Who Will be America East Newcomer of the Year?
Today is the first day of Autumn. The leaves are changing, the temperature is dropping, and basic white girls everywhere are flocking to Starbucks for their Pumpkin Spice Latte fix (itâ€™s actually pretty damn good). But even better than dreaming about the latest pumpkin spice whatever is the return of college basketball. According to Jon Rothstein, weâ€™re officially (checks notes) 48 days from tip-off and I couldnâ€™t be more excited to see how the America East takes shape.
With the NCAA gifting another year of eligibility for returning seniors with a one-year waiver exception thereâ€™s going be a lot of familiar faces running up and down the hardwood this year. But what about the new faces? From top to bottom the America East added a ton of talent across the board, so letâ€™s get acquainted with who will likely be each teamâ€™s best new addition for the 2021-22 season.
Stony Brook Seawolves
Elijah Olaniyi â€“ Guard/Forward
Letâ€™s start with a familiar face turned new face turned familiar face. Elijah Olaniyi returns to his old stomping grounds in Long Island after spending a one-year hiatus away from the Seawolves down in Miami. When Olaniyi announced that heâ€™d be departing Stony Brook it was a bit of shock. The Seawolves were loaded with talent and looked poised to make a run at the America East title with Olaniyi leading the charge. In fact, many pundits had even named Olaniyi as the favorite to capture the America East Player of Year award, but sadly for Stony Brook those dreams never came to fruition.
Before joining the Hurricanes, Olaniyi had put together a monster junior campaign for the Sea Wolves where he averaged 18 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. His numbers dipped a bit Miami (10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) but thatâ€™s to be expected when making the jump from the America East to the ACC. Olaniyi was a solid contributor for the Hurricanes, but his time in South Beach pales in comparison to when he was Seawolf. Now that heâ€™s back in New York the Seawolves and Olaniyi have a chance to be special. (Cue â€œIâ€™m coming homeâ€)
Albany Great Danes
Gerald Drumgoole Jr. â€“ Guard/Forward
Some of you might remember Drumgoole from a few years ago when Vermont was hot on his tail during the recruitment process. Coming out of high school Drumgoole looked the part of a true division one player, as he was a three-star recruit and had multiple mid and high major offers. Drumgoole ultimately elected to take his talents to Pittsburgh, though unfortunately was never quite able to become a consistent part of the rotation averaging a mere 1.5 points and 0.9 rebounds a game during his two seasons as a Panther.
The Rochester, New York native now returns closer to home as he hopes to finally maximize on his potential under new Albany head coach Dwayne Killings. The Great Danes have gone through a massive overhaul already since parting ways with longtime head coach Will Brown at the end of the season. Drumgoole has a great opportunity in front of him to become the face of the Great Danes during Coach Killings first year at the helm.
New Hampshire Wildcats
Sloan Seymour â€“ Forward
Another former prospect who was highly touted by Vermont during his recruitment process. Seymour instead chose to enroll at Siena and after a strong freshman season which saw the 6â€™9â€ forward play 33 games and average 9.1 points it appeared that Seymourâ€™s stock was on the rise. Sadly, the wheels started to come off shortly after that. Seymour transferred to George Washington the following year and would end up missing the entire 2019-20 season. His brief time as Colonial also saw a significant drop in production, playing in only 12 games and averaging 4.3 ppg just a season ago.
Nonetheless Seymour should have better luck in Durham this year. His relatively slim build and style of play should complement that of Nick Guadarrama quite well and ideally keep the Wildcats as a contender for the America East crown. Three different schools in four years is never a good sign, but itâ€™s now or never for the once promising young forward.
Kam Gibson â€“ Guard
Early season whispers indicate that freshman guard Sam Alamutu could be the Cats best new addition and he may very well be, but for now that designation falls on incoming transfer Kam Gibson. As a freshman at Western Carolina, Gibson was a main focal point the other Catamounts. He put up averages of 13.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists a game. However, Gibson regressed the following two years, dropping from 13.6 points to 8.6 and then 6.1 most recently. His role with Vermont will be much more complimentary rather than primary, so his points per game average likely wonâ€™t change too much but ideally his efficiency should be much improved.
The tipping point for Gibson getting the nod over fellow new Catamount players is his three-point shooting and ability to play on the wing â€“ two potentially concerning spots for Vermont. With a highly respectable 39% clip from beyond the arc, Gibson should be able to get plenty of looks in a Cats offense that loves to work the perimeter. The ex-Catamount turned new-Catamount should be an excellent fit in the green and gold this year.
Ray Salnave – Guard
Are the Retrievers contenders or pretenders? They finished first in the America East just a season ago, but the departure of head coach Ryan Odom is by far the biggest loss to any America East team this past year and seeing their two best players of Brandon Horvath and R.J. Eytle-Rock jump ship with Odom only adds to that sting. However, the addition of Ray Salnave will help ease that blow, as he should be able to fit seamlessly into Eytle-Rocks former role at the point.
