Everyone Looks Better in the Green & Gold
Thanks to the one-time NCAA exception, all college athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility. Vermont took full advantage of this exception as Ben Shungu, Bailey Patella, Justin Mazzulla and Tomas Murphy all opted to return for another shot at the America East crown (Mazzulla and Murphy might have been deemed eligible to return regardless, but that’s neither here nor there at this point). In fact, only All-Conference guard Stef Smith elected to leave, as he’ll be taking his talents to the potentially greener pastures at St. Johns.
The 2021-22 Catamount team will be filled with a lot of familiar faces, yet that didn’t stop Coach Becker and his staff from bringing aboard a handful of freshmen and transfers to fill out the rest of the roster. As of this moment the Vermont roster is currently overflowing with talent, as 19 (!) players are officially listed. Unlike a season ago, the Cats will partake in an out of conference schedule to begin the year, which should provide ample time for the coaching staff to tinker with different rotations and properly gauge who will ultimately become their core players for the year. Come conference play time the Cats will condense their rotation to around 9-10 players, but throughout the OOC portion it wouldn’t be surprising to see anywhere from 13-15 players rotate accordingly throughout those games.
Losing a player of Smiths caliber is never easy to replace, but ideally his production will now be spread out accordingly by both existing and new Catamounts. Those new Cats include three freshmen – Sam Alamutu, Evan Guillory and Michel Ndayishimiye, along with two transfers – Kam Gibson and Finn Sullivan. Coach Becker tends to show an affinity to players with experience over those who are still a bit green, meaning we’re more inclined to see Gibson and Sullivan before we see the likes Alamutu, Guillory and Ndayishimiye. There’s a lot to like about all of these prospects but out of those aforementioned five, which one are you most excited to see step on the hardwood?
The Incoming Freshmen
Sam Alamutu | Guard
Alamutu has yet to play a single minute for the Cats but he’s already quickly approaching fan-favorite status, thanks in large to the rave reviews of him dominating during these summer scrimmages. Hearing these early reports of Alamutu’s dominance does make me quite giddy, but keep in mind that it’s still very early and the last thing we should be doing is put exceedingly high expectations on a kid who has yet to play in an actual game. However, if these rumors and whispers hold true, Alamutu could be one of the most electrifying players to come through Burlington since Marqus Blakely.
The young Canadian native boast a level of size, speed and strength that is typically reserved for the much larger power-five schools, so having someone of his caliber in the Cats line-up will be an absolute joy to watch. Nonetheless, Alamutu still faces an uphill battle for playing, as the Cats are once again overloaded with guards. His strength and athleticism does provide some interchangeability between the guard and wing spots, which considering Vermont’s lack of depth in that department could be the avenue the coaching staff opts for. Let’s hope Vermont has an insurance policy on their rims because SHEEEEEESH!
Evan Guillory | Guard
Guillory has seemingly been the forgotten man of this new batch of Catamount faces, but make no mistake about it, this cat can ball. While his fellow class of 2025 running mate Alamutu has garnered plenty of hype already, Guillory arrives in Burlington with a very similar skillset and style of play to that of Alamutu. At 6’4” with grown-ass man strength and above the rim athleticism to boot, Guillory projects to be an impact player for the Cats for years to come. How much we’ll see of Guillory in year one is still unclear, but don’t expect the Mizzo native to spend the entire season at the end of the bench.
Similar to Alamutu, Guillory’s size and strength should allow him to slide over to the three spot if need be. However, Guillory is a point guard by nature and excels extremely well with the ball in his hands whether he’s looking to create a shot or facilitate as a distributor. Jumping the likes of Robin Duncan and Aaron Deloney for those back-up point minutes won’t be easy, but if he can flash enough of his potential in year one we might have ourselves a starting point guard competition come 2022.
Michel Ndayishimiye | Guard
Even though he’s likely to never see any court appearances outside of the annual division three cakewalk, the Burlington native likely still has a large number of supporters behind him. It’s only a matter of time before the walk-on freshmen Ndayishimiye picks up that redshirt designation. To many, a redshirt year often translates that the coaching staff doesn’t believe said player is not ready to contribute and needs more time. Some players might see that designation as a disappointment, but in Ndayishimiyes case a redshirt is actually a blessing in disguise.
The majority of walk-ons won’t ever contribute to a teams success outside of practice. A hard-working few might be able to cut it as role players and an even more select few become actual contributors. Ben Shungu is one of those select few. And possibly Nick Fiorillo if he can continues to develop his game. However, just because Vermont has been able to find diamonds where others find dirt doesn’t mean that Ndayishimiye will follow the same path. Ndayishimiye has a loooong path ahead of him, but if he sticks with it we might see the former Rice standout making it rain in Patrick Gym come 2023.
The Incoming Transfers
Kam Gibson | Guard
Gibson was the first transfer to commit to Vermont this past spring and while his addition to this year’s squad wasn’t a huge surprise, many believed (myself included) that the Cats would be targeting a wing or big rather than another guard. Nonetheless I’m extremely excited to see Gibson in action, as he provides the Cats with some much-needed perimeter shooting. He also fits the mold to a T as for what Coach Becker wants out of his guards. Size (6’4”), shooting (39% career 3pt) and interchangeability between the 1-3 spots.
It’s possible that Gibson picks up the starting nod alongside Shungu and Mazzulla in the backcourt. His ability to stretch teams beyond the perimeter would force opposing defenses to play outside rather than collapse the paint and swarm Davis underneath. Regardless, if Gibson starts or not, he should factor into the Cats plans quite heavily. I predict that Gibson will catch fire in at least one game this year and drop 25+.
Finn Sullivan | Guard
Somewhat of a late transfer, Sullivan joins the Cats after spending the previous three years on the always sunny campus of San Diego University. Again, it was a bit odd to see the Cats add yet another guard into the mix when their wing and forward depth could use some bolstering but having the chance to gain a player of Sullivan’s caliber was too good to pass up. The Kurt Rambis lookalike had his hands almost everywhere while at SDU, as you would routinely see his name throughout the entire box score.
Much like Gibson, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Sullivan get a run with the starting five. The San Diego native is an effective shooter, excellent distributor, solid rebounder and tenacious defender. Coach Becker loves players who have that proven experience and with 74 career games under his belt, Sullivan fits the bill. I wouldn’t call Sullivan “flashy”, but I think a lot of people in Burlington are going to be surprised by how sneaky athletic Sullivan is.