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Hopes high for Queens College hoop team

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The Knights have been close, very close in recent years. A streaky 1999-00 season ended at 11-18 with a three-point loss to powerhouse Adelphi in the quarterfinals. It was the third straight years the Knights NYCAC tournament hopes ended in a tough quarterfinal game on the road.

But with a host of returning players and the addition of a key recruit, Peponakis believes if his squad consistently plays to its potential, the NYCAC championship is in reach.

"I'm more optimistic than ever before," he said. "There's no distractions on this team, everyone is on the same page. We have those expectations because we really believe it. We won some close games at the end of last year and the guys all played well. That's what we expect them to do."

Gone from the team are sharp shooter Dror Gal (12.3 points per game) and Kenny Parker (11 points, 6.8 rebounds) but leading the charge of returning players is junior point guard Phil Lyons, senior forward Steve Sikiric, sophomore forward Mike Leonce, junior forward Will Hooks and sophomore forward Dave Trani.

Sikiric, a 6-foot-4 Maspeth native, is the team's top returning scorer, averaging 12.3 points a game last year on a 48.2 shooting percentage. He was also second on the team with 3.1 assists per game and third on the team in rebounds with 4.7 a game.

Lyons averaged 9.1 points per game, good for third among returnees. The former Bishop Loughlin standout led the team with 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Hooks (6.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game) and Leonce (5.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) will be joined in the front court by 6-foot-6 freshman forward Anthony Washington from Culpepper, Va., a player Peponakis calls, "the best on the team." After years of relying on perimeter play, Peponakis said the team's philosophy this year will be to try and push the ball inside.

"We made a conscious decision during the off-season to get better defensively and better inside," Peponakis said. "We want to finally be on the plus side [of the score sheet] in rebounds."

The new look of the NYCAC is also reason for optimism at Queens. Gone are both the College of St. Rose, a longtime league powerhouse that moved to the Northeast-10 conference. Also gone is New Jersey Tech, a team that was also a thorn in the Knights side. The Highlanders went to the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference. Joining the NYCAC are St. Thomas Aquinas and the University of Bridgeport, teams not regarded as highly as St. Rose and NJIT.

"The league is still very good," Peponakis said. "But I think we can play with anybody. There's not going to be a big difference in the talent this year. Whoever plays harder is going to win league games."

Coming off a 23-7 season, Adelphi is expected to once again vie for the conference crown. Led by senior point guard Ryan McCormack, who is a preseason All-American, the Panthers are listed anywhere from No. 8 to No. 10 in the country. Philadelphia Textile and Dowling should also be strong.

"There's no reason we shouldn't win it," Peponakis said. "We're deep, we have guys who can play up front and our perimeter is real good. I'm very excited about the year."

Queens opens the season in the Dominican tournament in Orangeburg, NY on Nov. 17 and 18. The Knights take on Molloy College in their NYCAC opener Dec. 3 at 3:30 p.m.

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