Joe Mihalich does not dabble much in basketball analytics.
He lets one of his assistants at Hofstra handle that department, and he will listen to ideas and suggestions stemming from the analysis. But good luck trying to catch him combing through advanced stats sites like Kenpom.com on his own.
So Mihalich was pleasantly surprised to hear that some metrics place Eli Pemberton among the nation’s efficient freshmen.
Only two other members of Pemberton’s class have both a higher offensive rating and usage rate than his 137.7 and 17.7 percent, according to Kenpom. They are Virginia’s Kyle Guy (150.2 and 20.2) and UCLA’s T.J. Leaf (139.1 and 21.9).
“Wow,” Mihalich said. “Pretty good company, huh?”
Indeed. Guy and Leaf were McDonald’s All-Americans in the spring.
Pemberton was a three-star recruit who did not get a look from the likes of Virginia and UCLA, but he has been critical to Hofstra’s ability to avoid a full-on rebuild. After a 96-58 victory over Stony Brook on Tuesday night, the Pride is 7-5.
Pemberton, who is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 49.1 percent from three-point range, leads the team with 14.6 points per game. He has eclipsed the 20-point mark four times and reached double figures in nine games, with his season-low four points coming against No. 6 Kentucky on Sunday. Mihalich said the 6-4 wing has been one of the team’s best on-ball defenders, too.
“It’s actually been tough,” said Pemberton, who is from Middletown, Connecticut, and attended high school at Cheshire Academy. “I’ve surprised myself a couple times these games. I’ve been scoring more than I thought. I’m always an optimistic person. I believe in myself more than anybody, but some things I do on the court, I kind of amaze myself and I’m like ‘wow.’ ”
Even before Pemberton scored 20 points in Hofstra’s opening-night win over Coppin State, Mihalich believed the freshman would feel comfortable among the stabilizing presence of seniors Deron Powers and Brian Bernardi and junior Rokas Gustys.
“He didn’t have to come in as a freshman and have the weight of the world on his shoulders, and we told him that,” Mihalich said. “That’s all the more reason it puts him in the perfect position to be one of the best players on our team and one of the best freshmen in our league — if not the best freshman in our league. Am I surprised? No. I’m happy for him. He deserves it.”
Pemberton agrees. Even when he surprises himself, he said, he remembers all the extra hours he spends honing his craft in the gym.
But he also has a superstitious side. Until he arrived at Hofstra, Pemberton never shortened his first name. He was always Elijah.
“I guess they just didn’t like Elijah, so they started saying Eli,” he said. “I told them not to change it because I’m on a good run. I don’t want anything to change.”