POULTNEY, Vt. – For the Green Mountain College men's basketball program and second-year head coach Ben Davis, the offseason was a "building year". With just three returners slated for the 2017-18 season, Davis knew he was going to be busy on the recruiting trail to rebuild a roster that had just missed the postseason in 2016-17.
Last season was one in which the Eagles finished with a 10-14 record overall while going 7-11 in North Atlantic Conference (NAC) play. It was a tale of two seasons as seven of the team's wins came in the first half of the season while the team struggled mightily down the stretch playing to a 3-10 record to finish the year.
With the 2016-17 offense ranked in the bottom third of the conference in almost every category a fresh look in 2017-18 is most likely a welcome sight.
The difference will be evident on opening night at Paul Smith's as the Eagles kick off the season with a road game at 6 p.m.
Gone are the team's top five scorers from a season ago which accounted for 57.3 points per game.
Guard play was the backbone of the team last season and while this year's team may not boast the same firepower among its lead guards, it appears to be more well-rounded with a deeper and more talented group up and down the roster.
Arriving on the scene are 14 new faces, nine of which are freshmen while five have enjoyed a variety of success at the junior college (JUCO) level.
With that many new players on the roster, the Eagles' early success will hinge greatly on their ability to mold together quickly. Coach Davis believes there is the talent necessary to be successful, but admits that other teams may have the luxury of experience on their side in the early going.
The top returners feature a pair of small yet quick guards who will help push the pace on offense. Diante Warner (Albany, N.Y.) is a 5-9 spark plug who came off the bench last year to average 4.9 points per game and can score in bunches thanks to his explosiveness. Australian import Matt D'Arcy (Melbourne, Australia) stands at just 5-6, but is fearless taking the ball to the basket. He's more of a pass first point guard who looks to get his teammates involved. Brandon Bellissimo (Chicago, Ill.) also returns and joins Warner as the team's only other senior player. He will contribute to the guard play off the bench.
Defense will be more of a strength of Davis' squad heading into 2017-18 with several incoming players bringing a tough defensive presence to the Eagles.
Four of the five JUCO players transferring in come via California while the other arrives from Maryland; all of which should play significant minutes in the rotation this season.
De Shaun Carr (Moreno Valley, Calif.) averaged double digit scoring at Rio Hondo and is a quick guard whose athletic ability makes it easy for him to drive to the rim or rise up over his defender.
Forward Sean Leflore (Moreno Valley, Calif.) can do a little bit of everything, but self-admittedly prides himself on his defensive ability and should be a stalwart for the Eagles in that respect coming off back-to-back conference championships with Bakersfield.
Guard Alex Sanchez (San Fernando Valley, Calif.) is a fierce competitor and leader by example who can contribute all over the court in a variety of ways. He averaged double digit points at College of the Canyons, but will do whatever it takes for his team to win.
Center Jacob Plum (Temecula, Calif.) provides the Eagles with a commodity they have been without for several years: a legitimate presence in the middle that can both score and defend. Coming from San Diego Mesa, he brings an ability to clean the glass and get buckets at a high rate.
Matt Hess (Rising Sun, Md.) is a physical and athletic forward who can run the floor and finish in transition around the hoop. He will consistently grind and bang in the paint for loose balls and rebounds.
The freshmen class will look to provide the Eagles with a collection of shooters the team has sorely lacked in the past few years to help spread the floor for the bigs to do their work inside the paint.
The shooting and pure scoring ability of Duane Goodman, Jr. (Charlotte, N.C), Tyrone Marigney (Henderson, Nev.), Christian Przybyla (Clifton, N.J.) and Tyrone Tonkin (Melbourne, Australia) will all help boost an offense that ranked 9th out of 10 teams in 2016-17 in points, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Local guard Tyrell Johnson (Rutland, Vt.) brings a great deal of strength and toughness offensively and defensively. The Eagles will benefit from his ability to guard the opposition's top backcourt players and move the ball on offense with the ability to get to the rim.
Forward Fuquan Ford (Albany, N.Y.) exhibits a great deal of athleticism and with some time and development could be a key cog on both ends of the court, especially rebounding the ball.
Oluwadare Sowunmi (Harlem, N.Y.) is the early favorite for All-NAC Nice Guy of the Year Award. He, too, prides himself on his defensive ability and can be an option to lock down both guards and forwards alike.
Ashaunti Dillon (Detroit, Mich.) gives the Eagles a young frontcourt player that will be a valuable asset to the program immediately and in the future, especially battling on the offensive glass.
Taylor Gaffney (Wantagh, N.Y.) adds more depth and length at the forward position.
The Eagles will battle non-conference opponents SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson, St. Joseph's (Vt.) and Plymouth State in the first half of the schedule. The litmus test begins in earnest as conference play has the Eagles playing several of the top teams in the league with Lyndon St., Husson and Colby-Sawyer all on the docket early.
As the Eagles quickly learned last season, it isn't necessarily how you start the season, but how you finish it that matters….although getting off to a good start would certainly help the Eagles' cause of getting back to the NAC Championship.