Posted on: June 7, 2011 6:00 pm
Posted by Eric Angevine
As Matt Norlander reported earlier today, former UConn assistant coach Patrick Sellers is headed for an assistant's job at Hofstra. If things break Mo Cassara's way once more, yet another refugee from the Huskies could join Sellers on the bench next season.
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, 6-foot-7 sophomore who logged just six minutes in the national title game, left UConn in a search for more playing time, though his May arrest on marijuana charges probably didn't help matters.
If Coombs-McDaniel does choose Hofstra, he could find the playing time he's been looking for (after sitting out a season, of course). A lanky 6-7 without much bulk or a good shooting touch, the sophomore mostly provided fresh legs off the bench in relief of Jim Calhoun's youthful starters. His 5.6 rebounds per game, even in limited duty, give him a skill to hang his hat on wherever he goes, especially if he uses his transfer season to develop other aspects of his game.
Cassarra had the Pride in the upper echelon of the dynamic Colonial Athletic Association last year in his first season on the bench at the school. The league's profile has grown by leaps and bounds following a 2006 Final Four appearance by George Mason and last year's stunning run by Virginia Commonwealth. Hofstra is in search of the school's first NCAA tourney berth since 2001, when Jay Wright was the head coach, and Hofstra was still a member of the America East conference. Cassara would no doubt find Coombs-McDaniel's services to be very helpful toward that effort in 2012-13. Landing an official commitment from another embattled former Husky could be Patrick Sellers' first order of business.
Photo: US Presswire
Posted on: January 20, 2011 9:15 am
Edited on: January 20, 2011 9:43 am
Posted by Matt Norlander
Just a simple handshake, a how-do-you-do, and then he was on his way.
Little did Charles Jenkins know the man he spent a quick minute making casual, compressed conversation with in a tiny office last April would soon enough be his head coach, the man who could build an offense that would catalyze his game into something that’s now starting to be nationally recognized.
Jenkins (23.2 points, 4.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds per game), Hofstra’s senior guard with a smooth shooting touch and unnatural apt for passing, didn’t think much of then-assistant coach Mo Cassara. Why should he? Cassara wasn’t the new head coach; that was Tim Welsh, who was brought on days before to replace the beloved Tom Pecora. Jenkins was still adjusting to the new man in charge and prepping for the end of his junior year, academically.
“I didn’t pay him (Cassara) much attention because I was worried about my relationship with the head coach (Welsh),” Jenkins said. “He (Cassara) asked, ‘Are you the guy I’ve been reading about?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ It was quick, and then I left the office.”
Almost immediately into Welsh’s tenure at Hofstra, the former Providence coach committed a mistake that led to Cassara replacing him. Welsh was brought in to replace Pecora — who shocked many when he left Hofstra to take over a struggling (to put it lightly) Fordham program — but was soon fired after being arrested on a DUI charge on April 30, 2010.
The school chose to stay in house and promote Cassara.
“For the first couple weeks he was typical Charles,” said Cassara, “as he just went about his business and showed up for workouts and was really kind of quiet. That was natural; he’d been real comfortable with the whole staff who recruited him. That was his family for a long time.”
From there, Jenkins and the third Pride head coach in a one-week span started to bond. The young, energetic, affable coach and the old, crafty, savvy senior player began an unlikely friendship that’s now gotten to the point where Jenkins will text, Facebook, even direct message his coach through Twitter to talk to him. Frequently. And it’s not always about basketball.
“We are so close,” Cassara said. “It's really not (common). For instance, after the Old Dominion game on Saturday (a 75-64 Hofstra loss on Jan. 15) I was disappointed — we didn’t play our best. As soon as I got out of the press conference, boom, my phone buzzes and it’s Charles BBM’ing me, saying, “We’ll be OK.”
The 6-3, 220-pound Jenkins wasn’t aware of it at first, but lately he’s come to realize his success this season was due to the change in coaching. For as much as he loved playing under Pecora, Cassara’s only helped the elevation of Jenkins’ game. The close relationship between the two has built a level of trust that’s been vital in keeping Hofstra relevant in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Currently, the team is 6-1 in conference, tied atop the league with Virginia Commonwealth.
“Now I think it’s everything with the offseason, the coaching change and the player changes we had,” Jenkins said while talking on the phone after a team walkthrough Wednesday afternoon. He and his teammates would go on to defeat 9-8 UNC-Wilmington 66-57 later that night at the Mack Sports Complex, the Pride’s home arena in Hempstead, N.Y. Jenkins scored seven points down the stretch to ensure his team kept stride.
Jenkins is putting up numbers that could and should slate him alongside UConn’s Kemba Walker, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson in national player-of-the-year conversation. But it’s not happening — yet. That’s in part because Jenkins plays in obscurity at Hofstra and also due to the Pride’s 12-6 record. A .666 winning percentage for a mid-major school doesn’t attract much attention outside of a 20-mile radius of the campus. If he keeps up this pace, though, Jenkins could and should get heavy consideration as an All-America come March.
