With the loss of two key frontcourt players, most pundits had the Marist College men's basketball team pegged for the bottom of the Metro Atlantic Conference. With suspect depth and leadership up front, the Red Foxes were expected struggle to match last year's 10-8 conference mark.
That was before two Queens natives had anything to say about it.
Buoyed by the bullish interior play of former St. Francis Prep standout Drew Samuels and the toughness of former Hillcrest star Sherman Whittenberg, the Red Foxes have streaked to an 11-7 conference record heading into the conferemce tournament. After graduating two big men and inheriting a young but talented backcourt, Samuels and Whittenberg have helped fill in the cracks in a question mark-laden lineup.
Drew got out of the gate really well, said Marist head coach Dave Magarity. He has really stepped up for us. Sherman has got some toughness about him. I think hes making great progress.
After three steady seasons under Magarity, the senior Samuels blossomed into one of the conferences premier players. With the teams depleted frontcourt sorely needing a boost, Samuels has more than answered the call.
His presence has been huge, Magarity said . He has improved every year he has been here.
Samuels helped Marist navigate a challenging out-of-conference schedule early on, turning in a 24-point, 14-rebound performance in an overtime loss to Pittsburgh, and a 20-point, 13-rebound gem in the Foxes match-up with Boston College.
(Drew) helped us get out to a great start, said Magarity. Early in the season, he was nothing short of terrific.
Before being hobbled by a chipped bone in his ankle, Samuels ranked second in the Metro Atlantic Conference in scoring and rebounding, cementing himself as a candidate for conference player of the year. The 6-foot-5' power forward captured MAAC Player of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 12 after averaging 17.5 points and 10 rebounds in wins over Manhattan and Siena.
This season, we needed a low post threat, said Samuels. I worked hard over the summer to be ready for my senior season.
After running into eligibility problems with the NCAA Clearinghouse, Sherman Whittenberg and Dave Magarity thought the Hillcrest graduate would have to sit last season out after trouble with his transcript. After being kept off the court for games and practices in the seasons early stages, Magarity received a phone call that took him by surprise. Whittenberg had been cleared.
I never believed we were going to get it done, Magarity said of the eligibility clear up. That put Sherman in a really tough spot. He wasnt allowed to practice or do anything with the team early on. That put a lot of pressure on him.
After a initial steep learning curve, Whittenberg showed flashes of brilliance on the court, averaging 3.8 points and 1.5 rebounds during his freshman campaign. With a year of experience under his belt, Whittenberg has emerged as one of the teams top perimeter defenders as a sophmore, providing a spark off the bench.
It took [Sherman] a while to get adjusted," Magarity said . We had some injuries to key players and he got a chance to play. This year hes been in and out of the starting lineup and hes had some big games."
While the adjustment from the high school circuit to Division I college basketball has at times been trying for both Samuels and Whittenberg, both credit their competitive high school leagues in helping to ease the transition.
[Playing in the CHSAA] definitely prepares you for the next level, Samuels said. Playing against guys like Odom, Artest, Barkley you're playing guys like that every night.
Whittenberg was battle-tested in the citys Public School Athletic League.
Where I come from, a lot of players play Division I basketball, Whittenberg said. Playing in summer leagues and things like that prepare you for the next level.
Marist, which lost in the MAAC semifinals to eventual champion Iona, 75-71, may be done for the year, but Samuels and Whittenberg are hoping their basketball careers have only just begun.
Basically, Im playing this year for next, Whittenberg said. There wont be any excuses if Im not starting or playing 25 minutes a game.
Im trying to get invited to some NBA camps, said Samuels. Otherwise, I want to play overseas. But ultimately, the goal for everyone is to try and make the NBA. So thats what I'm going to try to do.
Reach Contributing Writer Brian Towey by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2001 Community News Group
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