Men’s Basketball 2017-18 Season Preview

Men’s Basketball 2017-18 Season Preview

Last season marked the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Penn State Altoona men's basketball program. After seven consecutive losing seasons, the Lions used a talented core of upperclassmen, skilled newcomers, a new head coach, and a fresh mindset to post one of the best seasons in team history during the 2016-17 campaign.

Last year's squad recorded the best Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference record (12-6) in team history, tied the program's single season wins record (14), made its deepest AMCC Tournament run in nine years, and earned its second-ever berth into the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III Championship Tournament.

The Lions' running theme in 2016-17 was "renaissance," with the expectation of creating a new culture that would bring Penn State Altoona men's basketball back to relevance within the AMCC and the NCAA Division III. Last year's team achieved just that, and this season, head coach David McGreal hopes to continue laying the foundation that will sustain long-term success.

"Our goal is to once again finish in the top six teams in the AMCC, qualify for the conference tournament, and hopefully make a deeper run in the playoffs, which would mean we'd be playing for the AMCC championship," said McGreal, who is in his second year as the head coach of Lions basketball. "Any good coach always wants to try and take a step forward. Making the conference semifinals last year was a step in the right direction for building a new winning culture here at Penn State Altoona. Now we have our work cut out for us in taking our next step. Hopefully the renaissance continues."

One challenge that McGreal knows his team must overcome is the loss of its five seniors from last year. The graduations of Tay Charles, Anton Lucas, Quinn Luhr, Jordan Smith, and Javon Wilson – each of whom played key roles in the team's success last year – leave a void in the lineup this season.

"After exceeding expectations last year, we have some big shoes to fill," McGreal said. "But even though we have to replace some guys who hold tons of individual records here at Penn State Altoona, I feel confident that the returners and the group of newcomers are going to be able to continue the success that the class of 2016-17 started."

Leading McGreal's group of returners is senior guard/forward Ishimeal Nance (Muscle Shoals, AL/Muscle Shoals). Last season, Nance was a second team All-AMCC selection in his first year with the Lions after transferring from Snead State Community College. He ranked among the top 10 players in the AMCC in multiple statistical categories, including being fifth in points (406), field goal percentage (52.5%), and rebounds (189), sixth in rebounds per game (6.8), and eighth in points per game (14.5). Nance posted four 20-point games against conference opponents last year.

Sophomore center Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) is projected to expand his role from last season. His 6'8" height adds a significant presence in the paint for the Lions. While playing just 9.8 minutes per game last season, Gardner-Nicholson still managed to rank second in the AMCC in blocks (38) and third in blocks per game (1.4) while grabbing 3.1 rebounds per contest.

"Ishimeal really made a splash for us last year. He worked hard in the offseason to improve his weaknesses, especially ball handling and shooting the three. We're expecting a lot out of him offensively, defensively, and in the role of being a leader," said McGreal. "For Cam, this will hopefully be his breakout season. He came on toward the second half of last season when he started getting healthy, and in limited minutes, finished second in the AMCC in blocks. We expect him to anchor us in the paint defensively and to also add some inside scoring that we lost with our graduating seniors from last year."

Rounding out the Lions' group of returners from last season are junior guard/forward Tyson West (Wheeling, WV/Linsly School), junior forward Marshall Higley (Sayre, PA/Sayre), and sophomore guards Trey Butterworth (Clarence, PA/Bald Eagle) and Andrew Gal (Malvern, PA/Great Valley).

"Tyson had some really big minutes for us in crucial games last year, and he has the opportunity to contribute in what should be an expanded role. He's a solid spot-up shooter, and he's a sneaky good defender. Marshall is a guy who's ready to take advantage of more minutes. He's a 6'7'" guy who can knock down the outside shot and has improved on his strengths," McGreal explained. "Andrew is a player who we're looking to come in and knock down shots. He's added some strength and worked on his defense. Trey joined us midseason last year and came back in really good shape, and he will solidify our guard position coming off of the bench."

To help offset their losses from last year, Penn State Altoona added several players to its roster with previous experience playing college basketball. McGreal expects these players to step in and make significant contributions right away.

Senior forward Dequan Jackson (Philadelphia, PA/Murrell Dobbins CTE) comes to Penn State Altoona after playing the 2013-14 season at Penn State Worthington Scranton and the past two seasons at Penn State Abington. In 2014-15, he was a second team All-North Eastern Athletic Conference selection after leading the league in scoring, averaging 19.6 points per game. In three years of college basketball, Jackson has already eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career.

