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Veteran Leadership, Communication At Heart Of Fordham's Development

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Inexperience, tough schedule spelled early troubles

By Chelsi Thomas

It goes without saying that the Fordham men’s basketball team has been struggling for quite a while now. Only once in the past 22 years have the Rams finished above .500. And with only three games left in the 2014-15 season and the Rams sitting at 9-17 overall and 4-11 in the Atlantic 10, they’re sure to finish this season with a losing record as well.

A fair amount of games were one possession contests lost in the final minutes of the second half. Both the Rhode Island (73-71) and Richmond (64-63) losses are perfect examples. These are two games that could have been won if the Rams had just been able to close them out in the final minutes.

In discussing why he felt Fordham was struggling to close out games and what steps he was taking to ensure they learned from the past, head coach Tom Pecora said he’s looking to one of the most important positions on the court.

“Usually that comes from veteran backcourt plays, when you can prevent that from happening,” he said. “Guards control games in college basketball, so one of the things we did was move Mandell Thomas from the shooting guard position to the point guard position, and he’s been excelling there and playing much better.”

Pecora was brought to Rose Hill five years ago in an effort to rebuild the program. Although he is 43-102 at Fordham, he’s responsible for recruiting some big names that have made a big impact on the team.

Sophomore guard Jon Severe, who was named Mr. New York State Basketball in 2013, and freshman forward Eric Paschall, the 2014 Westchester County’s Mr. Basketball at Dobbs Ferry who is averaging 16.8 points per game, were both recruited under his watch.

The question is why is a team with major talent struggling to consistently perform?

One of the factors contributing to Fordham’s subpar performance is the difficulty in the strength of their schedule. The Rams had one of the most difficult playing schedules in the A-10 conference this year.

“We played a very challenging schedule,” Pecora said. “Everyone doesn’t play the same schedule in the Atlantic 10. Ours was the fourth-ranked schedule in the league so we were playing a lot of the top teams in the league early in the year, in conference play in January.”

“We had a very difficult month in January coming out of the gate,” he added. “For a young team that was a challenge.”

The Rams kicked off the month of January playing the No. 3-ranked team in the A-10, Virginia Commonwealth (11-4). Then they went on to play Dayton (11-4), the top-seeded team, twice within a three-week span. And then within that same month, they faced off twice against Rhode Island (11-4), the No. 4-ranked team.

Another thing to take into account is that with seven freshmen, Fordham is a young and inexperienced team. Having lost several key players last year, they have been struggling to fill the void.

“I really think for young players, understanding the effort that’s needed to be given each night to win basketball games and each day in practice to prepare yourself to win, is a skill set that people don’t think about,” Pecora said about getting consistent effort from the younger players.

“In basketball they think about dribbling, passing, rebounding, and shooting, they don’t think about effort plays and competitive nature; and they really have to learn how to continue to play at a high level.”

But recently it seems something has begun to click for this young team. They have won four of their last six games, and their most recent win against La Salle was their third straight at home.

In discussing what he believed to be the cause of the recent success, senior guard Bryan Smith, who has really stepped it up these past few games, said this: “I feel like we knew as a team that we were better than what we have been showing early on in the season.”

He added: “Also, everyone is playing with an edge or chip on their shoulder. We lost some recent games that we should’ve won, so it's like we know what we are capable of and we're showing it.”

Smith has played a key role in Fordham’s recent success. In the last four games he’s averaged 13.2 points, with a field goal percentage of .487. For the season, he’s averaging 5.7 points per game.

It is obvious that Thomas is feeling more comfortable at the point, as he’s averaged 14.2 points in the last four games. With both Thomas and Smith hitting their stride, the Rams have been looking like a different team lately.

Smith also mentioned that he felt the team’s improvement in communication has played a large role in their success.

“We're talking better on the court and that is very important.”

This communication was very evident as the starters frequently huddled together to converse after big plays.

When asked how he felt about their recent success, forward Manny Suarez, a redshirt freshman, responded, “It feels good but it’s what I’ve been training for everyday; so I’ve just achieved another goal.”

The Rams are ranked 12th in the A10 and plan to snag a few more wins before the conclusion of the season. They take on UMass (16-12, 9-6 A10) on Saturday and may be able to pull off an upset with this newfound confidence.