FROSTBURG, MD —
They say it's tough to get to the top, and it's tougher to stay there. The Frostburg State men's basketball team has accomplished the former, winning its first-ever Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference championship last season; now the Bobcats and third-year head coach Webb Hatch want to take care of the latter - and then some.
"Our goals are to win the AMCC championship again and get into the NCAA Tournament," said Hatch, who, in just his second season, guided the Bobcats to a 20-10 record, the AMCC tournament title and a runner-up finish in the ECAC South Region Championship.
The 20 wins is the second-highest single-season total in program history, trailing only the 1970-71 squad's 24-4 mark.
With four starters and five other letterwinners returning, and the addition of a host of new talent, high expectations are certainly worthy of this year's squad.
Frostburg State's up-tempo offense and relentless pressure defense begins with its guards, and the Bobcats have plenty of quality depth with three veterans and several newcomers at the position.
Senior Sean Brown (Baltimore, Md./Baltimore City) returns after earning All-AMCC honorable mention honors last season by averaging 11.8 points and leading the Bobcats with 66 steals, 167 assists and a 46.2 three-point shooting percentage. The heart and soul of the team, Brown is a tireless defender and the vocal leader on the court.
"Sean plays so hard and really gets after people," said Hatch. "He really turned it up late in the year, and you won't find many guys who play better defense at his position.
Sophomore Ryan Grabill (Hagerstown, Md./Williamsport), who averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds last season, is a versatile player who saw action at four different positions during his rookie campaign. He sank 45.7 percent of his three-pointers, led the team in free-throw shooting percentage (81.0) and showed his scoring ability with a career-high 17 points in an 86-72 win over La Roche.
"Ryan has very good leadership skills and knows how to take charge on the floor," Hatch added. "He's improved in all aspects of his game, and he's not afraid to shoot the ball this year."
Junior DeNelle Hale (Baltimore, Md./Dunbar), who enjoyed another outstanding season as a running back and punt returner with the Bobcat football team, will again provide solid depth.
"This is DeNelle's third year with the program, and he understands what we want out of the position," said Hatch. "He brings that toughness and concept of team play over from the football field."
Also looking to make an impact are junior A.J. Ernst (Minster,Ohio/Minster), who transferred from Edison Community College, freshman Kamillo Rosenthal (Munich, Germany/Catholic (Va.)) and senior Tony Burns (Cumberland, Md./Fort Hill).
Ernst averaged 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals for Edison last year and will see time at shooting guard. A fundamentally solid player with a great shot, Ernst missed the first two weeks of practice with a severely sprained ankle but has looked sharp upon his return.
Rosenthal, a hard-nosed player with good shooting and defensive abilities, gives the Bobcats some versatility as either a guard or small forward. The 6-2, 200-pound rookie has shown he can score from both inside and out and turns the intensity of the team up when he gets on the floor.
Burns enters his first year with the program and will bring quickness and a strong shooting touch to the team.
"We've got good depth at guard," Hatch commented. "They're all quick, defend well and are unselfish. I don't see any problem keeping people fresh at that position."
Junior Pierre Bowery (Kensington, Md./Albert Einstein), a first-team All-AMCC selection last year, led the Bobcats in scoring with 19.2 points per game, was second in rebounding at 6.6 caroms per contest and set a single-season school record with 57 blocks to become FSU's career leader in the category after just two seasons (74).
He topped the squad in scoring in 19 of 30 games, and Hatch looks for his versatility to present problems for opponents.
"Pierre can play the wing or inside, he jumps well and he's a good shooter from 12 to 15 feet in. He's very quick and athletic, and he can create some huge mismatches for us. We can play him at guard and he can post up or get into the paint and shoot over people, or he can use his quickness at forward."
Sophomore Dustin Robinson (Leonardtown, Md./Leonardtown) averaged 1.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in limited action last season, and he has impressed the coaches with his increased strength (he improved his bench press by 55 pounds over the summer) and skill.
"Dustin is probably the most improved player on our team from last year," commented Hatch. "He was already a good shooter, but now he can score off the dribble. He's also gotten strong enough where he can play inside."
Senior Reynolds Mason (Norristown, Pa./Norristown), who ranked third on the team in rebounding (5.4) and fifth in scoring (8.5) last season, gives the Bobcats another experienced post player. Mason scored a career-high 20 points against Dickinson and grabbed a personal-best 14 rebounds against Division II Davis & Elkins.
Senior Elroy Henley (Owings Mills, Md./Randallstown), the physically strongest player on the team, can play inside or outside and gives the Bobcats another great post defender.
The hard-working forward, who averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last year, came off the bench to score a season-high 14 points and grab six rebounds in FSU's 77-73 win over Pitt-Bradford in the AMCC championship game.
Junior Robert Jones (Ft. Washington, Md./Friendly), who transferred from Prince George's Community College, will see time at both the forward and center spots. He has shown constant improvement each day in practice while becoming more comfortable with a new system and new teammates, and he should have an immediate impact.
Another newcomer is junior Dustin Long (Accident, Md./Northern Garrett), who joins the Bobcats from nearby Garrett Community College. Another fundamentally sound player, Long can play any of the front-court positions and brings versatility and athleticism to the squad.
The Bobcats will also return two experienced players in the middle in senior Mike Millione (Walkersville, Md./Walkersville) and sophomore Mike Hall (Herndon, Va./Oakton).
Millione, who joins Henley as FSU's two returning three-year letterwinners, is a solid team player who works hard and does everything asked of him by the coaching staff. A strong post player with great leadership skills, he averaged 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds last season.
Hall is another tough, hard-nosed player who brings physical presence, strength and a strong work ethic. A strong passer in the Bobcat offense, he appeared in 29 games with 15 starts and posted 3.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest.
"We have excellent depth, and I think we'll be able to shoot the ball from the perimeter better this year," said Hatch. "We have good overall quickness - we might be a little quicker than last year - and we have the potential to be a very good defensive team.
"I think our offense will be more efficient; we can catch and shoot, we can create shots and we've got several guys on the perimeter that can hit shots and hurt teams that try to zone us."
Hatch feels every team in the AMCC will be improved, and he knows defending the league title won't be an easy task.
"I think we, Pitt-Bradford and Penn State Behrend have the potential to be very good; Lake Erie will be much improved, La Roche has most of its team back and Pitt-Greensburg had a good recruiting year. And, Penn State Altoona played us tough as well last season."
Notching a second straight 20-win season will certainly be a challenge, especially with a schedule rivaling one of the toughest in school history. This year's slate includes a road contest at preseason No. 4 Christopher Newport, which reached the NCAA Elite Eight last season, as well as a meeting with preseason No. 17 Clark (Mass.) at the Franklin & Marshall Tournament.
Add in possible meetings with NCAA Tournament participant and preseason No. 19 Widener (FSU Tip-Off Tournament championship) and preseason No. 12 Franklin & Marshall (F&M Tournament championship), and the Bobcats have their work cut out for them.
"We feel we’ve made tremendous progress over the last two years, and now we’re ready to take the next step which is to improve on last year’s record and hopefully get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. We feel we’ve upgraded our schedule, and we’ll see if we’re ready for the challenge."
For further information on this release, contact:
Office of Sports Information
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-2303