Rokas Gustys — all 6-9, 260 pounds of him — looks like he belongs in an NBA camp and after next season the Hofstra forward may fulfill that dream. But he’s all about college basketball for the next two years and Gustys’ presence likely means Hofstra can eschew the term rebuilding despite some weighty losses to graduation.
Gustys averaged 13.5 points and 13.0 rebounds last season as the Pride won the regular season title in the Colonial Athletic Association. Hofstra lost in overtime to North Carolina-Wilmington in the title game. “It wasn’t great because we didn’t go to the NCAA Tournament,’’ Gustys said Tuesday at New York College media day in Hempstead. “It was pretty good, it was one of the better one in all of the Hofstra years.’’
That means there is unfinished business and no one in the program has time for lamenting the departure of Juan’ya Green, Ameen Tanksley and Denton Koon.
“We have way more energy and guys who want to learn things and get better every day,’’ Gustys said. “I’m just going to try to push them and be like a mentor and help them out. I like a lot of weight on my shoulders, not just because I have to play better but I also have to make everybody else play better.’’
That starts with Gustys himself. A double-double isn’t good enough for him, even though he finished second in the nation in rebounding behind Evansville’s Egidijus Mockevicius, a fellow Lithuanian who is in camp with the Nets.
“You always can be better,’’ Gustys said. “For me the biggest key to improve was jump shooting and adding to my defense, being better on ball screens. Shooting free throws. I put a lot of effort to it. I want to build up and have 15 and 15. My goal is to be No. 1 this year,’’ in rebounding. “I definitely want to get every single rebound and build up to first place so no one can catch me.’’
Coach Joe Mihalich said he can’t keep Gustys out of the gym. “He’s in all the time trying to get better,’’ he said. “Shooting, back to the basket moves. And our goal this year is to try to get a few more post touches. We were always such a guard-oriented team. He has improved offensively and he can keep improving offensively. That’s the beauty of it, as good as he is, he can even be better.’’
Mihalich basically had four players average about 38 minutes a game last season, but has more depth this season and envisions using at least eight players. Senior shooting guard Brian Bernardi is back. Senior Deron Powers will alternate with sophomore Desure Buie at the point. Freshman guard Eli Pemberton will also see plenty of time. Sophomore guard Justin Wright-Foreman will come off the bench, while Hunter Sabety will spell Gustys. Forward Ty Greer, a transfer from Daytona State, will provide additional offense.
“The goal is to be a team at the end of February or the beginning to March that has a chance to win that [CAA] tournament,’’ Mihalich said. “We think we can be there, we really do. Do we need to prove it? Yeah, we’ve got to prove it.’’