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BONA'S DEPTH RAISES HIGH HOPES BIG 4 TEAMS ALL USING PRESEASON TO MOLD YOUNG TALENT

Let's get it on.

That is the motto of the St. Bonaventure men's basketball team for the 1997-98 season. With a deeper and more athletic group, the Bonnies fully intend to live up to those words.

"I'm real excited because I think we've got some workers," said coach Jim Baron, who opened preseason practice over the weekend. "We've got some guys who want to be successful, who want to be on this level and I think can be good players at this level. We've got some exciting players and when you have guys like that, you know you're going to fight a battle each night."

Bona lost five players and two starters from a team that finished 14-14 overall and 5-11 in the 12-team Atlantic 10 Conference. However, the optimism surrounding the program is due to the number of talented athletes that remain. Job One for Bona this preseason is blending the skilled players into a cohesive unit.

Baron will use the preseason to work on offensive execution, which was lacking at times last season. After a tremendous freshman year at shooting guard, Tim Winn (LaSalle) will run the offense now that Shandue McNeill has graduated.

Winn, the Bonnies' second-leading scorer last season, will be asked to continue to supply a lot of offense while also being a solid playmaker who makes his teammates better.

"It's going to be a challenge trying to replace Shandue, but it's a challenge I want," said Winn, who will be backed up by freshman Etienne Norris and unproven senior Jamie Moses (Portville). "I'm glad practice has started because we can't wait to get going."

Bona lost 6-foot-4 shooting guard Leandro Paladino to a professional team in his native Argentina, so competition for that job will be between returnees David Capers, James Singleton and junior college transfer Isaac King.

On the front court, 6-5 swingman Rashaan Palmer remains the focal point of the offense. A lack of size inside has hurt Bona over the years and the team ranked 11th in the A-10 in rebounding last season.

However, Peter Van Paassen, a 6-10, 235-pound freshman center from Holland, gives the Bonnies a rugged low-post presence. Add 6-9 shot-blocker Caswell Cyrus, 6-10 Chris Lumsdon and 6-7 Terrence Durham to the mix and Baron feels he finally has the size to compete against the physical teams in the A-10.

"We have less than a month to prepare for our season-opener (Nov. 15 against Bowling Green), so we don't have time to waste," Baron said. "We'll have to grow up early."

Canisius, Niagara and the University at Buffalo also began practice over the weekend. Here's a brief look at the issues facing those teams:

Canisius: As Mike MacDonald begins his first year as coach, his biggest concern is finding a replacement for graduated point guard Javone "Bam" Moore, the team's most valuable and indispensable player. Junior Kevin Worley will be given every opportunity to win the job, while freshman Clive Bentick provides competition.

While they develop, Kevin Thompson will be asked to provide leadership as well as scoring and defense. Griffs fans may find out how important departed center Ryan Collins was to the team. Canisius is young in the middle as sophomore Matt Tribul and top recruit Darren Fenn (Canisius High) will have to be quick studies.

Niagara: The Purple Eagles begin without forward Jermaine Young and guards Jeremiah Johnson and Calvin Murphy Jr., all of whom are serving suspensions after their involvement in a bar fight last month. Coach Jack Armstrong isn't sure when the players will be reinstated, but the wait probably won't be much longer.

Niagara will labor on offense at times. Departed forward Chris Watson was the only proven scorer, so the Purple Eagles seek to spread points around this winter. The play of the guards was a weak spot for Niagara last season. They committed too many turnovers and were poor perimeter defenders. With Johnson and Murphy sidelined, sophomore Luke Dobrich will get practice time he may not have otherwise received.

UB: The good news for Bulls fans is they are loaded at guard with Rasaun Young, Mike Martinho and Matt Clemens being joined by highly touted freshman Ryan Peterson. The bad news is a limited low-post game, which has kept them from making a run at a Mid-Continent Conference title.

Coach Tim Cohane counted on 6-8 forward Clayton Lea and 6-10 center Nate Johnson, but they were redshirted for medical reasons. Zaid Alkhas, a 6-9 sophomore, must rebound from a disappointing season. Cohane also went overseas for help. He expects an immediate impact from Tom Gustafsson, a 6-7 forward from Finland who played in the under-22 European championships last summer. Nikolai Alexeev, a 6-11 and 235-pound banger from Belarus, and 6-8 Maliso Libomi of France will need time to adjust to American-style basketball.

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