Freshmen on the Keene State men’s basketball program have shown a tendency to make an immediate impact. At least that’s the case in recent years.
Last winter, freshmen Paul Mahon (13 starts, 6.4 points per game) and Edwin Ezedonmwen (18 starts, 7.5 ppg) earned regular playing time with the Owls, helping the team to its third Little East Conference title in five years.
The year before, newcomers James Anozie (17 starts, 12.6 ppg, 6.2 rebounds per game), Miguel Prieto (15 starts, 10.6 ppg, 3.1 assists per game) and Sidi Diallo (22 starts, 6.1 ppg) made strong first impressions.
And in Coach Ryan Cain’s first season in 2015-16, he inherited a recruiting class that included future record-breaker Ty Nichols (21 starts, 12.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.5 steals per game).
The situation isn’t quite the same as a couple years ago, when Keene State graduated four regular starters (Matt Ozzella, Lucas Hammel, Jaquel Edwards and Jeff Lunn). This past year, only one senior (Nichols) started more than 15 games, so there aren’t as many openings for this year’s newcomers.
But Cain said he still expects big things from this recruiting class, which features four freshmen and one junior-college transfer.
“With this group, I think we have a number of them, if not all of them, that have potentially the ability to have an impact with our program right away,” Cain said. “In fact, I’d probably bet on the fact that we would have at least one of these guys that ends up in the starting lineup at some point this year.”
So, here’s a look at the Owls’ five incoming recruits:
Collins comes to the Elm City from Rockville High School in Vernon, Conn. Those deeply familiar with the rivalry between Keene State and Eastern Connecticut State should know this school, as it produced Eastern standout Tarchee Brown.
As for Collins, the 6-foot-1 rookie played mostly as a power forward in high school, and is a strong rebounder with a good finish at the rim, according to Cain.
The coach also described Collins as a versatile player that he hopes to see develop in other facets now that he’s playing at a level where 6-foot-1 isn’t considered that big.
“I think that experience playing inside and playing around the rim will be beneficial for him as he gets into college and his game develops,” Cain said.
Standing at about 6-4, Sneed-Lott is much closer to the size of a typical big man in Division III.
A graduate of Kolbe-Cathedral High School in Bridgeport, Conn., he has been described by Cain as a strong young man who fits the mold of a true post player, but the coach also said Sneed-Lott has good mobility that he thinks could help him develop a more versatile skillset.
“[Sneed-Lott] will be more of a true inside player early in his career, and then as I think he goes through his career, we’ll have the ability to develop his game and play more facing up on top of just playing around the basket,” Cain said.
Cain also praised Sneed-Lott’s competitiveness and leadership ability, after he led a young Kolbe-Cathedral squad to a state tournament appearance this past winter.
“Considering that the [Kolbe-Cathedral] team in general was young this year, they had a really good season,” Cain said, “and it was because of, I think, his skill, his toughness, but specifically, his leadership.”
McCarthy won’t be making as big a leap as his fellow recruits, as he transfers to Keene State from Bristol Community College in Bristol, Conn., where he finished his sophomore season.
After a one-year gap between his freshman and sophomore years, the point guard saw a big jump in his numbers this past winter. The Providence, R.I., native averaged 18.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 3.0 steals per game en route to an All-America Honorable Mention.
Bristol Coach Rob Delaleu told South Coast Today in January that, out of everything, McCarthy’s biggest improvement was in his maturity level.
“You can see the difference,” Delaleu said. “He’s soaking up the information now. I think he reflected a lot and because of that, great things happened for him and it connected and we’re seeing the benefits now. I know what I’m getting from Marcus every night and he’s been pretty spectacular.”
McCarthy will also have familiarity with some of his new teammates, such as Prieto and Ezedonmwen, from their days playing AAU basketball, according to Cain.
“The community college level is definitely different than the NCAA Division III level that we play against, so another guy where the competition probably wasn’t at the same level that he’ll see when he comes here,” Cain said, “but if you look at his stats from Bristol Community College, they’re extremely, extremely impressive.”
Coming in at 6-4 and 180 pounds, Redden brings a wide variety of skills that could turn him into an effective stretch player.
This past winter, as the senior captain for Algonquin High School in Northboro, Mass., Redden led a strong Tomahawks team to its second straight appearance in the Central Massachusetts Division 1 championship game.
He averaged 16.9 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game, while knocking down 54 3-pointers. The latter number would’ve ranked second for the Owls last season, behind only Nichols (69).
“He’s a really good shooter, so he’s a guy that definitely can stretch the floor,” Cain said. “Not a guy that’s gonna necessarily break you down off the bounce early in his career, but a guy that really shoots the ball and has the ability to play off that.
“We project him as being a [power forward] at our level, and that’s probably one of the positions that we could’ve used a little more depth and a little size, so it’s good to bring in a guy like that.”
At 6-6, 180 pounds, Hunter will be tied for the tallest player on the Owls’ roster, matching Anozie and Ben Olson.
Playing out of Assabet Valley Technical High School in Hudson, Mass., Hunter already knows Redden, whom he played with sometimes while growing up. In his senior year, Hunter averaged 16.2 points per game while shooting 60 percent from the field.
Cain gave the big man a big comparison, likening him to former Owl Nate Howard.
Howard, a 7-foot center, was a three-time selection to the All-Little East Conference Second Team and All-LEC Defensive Team. He set program records for career blocks (216) and single-season blocks (77), and became the 34th player in Keene State history to eclipse 1,000 career points.
“Jeff’s not quite as tall as Nate was,” Cain said, “but in terms of the skillset, the athleticism, the ability to run the floor at a good size, and then just the athleticism both those guys have around the rim … I can see Jeff being very similar to that. Definitely a guy that likes to dunk it when he can around the basket.”