Four out of Five Senior Catamounts Set to Return for Next Year
When the Catamounts season ended at the hands of Hartford a few weeks ago the immediate response (besides agonizing heartbreak) was how much roster turnover was to be expected in the coming weeks. Stef Smith, Ben Shungu, Bailey Patella, Justin Mazzulla and Tomas Murphy had just completed their senior campaigns and under normal circumstances would be ruled ineligible to return to Burlington. However, before the season commenced the NCAA announced that this year would not count against a student-athletes eligibility, meaning that all five of those players were welcome to return to Burlington or continue their college careers elsewhere.
After an incredible four-year stint, Stef Smith recently announced his decision to enter the transfer portal in hopes of playing for a legit national championship contender. To some degree Smith’s senior year at Vermont was a bit of a let-down, but Smith is still a phenomenal player who absolutely deserves a chance to compete at a higher level. His departure from Vermont is bittersweet. There’s no doubt his decision transfer weighed heavily on him, but at the end of the day it was likely best for both Smith and Vermont to move on. All of Catamount country is incredibly grateful for everything Smith has done for the program and we wish him nothing but success wherever he may land. Side note – If Vermont and whichever school Smith attends next year are scheduled against each other then I hope Smith fails miserably for 40 minutes.
In regards to the four other Vermont seniors, it was recently announced that they will all be returning for another season in the green and gold. This is fantastic news for Vermont, as all four were key contributing players for the Catamounts this past year. Shungu and Mazzulla were both starters last year and it seems safe to assume their roles won’t be changing. Patella and Murphy each gave solid minutes off the bench and while they might earn a starting nod should John Becker tinker with his starting line-up, having players of their caliber and experience coming off the bench is an absolute luxury.
Roster Outlook 2021-22
After the season ended there was a growing concern that Vermont could be in store for a roster overhaul. Which seniors would elect to return, who might be entering the transfer portal and would John Becker return to the helm were all hot-button topics. Now that we know that four of the five seniors have made their decisions to run it back once more for Vermont, it seems relatively safe to assume that John Becker will also be roaming the sidelines at Patrick Gym yet again. The will he go, will he stay saga of John Becker is too much to dive into at this time, but it’s hard to imagine that these four seniors would stay if they knew that Coach Becker was already half-way out the door.
As of this moment here is how Vermont’s 2021-21 roster shakes out:
Kevin Garrison (walk-on)
Deng Adiang (walk-on)
Nick Fiorillo* (walk-on who likely earn a scholarship)
*Will have an extra year of eligibility
With 11 upperclassmen on the roster this is arguably the most experienced group of players John Becker will have ever had at his disposal. It’s still waaaaaaay too early to start making predictions for next year, but a senior-laden team of this caliber is without a doubt an early favorite to win the America East title.
In the short-term the news of those four seniors returning is huge win for Vermont, but what type of rippling affects will it have on the rest of the roster? Players like Aaron Deloney, Eric Beckett, Duncan Demuth and even Georges Lefebvre might have all been expecting to take on bigger roles, but now may be forced to remain as back-ups/reserve players yet again. Typically by the time a player reaches their junior and senior years they’re expected to take on more responsibilities, yet this logjam of seniors has put a snare in those plans.
There’s been little to no talk or indications that outside of Smith any other Catamount would be taking their talents elsewhere next winter, so there isn’t much to merit a conversation around. Those previously mentioned four players would likely be the names to keep tabs on, but unless they’re promised an immediate role elsewhere, we should assume that they’ll be back in Burlington.
One other tidbit in regards to transfer rumors would be the hiring of now former Vermont assistant, Hamlet Tibbs at Albany. First off, congrats to Coach Tibbs on joining new Albany men’s basketball coach Dwayne Killings staff – again we all wish him and Albany the best except on days when they play Vermont. Now, would Coach Tibbs poach any Catamounts? Coach Tibbs was incredibly well-liked and has a great rapport with the players so it’s worth noting. Similarly, Albany has already lost a number of their key players to the transfer portal and will have plenty of minutes available at numerous positions.
Sam Alamutu and Evan Guillory are currently the only two new faces expected to join Vermont next year. Both appear to be phenomenal pick-ups for the Cats and their roles at Vermont will be covered more in-depth at future time, but at this moment it’s hard to imagine either receiving much playing time with this roster. Alamutu and Guillory both already have that grown-ass-man strength and can jump straight out of the building, so as much as I want to see Alamutu break some rims or Guillory yell out “I do this shit!” after posterizing some kid, it’ll likely have to wait another year.
If either Alamutu or Guillory can find a way to earn 10+ minutes a game on this upperclassmen heavy roster it will be an absolute testament to their God-given ability. As of this moment Vermont does have one remaining scholarship. Had only two or three of the seniors returned I would’ve campaigned for a high-quality three-point shooter or defensive-minded big man from the transfer portal, (or a 5’9” washed-up blogger) but now with four of the five seniors returning this last scholarship should be used elsewhere. My choice would preferably be finding another freshman rather than a transfer at this point. Ideally it would be someone who has a lot of raw potential but needs to sit for a year or two to hammer out their game. This would bode well for the future of Vermont basketball as it would give the Cats a solid young nucleolus of Lefebvre, Fiorillo, Alamutu and Guillory.
Keep in mind that everything you just read could change by tomorrow. That’s showbiz baby. Do people still say that?