Men's Basketball: Freshmen see lots of playing time in first year
Five freshmen would enter the 2013-14 year of UNH men's basketball in hopes of receiving minutes down the stretch of the season. To their surprise, they ended up in the team's starting lineup more than they could ever imagine. These five freshmen realized that they were not the "average" freshman, but players who gained tremendous experience early, exceeding their expectations while showing no signs of fear in the process.
UNH head coach Bill Herrion is pleased with this year's freshmen class, consisting of Daniel Dion, Jacoby Armstrong, Williams Gabriel and John Edwards. Herrion emphasized how well they adapted into the lineup over the course of the season, taking a heavy load off injured veterans Chris Pelcher and Patrick Konan, each spending a good portion of the season on the sideline. Despite the team finishing the regular season with a disappointing record of 6-23 overall and 4-12 in America East conference play, Herrion believes that the freshmen class will bode well for future seasons.
"I think a couple of the freshmen were ready to play right away like Dion and Armstrong," Herrion said. "But, I think with the amount of injuries we suffered over the course of the season to our veteran leaders, that these freshmen were able to get good minutes and they did. These guys were forced to play right away, and it surely did speed up their progress. I couldn't be happier with how they all have played this year."
Two of the five freshmen who emerged as key contributors statistically for the Wildcats have been Dion and Armstrong. Dion a guard has started 11 of the 25 games he has played in, tallying 8.3 points per game, which is currently fourth overall on the team. Armstrong, a center, has started in 20 of the 26 games he has played in, contributing to 8.0 points per game, and third on the team with 5.1 rebounds per game.
From gaining a great deal of confidence to learning to become a team player, Dion still finds that the hardest thing to adjust to is the talent level.
"Coming into the season I have really learned just how good the talent level is in Division 1 college basketball," Dion said. "All of us have come from high schools where we were probably the better players, but it doesn't matter who you were when you get to this level. The competition is good, and playing at this level will only make you a better player overall."
Armstrong has used his time over the first season taking notes from his veteran leaders, using their advice to benefit himself as a freshman with a lot to learn.
"The biggest thing I've learned from the upper classmen is the mindset of coming to each game ready and every day for that matter, by playing hard," Armstrong said.
Another thing that sets these five freshmen apart from the typical freshmen is their confidence.
"One encouraging thing about these guys is that they don't play like freshmen," Herrion said. "They have no fear. Dion is a prime example of that with the big three-pointers he has made over the season. The confidence in these guys is just so high that they don't get distracted out on the court which is a rare thing for freshmen who usually have to adjust in the environment of college basketball."
Gabriel, a towering 6-foot-8-inch power forward out of Lagos, Nigeria has learned a lot in his first season of Div. 1 college basketball, an environment that he has only gained more confidence by being a part of.
"At this level you have to be more of a team player," Gabriel said. "From the beginning of the season to now, I have gained a lot of confidence from my teammates to the coaching staff. This has just been a great opportunity for me to play basketball, and receive a great education."
While playing basketball at such a high level has been rewarding, so has been the environment of a college atmosphere, according to Smith, a guard out of Freeport, Texas.
"Managing class and basketball has been something new," Smith said. "It is a lot of different things, but the biggest adjustment is making use of the time you have."
From his standpoint, Smith felt that he has played well so far this season, exceeding his own expectations.
"I honestly think I did better than I thought," Smith said. "Sometimes during the game I feel like I'm a freshman out there by some of the mistakes I made. I've learned from those mistakes, and I choose not to repeat them. It's all about being disciplined out there."
Edwards, who has experienced the least amount of minutes of the four freshmen sees himself as a different player than when he entered the season.
"I feel like I've gotten a lot better from the beginning of the year," Edwards said. "I've gotten used to the pace of the game, and it has made me feel more comfortable once I got in the swing of things, and understanding how the game is played at this level."
Sitting from the sidelines for seven straight games due to a leg injury, Edwards has found his way back into the lineup, joining a healthy roster for the first time this season.
With the conference tournament on the horizon, there is another thing to add to what these five amigos already have in common.
"Winning the conference tournament is the goal," Armstrong said.
And when the 2013-14 year comes to a close, a brighter future will await the UNH men's basketball team with this year's not-your-average freshmen class leading the way.
Herrion sums this class up nicely on the thoughts of next year:
"Next year, they are really not going to be sophomores."
Follow Rob Wilson on Twitter @RobWilson_TNH
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