PRESQUE ISLE -- The 2011-2012 season will be one full of changes for the UMPI men's basketball team. The biggest change starts at the top where veteran coach Jim Casciano takes the reins of the Owls' program. He replaces Terry Cummings who stepped down after last season. Casciano has nearly 30 years experience as a head coach in the northeast, twice earning "Coach of the Year" honors.
The team that Casciano inherits finished 6-16 overall last season, 4-8 in the now-defunct Sunrise Conference. That is another change the Owls will encounter this season, playing an 'independent' 20-game schedule, seven of which will be played in the friendly confines of Wieden Gym. But Casciano does not want to hear about "disadvantages." It is very clear that he wants his players taking a "one day at a time" approach.
"This is a good group to work with and I am confident that they will get better as a team as the season progresses," said Casciano," we need to stay in the present and work to improve daily."
This year's squad will also feature a new leading scorer as Clifford McDonald (18ppg, 9.3 rpg) graduated. However that is not to say that Coach Casciano's cupboard is empty. In fact seven players return this season including three starters.
Patrick Manifold (F/Great Yarmouth, UK) is back for his junior season, heading the list of returning starters. Manifold averaged 14.1 points per game last season and collected 7.5 rebounds. He shot a sparkling 53% from the floor in his sophomore campaign. Casciano sees Manifold as a tough match-up for opposing defenders.
"Patrick is a go-to player who can score inside and can step out as well. He's a strong rebounder as well as a leader."
Also returning to the mix for '11-'12 is junior point guard Kyle Corrigan (G/Caribou, ME). Corrigan led the Owls last season in assists (97) and free throw percentage (85%) while averaging nearly 9 points per game. A nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is exactly the type of care for the ball that Coach Casciano can expect from the Caribou native.
"Kyle makes things happen, he's quick with the ball and makes good decisions. You want the ball in his hands especially late in the game."
Gerardo Vasquez (G/Houston, TX) will join Corrigan in the backcourt. Vasquez averaged 7 points per game last season and will be the team's leading 3-point returner, hitting 32 from downtown a year ago. Casciano believes Vasquez' strengths lie in his defense and versatility.
"'G' is our best perimeter defender. He can play both guard positions and is a strong player who can attack the basket."
A couple of returners to keep an eye on are junior Brad Trask (G/Easton, ME) and sophomore Michael Warner ( (F/Norwich, UK). In limited time last season Warner connected on 46% of his 3-point attempts (7-13) while Trask had a "plus" assist-to-turnover ratio (9:7).
"Both Brad and Mike are excellent shooters. Brad defends well and Mike is a hard worker and complete player. I expect both to have breakout seasons."
Also returning this year will be Sophomore Aaron Hutchins (G/East Millinocket, ME) and senior Brennen Morton (G/Chepachet, RI). Hutchins will likely begin the season as the "6th man" for the Owls while Morton gives the team an extra outside shooting threat to stretch defenses.
Others working towards success in this year's program will include freshmen Alex Jardine (G/Greenville, ME), Robert Beckman (G/Vinalhaven, ME), and Robert Wegner (C/Strafford, NH). Kobe Ashkir (F/Portland, ME) will make the transition from playing soccer this fall to basketball this winter while Loren Fawthrop (F/Amherst, NS) returns to active duty after missing last season due to injury. Wegner is easy to spot walking to class on campus. The rookie center measures in at a stunning 7-feet, 6 inches and is believed to be the tallest athlete in the NCAA this year at any level, divisions 1, 2, or 3.
"Bob makes a difference with his size alone," says Casciano, "he will continue to get better as he gains experience."
Overall Casciano is optimistic about his team's ability to come together as the long season moves along.
"We want to be competitive, gain respect, and create an identity as a program. If we can do those things, then having a winning season and advancing to the post-season are realistic goals."