Bringing experience to the court in 2007

The men’s basketball team hopes that a combination of grittiness and experience will prove to be the winning formula in the highly competitive New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) this season.

After graduating only two seniors, the Lions are bringing back a team with considerable experience, even among its sophomores and juniors.

“Last year we were very young,” interim head coach Matt Hunter said. “A lot of freshmen and sophomores saw time. There is going to be no shell shock walking onto the court this year.”

This season is Hunter’s first serving as the Lions’ head coach.

Finishing the 2006-2007 campaign with a 12-14 overall record, the Lions’ 5-8 conference record earned a spot in the NJAC Tournament for the fourth straight year. The team was ousted in the first round by eventual champion Ramapo College.

Led by a pair of senior captains, forward Mark Aziz and guard Corey Gilmore, the Lions look to capitalize on the players’ familiarity with one another.

“Most of us have been playing with each other from one to three years now, which has allowed us to trust our teammates’ abilities on the court,” Gilmore said.

Hunter agreed, noting how he believes the team’s cohesiveness will be one of its greatest attributes.

“We have great team chemistry,” Hunter said. “These guys live together, eat together, push each other and work hard in practice, and still come out friends.”

On the court, the Lions hope to combine shooting ability with a strong physical presence. On the offensive end, Aziz will follow up a year in which he led the team in scoring, averaging 14.9 points per game. Aziz also led the team in offensive rebounding (45) and was rewarded with an NJAC All-Conference Team Honorable Mention.

Other key offensive contributors will include Gilmore, whose 82 assists led the team last season; senior forward Jeff Warner, who led the team with 29 three-pointers; and junior guard Jeff Molinelli, who finished close behind with 28 three-pointers.

“We have great shooting,” Hunter said. “If we shoot it, we will be in good shape.”

In the defensive zone, the Lions will turn to Gilmore for another strong season. The team should also benefit from contributions by sophomore guard Jay Frank, who had 21 steals last season, and Aziz, who recorded a team-high 42 blocks.

With tough play at both ends of the court, the Lions believe they can outwork even the most formidable conference opponents.

“We want to play hard every game for 40 minutes and never leave the court feeling like we could have played harder,” Gilmore said.

The team is scheduled to open its season Friday at 8 p.m. against King’s College at the Lycoming College Tip-Off Tournament.