Point Park University Men's Basketball 2013-14 Season Preview & Quick Facts
Nov. 5, 2013 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Point Park University Men's Basketball 2013-14: Front Row (L to R): Brandon Camic, Cody Williams, Robbie Heatherington, Gabe McNeal, Kyerell Scott, Romel Powell, Yandell Denis and Cory Henning. Back Row (L to R): Assistant Coach Gabe Bubon, Matt Noszka, Alan Heter, Jared Sturt, Nick Brown, Head Coach Bob Rager, Josh Pohlot, T.J. Lanier, E.J. DeSabato, Fred Webb and Athletic Trainer Kristin Baker. Photo by Evan Skowvron.
PITTSBURGH -- It's a new year for the Point Park University men's basketball team, but the plan remains the same for the Pioneers under 25th-year head coach Bob Rager. The 2013-14 edition of Pioneers men's basketball will once again look to light up the scoreboard with the same firepower that had them lead NAIA Division II in scoring the past two seasons and four out of the last eight years overall.
Point Park, which was 14-11 overall and 8-7 KIAC last year, has 2 of 5 starters returning and 4 of 8 letter winners back on the roster. The Pioneers scored 93.2 ppg in 2012-13 to not only lead the country but set a team record in the process.
The Pioneers have four of their top eight players returning, and they will also look to a group of five transfers to make up the rest of the main playing rotation. If that group can come together and play Point Park's fast-paced style, the ingredients are there for a strong season, according to Rager.
"This team has a lot of potential, but you don't win games on potential," said Rager. "The talent is there, and the skills are there for us to be able to score in a variety of ways. If we take care of business, play our style and play to maxium effort, we have a chance to be a good team. But that won't happen unless we give maximum effort all the time."
Lost to graduation are four players who were all essentially double-digit scorers. The Pioneers must replace KIAC All-Conference G T.J. Heatherington (17.8 ppg), G Jimmy Taylor (10.4 ppg) and 6-9 C Babs Somoye (9.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg) as 2012-13 starters as well as top sub G Asa Braxton (9.7 ppg).
The Pioneers' have two double-digit scorers back from last year with returning starters being senior G Gabe McNeal (Richmond, Va./16.8 ppg) and 6-4 sophomore G/F Matt Noszka (Pittsburgh, Pa./12.1 ppg). Other returning letter winners are senior G Robbie Heatherington (McKeesport, Pa./6.2 ppg) and 6-5 senior F Josh Pohlot (Belle Vernon, Pa./6.3 ppg).
The rest of Point Park's rotation this year will be made up entirely of newcomers with a group of five transfers heading the list. This group, when combined with the four returners, gives the Pioneers a chance to not only pick up right where they left off offensively but also be improved on the defensive end with some added length.
A theme among the newcomers is length and athleticism with NCAA Divsion II transfers F Nick Brown (6-7, Sr., West Liberty), F Alan Heter (6-6, Jr., Edinboro) and G/F T.J. Lanier (6-6, So., Seton Hill) all standing 6-6 or taller with the ability to run the floor. Junior-college transfers G Kyerell Scott (5-10, Jr., Globe Tech CC) and G/F Yandell Denis (6-4, Jr., Erie CC) are other newcomers with plenty of athleticism to add to the backcourt.
"We have a good collection of athletes this year, and we have big men who can run, which is a big advantage," said Rager. "We've had big men in the past, but they weren't always ones who could get up and down with us. Now we are long and athletic, which will make us stronger on both ends. And we have a chance to be stronger on defense than we have been in the past due to our length."
Defensively, Point Park gave up 88.5 ppg last year, which was second to last in NAIA DII. The Pioneers still won 14 games and made the playoffs for the third straight year with their high-scoring offense. With a very long and athletic team, the Pioneers hope to bring down their opponent's scoring average this year and get past the first round of the conference playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.
"We joke around about us not playing any defense," said Rager, "but we don't forget about that end of the floor. Most years we have enough offense to make up for it. This year, I think we could be improved there. But again, it's all about giving maximum effort on both ends."
Rager likes his team's depth, which will go 9-10 deep. That fits into a style the Pioneers like to play, which pushes the pace up and down the floor. Coach Rager also likes the competition that provides for playing time among the team.
"Depth is a strength for us," said Rager. "We don't want to put too much emphasis on who starts. We want to go with the guys who are playing the best. We have a lot of different things we can do with this team, and when the season starts, it's up to the competitive nature of the players to come through. The best guys will play the most."
Point Park opens its season Nov. 6 at home versus Lourdes with a 7 p.m. tipoff at CCAC-South Gym. It is the first of four games in four days to start the year with the Pioneers visiting the Ohio Christian Tournament for three games Nov. 7-9.
Point Park was picked to finish fifth of 10 teams in the KIAC Men's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll (Oct. 29), and they finished fifth in the conference last year, their first season in the KIAC. The Pioneers open KIAC play at home Nov. 12 versus KIAC newcomer IU Kokomo (3 p.m.).
The following is a position breakdown for 2013-14 Point Park University Men's Basketball
Even with Point Park having some of the best height and length that it's had in recent memory, everything starts with the point guard for the Pioneers. This year, Point Park turns to senior Robbie Heatherington (G, 6-0, Sr., Serra Catholic HS) to run the offense. Robbie's older brother T.J. was the Pioneers' point guard the last four years, but now it's the younder Heatherington's turn to lead the show.
Heatherington is ready for a big year, according to Rager. He has played both guard spots in his career with most of his time being spent on the wing. But now he is ready to take over at the point, and he has all the ability to run a team. Heatherington had a down year last year averaging 6.1 ppg and making 24 3-pointers, but he averaged 14.1 ppg and made 62 3-pointers the year before as a sophomore.
