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Despite transfers, Niagara coach Chris Casey says atmosphere is fine and team set up to succeed

Niagara University men’s basketball coach Chris Casey said Friday there is nothing wrong with his program, and he’s confident his core of remaining players are set up to succeed next season.

Casey has lost seven of his 12 scholarship players to transfer this year, including stalwart forward Ramone Snowden.

“Is there something going on? No,” Casey told The News. “It’s what the culture seems to be right now, and we have to figure out a way to get a handle on it.”

That’s a reference to an uptick in transfers nationwide in Division I basketball.

“We’ve had some guys leave the program,” Casey said. “It’s a national issue. There’s approaching 800 guys on the national transfer list. It’s something the NCAA is looking at to see how they can fix it.”

Casey just finished his second season on Monteagle Ridge. His squad, ranked the third youngest of 351 Division I teams in the nation last season, finished 8-22. It was picked for last in the 11-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and finished ninth.

It’s common for teams to lose a young player or two who aren’t getting playing time. It’s common for teams to lose numerous players to transfer when there is a coaching change. Five left Niagara right away two years ago when former coach Joe Mihalich resigned. It’s uncommon to lose seven of 12 players when there is no coaching change. Reserve forward James Suber joined the list Friday, announcing his decision on his Twitter account. Casey stressed the attitude on the team was and is good.

“The atmosphere is fine here,” he said. “There’s no issue with the atmosphere, and that’s why I say I’m very confident that the university and the basketball program did a lot of good things for these athletes. I don’t have any regrets in terms of anything I’ve done with them, academically, as people or on the basketball court.”

“I still feel we’re in the process of moving in the right direction,” Casey said. “They chose to explore other opportunities. There’s some disappointment here at the university on it, but we move on and we continue to recruit.”

Niagara has lost 16 players to transfer since Casey took over two years ago. Overall, seven of those were players recruited by Casey.

Casey pointed to the fact his team won four of its last five games as evidence his staff had not lost the squad.

“Unity is fine,” he said. “You’re not able to have an extremely young team and struggle through a season and then win your last four games – three of them on the road – if there’s no unity. At that point some teams quit rather than come together. There’s no unity issues as evidenced by that.”

Snowden, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Virginia Beach, Va., ranked second on the team in scoring at 10.9 ppg and first in rebounding at 6.1 a game. He’s the one big loss. He committed to attend Old Dominion, near his home, out of high school. But even though he was eligible by NCAA standards, Old Dominion did not ultimately grant him admission. He switched to Niagara late in the recruiting process, just a month before his freshman semester. Snowden was complimentary of Casey in an interview with the Niagara Gazette this week.

“I thought he was developed very well here,” Casey said. “I thought he had a lot of freedom to play and he produced a lot, given those opportunities. . . . He wanted to get closer to home. That’s what he said to me.”

The other key contributor who transferred was sophomore guard Wes Myers, who averaged 9.4 points and 29.4 minutes.

“He was given a lot of opportunity and I thought he showed a ton of improvement given those opportunities, and he was certainly in our plans going forward,” Casey said.

Also gone: guard Rayvon Harris (17.6 minutes a game), and little-used reserves Julian Richardson, DayJar Dickson, Anders Skou Hansen and Suber. Hansen left the team in late January. Suber averaged 9.8 minutes and 2.3 points.

“We had a couple that were not unexpected in terms of transfer because of playing time,” Casey acknowledged.

Who’s left? Leading scorer Emile Blackman, a guard, who averaged 14.6 ppg in conference as a sophomore. Forward Dominique Reid looks like a budding star. He averaged 11.4 a game and made the MAAC all-freshman team. Guard Karonn Davis averaged 30.5 minutes and 7.5 points. Guard Cameron Fowler averaged 10 minutes, and 1.5 points.

“How do I feel about core?” Casey said of those six. “I feel fine about the core, and we’ll keep moving forward and try to add to the core. I expect Emile to be an all-league player next year. I expect Dom to be an all-league player next year. I think Karonn and Matt are both in that neighborhood. I expect those guys to come and be ready to play. I think everybody we have can take a big step forward.”

Niagara received a commitment from 6-7 Dominic Robb, who played at a New Jersey prep school this season. (The university hasn’t officially announced it yet.) Robb may get a lot of playing time early.

Casey has six scholarships to give and has a lot of work to do on the team’s depth.

“I’m confident that we’ve done a very good job with these athletes as a university, growing them as people, growing them as students who achieve in the classroom, and growing their basketball skills, as evidenced by their improvement,” Casey said. “I’m confident we did the right things by them. They chose, like a number of other kids unfortunately in this kind of climate, to see if there are other opportunities out there for them.”

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