Scanning the walls of Hofstra's beautiful new practice facility during basketball media day ceremonies Thursday, coach Joe Mihalich gestured to the giant pictures of former Pride men's and women's stars lining the walls and said, "We have a practice facility that provides a 'wow factor.' ''
As nice as the new facility is, the real source of excitement for Mihalich and women's coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey is the notion that both teams can picture themselves as serious contenders for the Colonial Athletic Association title.
"Our first goal was to make basketball exciting again at Hofstra,'' said Mihalich, who endured a tough debut campaign with a shorthanded roster last season but now has talent and depth. "Who knows? Maybe we can be playing our best in March and climb the ladder and cut down nets.''
Transfers Juan'ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, who followed Mihalich from Niagara but had to sit out last season, represent the most obvious infusion of talent along with SMU transfer Brian Bernardi. But the Pride also has added redshirt freshman guard Eliel Gonzalez, Lithuanian big man Rokas Gustys from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, junior college transfer Malik Nichols and freshman big man Andre Walker. To top it off, veteran point guard Dion Nesmith was granted an extra year of eligibility.
"Last year was a rebuilding year,'' Nesmith said. "We had to play through a lot of difficult situations that are going to prepare us for this year . . . My role will change. I may not play as many minutes, but I might be more efficient in the minutes I do play. I'm playing with better players who will make you look better. So I'm excited for the whole thing.''
While Mihalich's team was projected as third in the CAA in one publication, Kilburn-Steveskey's squad is flying under the radar after two sub-.500 seasons. But she has an influx of transfers, including 6-2 forward Anjie White, who will be eligible in December, and 6-4 Sandra Dongmo, who redshirted last season. Highly recruited freshman guard Ashunae Durant, the coach said, has the talent to carve out her place on the practice facility wall someday.
"I like a position where other people aren't 'expecting,' '' Kilburn-Steveskey said. "We know what we have. It is time for us to emerge . . . If we can just stay healthy, we have depth at each position. I do see us contending for the conference title.''
Kilburn-Steveskey said Hofstra petitioned the NCAA to grant immediate eligibility to Hempstead native Darius Faulk, who transferred from Big 12 champion West Virginia, and the school is awaiting word on the decision.
"If that happens, I'm going to feel very good,'' Kilburn-Steveskey said. "She helps you win. Darius Faulk is the kind of player [who] excites you on the floor and just makes everybody better.''