It's been difficult to generate excitement for the St. Bonaventure men's basketball team the last few years. Poor records and, frankly, boring games have made the once biggest draw in the Big 4 a snooze fest.
But Mark Schmidt is ready to infuse the Bonnies with a new outlook. The Bonnies may not show a lot of success on the scoreboard, but Schmidt's attitude along with his plan to create entertaining basketball will definitely be the proverbial breath of fresh air.
It's a new staff and a new attitude in Olean these days and it's a lot more than talk. The atmosphere around the Reilly Center has improved greatly with the arrival of Schmidt, who brings sincere enthusiasm and energy to the program -- something that had been lacking as St. Bonaventure languished at the bottom of the college basketball world for the last few years.
The team returns three senior starters who will likely be staples in the lineup -- forward Michael Lee and guards Zarryon Fereti and Tyler Relph. Lee is the leading returning scorer, averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. Fereti, who missed the final four games last year after a dispute with then-head coach Anthony Solomon, averaged 12.1 points while Relph averaged 9.8 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Fans will be grateful for Schmidt's offensive philosophy -- scoring points in transition. If entertaining offense puts fans in the seats, the Reilly Center could be a fun place to watch a game again.
"We need to become competitive. For a young team, we've got to try to put a good product on the floor, especially at home," Schmidt said. "We're going to push the ball. It's hard to score against a set defense so we've got to try and push the ball up and get something easy in transition. I want guys who play hard and play together. If we do that we'll have some success."
That offense may be fun to watch, but games are won on the defensive side of the ball -- a place where Bona struggled mightily last season.
Opponents averaged 78 points against the Bonnies last year, shooting 48.7 percent from the field.
Youth and inexperience also go against the Bonnies.
"It's not like we have a nucleus of guys who have been there, done that," Schmidt said. "Now we've got seven or eight [newcomers] who are clueless. Usually you're only as good as your veteran guys but our veteran guys don't really understand how it's done because of the lack of success that they have had."
Add to that low numbers. Two transfers -- forward Maurice Thomas (UTEP) and guard Chris Matthews (Washington State) -- will sit out this year while freshman forward Da'Quan Cook is still awaiting word from the NCAA clearinghouse on his eligibility. It boils down to a bench with about seven or eight healthy players, putting freshmen in the line of fire immediately.
Oh, it won't be a pretty record, but Schmidt seems to be the guy to get Bona basketball back on track. Relying heavily on freshmen will mean inconsistency throughout the season, and even within games. If the offense gets in gear and the defense shows signs of improvement -- it can't get much worse after all -- then the Bonnies should be able to produce some entertaining, competitive games, albeit without many wins.
Don't look for much improvement in the Atlantic 10 record. This team will finish well below .500 but its style of play and attitude could start to win back some fans.