Senior guard Tre Brown (Winchester, VA/John Handley) joins the Lions after playing from 2014-17 at nearby AMCC opponent Mount Aloysius College. As a junior last year, Brown was seventh in the conference in assists (90) and steals (48). Senior guard Rich Bouknight (Norristown, PA/Norristown) makes his debut on the Lions' roster after playing in 2013-15 at Gwynedd Mercy University. Junior guard Jalen Archie-Davis (Norcross, GA/Norcross) and sophomore guard/forward Austin Krise (Allport, PA/West Branch) are two other newcomers who will make an impact for the team this season.

"Dequan is a transfer from Penn State Abington, and he's one of the key additions to our roster who we'll count on early and often. Tre is no stranger to the AMCC and has been among the top guards in the conference in assists and steals, and Rich is a scorer who can shoot from deep and also has the ability to get to the paint and finish," said McGreal. "Jalen has been away from basketball for a couple of years, but he had a great high school career in Georgia and is a really good floor general who adds a lot to our back court. Austin is a local product who was one of the most prolific scorers in Central Pennsylvania. After playing his freshman year at Penn State Harrisburg, he will come in and help us both at wing and the post."

Penn State Altoona also welcomes six freshman to the program: guards Danny Browne (Downingtown, PA/Bishop Shanahan), Chucky Drummond (Royersford, PA/Spring-Ford), Nate Gillen (Johnstown, PA/Central Cambria), Curtis Neff (Houtzdale, PA/Moshannon Valley), and Aubrey Washington II (Jacksonville, FL/University Christian) and forward Richard Dei-Kwarteng (Windsor Mill, MD/Standard of Excellence).

"I'm really excited about the future of the program with the nucleus of freshmen coming in. Aubrey had lots of high school accolades in Florida, and he should come in and have a good role for us. Richard is a freak athlete with unlimited potential to be a big time player for us over his career. Chucky was a first team all-conference performer and has the uncanny ability to score," McGreal stated. "Danny is an all-around, solid player who can score at the rim, shoot it, and play tough defense. Nate is a former Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference player of the year whose team at Central Cambria won the District 6 AAA championship last year. Curtis was a 1,000-point scorer and was part of the winningest team in school history at Moshannon Valley."

Penn State Altoona men's basketball opens its 2017-18 regular season with a home game in the new Adler Arena on Wednesday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. against non-conference regional opponent Saint Vincent College.

After that, the Lions host the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament at Penn State Altoona on Friday, November 17 and Saturday, November 18. On Friday, Mount Aloysius and Juniata College do battle at 6:00 p.m. before Penn State Altoona faces LaGrange College (GA) at 8:00 p.m. The consolation game on Saturday is scheduled for 1:00 p.m., and the championship game is set for 3:00 p.m.

Following the tournament, Penn State Altoona hosts two more challenging non-conference opponents in the Adler Arena before hitting the road for conference play. On Tuesday, November 21, the Lions face Saint Mary's College of Maryland at 6:00 p.m., and on Sunday, November 26 at 3:00 p.m. Penn State Altoona goes up against Keystone College.

"We open up the new Adler Arena with eight of our first 10 games at home, but none of our opponents are lacking in talent," said McGreal. "We're calling it murderers' row. We open up with NCAA Tournament regulars St. Vincent, LaGrange, and St. Mary's. Other tough non-conference opponents include Keystone, Shenandoah University, and New York University."

For McGreal, the matchup with LaGrange is one that will be of special importance. Before being hired as Penn State Altoona's head coach in July 2016, McGreal spent the previous five seasons as the associate head coach at LaGrange. During his time there, he helped head coach Kendal Wallace and the Panthers earn three consecutive berths into the NCAA Division III Tournament.

"I'm really excited, nervous, and emotional about playing LaGrange, coached by Kendal Wallace, who's my former colleague and good friend," said McGreal. "Their roster is still filled with guys I recruited. It's going to be an exciting and emotional game, and they'll be one of our toughest opponents of the year." 

The Lions open AMCC play on the road on Wednesday, November 29 at 6:00 p.m., traveling to face Pitt-Greensburg. Penn State Altoona's first home conference game is Wednesday, December 6 at 6:00 p.m. against Franciscan University.

"The AMCC will be very competitive this year. Defending champion Medaille College has a lot coming back, Penn State Behrend lost only one starter, and Hilbert College and La Roche College also have their top players returning," said McGreal. "The rest of the league is much-improved, including a D'Youville College team that is going to be tough. Mount Aloysius, Pitt-Bradford, and Pitt-Greensburg each have new coaches, who I'm sure have gone out and bolstered their rosters. Hopefully the competition level of our non-conference schedule will get us ready for AMCC play."