AU basketball coaches discuss season prospects at 2015 AU Hoop Talk dinner
For AU alumni old and new, the start of the 2015-2016 basketball season offers a chance to connect with old friends, meet a new crop of players and cheer on the Eagles once again.
Several dozen of these loyal fans gathered on Thursday night at Maggiano's Little Italy in Chevy Chase to talk with head men’s basketball coach Mike Brennan and head women’s basketball coach Megan Gebbia as part of the “AU Hoop Talk with Mike Brennan” radio show dinner. The annual event started several years ago as a way for the coaches to address the AU community and answer questions about the team before the season starts.
Leslie Mostow, a graduate of the class of 1965 and a member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, said he has always been an avid supporter of the basketball team and brings his grandchildren to the games when he can. He also attended last year’s “AU Hoop Talk” dinner at Chef Geoff’s with his wife Anita and several of his fraternity brothers.
“We come to all the basketball events,” Mostow said “We are Eagles Club members and at a level that we go to everything and everything. We go to the President’s reception, and being a Golden Eagle, we went to the President’s house for dinner, and we are now going to start, because of the grandchildren, going to volleyball, and maybe we’ll bring them to the girl’s basketball games too.”
The radio show dinner event began at 7:30 p.m. with coach introductions from Director of Athletics Billy Walker and Dan Laing, the play-by-play announcer for AU basketball.
Walker, who hired Gebbia and Brennan almost immediately after arriving at AU in 2013, beamed with pride when he spoke about the coaches, and he emphasized the immediate effect they have had on the athletic program, both athletically and academically.
“I feel very fortunate that my first two hires were these coaches,” Walker said. “They’ve been spectacularly successful in the league.”
Brennan led the men’s basketball team to a Patriot League title and NCAA bid in 2014 and finished second in the conference championships last year. Gebbia enters the year as the reigning Patriot League Coach of the Year after helping the women's team claim the first conference title in program history last season.
Before the first intermission of the radio show, conversation shifted from last year’s success to the challenges that both teams face this year in the Patriot League. Brennan and Gebbia admitted some concerns but remained positive overall when addressing this year’s roster.
“It’s about trying to find the right fit, the right five,” Gebbia said, in regards to her starting line-up. “I’m getting closer and closer, and I’m excited.”
The women’s basketball lost three key players from the class of 2015 including Patriot League Player of the Year Jen Dumiak, Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Shaquilla Curtis and three-point shooter Arron Zimmerman. The men’s team also faces a gap in replacing key point guard Darius “Pee-Wee” Gardner, but Brennan said his returners have shown leadership and effort on the court that suggest a strong future for the team.
Jesse Reed, who Brennan describes as one of the team’s hardest workers, enters the 2015-2016 with one of the highest minutes per game stats in the league. Senior forward Marko Vasic and junior Charlie Jones also join Reed as returners with high potential, according to Brennan. Jones started his freshman year as a walk-on but quickly asserted himself as a key contender in AU’s line-up, earning a scholarship for the upcoming season.
“Charlie’s an unusual kid,” Brennan said. “From the moment he walked on campus, he had something to prove. He forced me to watch him play basketball.”
Brennan will also look to his freshmen to help the team form its new identity, and he said he looks forward to watching the young talent develop. Andrija Matic, a freshman guard who attended Brennan’s basketball camp this summer, comes to AU with a lifetime of experience in the sport. His father, Veselin Matic, works as a Serbian professional basketball coach and currently coaches the Lebanon national team. Brennan praised Matic’s work ethic, experience and drive while speaking about his notable freshmen at the AU Hoops talk event, and he addressed the importance of Matic’s talent and focus on the team this year.
“He fit[s] the profile of what we look for in a big player,” Brennan said. “He loves being in the gym. You can tell he’s been around basketball his whole life.”
Assistant men’s basketball coach Matt Wolff said the freshmen have been adapting to the new playing style quickly, and he expects continued improvement as the season progresses.
“I think they are starting to pick up what we want to do on offense and defense, it’s a lot for the new guys,” Wolff said. “I think just getting a feel for everything, it takes time.”
The men’s basketball team will tip off on Nov. 13 at the University of Rhode Island while the women will play their first game on the 13th in New Jersey against Princeton University.
Both coaches hope to finish on top of the league this year and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Alumni, such as class of 1969 graduate Jay Liner, join the excitement.
“I’ve always been a real big college basketball fan,” Liner said. “I just like the way AU plays the game. They play smart, heads-up basketball. The coach, I think, is just excellent, you can see from the very beginning, his players were prepared, and I just enjoy it. It’s fun to go and watch them play.”