The Hofstra men's basketball team will be a genuine work in progress this season. Who will start, who will finish? The lineup will be a real who's who. But the end of the season could yield a surprising result.
Hofstra was picked seventh in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll. That is the operative number because -- thanks to departures and NCAA academic regulations -- only seven schools will be eligible for the postseason tournament, which yields an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
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"I like to be the underdog,'' said forward David Imes, a two-year starter. "It just gives more motivation. The only way you are going to change that is just our play on the court. We had the opportunity to play with each other throughout the whole summer. It's going to work in our favor.''
The projected starting lineup in the season opener against Monmouth on Friday has Imes, senior point guard Stevie Mejia, junior forward Stephen Nwaukoni, redshirt freshman forward Jordan Allen of Bay Shore and freshman shooting guard Dallas Anglin. But it is all subject to change.
"There's a lot of opportunities,'' coach Mo Cassara said of his freshman class. "We're also excited about freshman Kentrell Washington, who we think could even play a starting role, as could Jimmy Hall, as could Darren Payen. The freshmen could not only find their way into the rotation but also the starting lineup.''
Washington is a guard and Hall and Payen are forwards.
Coombs-McDaniel's status is uncertain because of a knee injury but Buie should be ready by Nov. 16. He and Coombs-McDaniel are sitting out the first two games for violating a team rule. Brown will be eligible in December and Hofstra is awaiting the NCAA's decision on a hardship waiver for Stokes, who returned home to Harlem to help care for his grandmother.
A healthy Coombs-McDaniel and talented Buie could be game-changers. "Obviously, they are going to be a little behind because they are missing some games and some preparation,'' Cassara said. "Jamal's a little more behind physically, but he's played a lot of basketball, been to a national championship, Final Four, Big East championships, under the bright lights. His transition will be a little quicker. Taran hasn't played basketball in a year and a half.
"I think we're in a real transition now, and as the year progresses, we hopefully will evolve into a much deeper, experienced team. We're going to have to fight through this transition, which very well may be into December, between health and eligibility. As you turn into the new year, you've got four, maybe five freshmen who have gotten a lot of minutes under their belt.''
The younger players are excited at the prospect of significant playing time. "Coach actually told me I have a chance to play a lot as a freshman and to work to be great,'' Anglin said. "Coach basically is saying keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, keep your mouth shut and just keep playing basketball.''
Hall added, "It feels good. It's a lot of pressure, but I'm just trying to do the right thing trying to bring energy to the team.''
Hall, from Brooklyn, is looking forward to a homecoming next month when Hofstra plays Tulane at the Barclays Center. "My whole family is going to be out there,'' he said. "It's going to be fun.''