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Canisius men's preview: Reggie faces building project

Team: Canisius.

Affiliation: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Coach: Reggie Witherspoon (1st year).

Last year: 14-19, 8-12 (7th).

Just in case there are any Canisius College basketball fans harboring any delusions, let’s be clear: New coach Reggie Witherspoon has a lot of work to do.

The Golden Griffins went 14-19 last year. They were awful on defense, weak in the low post and poor on the backboards.

Retired coach Jim Baron did a good job restoring credibility to the program and won a lot of games in his four seasons. But there’s not much left from two of his previous three recruiting classes, players who would be seniors and sophomores this year.

Witherspoon, the 55-year-old Western New York favorite son and former University at Buffalo coach, has a proven track record. He has 240 wins as a college coach and built UB from the ground up. He was 92-66 his last five years at UB. That was a much harder building job than his current task.

Witherspoon brought in five new recruits over the summer to join two promising recruits that Baron inked in the early signing period.

“You’re trying to find out what your guys are capable of,” Witherspoon said. “They’re trying to find out what’s expected of them. So we have to marry the two of those together. We’ll have to work our way through that part.”

Strengths: The Griffs return three solid starters in 6-foot-7 forward Phil Valenti (14.6 ppg), 6-3 off-guard Kassius Robertson (14.1) and 6-6 forward Jermaine Crumpton (10.4).

Niagara Falls native Jermaine Crumpton. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Niagara Falls native Jermaine Crumpton. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

“Those three would be the nucleus,” Witherspoon said. “I feel good about those three, and I’ve said this to the team. We need Kiefer Douse to step in that role, too.”

Douse, a 6-3 slasher, averaged just 12.4 minutes and 3.2 points last year. He’s athletic and can play an up-tempo game.

Valenti is multi-skilled. He averaged 6.1 rebounds, plays intense and offers good leadership. Robertson ranked third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in three-point percentage (.404). Crumpton, from Niagara Falls, can stretch the floor with his shot.

The two freshman signed by Baron will play a lot right away. They are 5-10 point guard Malik Johnson, from Richmond, Va., and 6-7 wing Spencer Foley, from Chicago.

“Spencer is an accomplished shooter,” Witherspoon said. “He can shoot it, and he knows he can shoot it.”

“Malik can score, although it’s not necessarily his strong point,” Witherspoon said. “We hope we can ignite a little Tim Winn in him. There are days we see some of that. We’d like to see that all the time.”

Winn was the defensive buzz-saw from Niagara Falls who starred for St. Bonaventure’s 2000 NCAA Tournament team.

Issues: Canisius ranked ninth in the MAAC in points allowed last year (75.6), 10th in field-goal percentage allowed (.465) and ninth in defensive rebounding. A committee of big prospects is going to have to help out Valenti inside. They include 6-11 junior college transfer Selvedin Planincic, 6-8 freshman center Dantai St. Louis and 6-8 sophomore wing Jibreel Faulkner, also junior college transfer. Athletic, 6-8 junior Ronnie Gombe spent all last year work on his skills.

Chris Atkinson (11) gives the Griffs a handle at the point. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

Chris Atkinson (11) gives the Griffs a handle at the point. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

“We need some other people to emerge,” Witherspoon said. “Not necessarily that you’re going to come in and score a lot of points, but that you’re going to defend and rebound and run the floor and do that for enough minutes that we have a rotation there.”

The point guard position may be a committee to start. Sophomore Chris Atkinson (3.5 ppg), a good passer, is back. He will be pushed by both Johnson and 6-5 freshman Isaiah Reese, from Miami. It would help if senior transfer Martin Dixon-Green, coming off two years of injuries, could add some shooting off the bench.

Inside the numbers: Canisius allowed foes to shoot 53.6 percent on two-pointers last year, which ranked 332nd of 351 in the nation. There was too little rim protection, too many rebound put-backs, too many transition scores.

Schedule: The Griffs open at top-five powerhouse Kentucky on Sunday. Only four of the first 13 are at the Koessler Center. Canisius plays UB in the Big 4 Classic Dec. 17 and at Bona Dec. 22. Niagara visits the Koessler Center for a 9 p.m. Friday game (Feb. 10). Monmouth, Siena and Iona are the top three in the MAAC.

Outlook: There are a lot of new pieces to fit together. The Griffs were picked to finish ninth out of 11 in the MAAC. Look for them to improve as the year goes on, particularly if Douse, Johnson and Foley emerge.

The Schedule

Nov. 7 Ryerson, 99-95(exh)
Nov. 13 at Kentucky ^ 6 p.m.
Nov. 15 at Cleveland State ^ 7 p.m.
Nov. 18 at Duquesne ^ 7 p.m.
Nov. 21 UT Martin ^ 7 p.m.
Nov. 23 Tennessee State 7 p.m.
Nov. 26 at Youngstown State 7 p.m.
Dec. 2 at Manhattan * 7 p.m.
Dec. 4 at Monmouth * TBA
Dec. 7 at Boston University 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10 St. Francis Brooklyn 2 p.m.
Dec. 12 Albany 7 p.m.
Dec. 17 Buffalo & 3:30 p.m.
Dec. 22 at St. Bonaventure 7 p.m.
Jan. 2 Siena * 2 p.m.
Jan. 4 Quinnipiac * 7 p.m.
Jan. 8 at Iona * 4 p.m.
Jan. 10 at Fairfield * 7 p.m.
Jan. 14 Marist * 2 p.m.
Jan. 16 Monmouth * 7 p.m.
Jan. 20 at Quinnipiac * 7 p.m.
Jan. 23 at Niagara * 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 Manhattan * 2 p.m.
Jan. 30 Rider * 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 at Siena * 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 at Saint Peter’s * 7 p.m.
Feb. 10 Niagara * 9 p.m.
Feb. 14 Iona * 7 p.m.
Feb. 17 at Rider * 7 p.m.
Feb. 19 at Marist * TBA
Feb. 24 Fairfield * 7 p.m.
Feb. 26 Saint Peter’s * 2 p.m.
Mar. 2-6 MAAC Tournament
* MAAC Games
^ Bluegrass Showcase
% Big 4 Classic at KeyBank Center

The Roster

No. Name Pos. Cl. Ht. Wt. Hometown High School
00 Ronnie Gombe F Jr. 6-8 230 Nairobi, Kenya Valley Forge Military College
1 Malik Johnson G Fr. 5-10 155 Richmond, Va. Blue Ridge School
2 Jermaine Crumpton F Jr. 6-6 245 Niagara Falls Niagara Falls
3 Martin Dixon-Green G Sr. 6-3 205 Toronto Indian Hills CC
4 Kiefer Douse G Sr. 6-3 175 Brampton, Ont. Lee Academy
5 Kassius Robertson G Jr. 6-3 175 Toronto Thornlea Secondary
10 Selvedin Planincic C Jr. 6-11 210 Sherbrooke, Quebec Indian Hills CC
11 Chris Atkinson G So. 5-9 155 Hempstead Long Island Lutheran
13 Isaiah Reese G Fr. 6-5 185 Miami DME Academy
14 Spencer Foley G Fr. 6-7 190 Chicago Commonwealth Academy (Mass.)
22 Phil Valenti F Sr. 6-7 200 Victor Aquinas Institute
23 Dantai St. Louis F Fr. 6-8 235 Fr. Brampton, Ont. Orangeville Prep
25 Tyrell Taylor F So. 6-5 183 Brooklyn Uncommon Charter
32 Jibreel Faulkner F So. 6-8 200 Washington, D.C. San Jacinto JC

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