WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 2011-12 Gallaudet University men's basketball season is quickly approaching and the team is ready to improve on their success from last season. Returning all but two players from a team that set a school record for wins (17) is a great place to begin considering the program has been in existence since 1904. After losing a quarterfinal game to Catholic University of America in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) South Region tournament, the program's first-ever postseason appearance, the team has been dedicated in the off-season and is ready to build on last year's accomplishments. Head coach Jeb Barber enters his fifth year at Gallaudet and with the experience and leadership in place this team is set to have a productive year.
"This team has earned the opportunity to build on the success they found and earned last year," said Barber. "There is no stress or pressure involved."
The Bison posted a 17-11 overall record and a 12-6 mark in the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) during their first season in the new conference. GU earned the fourth-seed in the conference tournament and advanced to the semifinals where the Bison narrowly lost in overtime, 96-91, to top-seed Penn St.-Harrisburg. Gallaudet was rewarded for their record-breaking season with the ECAC bid.
Barber and the Bison turn their sights onto the 2011-12 season with opportunism abound as GU brings back its entire starting line-up that includes eight veteran players that saw action last season along with three all-conference players. The first objective this season is to bring this team together and mesh it with the new faces.
"Building team chemistry from the beginning of the season is going to be very important, especially with quite a few players joining late from fall sports," said Barber. "With losing a couple players from last year's team some people have the opportunity to step up and earn some playing time and be able to help the team."
Although there is availability for new faces to make an appearance on the court Barber finds his five-player senior class of Daniel Fava (Baltimore, Md.), Brandon McMillan (Frederick, Md.), Joshua Sechman (Harrisburg, Pa.), Layton Seeber (Champaign, Ill.) and Tony Tatum (Gardendale, Ala.) to be a very important asset to this team.
"The senior class has really come together and brought the team along in a positive way with their leadership and their actions, the way they handle themselves on and off the court," said Barber about his first recruiting class at Gallaudet. "It is really rewarding to me and is really nice to see these kids, who had some tough years early on, see the fruits of all their hard work and all their dedication pay off. By them pushing through it, working hard, and being positive through hard times it has led to the good times. It's great to see hard work pay off."
Co-captains Seeber and Tatum, both All-NEAC selections last season, will lead Gallaudet along with junior forward Danny Kelly (Strongsville, Ohio), the third Bison to earn all-conference honors. The other co-captains as announced by Coach Barber are Fava and McMillan.
"They have worked so hard in the off-season on their bodies, in the weight room, running, and in the gym that I expect them to just build on the great years they had last year," said Barber of his all-conference players.
Seeber, a junior college transfer, returns to the Bison for his second season after he led the team in 2010-11 with a 14.6 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game, 2.1 steals per game and 1.1 blocks per game. The first-team All-NEAC player is a key part of this team as he and Kelly man the forward positions this season. One of Seeber's best games from last season came on Dec. 8, against Penn St.-Abington where he scored 24 points as he made 6-of-12 shots from the field and was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Tatum returns after a year where he averaged 12.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, 3.1 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game. The third-team All-NEAC selection enters the 2011-12 season 12 points shy of 1,000 in his career in the Buff and Blue. Tatum's best game last season came Dec. 4 at Wells where he tallied 29 points, going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and 11-of-15 from the field. Tatum, also a standout on the Gallaudet football team, proves to be a well rounded player and his dedication in the off-season will surely show on the court.
Kelly comes back this season after posting 13.1 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 1.1 assists per game as he made over 60 percent of his shots from the field. The third-team all-conference honoree did not start a game last season but was usually the first person off the bench, is a well-rounded player who is always a dangerous scoring threat. Kelly scored his season-high of 25 points at SUNY Cobleskill on Jan. 9 as he made 12-of-15 shots from the field and grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds (nine defensive) in the win over the Fighting Tigers.
McMillan was the only Bison to start all 28 games last season as the guard averaged 9.3 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game and 0.5 steals per game. He came on strong in the second half of the season, which should transfer well to this season for the senior. Fava adds height and experience upfront as he started 27 games last season and saw action in all 28 games where he averaged 3.8 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, and one assist per game. Fava had an impressive showing last season against Penn St.-Abington where he collected 15 rebounds (eight defensive) against the Nittany Lions. Sechman was slowed by injuries last year as he saw action in seven games.
Junior guard Jocus Houston (Baton Rouge, La.) played in 28 games and worked his way into a starting role (19 starts) as he finished with 4.7 points per game, 2.1 rebounds per game and 1.1 steals per game. Houston's best game came against SUNY Cobleskill when he scored a season-high 18 points. Crace, a productive player off the bench for the Bison last season, played in every GU game and averaged 2.3 points per game. He scored 12 points against SUNYIT as he shot 80 percent from the field and made three rebounds against the Wildcats.
Gallaudet has a group of young players ready to help the Bison this season. The incoming freshman class consists of Alleyne, guard Todd Bonheyo (Frederick, Md.), guard Ben Coleman (St. Paris, Ohio), guard Trey Gordan (Talladega, Ala.) and guard Roddy Stickley (Strasburg, Va.).
The Bison open up at home this season with a visit from Maryland Bible College & Seminary on November 15 at 7 p.m. They then travel to Annville, Pa., for a pair of games in the Rinso Marquette Tournament at Lebanon Valley College on November 19 and 20. The Bison will return home to face Christendom on November 22, before hosting the GU Holiday Tournament November 26 and 27. This year's Holiday Tournament includes Medgar Evers, a NCAA tournament team last season, along with Muhlenberg College and Valley Forge Christian College. Muhlenberg was selected second in the Centennial Conference pre-season poll while VFCC posted an impressive 29-8 record last season. NEAC play begins at home on December 1, with a match up against Lancaster Bible College. The Bison will travel to Randolph College, play Penn St.-Berks at home, and make the short trip to face D.C. rival Catholic University in December before taking a short break over the holiday season. Catholic advanced to the ECAC South Region championship last season where the Cardinals lost to Lebanon Valley. Randolph lost to Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship last year and is ranked fifth in the pre-season poll for the ODAC this year.
"The league is full of great teams with great coaches so there are no easy games. Every game is a battle," said Barber, as GU begins its second season in the NEAC. "You might know the players a little bit better and know the coaches and their philosophies but being comfortable [after one season in the conference] is not the best way to describe it."
Play resumes with three straight conference road games to begin the spring semester, starting with Cazenovia on January 7. The Bison then have four conference home games in a row, including a rematch of their playoff defeat against Penn St.-Harrisburg on January 18. This will be followed by four road games, before returning home for Senior Day on February 12 against Penn St.-Abington at 2 p.m. The final regular-season game comes February 19 at conference foe Penn St.-Berks. The NEAC tournament will be held from February 24-26.