At Hofstra, it’s Year One AJWF — after Justin Wright-Foreman — yet little has changed about the Pride’s profile.
Hofstra may have the most athletically-talented team in the Colonial Athletic Association. It has been tabbed in a preseason poll of coaches and media as the favorite to capture the conference title. And the hunger to get to its first NCAA Tournament since 2001 has never been greater.
The go-to guy for years — Wright-Foreman — is with the Utah Jazz after being picked in the second round of the last draft. Yet Hofstra, which went 27-8 last season, won the regular season title and lost the conference title game and accompanying NCAA bid to Northeastern, is fixated on doing what it’s not done in almost two decades.
“I'm not going to lie: I think about it every day and it almost brings me to tears how close we were last year,” said 6-5 swingman Eli Pemberton. “And when I say hungry, my guys understand me and [senior] Desure [Buie] and most of the guys from last year — we saw how close we were really.”
In the title game, Hofstra was doomed by a poor first half and Pemberton said “those first 10 minutes? I wish we could have them back from Northeastern...I just know we offered a challenge, and I'm just ready to get back.”
Pemberton is one of the biggest reasons to believe it’s all possible. He has been one of the Pride’s best players since he was a freshman and last season averaged 15.0 points and 4.8 rebounds. But alongside a pro like Wright-Foreman, he took a role. He becomes the go-to guy for this Pride team.
“We need for [Pemberton] to just do what he did last year,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “We don't want anybody, Elijah included, to try to be Justin Wright-Foreman, because only Justin Wright-Foreman can be Justin Wright-Foreman. And you know, I think he understands that he's just got to be himself.
“We need for him to rebound a little bit more. We said ‘hey, if you can get one offensive rebound basket per half, your average goes from 14 or 15 a game to 19 a game. If you can get to the basket and get fouled once more game, that’s two more points.’ So he can score more points by not playing differently, but just making some more happen.”
Wright-Foreman never held Hofstra back. However, there are a bunch of talented players on this squad who could prove to be difference-makers without him. Pemberton points out that Tariq Coburn shot 42.5 percent on three-pointers and Jalen Ray 39.2 percent. “They can make the big plays during the game or at the end of the game,” he said.
Point guard Buie, too, can create his own shot. But Hofstra brings something new this season with 6-7 Georgia transfer Isaac Kante. The Pride has had top rebounders and interior defenders, but the Brooklyn product gives the Pride an offensive game inside. “Kante is almost an automatic two points as soon as you pass it to him in the post,” Pemberton said.
“He will be one of the best ‘bigs’ in the league this year,” Buie said. “His offensive IQ will amaze people.”
“He’s the first guy that we can really go to inside,” Mihalich said. “He'll finish around the basket, he’s physical, he’s developed a good 15-foot jumper. He’s a fabulous kid and has the body: 6-8 and 240.”
There are plenty of tools in the Pride toolbox that Mihalich can use to address virtually every situation. And while any of them — Buie, Coburn, Ray or Kante — could be the hero on any given night, Buie envisions Pemberton’s performance to be the given on every night.
“[Pemberton] got much better during the summer and he seems much more mentally tough,” Buie said. “He shoots better. He’s stronger. His desire is deeper. He’s been good all along and he could be next-level good this season.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- A player who could be an X-factor for Hofstra is 6-3 Omar Silverio. The 6-3 guard transferred in from URI and the NCAA granted him immediate eligibility. He played only sparingly with the Rams – averaging 1.9 points in about eight minutes per game – but was highly recruited out of St. Raymond High in the Bronx. Among his suitors were Santa Clara, UMass, Saint Louis and South Florida.
- The Pride will be decked out in Nike gear after reaching an agreement with the shoe giant -- a deal that could enhance recruiting.
- Senior guard Desure Buie ranks 10th all-time in Hofstra assists with 348 (he had 182 last season). He has a chance to pass Charles Jenkins (489) and finish his career in the top five.
-- ROGER RUBIN