18. Long Island (2006-07 Record: 10-19, 6-12 NEC)
Head coach: Jim Ferry
Returning Starters: 3- G Jaytornah Wisseh (sophomore): 6’1”, 180; F Eugene Kotorobai (senior): 6’5”, 210; F/C Aurimas Adomaitis (sophomore): 6’8”, 235.
The Blackbirds were 7-9 on January 13th after winning at home against St. Francis (PA), but little did they know that they wouldn’t win another game until nearly a month later when they won at St. Francis (NY). A seven-game losing skid put a serious damper on their season, and even though they still had a chance to qualify for the NEC Tournament in the season’s last week, the Blackbirds couldn’t get the one win that they needed to do so. Now comes the arduous task of replacing one of the most prolific scorers in the recent history of the NEC, James Williams (1,710 career points- 17th in NEC history). Also gone is Aubin Scott, who was the team’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder. While these are two big losses, there is still some talent on the Brooklyn campus.
Sophomore guard Jaytornah Wisseh stands to gain the most from the graduations of Williams and Scott when it comes to offensive production. A member of the NEC All-Rookie Team in 06-07, Wisseh averaged 8.7 points and a team-high 3.0 assists per game last season. He should have the ball in his hands even more this year. Also looking to snatch up some more minutes in the backcourt are junior Tyrone Mattison and newcomers David Hicks (freshman) and Nehemiah Weicks (sophomore). Mattison started 21 games in 06-07, averaging 6.3 points and two steals per contest. And don’t be surprised if junior college transfer Ronald Manigault, cousin of “The Goat”, sees some time in the backcourt as well given his ability to play up to four positions (excluding center).
The frontcourt will be led by Kotorobai, Adomaitis and senior Paska Morkeliunas. Kotorobai was second on the team in rebounding last season (6.5 per game), but he also shot 40% from behind the arc. Adomaitis started 21 games in his freshman campaign, going for six points and 3.2 boards per game. And despite playing only sixteen minutes per game last season, Morkeliunas was second on the team behind James Williams in free throws attempted. How much more time he sees in 07-08 will depend on how much he can improve his field goal percentage, which was below par last season (34%), and his ability to stay out of foul trouble (second on the team in personal fouls last year). The frontcourt should be bolstered by senior Kellen Allen, although he missed eighteen games in 06-07, and freshman Ike Udanoh, a tough guy in the paint from Detroit.
Outside of the NEC schedule, the Blackbirds will have some good matchups to look forward to this year, beginning with a trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame November 12th. Other non-conference games include Columbia (November 20th), St. John’s (November 28th), St. Peter’s (December 20th), and the UCF Holiday Festival (December 30th-31st).
Even with the services of Williams and Scott in 06-07, Jim Ferry’s Blackbirds failed to qualify for the NEC Tournament. The task will be tougher this season, with LIU’s success depending on whether or not they can develop some backcourt depth behind Wisseh and Mattison. The newcomers will need to produce in a hurry, as it’s not easy to replace the 25.9 points per game lost with the graduation of Williams and Scott, especially for a team that averaged 69.2 points per game last season. Reaching the conference tournament will once again be a dogfight, but there’s no reason to believe that the Blackbirds won’t be in the running come the end of February for that eighth and final spot.