Salnave began his career at Monmouth and through three years helped carry the program playing in 95 games while averaging 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game. Salnave would then elect to transfer over to DePaul for his senior year only to his production drop significantly â€“ 6.3 points, 3 rebounds and 1.3 assists a game. Expect numbers closer to his time at Monmouth rather than DePaul as Salnave will likely have to shoulder a much larger workload. UMBC might not be able to repeat as the top dog out the America East this year, but theyâ€™ll definitely be a strong dark horse contender.
Maine Black Bears
Chris Efretuei – Forward
I canâ€™t believe Iâ€™m saying this, but Maine is going to be must-watch TV next year â€“ kinda. For context the Black Bears ceiling is likely middle of the pack in America East but the addition of 7â€™1â€ Chris Efretuei cannot be understated. You canâ€™t coach height and boy oh boy does Efretuei have plenty of that. Good luck to every opposing team who tries to attack the post with Efretuei and Stephane Ingo roaming the paint.
After spending the previous two years at Louisiana-Monroe, Efretuei joins the Black Bears because he loves frigid water and lobsters? (Seriously no idea why he elected to transfer to Maine) His time at Louisiana-Monroe was decent, averaging 5.1 points and 4.2 rebounds a game, however for someone with his towering length those rebounding numbers should be much higher. Efretuei is far from a polished player, but his tantalizing size gives him a huge advantage. Hopefully the coaching staff can help provide the right guidance for this young man to progress at the game he loves.
UMass-Lowell River Hawks
Ayinde Hikim â€“ Guard
The River Hawks are hoping to build off last yearâ€™s incredible America East playoff run, but without star guard Obadiah Noel that chances of that are slim to none. New addition Ayinde Hikim will help try to fill the void left by Noel, though the former LaSalle guard has some mighty big shoes to fill. The River Hawks were a nice surprise a season ago, but even with Hikim theyâ€™ll likely find themselves fighting tooth and nail just to stay out of the America East basement.
Hikimâ€™s career began with a solid start as he played 29 games while averaging 6.1 points and 3.4 assists a game, though he unfortunately would regress the following year averaging only 4 points and 2.5 assists a game. He should receive more opportunities at UML, but itâ€™s tough to picture a team with so little talent going on another Cinderella-esque run once again.
John McGriff â€“ Guard
Another year, another star Binghamton departure. One year after losing star point guard Sam Sessoms, the Bearcats lost another highly talented guard in Brenton Mills to the transfer portal. Thoughts and prayers to Tony Kornheiser. Binghamton isnâ€™t going to be much of a contender for the America East crown this year, but new addition John McGriff has the potential be a special player in the years to come â€“ if he stays. As a freshman last year McGriff was buried at the end of the St. Johns bench and never seemed find his footing. A drop down to Binghamton doesnâ€™t look great on paper but it could be exactly what he needs to refocus his career.
Coming out of high school McGriff was a highly touted prospect (three-star rating) but as often is the case those ratings can be misleading at the next level. Regardless, the talent level is certainly there and perhaps all McGriff needs is consistent playing time to help him develop into the player many believed he could become. At the very least itâ€™ll be fun to watch him take a bite out of crime.
Jacob Mansson â€“ Guard/Forward
Thereâ€™s a chance incoming forward Matt Faw earns the recognition of NJITâ€™s best new addition due to his experience, though freshman Jacob Mansson could ultimately turn into a unicorn for the Highlanders. Expect NJIT to utilize the 6â€™7â€ Euro guard in a similar fashion to that of Vermontâ€™s Robin Duncan. His floor spacing and passing ability is what sets him apart, though NJIT will likely need him to do more than just facilitate the point now that their leading scorer Zach Cooks has departed.
The America East is top-heavy and unfortunately for the Highlanders theyâ€™re likely going to be on the outside looking in. Mansson is a great building for the program and ideally heâ€™ll be there for all four years. If he can develop and progress as the year goes on NJIT will be in a much better place come next year.
Jared Kimbrough â€“ Forward
>The reigning America East champs are still likely contenders despite having arguably the worst offseason. The Hawks didnâ€™t lose an abundance of talent or their head coach, no, instead they were essentially demoted to division three despite making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The move wonâ€™t become official for another few years, but how on Earth are you supposed to recruit kids when their scholarships become void before theyâ€™re set on graduating? Granted I was upset when Hartford beat Vermont, but Iâ€™d never wish such a slow and painful death upon any of my enemies.
The good news is that for the time being theyâ€™ll be playing with absolutely nothing to lose and the addition of Jared Kimbrough should at least help steady the ship for now. The former La Salle Explorer was solid albeit unspectacular during his three-year tenure there. For his career Kimbrough produced averages of 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds over the course of 75 games. Hartford has very little depth in their frontcourt so Kimbrough should get plenty of minutes this year. If the Hawks win repeat as America East champs they have to stay in division one right?