Nov. 4, 2013
In recent years, Fran O’Hanlon’s teams have been a thorn in the side of Patriot League opponents by the time postseason play rolls around. The goal for the 19th year head coach has been, and continues to be, getting the team to play its best basketball as the postseason begins. Three appearances in the championship game in the last four seasons have Lafayette itching for the Patriot League crown and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, a place the Leopards have longed for since their last appearance in 2000.
Chosen to finish among the conference favorites in numerous preseason publications, including second in the Patriot League’s annual preseason poll, has the Leopards with their highest preseason projection since 2003.
Although the Leopards return four players who started at least 17 games last year, replacing Tony Johnson ’13 and Levi Giese ’13 will be a challenge for O’Hanlon’s coaching staff in 2013-14. Both Johnson and Giese were tremendous defensively during their senior seasons. Johnson’s 65 steals rank third all-time, while Giese’s 62 blocks were the second-highest total in school history. How Lafayette’s defense shapes up will be a key to its offensive success in 2013-14.
“Defensively, I hope that we can rebound after losing a great point guard (Johnson) and Levi, one of the all-time great shot blockers at Lafayette,” O’Hanlon stated. “I don’t know if we will have that same shot blocking ability, but I am hoping our point guards can be pretty good defensively. Rotations and communication need to get better and one of our big sophomores will have the opportunity to fill that role in the frontcourt.”
Johnson and Giese’s leadership are gone, and stepping into those roles are senior Jack Detmer and junior Seth Hinrichs. Detmer, a Government & Law major, has played in 48 career games for the Maroon and White and was named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll in 2012-13. Hinrichs was a Second Team All-Patriot League performer as a sophomore after averaging 15.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. The Clara City, Minn. native is a career 46-percent three-point shooter.
Last season the Leopards’ non-conference schedule included trips to Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota and Stanford. This year, the distance Lafayette will travel is less than what last year’s squad faced, but the quality of opponent could potentially be as strong this time around. The Maroon and White open the season on the road against NCAA Tournament participant Villanova and its home opener will be played against Robert Morris, which upended Kentucky in last year’s National Invitation Tournament.
Led by Hinrichs, Lafayette’s returning core of Dan Trist, Joey Ptasinski and Bryce Scott should once again see significant minutes this season. One of the advantages this group has is that they have each played key roles during their time on College Hill. Each of these returning players can be considered veterans on O’Hanlon’s team because of the pressure situations they were thrust into last season.
“This team is still a work in progress,” O’Hanlon admits. “We have some veterans, but we are trying to figure out what pieces we are missing. Seeing how it comes together is what we are facing now, because sometimes it is tough to gauge when you practice against yourself every day. It will be interesting to see how we do when we play against someone new. I do like how hard we are working and putting the time in every day to help us get better.”
While the 2013-14 Leopards are a more experienced bunch compared to last year’s group, the team still has nine underclassmen that will have to step into increased roles. Of the underclassmen on the roster, the void left by Johnson and Giese will need to be filled by those players.
“There’s plenty of opportunity right now,” O’Hanlon added. “For example, the point guard situation between Nick Lindner and Zach Rufer with Scott there sometimes as well, even though it’s not his true position. It’s all about trying to figure out what gives us the best opportunity to win. Then, at the four and five spots we are trying to see who can be the backup to Trist. Last year we had Levi (Giese) who could stretch the defense and also play in the middle, which we don’t really have this year. It’s going to be Alan Flannigan at times or possibly going with four guards. We are still trying to figure that out.”
Having the flexibility to play with bigger and smaller lineups based on game situations and opponent will be an asset for O’Hanlon, who has typically tried to find mismatches possession-by-possession.
“We will be harder to guard with a smaller lineup in a sense that we can stretch the defense and create more gaps,” O’Hanlon said. “Alan and Seth are almost like big guards that will help us inside with our rebounding in those situations. When we have a bigger lineup, hopefully our rebounding around the basket will improve. That’s going to be the challenge for us, to try and figure out our best rotation and it may change game to game. Depending on how the team develops in the next few months, January could look different than November.”
One of the most successful aspects of Lafayette’s 2012-13 season was its ability to win games at Kirby Sports Center. After undergoing renovations this past offseason, the arena has received a facelift that puts the venue among the top in the Patriot League.
Brand new seating that surrounds the court on all sides for the first time ever is one of the most noticeable changes to the arena, while a new video board and LED scorer’s table will improve the fan experience inside Kirby Sports Center. New lighting, painting and branding will also enhance the Leopards’ home court for the upcoming season.
