The powers-that-be at Canisius liked the job that head coach Tom Parrotta did in his first year with the men's basketball team so much they already gave him a contract extension.
The Golden Griffins are young, to be sure, and will suffer all the drawbacks that come with youth. But this is a talented squad that may just be undervalued in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Frank Turner. It says a lot about the current state of your team when your team leader is just a sophomore, but Turner distinguished himself in the second half of his freshman campaign. The 5-foot-10 guard was the MAAC Co- Rookie of the Year, averaging 11.9 points per game while his 5.4 assists per game ranked second in the league.
Turner earned preseason honors, being named to the All-MAAC Second Team by the league's coaches.
Second-year coach Parrotta is high on Turner and his abilities but also feels that this year the team will have more offensive weapons so the bulk of the scoring pressure does not fall on Turner.
"This year, I think we have guys in place who can make plays," Parrotta said. "Last year, it would get late in the shot clock and it would be up to Frank to make a play. I don't think it's all going to be on him this year."
Expected to help Turner in the backcourt is junior college transfer Willie Hassell, a natural scorer who earned third-team NJCAA All-America honors after averaging 15.1 points, 2.4 assists and two steals a game as a sophomore at Mineral Area College in Missouri.
Also in the backcourt is freshman Julius Coles, who at 6-4, 180 pounds fills the team's need for a big body in the guard position.
Among the most anticipated freshmen in the conference is Elton Frazier. The 6-5, 200-pounder from Syracuse will likely play the three (small forward) or four (power forward) spot for the Griffs. He was a top 100 recruit as rated by USA Today and was picked as the top newcomer in the conference by the Sporting News.
Look for sophomore guard Jovan Robinson to show improvement. He played in all 31 games for the Griffs last season and brings some experience to the team.
Look at the roster and it's like reading the list of a "Intro to Basketball" class: freshman, freshman, sophomore, freshman. Youth reigns for the Golden Griffins this year, which can bring anything from exuberance and the pleasantly unexpected to confusion and the not-so-pleasantly unexpected.
Parrotta tends to focus on the good that the youth movement brings his club.
"The first week, practices were three hours long but they felt like they were six hours long," Parrotta said. "With so many new guys, we're not able to move along as quickly with things as I would like. We're constantly stopping and guys are asking questions. The good thing is that they are asking questions and they are eager to learn."
While Turner has proven to be a capable scorer and Parrotta sees plenty of potential for putting the ball in the basket among other players, the Griffs do have question marks when it comes to points. In graduating Chuck Harris, Darnell Wilson and Corey Herring, Canisius lost 53 percent of its offense.
The Griffs have no favors on the schedule. After opening at home with Colgate, they go on the road for five straight games. While time on the road with a young team can be a good thing, this particular stretch is not what Parrotta wanted. Still, it will give him a chance early to see the character of his team and how it responds in hostile environments.
When it comes to conference play, teams like to beat each other up. Look for a .500 season from the Griffs with the ability to surprise teams late in the season, particularly if the freshmen class jump-starts its track on the learning curve.
This is the third of five days of college basketball preview stories.
Sunday: University at Buffalo.
Wednesday: St. Bonaventure, plus local non-Division I and junior colleges.
Thursday: Syracuse and Rodney McKissic's Top 25.