UMPI Basketball fans will need an updated program to get acquainted with veteran mentor Jim Casciano's latest edition of Owls. Replacing 3 graduating seniors, and also waiting to get electric playmaker Claude Louis back into the lineup at semester break, Casciano must rely on newcomers to compete with a challenging schedule that includes a December 15th game at NCAA Division I Maine-Orono.
Sharpshooting Michael Warner is back for his senior year and his leadership will be more important than ever, with injuries to the only other eligible returner, senior Aaron Hutchins, to have started a game last year. Warner averaged 13.8ppg, 4.8rpg last season and added a strong perimeter shooting threat, banging home 41% of his shots from behind the arc.
Hutchins, a captain on the UMPI Soccer squad, could be counted on to score when he was in the lineup for Coach Casciano, averaging 8.4ppg and shooting a solid 43% from the field as well. Hutchins has been hampered with a knee injury since the early part of the soccer season and surgery is a possibility.
Adding to the early season difficulties for the Blue & Gold, Claude Louis cannot play until the end of the first semester due to the NCAA 10-semester rule. Louis, a UMPI Dean's List student last year, cannot practice with the team, but is diligently working on his own to stay in shape and has been lending his experience to help his teammates in workouts.
A trio of guards return to add backcourt experience for Casciano. Ollie Barratt and Chase Vicaire played limited minutes as freshmen last season and Greenville native Alex Jardine returns to the squad after a one-year absence.
"We're looking to mesh all of these pieces, the freshmen will have to grow up quick as the experienced returners have been battling tough injuries all pre-season, noted Casciano. "There will be growing pains with so many minutes going to unproven players, but no one will have to wait for experience, we're hoping they step up and surprise."
Young and inexperienced, yes, but the newcomers are a talented bunch. Small college programs never truly replace players like Patrick Manifold, who is currently playing professionally in England, but Thiago Conceicao, a Brazilian native and Charles McGill have been added to fortify the paint. Conceicao is a strongly built 6'7 and gives the Owls a true low post presence. Once you see Conceicao play in person, it is very easy to understand how he got his nickname, the "beast".
McGill played his high school ball in the ultra competitive Central Jersey, Group IV and gives Casciano an athletic forward who can defend several positions. At 6'5, McGill, a former high school football player has the athleticism to eventually dominate in the collegiate game, but the Owls may not be able to wait for that to happen. McGill will be asked to contribute immediately.
A.J. Dolley, a 6'8 freshmen goalkeeper for the UMPI Soccer team, hangs up the cleats and turns his talents to the hardwood and will add depth in the frontcourt.
Another UMPI soccer player will hope to make as big an impact on the court as they have on the pitch. Sophomore Derek Healy, the leading goal scorer for the Owl Soccer Program, will man the point for the Blue & Gold. Healy is a heady and athletic player who was a Massachusetts All-League performer in the Patriot Conference his senior year of high school.
Two freshmen guards will likely see ample time in the early going for the third year of Coach Casciano's tenure. 6'4 Californian Sean Manganti will see time at the guard positions, including at the point. Manganti is an agile and skilled freshmen who can play multiple positions and 6'2 Jordan Cook can help immediately with his shooting. Manganti is exactly the type of long, athletic and projectable athlete, filled with potential that Coach Casciano looks to bring into his program. Cook can flat out shoot and will be asked to expand his game quickly to help senior Michael Warner give the Owls a consistent scoring threat from the outside.
"It's a team that will be dominated by youth, by necessity in the first semester." Casciano added, "We'll have to grow up fast and we'll be better as we mature".