Coming off possibly the most successful season for St. Bonaventure men’s basketball since making the Final Four in 1970, this year’s Bonnies look very different from last year’s team.
That team last year beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome for the first time ever, enjoyed a 14-game win streak and won its first NCAA Tournament game in 48 years. This year they’ll look to pick up right where they left off.
However, they will be without all three captains from last year’s squad. Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley and Idris Taqqee all made their final appearances for the Bonnies in the team’s 77-62 loss to the University of Florida in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64.
“We’ve lost a lot,” said head coach Mark Schmidt. “But we’ve built this program on those young guys taking that next step in their development, and that’s the hope here.”
Leadership will be key to the success of this year’s team. Not only did the Bonnies lose 42 points per game, 186 threes and 280 assists from last year’s captains, but the team lost three talented ball players who led by example on and off the court.
“What I say in the locker room is really important,” said Schmidt, “But what’s said when I leave the locker room is more important. That’s what leadership is about.”
One standout from last year’s team who is ready to lead this young squad is senior forward Courtney Stockard. Stockard was arguably the team’s hottest player heading into the tournament late in the season and took control of the First Four win over UCLA with a game-high 26 points.
“It means everything,” Stockard said on becoming a captain this year. “I want to be a leader for the young guys and show them what we did last season, so we can potentially get back to where we were or be even better.”
His task, along with co-captains LaDarien Griffin and Nelson Kaputo, will be much different than that of last year’s captains. The team this year features five new players who expect to compete for regular playing time: freshmen guards Kyle Lofton, Dom Welch and Alpha Okoli, junior forward Melki Moreaux from Northeast CC in Nebraska, and freshman big man Osun Osunniyi.
Stockard did acknowledge that leading this young group would be different and could potentially take some time.
“It’s all about setting short term goals,” Stockard said. “We need to get the new guys used to the system. We may struggle a little to start, but I don’t think that’s going to hurt us as long as we’re playing our best basketball in March.”
One new addition who could instantly fill a huge hole in Bonaventure’s backcourt is junior guard Jalen Poyser.
Poyser sat out last season per NCAA rules after transferring to St. Bonaventure from UNLV but was able to practice with the team and learn under what was possibly the best backcourt in school history.
While sitting out for an entire season can undoubtedly be frustrating, Poyser used the opportunity to stay focused and come into this season ready to fill the huge hole in St. Bonaventure’s backcourt.
“My IQ has gotten better and I’m really able to slow down the game,” Poyser said. “I can make quicker decisions and I feel like I got stronger. Coach Schmidt emphasizes being in the gym every day and that’s not something I used to do at UNLV, but that’s something I’ve been doing since I’ve been here.”
Kaputo seemed just as excited as Poyser himself about the transfer guard playing this year.
“I think everyone is going to like him,” Kaputo said. “I’ve known him since we played on the same AAU team in eighth grade. In terms of chemistry, we haven’t skipped a beat since high school which makes it easier for him to gel with everyone else too.”
Not only did this year’s captains have to focus on new leadership roles this offseason, they each spent hours every day on their own games knowing that without Adams and Mobley, the Atlantic 10’s highest scoring offense last season would have to find new ways to produce.
“I’ve become a much better shooter,” Griffin said. “I just want to be more versatile and continue to be efficient on offense.”
With so many new faces on the team this year, it’ll be up to the returning upperclassmen to get the most out of both each other and the younger guys.
“The urgency has to be there from the beginning, not just in conference play,” Griffin said. “We have to treat every game like a tournament game and carry momentum on from the beginning of the season.”
Despite a much different look for the Bonnies this year, Kaputo emphasized one mantra that’s become the team slogan.
“We don’t rebuild, we reload.”