The Hofstra men’s basketball program commenced a fresh start for the 2013-14 season.
Joe Mihalich was named Hofstra’s new head coach on April 10 after a successful 15-year run leading Niagara University to five postseason appearances. Mihalich, who replaced Mo Cassara following a 7-25 season, returned only five players but also brought in talented newcomers who early in the season showed an ability to play a successful brand of up-tempo basketball.
“It is so exciting being here,” said Mihalich, who won 265 games at Niagara and led the Purple Eagles to two NCAA Tournaments. “I wake up every day saying to myself what a wonderful opportunity I have.”
The start of the Mihalich era has featured some explosive offense including a convincing 80-58 win against Farleigh Dickinson, as well as a loss to Monmouth, 88-84, in a game where the Pride held an 11-point lead with 10:21 left. Hofstra never trailed Atlantic 10 power Richmond in regulation before dropping an overtime heartbreaker, 74-63. Hofstra also hit 14 three-pointers at defending national champion Louisville and only trailed by five before the third-ranked team in the nation got hot and won 97-69.
Hofstra was picked to finish last in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), providing even more motivation to thrive this season.
“We’re trying to earn a little respect,” said Milhalich, who last year won the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award given annually to a Division I basketball coach who exhibits strong character. “We have that [us against the world] mentality.”
Mihalich said he is impressed with the attitude and leadership displayed by the five returnees, which includes forwards Stephen Nwaukoni, Moussa Kone, Jordan Allen, and Darren Payen along with walk-on guard Adam Savion. The group was part of a 2012-13 team that dealt with adversity and a thin roster but managed to stay close in most games.
“I’ll be forever indebted to those guys for their loyalty,” Mihalich said. “They are bedrock guys...You can build your program around people like that.”
Two additions to the Pride who bring plenty of backcourt experience include graduate students Dion Nesmith and Zeke Upshaw, who both earned their college degrees and are using their final year of eligibility at Hofstra. Nesmith averaged 8.4 points in 63 games for Monmouth, and tallied 24 points in the loss at Louisville. Upshaw, who played at Illinois State, poured in 37 in Hofstra’s near upset at Richmond.
“They have been through it all,” said Mihalich of the experience both Nesmith and Upshaw bring to the Pride. “They have the miles on their tires.”
Freshmen contributing early are guard/forwards Chris Jenkins and Jamal Robinson. The Pride is also receiving strong leadership from three transfers in Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, who played for Mihalich at Niagara, as well as Brian Bernardi from SMU. All three have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules but can still practice with the team.
“These guys play every day like it’s game time,” said Mihalich, who played at LaSalle University from 1974-78 after growing up in the Washington D.C. area. “They remind you why you love to coach.”
Hofstra has already challenged itself in non-conference play with road games at Louisville and Richmond and will have another tough one away from home Jan. 2 at Tulane. Hofstra’s non-conference slate also includes a home game against George Washington of the Atlantic 10 on Dec. 28 starting at 4 p.m.
“You want to sharpen your teeth for league play and that is what it does,” Mihalich said.
Hofstra opens CAA play on Jan. 8 at Delaware, with its first conference home game slated for Jan. 11 against CAA newcomer College of Charleston starting at 4 p.m. For further information on Hofstra’s schedule or to order tickets, call 516-463-TIXX or log onto www.gohofstra.com.