"Robbie is a very steady player," said Rager. "He's a gym rat, and he leads by desire. The point guard is the key to our success, and I feel very comfortable with Robbie running the team. I think he's going to have a big year for us."
Backing up Heatherington at point guard is junior-college transfer Kyerell Scott, a native of Mount Pocono, Pa., and a transfer from Globe Tech (N.Y.) CC. He averaged 10.0 ppg and 7.0 apg there last year as a sophomore.
"Kyerell is a solid player at the point who is adjusting to our system," said Rager. "He's a pass-first guy who can also get to the rim. He leads the break well and can guard the ball."
Providing depth at point guard is senior walk-on Cody Williams, a first-year player from Belle Vernon, Pa., and Belle Vernon Area HS.
SHOOTING GUARD / WING
Senior Gabe McNeal is back as a starter at shooting guard. The Richmond, Va., native who transferred to Point Park last year from NCAA DII Shaw (N.C.) University is the top returning scorer at 16.8 ppg. He shot 47 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3-point land and made 57 of 151 treys on the year.
McNeal became a starter midway through last year, and he reached double figures in scoring in 19 of 25 games. Of those, he had 10 games of 20 or more points and one 30-point game.
"Gabe McNeal is instant offense, he wants to be a leader, and he's a great shooter," said Rager. "He leads by example and has the ability for a big year. He's had some big games for us, but he could also be more consistent game to game."
Also on the wing will be 6-7 senior Nick Brown, a transfer from NCAA Division II No. 1-ranked West Liberty (W.Va.). Brown, from Bristolville, Ohio, was a role player for the top-ranked Hilltoppers, but he has the ability to be a go-to player and a big producer for the Pioneers.
Brown averaged 6.0 ppg in 10.7 minutes per game in his three years at West Liberty. But he was a very successful player in high school averaging 22.7 ppg and 12.2 rpg as a first-team all-state player at Warren JFK High School in Ohio.
Brown comes from a West Liberty team that was the highest scoring team in all of college basketball averaging nearly 100 points per game the last few years. He was one of many shooters that the Hilltoppers had at their disposal, and he will fit right in with the Pioneers.
"Nick Brown is a guy who can play inside and out, shoot the 3, post up and put it on the floor," said Rager. "He has the size at 6-7 but moves like a guard. He's a guy who will create mismatches for us, and who we are looking to for a big year."
Another player on the wing is newcomer T.J. Lanier, a sophomore guard/forward from Seton Hill University who is a very athletic 6-foot-6. He spent one year at Seton Hill in 2011-12, but he transferred and did not play college basketball in 2012-13.
Now at Point Park, Lanier has a lot of potential as a player who averaged 22.4 ppg and 8.9 rpg as an all-state player at Warren Howland High School in Ohio. He also has a very high vertical leap, the best on the team.
"T.J. Lanier has a lot to offer on the floor with his athleticism and length," said Rager. "When he's active and playing hard all the time, he can be one of our best players. He's another mismatch guy with all the skills needed on offense. He also has a chance to be really good defensively with his quickness and length."
Yandell Denis is another newcomer who will provide depth on the wing. Denis, a 6-4 guard/forward, transferred this year from Erie Community College. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native averaged 9.0 points and 3.0 rpg at Erie CC last year as a sophomore.
"Yandell's strengths are everyone else's weaknesses," said Rager. "He is very athletic and is one of our best defenders. He's mainly a slasher but can make the shot if you leave him open. He is also good on the boards for a guard."
Robbie Heatherington and Kyerell Scott will also see time on the wing if they are in the game together. Freshman Brandon Camic is a 6-4 product of Serra Catholic who can provide some outside shooting off the bench.
Matt Noszka is a 6-4, sophomore guard/forward who is returning as a starter at the '4' position. He had a productive year with 12.1 ppg and 6.8 rpg last year, his first season as an active player in college basketball. He came to Point Park in 2011-12 but took a redshirt.
Noszka is a very active player who has one of the best motors on the team. He is capable of the big game in the scoring column and also on the boards with six double-doubles last year. Noszka also can knock down the 3-pointer with 33-percent shooting and 43 makes from downtown a year ago.
"Noszka can play the 3, 4 or 5 for us," said Rager. "He plays very hard, he's one of our best rebounders and he wants to be a great player. He has the ability to run the floor better than most post players and can stretch the defense."
A likely starter in the post is newcomer Alan Heter, a 6-6 junior who is a transfer from Edinboro University. Heter, from Pittsburgh, Pa., spent three years with the Fight Scots from 2009-12 with one of those being a redshirt season. A 2009 graduate of Montour High School, he averaged 16.9 ppg and 9.0 rpg in his senior year of high school.
"Alan Heter is a fundamentally sound big man with good balance and foot work," said Rager. "He can score from 15 feet and in, and he also runs the floor really well with some length. He's a guy who finishes well and has the ability to be one of our rebounding leaders."
Another player in the post is senior Josh Pohlot, who is back for his fourth year. The 6-5 Pohlot is from Belle Vernon, Pa. He has battled injuries that have kept him out at times the last four years, but he is now healthy and capable of capping off his career in a big way.
Pohlot averaged 6.3 ppg and 3.1 rpg last year. He shot 68 percent from the floor and played 12.8 minutes per game.
"Pohlot is a very active player for us down low," said Rager. "He's one of several players in the mix down there. He's another athletic post player who can run the floor, play hard defense and rebound."