“I’m hopeful with the stadium seating fully surrounding the court, we will have an even better home court advantage,” O’Hanlon stated. “We haven’t had the luxury of having fans behind the opposing team’s basket in the second half and now we are going to have that. I think its going help us continue our home court advantage and it will definitely be more fun for the fans.”
Replacing an All-Patriot League performer at point guard (Johnson) will be Lafayette’s biggest question mark as the team embarks on the 2013-14 campaign. As O’Hanlon noted, sophomore Zach Rufer and freshman Nick Lindner will have the opportunity to compete for minutes at that position, while sophomore Bryce Scott could also see time there despite shooting guard being more of a natural fit for the left-handed All-Rookie choice. Rufer played in every game as a freshman and averaged more than 12 minutes per night. Senior co-captain Jack Detmer could also push for time at the point as he can contribute on the defensive end as the Leopards try to transition into the post-Johnson era.
Scott and junior Joey Ptasinski split the starting duties for Lafayette in 2012-13 at the two-guard spot and those two players help to solidify the perimeter. Scott scored better than eight points per game in his first season on College Hill, while Ptasinski contributed 9.6 points per night and was second on the team with 65 three-pointers. Adding to the Leopards’ backcourt depth is senior Les Smith, who has played in 84 games in his three seasons in Easton, the most of any returning player.
On the wing will be Second Team All-Patriot League selection Seth Hinrichs, who has the versatility to play shooting guard or forward when called upon. Hinrichs is Lafayette’s leading returning scorer, rebounder and three-point threat and will be backed up by classmate Alan Flannigan. Flannigan also is multi-talented in that he can play in Lafayette’s different lineups at various positions.
Behind Flannigan are newcomers Monty Boykins, who is recovering from an ACL injury, and Jake Newman, a 6-6 guard from Surrey, British Columbia.
“Our perimeter is pretty solid,” O’Hanlon stated. “If you’re looking at it right now, defensively and offensively, our guys are all pretty good defensively that bring high energy, and they know what is expected.”
Penciled into O’Hanlon’s starting lineup up front will be junior Dan Trist, who could be poised for a breakout season as one of the Patriot League’s top big men. Trist averaged better than 12 points per game as a sophomore after being named to the Patriot League’s All-Rookie Team as a freshman. One of the keys for Lafayette’s success will be how Trist improves his rebounding this season and his ability to stay out of foul trouble. Alongside Trist is another opening that will fall on Lafayette’s trio of sophomore forwards, Nathaniel Musters, Ben Freeland and Billy Murphy. Musters played in 33 games as a rookie, including two starts. Rounding out Lafayette’s lineup is Michael Hoffman, an athletic 6-7 forward from Burleson, Texas.
Entering his 19th season, O’Hanlon is the longest tenured coach in the Patriot League and the winningest head man in Lafayette basketball history. His longevity and coaching acumen have been the key ingredients to building and maintaining a championship-caliber program. For his efforts, the Philadelphia native and Villanova alum has been named Patriot League Coach of the Year three times and was the first coach to be honored by his peers in consecutive seasons.
O’Hanlon lays claim to three Patriot League regular-season titles, six conference title game berths and two NCAA Tournament appearances to go along with a 258-275 career record.
O’Hanlon is widely regarded as an excellent tactician and because of that has been able to surround himself with quality assistant coaches who can help develop Lafayette’s student-athletes
At the top of his coaching staff is Pat Doherty who begins his fifth season on College Hill. Doherty is one of several former O’Hanlon players to join him on the sidelines. The 2004 Lafayette graduate was an assistant coach at Williams in 2008-09 and The College of New Jersey in 2007-08.
Donovan Williams begins his fourth season at Lafayette. He came to College Hill from Holy Family University in Philadelphia. Prior to Holy Family, Williams worked as a graduate assistant for the Georgia Tech men’s basketball program from August 2008 to May 2010. Williams was a two-year starter at Park University. Williams’ brother, Pershin, was an assistant at Lafayette under O’Hanlon in 2008-09.
John O’Connor enters his fifth year on O’Hanlon’s coaching staff. O’Connor previously coached under O’Hanlon for three seasons from 2001-04, two of which were as the top assistant, before spending six years at Georgia Tech.
Lafayette opens its 2013-14 schedule with a nationally televised game against Villanova on Nov. 4. Tipoff from The Pavilion is set for 8 p.m. and the game can be seen on Fox Sports 2.