Niagara has 10 players on scholarship and three available roster spots. Four more players opted to leave the team, bringing to 12 the number who have transferred under coach Chris Casey. The rose-colored glasses view? The roster looks better than it did a year ago at this time, and there are potentially some prime scorers who now are eligible. Purple Eagles fans can only hope.
2015-16 Record: 7-25, 5-15 (10th in the MAAC).
Players lost: Emile Blackman (15.8 ppg, 33.4 minutes-pg), Justin Satchell (6.7 ppg, 19.2 mpg), Karonn Davis (4.3 ppg, 20.5 mpg), Cam Fowler (3.4 ppg, 23.1 mpg).
Outlook: Coming off a 10th-place finish, Niagara lost its best player and emotional leader when Blackman decided to take the degree he earned from Niagara and play at Duquesne for his final season of eligibility. Niagara struggled all last season to get over the 60-point hump in games.
Who is going to score? Maybe, just maybe, there are answers. Dukes was a prolific prep scorer in Connecticut and transferred from the University of Southern California. Larin led all Division II freshmen in scoring at Cheyney (Pa.) two years ago. Gatling is a combo guard who probably is more of a 2 than a 1. He averaged 18 points for Long Island's Baldwin High. Towns is a true point guard from Detroit who averaged 24 ppg in helping his team to the state Class title. Niagara needs him to produce right away. Reports indicate Niagara has made an offer to a junior college point guard from Texas (Donovan Fields). It would make sense not to put too much weight on a freshman. Gatling can slide over to the point when needed. Niagara is going to have to try to play a lot of small-ball because theoretically it can roll out four guards who can score.
Robb was a pleasant surprise as a freshman. He and Prochet must keep improving. A junior-college addition up front makes sense. How good are Dukes, Larkin and the freshmen? That will determine whether Niagara can make a leap forward.
Scouting Gatling: Here's what Gatling's high school coach, Baldwin's Darius Burton, had to say about Niagara's latest recruit: "He can shoot it from anywhere. He’s great at catching and shooting and shooting off the dribble. He improved a lot this year at getting to the rim. He doesn’t miss free throws, so we concentrated on getting him to the free throw line a lot this year. He worked on getting people in the air and getting to the line. He was primarily a 2-guard but he also played some point guard down the stretch. I knew at the next level he was going to have to be a combo-guard. . . . His ball-handling has improved a lot, he’s learned to create for others. He has the awareness to penetrate and kick. He has to continue to work on his speed and his quickness and his ball-handling."
Gatling was 13 for 13 from the line in a 26-point performance against Half Hollow Hills in the Long Island AA championship game.
North Carolina A&T, Rider, St. Francis (N.Y.) and St. Peter's were among others interested. Why Niagara? "No. 1 the coaching staff," Burton said. "They expressed interest immediately. They were basically the only school that said they would offer him a scholarship even if he didn’t get a 2.3 (grade-point average in sore courses). They would red-shirt him. There were other schools that wanted to give him a scholarship, but they wanted to wait until the end to see if he got the 2.3. He visited and met the players and walked around campus and had a great visit. He told me he loved it."
Gatling did get the grades to qualify.
Burton: "He’s a great kid, very coachable. He’s like the son that I don’t have."