Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Straight from print: Transfers leave men’s basketball in tough spot

The class of 2019 was supposed to lead the Eagles to glory. Now they’re all leaving the program

Straight from print: Transfers leave men’s basketball in tough spot

Sophomore guard Delante Jones announced on March 15 that he would be transferring from AU. He is one of four players who are prematurely leaving the team.

When Lonnie Rivera, Delante Jones and James Washington signed their National Letters of Intent to play basketball at AU in 2014, there was a genuine buzz around the program. Jones and Washington were 3-star recruits, and Rivera had international basketball experience with the Puerto Rican national team.

Serbian center Andrija Matic would fill the void of an intelligent, tough big man that The Eagles lost when Tony Wroblicky graduated after the 2013-14 season. Kevin Panzer, a senior transfer for the 2014 season, could not play consistent minutes -- whether it was due to injury or poor play -- and the Eagles made a run to the Patriot League championship with 6’5 forward Marko Vasic at center.

The recruiting class of 2019 had the tall order of replacing John Schoof, Jesse Reed and Darius “Pee-Wee” Gardner -- cornerstones of the program that brought a Patriot League championship back to Bender Arena in 2014 and finished runner-up the following year. This class would be the next generation to challenge for a Patriot League championship.

And now, sans Washington, all of them are gone.

“Four of our men’s basketball players will not be returning to AU next year,” Brennan told The Eagle in a statement. “Delante Jones and Lonnie Rivera have decided to transfer to study and play elsewhere, Andrija Matic is leaving school early to pursue a professional career overseas, and Alex Paquin graduates this spring and has the opportunity to return home to Canada to continue his education with two years of eligibility remaining.”

Lonnie Rivera and Delante Jones announced their transfers on March 15 and 16. Soon after, Matic and junior guard Alex Paquin, who ia not a part of the 2019 recruiting class, announced they would be leaving the Eagles as well.

Matic announced via Instagram on March 22 that he would be leaving AU, and Paquin’s transfer was reported by Pete Yannapoulos, a Canadian basketball analyst. These transfers leave just seven returning players on the Eagles’ roster.

“We’d like to thank all four for their contributions to American University, and we wish them success as they embark on this new chapter in their careers.” Brennan said in the statement. “I’m extremely excited about our returning players and the progress they have made so far this spring. Coupled with the incoming freshmen class, I feel we have a group that is capable of being competitive in the league, and helping us return to championship-caliber play.”

What the Eagles are losing

Delante Jones made an immediate impact in his freshman season. Starting 28 out of 30 games, Jones was named the 2015-16 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. He scored 18 points or more eight times in his award-winning season, including a 23-point effort against Navy. With Jesse Reed leaving, it appeared as if Jones was destined to lead the Eagles in scoring for his remaining three years.

His sophomore year, however, saw little improvement to his game. Jones’ inability to create off the dribble allowed defenses to run him off the three point line, and his stats were relatively the same as his freshman season -- if not a little bit worse.

Brennan told WTOP before the season that it would be a difficult one for Jones. “To be honest, I think he’ll have a tough year as people know about him and he’s our leading returning scorer,” Brennan said. “But he’s one of the hardest workers and one of the more coachable guys I’ve been around. He’s made a lot of strides in the preseason.”

Regardless of a sophomore slump, Jones was a big, athletic guard who was one of the most gifted athletes on the roster. Out of the four transfers, he is the biggest loss to the team.

Rivera did not make much of an impact his freshman year. Stuck behind experienced players like Vasic, Reed, and Charlie Jones, Rivera appeared in only 23 games and averaging about 10 minutes a game.

His sophomore season was riddled with injury, but there were flashes of what Rivera could do as a versatile player who was able to defend multiple positions. He started nine games, and averaged five points and two rebounds in 17.4 minutes a game.

The graduation of Charlie Jones this year would have meant an opportunity for Rivera to get more playing time. Although Jones was the quintessential glue guy, somebody who would do all of the overlooked “little things” for the team to win games, Rivera could have filled that role for the Eagles and made it his own.

Out of the sophomore class, Andrija Matic probably had the most disappointing season. His freshman campaign saw him play in all but two games. His stats were modest -- 4 points and 2 rebounds a game in 15 minutes a game. But with each game, he seemed to gain confidence, and looked more and more comfortable in the Princeton offensive strategy.

“[Matic] was thrown into the fire last year,” Brennan told The Eagle ahead of the 2016-2017 season. “He was able to do everything we asked, score in the low post. He’s going to be a big part of what we do going forward.”

His sophomore season was an entirely different story. From playing in 30 games his freshman season, he only played 17 out of 30 games this year, averaging 6.8 minutes per game. With the emergence of freshman big man Mark Gasperini and the solid play of Matt Cimino, Matic found himself on the outside looking in.

Alex Paquin came to the Eagles with Gardner and Schoof ahead of him, which was one of the best backcourts in the Patriot League. Opportunities were hard to come by his freshman and sophomore seasons -- the emergence of sophomore James Washington and Delante Jones limited Paquin’s minutes. He appeared in 25 games last year, and showed a desire to attack on offense.

Freshman Sa’eed Nelson, a member of this year’s Patriot League all-rookie team, played 37 minutes a game, and with Jones averaging over 30 minutes a game as well, Paquin was relegated to short stints off the bench.

Uncertainty clouds AU’s program. With the loss of these four players, the Eagles will have to rely heavily on their next recruiting class and transfers. The Eagles struggled this season, finishing ninth in the Patriot League. This was supposed to be a building year, getting younger guys valuable experience to compete for the Patriot League title in the coming seasons. Those building blocks are gone, and now Brennan and his staff will have to start from scratch. 

mholt@theeagleonline.com