By Bob DiCesare
When coach Joe Mihalich left Niagara for Hofstra last month Purple Eagle fans could take comfort in the wealth of talent he was leaving behind.
It’s time to get uncomfortable.
All-conference guard Juan’ya Green and rebounding leader Ameen Tanksley have been granted transfer requests and are leaving the university, athletic department spokesman Derick Thornton confirmed today. The two sophomores are Philadelphia natives and lifelong friends.
he departures are a major blow to a program that won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season championship last year, earning a berth in the NIT. Green was the MAAC’s Freshman of the Year two years ago and last season emerged as a top contender for conference Player of the Year. He averaged 16.5 points and 5 assists while leading the Purple Eagles to a 19-14 record.
Tanksley, a 6-foot-6 swingman, averaged 11.3 points, six rebounds and gave Niagara’s guard-oriented offense a gritty presence on the boards.
It is unclear what restrictions have been attached to their release. Typically schools will block players from transferring within their geographic footprint and/or within their conference. Sometimes the exclusions also include the school of departing coach, in this case Hofstra. Niagara athletic director Tom Crowley is traveling today and has been unavailable for comment.
Could more movement be forthcoming? All-conference guard Antoine Mason indicated last week he plans to remain at Niagara. However, freshman guard Tahjere McCall is another Philadelphia native who could find welcoming arms if he chooses to transfer. McCall played a prominent role as the point guard in this year’s offense and generally was regarded as the foundational block of the program's future. Another freshman, forward T.J. Cline, would find solid interest if he elects to leave.
Before Mihalich’s exit Niagara was expected to lose only one player, fifth-year senior transfer Devon White, from last year’s team. Now new coach Chris Casey has major holes to fill as he slides into his first Division I head coaching job.