Naturally, the Pride doesn’t get many chances to show off on a national stage, which has also kept Jenkins’ absurdly valuable play in the dark for most of the year. In the season-opener against North Carolina — the Pride’s only game against a name program — Hofstra fell, 107-65. Jenkins started his final campaign with a 24-point, one-rebound, four-assist, three-steal, three-turnover performance in Chapel Hill. It was one of his weakest performances on the year.
The Pride’s hopes on winning the conference — they are currently the CAA’s only undefeated team on the road — reside in the arms, hands and brain of Jenkins, who ranks in the top 400 in 12 tempo-free categories. That’s more than the aforementioned four of Johnson (11), Walker (11), Fredette (10) and Sullinger (10).
What motivates him? Well, Jenkins is one to hold on to things — a visual and experience-driven pack rat.
“Being a senior, I’m cherishing every night. It’s motivating,” he said. “I go in to a game or practice and know it’s my last day every time I’m here. My last game here, my last game at home against this team.”
Jenkins believes the reason his numbers, which were plenty good the past two seasons but have spiked this year, have gotten into most-valuable-season-in Hofstra-history territory is due to one ability: stopping. He said his pull-up jump shot has improved tremendously in a few months’ time. When Jenkins was a freshman he drew a lot of charges and played without abandon. It was a daily struggle to adjust; to not see the rim as the only place where he could finish a shot.
Now he’s no longer the brake-challenged roller-skater on the court. Jenkins’ ability to stop and pop from 10, 13, 16, 22 feet on a fast break, or otherwise, has opened up his game and made for an unpredictable up-tempo facet to the Pride’s offense that wasn’t evident in recent years. The senior remains most confident in his get-to-the-rim ability, but said this year’s been a critical one to expand his game.
The man who once scored a record eight points on one possession and inadvertently helped turn around another CAA program didn’t immediately adapt to Cassara’s techniques and style of offense, either. That makes this melding all the more impressive. How often does a senior who’s clearly the most important member of the team abandon some of his principles and tendencies to adapt to a new coach’s scheme?
“When we brought in a new offense, I was frustrated at the time because I was playing for coach Pecora for years,” Jenkins said. “It took a bit, but I just had to buy in.”
What makes Jenkins such a tough scout job is his unselfish nature. He is as smart a shooter as he is a passer, which is getting rarer at the college level. His assist rate (assists divided by field goals made by one’s teammates) among the top 70 in the country. When he does shoot, his true shooting percentage is 69 percent, eighth-best in the country as of Wednesday night. Jenkins is ranked first in the CAA in points, points per game, true shooting percentage, field goals made, percentage of minutes played, minutes played per game, offensive rating, free throws made and attempted and effective field goal percentage, perhaps the most important stat of all. Jenkins ranks in the top five in 10 other traditional and tempo-free categories.
No player in the country is so dominant and dynamic within his league in so many ways. Yet, he’s not always to focal point on the floor. In the team’s game against Northeastern on Jan. 8, Jenkins didn’t even attempt his first field goal until the 10:02 mark of the first half. Hofstra went on to win, 76-67; Jenkins had 20 points, seven assists, three steals and one turnover.
“His tempo, his ability to share the ball is unreal,” Cassara said. “He doesn’t ever take bad shots. I never have to worry about that.”
Jenkins knows a one-man show isn’t going to be good enough to win the league, even if that will be the easy go-to talking point for most if Hofstra does manage to do that. With all that talk, there’s a pressure he lives with each night when trying to fall asleep. The constant communication with Cassara has been much-needed because of this.
Does Hofstra have a good chance to win the league? Cassara won’t even go there yet. He’s yet to visit half the arenas in the CAA, and outside of his senior star, this team’s had a litany of problems keeping players on the court. Cassara continues to enjoy this one-year Jenkins experience, but it’s not been all thrills. Another reason for the close bond between Cassara and Jenkins is due to Jenkins' ability to lead through his play and make this a little easier on Cassara in his first season, which was filled with unknowns in the months leading up to the game against North Carolina.
“Honestly, I didn’t think all this would be possible because I didn’t think our team would be ready to follow him,” Cassara said.
The most undersold aspect of the Pride’s 2010-11 season is just how thin the roster is. Jenkins is playing with and Cassara is coaching a depleted crew. Between injuries, transfers and losses to graduation, Hofstra’s kept the machine going with duct tape, super glue and Superman. Three freshmen who weren’t expected to play this year are now seeing significant minutes. The only other player aside from Jenkins with any playing experience at the D-I level is Greg Washington, who came off the bench last season.
One of the things I told my guys is, ‘We have every excuse in the world not to be successful this year,” Jenkins said, “but we haven’t let that happen.”
He, largely, hasn't let that happen and doesn't intend on having this team wilt in the heart of conference play. Before he hung up the phone, Jenkins suggested he’s got more to provide in the following seven weeks.
“I’ve had some great games here, but I think the best is still coming,” he said.