Change is in the air around the Frostburg State men’s basketball team in 2003-04. Gone are four starters, including Pierre Bowery, the second-leading scorer in school history.
Entering the starting lineup are several players who saw limited action last season. Six newcomers, including three transfers, also join the program.
And, a slight adjustment in style is also in store as the Bobcats look to battle their way back to the top of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
Perhaps the biggest challenge fifth-year head coach Webb Hatch and his squad will have face is overcoming the loss of Bowery, who scored 1,809 points and grabbed 643 rebounds in his career. The three-time first-team All-AMCC pick also set a school mark with 192 all-time blocks.
"Having lost Pierre, I’m concerned about who’s going to score, but I think it will evolve as the season progresses," said Hatch.
The Bobcats still have excellent experience and leadership throughout the lineup with the return of seven players from last year’s squad that finished a disappointing 10-16 overall and 5-7 in the AMCC.
Hatch will look to senior co-captains Ryan Grabill (Boonsboro, Md./Williamsport) and Myro Small (Berlin, Md./Stephen Decatur) to guide the team.
Grabill, a four-year letterwinner, is the likely starter at point guard. One of only three players to see action in all 26 games last year, Grabill averaged 7.3 points, a team-high 4.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds.
He also showed an ability to take over games, scoring 24 points against Pitt-Bradford and 20 against La Roche.
"Ryan is a very smart player and knows our offense and defense very well."
Small, the team’s only left-hander, averaged 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in his first year at FSU after transferring from Cecil Community College.
Needing time to adjust to a new system, Small found his rhythm at the end of the season, averaging 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in FSU’s final three games.
"Myro’s game is to take it to the rim, and he is an excellent on-the-ball defender and a hard-nosed rebounder."
The backcourt spot will be bolstered by the return of sophomore Steve Coursey (Ellicott City, Md./Howard), junior Chris Vaughn (Manchester, Md./North Carroll) and senior DeNelle Hale (Baltimore, Md./Dunbar).
Coursey will see increased time at point guard after starting four of the final five games last season. He averaged 2.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 17 contests, adding 33 assists and 16 steals.
Vaughn will start at the off-guard position after seeing the majority of his time last year as a key reserve.
He scored in double figures nine times, including seven times in a nine-game stretch, and showed big-play potential by pouring in a career-high 16 points (including 11 in a 13-0 second-half run) to spark a 63-49 win over Penn State Altoona.
Hale returns to the basketball court after taking last year off. A solid back-up for the Bobcats the three previous seasons, he brings strong knowledge of FSU’s system.
"Steve will be out there with Ryan at times, Chris is a streaky shooter with great range and DeNelle is an excellent defender who will give us some good depth."
Junior Jocara Knight (Laurel, Md./Laurel) and freshman Brian Owen (Gainesville, Va./Brentsville) will look to make an impact in their first year with the program.
Knight will back up Vaughn and is a strong three-point threat, while Owen, who earned second-team all-state honors as a senior, can play guard or small forward.
"Jocara can really shoot the ball and is instant offense, and Brian is a very solid player who shoot it and break you down off the dribble."
The Bobcat frontcourt will boast some added size with the emergence of several returners as well as the addition of three transfers.
Sophomore Dan Ryley (Frederick, Md./St. John’s Prospect Hall) and red-shirt sophomore Doug Bucci (Bethesda, Md./Whitman) move into starting roles after seeing limited time last year.
Ryley scored 34 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 11 games, while Bucci recorded seven points and one rebound in two contests.
"I think Dan has improved the most out of anyone on the team since last year, and Doug has really stepped up his play."
Junior tranfers David Quay (Lewiston, Pa./Indian Valley) and Paul Owens (Hyattsville, Md./Northwestern) will add muscle in the middle, and the Bobcats should also benefit from the healthy return of senior Dustin Long (Accident, Md./Northern Garrett) and the arrival of junior foreign exchange student Neil Campbell (Limerick, Ireland/Ard Scoil Ris).
Quay, who transferred from Waynesburg, is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, while Owens, a transfer from Prince George’s Community College, is an imposing 6-foot-8, 260 pounds.
"David is a very intense player and a tough rebounder, while Paul will be a presence in the middle."
Long, who has battled nagging injuries each of the last two seasons after transferring from Garrett Community College, should share time with Bucci and Ryley.
"Dustin has some nifty moves around the basket and knows how to play. It’s nice to see him finally healthy."
Campbell will provide solid depth and three-point shooting.
"Neil works extremely hard and is a very coachable player."
Another new addition to the program is assistant coach Kendrick Saunders, who was an assistant coach at Hunter (N.Y.) College the last four years. Saunders, who played at Palm Beach Atlantic College, is no stranger to Maryland, having played at Great Mills High School.
"Kendrick has brought some new energy to the program with his focus, enthusiasm and professionalism. Also, Todd Stephens is back for a second year and is doing a great job again."
As usual, the Bobcats will test their mettle against a very tough schedule. FSU will take on the likes of Waynesburg, Shenandoah, Christopher Newport and Division II power Indiana (Pa.) in non-conference action before embarking on its AMCC slate.
While the Bobcats have been known for their up-tempo style in recent years and will still look for the opportunity to run, they have been placing additional emphasis on their half-court play in the preseason.
"We need to be a better half-court team because of the nature of our conference. We’re going to press less and play more zone than we have in the past, and I think we can run out of our zone more than our man-to-man."
With some of the top teams in the conference suffering losses to graduation and squads from the next tier returning several key players, Hatch feels the race for the league title is wide open.
"I think we can play with anybody on our schedule, and we’re going to take it one game at a time. We need to rebound better, avoid foolish turnovers and work on our shot selection. Our scoring will be more balanced, but it may just take a while to find out who our scorers will be."
The Bobcats open their season by hosting the FSU Tip-Off Tournament this Friday and Saturday. Salisbury and Bridgewater will square off in Friday’s 6:00 game, and Frostburg State will take on Waynesburg at 8:00.
The action will continue Saturday with the consolation game at 2 followed by the championship contest at 4.
For further information on this release, contact:
Office of Sports Information
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-2303