseason, combining for 30 points in the NESCAC semifinals and finals. Taylor Barrise ’12 averaged 5.9 points and 14.6 minutes per game while shooting at 50 percent (59-of-118) from the floor and 44.8 percent from beyond the arc. Barrise was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Pioneer Valley Classic and Ken Wright ’52 Memorial Invitational.

Conor Meehan '11 averaged 11.2 points per game and led the NESCAC in assist-to-turnover ratio last year.

Also playing a significant role as a first-year was Jeff Holmes ’12, who averaged 5.2 rebounds per game despite battling knee problems throughout the year. Holmes led Amherst in rebounding in eight games, averaging 5.8 points in nearly 15 minutes per game as an effective center. Rounding out the group are Connor Johnson ’12 and Tim Prowitt ’12, each of whom should play a more significant role after showing promise last year. At 6’6, Johnson is a true big guard who can be utilized at virtually any position. Johnson played in 15 games as a first-year and should see more action as a strong, intelligent defender. Prowitt is a mobile in-and-out player, whose aggressive rebounding could give the Jeffs quality depth at the forward position.

With a 6-foot-8, 265-pound frame, Peter Kaasila ’13 is Amherst’s first legitimate big man to come along in a while and could excel in a conference that lacks such size. Northampton native Willy Workman ’13 and twin brothers Pierce ’13 and Matt Edwards ’13 are all natural scorers who should also make an immediate impact. Allen Williamson ’13 scored more than 2,000 points in high school and has Division I-level athletic ability that could fill the void left by Holsey. Roshard Bryant ’13 brings a 7-foot wingspan with raw talent and great potential.

Amherst enters the season ranked 25th in the Top 25 Preseason Poll, which is the program’s lowest preseason ranking since 2000. This is one of the youngest teams in head coach Dave Hixon’s coaching career, but the seniors and juniors have seen firsthand what it takes to play for a national championship. Wheeler and Carcieri will be striving for their first NESCAC title, as Amherst has not been crowned conference champion since 2006. Entering his 33rd season at Amherst with 598 career victories, Hixon will likely become the ninth head coach in Division III history to reach 600 wins.

The Lord Jeffs begin their season Nov. 20 against the University of Maine-Farmington in the Ken Wright ’52 Memorial Invitational Tournament in Amherst. The 2009-10 regular season features 15 games on the road and only nine at LeFrak Gymnasium. Amherst will kick off the 2010 calendar year with a Jan. 2 meeting with Stevenson University in Stevenson, Maryland. Highlighting the schedule as always are two meetings with Williams (Jan. 9 and Feb. 12), with the regular season set to wrap up Jan. 13 at home against defending NESCAC champion Middlebury College.