The end of the road Juan'ya Green has traveled along with Hofstra basketball coach Joe Mihalich is rounding into sight. They began five years ago at Niagara before Green and Ameen Tanksley followed Mihalich two years ago to Hempstead Turnpike, where they engineered a reversal of fortune last season that turned the Pride into a 20-win team that came within a buzzer-beater of reaching the Colonial Athletic Association final.
"It means a lot being with Joe all the years," Green said recently. "He's been a great mentor for me, and he's always helped me out on or off the court."
Now the two will embark on the final leg of their journey, with Green pegged as the CAA preseason player of the year and the Pride favored to win the conference title and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
"This school deserves to have a winner, to be in the NCAA Tournament," Mihalich said. "The kids deserve to climb up a ladder . . . I'm going to enjoy Juan'ya every day because he's a special guy and a special player. I've been lucky to have some great ones in the past. He's certainly on that list, and I'm not even going to think about Senior Night."
If there's a certain sense of urgency now, it's because of how the last season ended. In the CAA Tournament semifinals, Green's three-pointer gave Hofstra the lead over William & Mary in the final minute of the second overtime, but the Tribe's Daniel Dixon hit a corner three-pointer with eight-tenths of a second left for a 92-91 win over the Pride. "How close we were," Mihalich said. "You're talking about one possession. And the pain. I'm not going to lie to you. I think about it every day, and it motivates me."
Green said the Pride has high expectations this season that are fueled by that memory. "That one shot just killed us," he said. "We just think about that one last play, that one last defensive stop or rebound. I think we all have the same mind-set of being prepared for games and knowing every game is going to be hard-fought."
Mihalich said maturity is key for a team that returns leading scorers Green (17.1 points) and Tanksley (16.2 points) and three-point specialist Brian Bernardi (11.6 points). Sophomore center Rokas Gustys should move into the starting lineup and 6-8 Princeton transfer Denton Koon, who has one season left, and versatile senior forward Malik Nichols will share time in the frontcourt.
Mihalich's backcourt of the future includes two freshmen guards in Desure Buie, who led Wings Academy in the Bronx to the PSAL and state Federation titles, and Justin Wright-Foreman, who averaged 23.8 points as a senior and led High School for Construction to two straight Queens borough titles.
"Buie won't start, but he'll be on that floor a lot," Mihalich said. "He's a great ballhandler, makes players around him better, and for a freshman, he has an exceptional basketball IQ."
Scoring won't be a problem, but Mihalich is emphasizing defense as the key to winning a league that is evenly matched at the top with defending champion Northeastern, William & Mary and James Madison challenging Hofstra's favorite status.
Looking to the end of the road at the CAA Tournament, Mihalich said, "It's all about those three days in March in Baltimore.''
Hofstra men's basketball
Last season: 20-14, 10-8 Colonial, CBI tourney
Players to watch
JUAN'YA GREEN: Preseason CAA player of year scored in double figures in all 34 games, tied season-high with 26 points in CAA Tournament semifinal loss, ranked ninth nationally in assists (6.5) and sixth in free throws made (203) and shot .825 from line. Coach Joe Mihalich said, "I don't know if he's an NBA player, but he's an NBA passer."
AMEEN TANKSLEY: Transferred from Niagara with Green when Mihalich was hired in 2013 and sat out that season before scoring 16.2 points per game last season, shooting .512 from the field and .398 from three-point range. Versatile wing man who will be counted on to help pick up rebounding slack.
MALIK NICHOLS: Senior wing man averaged 6.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 17 minutes per game. Prototypical "glue guy" who provides defense and does all the little things. Mihalich loves that fact that he, Tanksley and Princeton transfer Denton Koon are interchangeable on the wing and at power forward.