The Hofstra men’s basketball program is intent on returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2000-2001 season. History may be on its side because each time the team has had a pro prospect, it’s made a run at March Madness.
Ranked third in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll behind Northeastern and Charleston, Hofstra is definitely in the conversation.
In the Jay Wright coaching era, the Speedy Claxton-led team in the America East Conference made it to the NCAA’s in the 1999-2000 season. Norman Richardson’s team made a return trip the following season. Loren Stokes and the Pride fell short of winning the CAA in 2005-2006 under coach Tom Pecora, as did Charles Jenkins’ (2010-2011) for coach Mo Cassara. Juan'ya Green gave it a run in 2016 under current coach Joe Mihalich, who enters his sixth year with a career record of 88-76.
The Pride return with CAA player of the year Justin Wright-Foreman, who declared himself for the NBA draft last March but pulled back in time to rejoin the Pride for his senior year. “When I took my name out, it was a couple of days before the deadline,’’ Wright-Foreman said. “Of course the thought is to be a pro, but at the end of the day by speaking to my mom and my family the best decision was for me to come back for my education and finish what I started here.’’
Mihalich knows his star’s dream, but is glad he returned. “When you get a great player, you don't ever want to think about him not being there, whether it's the end of his fourth year, his second or this year,’’ the coach said. “It was really a blessing and a curse to have a great player like that. The blessing is you have them, the curse is you know he might be so doggone good that he goes to the NBA a year earlier.’’
Foreman, a shooting guard, averaged 24.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists last season. He and Eli Pemberton (15.9, 4.8. 2.2) return as the nation’s third-highest scoring duo in Division I last season. “With Justin, you get a total package in a guard,’’ Pemberton said. “You get excellent scoring, but you also get a playmaker, a great leader, a friend to all of us on that court. He put us on his back last year. This year we just want to take that pressure off of him. Everybody got better. We worked hard just so we can make sure he goes out with a bang.’’
Hofstra also returns starters in senior guards Desure Buie (6.4 ppg), Kenny Wormley (4.0) and 6-8 junior forward Stafford Trueheart (3.8, 2.6).
A significant loss to graduation was leading rebounder (12.0) Rokas Gustys who is playing professionally in Europe. Mihalich will hope graduate transfers Jacquil Taylor of Purdue and Dan Dwyer of Penn can contribute off the boards. “Nobody is that kid,’’ Mihalich said of Gustys. “We told these guys they don't have to be him. Hopefully, Jacquil and Danny combine to get 10 rebounds a game and Elijah gets a couple of more, (Tareq) Coburn gets a couple more, this is got to be a team thing.’’
There have been a couple of injuries in camp — notably an ankle sprain that sidelined Pemberton for a good part of the preseason — and if Mihalich has one concern in chasing the NCAA bid, it is staying healthy. “Health is paramount,’’ he said. “We’re not the only team in the league that can say this. All 10 teams would say this as they would in a lot of mid-major programs. When North Carolina loses a guy they put in another McDonald's All-American. When we lose a guy we put in a kid that eats at McDonald's.’’
The schedule is highlighted with games at Maryland and NCAA Tournament teams in Cal State Fullerton and Marshall.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Juan'ya Green's name was misspelled as J'yana Green.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Jalen Ray, 6-2, G
Played in all 31 games as a freshman. Was fourth on the team in scoring (6.9) and third with 48 three-pointers. Hit game-winning three-pointers in final seconds against Monmouth and Towson. Scored in double figures 11 times.
Jacquil Taylor, 6-10, F
6-10 transfer from Purdue was limited to 38 games in three seasons due to injuries. Averaged 1.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and had 15 blocked shots. High school star at Beaver Country Day School (Mass.) where he averaged 14.7 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in his senior year.
Dan Dwyer, 6-8, F
The 6-8 graduate transfer from Penn played in only eight games before intestinal surgery ended his season. Played in 55 career games at Penn, averaging 0.8 points and 1.3 rebounds. Cousin Tricia Liston played for WNBA Minnesota Lynx.