Dear Fairfield Basketball Fans
I hope this note finds you well.
Throughout the year, I want to make sure you're able to keep up with our program and get "insider info" while enjoying the season alongside our players and coaches. If you consider yourself a social media junkie, please follow me on twitter at @CoachJStags to get a fresh look on our team, our travels and our growth on an almost daily basis. If social media isn't your thing, I'll try to connect with you via email at different stages of the year with a more in-depth newsletter. So...here goes:
Update on ‘Du:
For those not in the know, senior Amadou Sidibe had a knee surgery in the summertime to clean up an issue that he suffered during the second half of last season. Since this procedure was the second knee surgery in two years, our medical staff has taken a conservative approach to Amadou’s return. That said, Amadou resumed wind sprints, lateral movement and shooting workouts two weeks ago. Not surprisingly, Amadou is a bit out of shape (I keep telling him that I’m in better shape than he is!) but that won’t last long. We have positive expectations for Amadou to re-join the team this year and have two of the best rebounders in the entire MAAC conference (see below)!
A story for the Ages:
Freshman Jonathan Kasibabu, a Congolese native who studied and played basketball in Spain during his formative years, has already brought great attention to our basketball program (see “The Big Guy” an article published in the September edition of the Fairfield University Magazine). There’s an epilogue to Jonathan’s already incredible arrival to our University: due to additional paperwork and certification requested from the NCAA, Jonathan was prohibited from practicing a full two weeks prior to our season opener vs. Yale. After a whole lot of emails and phone calls between the NCAA, our Athletic Department and Jonathan’s family and friends both in Spain and the Congo (at all hours of the night!), we were informed of Jonathan’s NCAA clearance FOUR MINUTES before tip-off! Although the Yale game wasn’t the best debut for Jonathan and our team, we are incredibly thankful for the NCAA doing their due diligence to clear Jonathan for competition this season. Moving forward we know this: we have a great young man back in the fold and our rebounding just got a whole lot better (see below)!
Playing #1 ranked UNC at the Dean Dome.
Sunday November 15th was a terrific experience for our players and the family and friends who joined us in Chapel Hill, NC for our match-up against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. If you tuned in to ESPNU at 4PM on that Sunday, you would have seen a fired up bunch of players and coaches plus our loyal supporters clad in special Fairfield red polo shirts for the game. Beyond the obvious thrill of playing one of the best basketball programs of all time, our team looked for a bounce back effort following our season opening loss to Yale. We got that and more. Senior Marcus Gilbert led all scorers with 25 points, sophomore Jerome Segura dished out 8 assists and controlled the game on our end and freshman Jonathan Kasibabu grabbed 10 rebounds in only his third day back in competition. During the entire 40 minutes of play in front of a nationally televised audience, my team competed, played incredibly hard and treated each other like brothers.
That last part is a big deal for us: we want to compete fiercely against each other in practice but when we face an opponent outside of our gym…we focus on treating each other like brothers and turn our competitiveness towards our opponent. It’s absolutely essential that we show our brotherhood through tireless effort and constant communication to each other. We took 65 shots (keep an eye on how our pace of play stats will rise dramatically this year), we shared the ball (leading to many wide open shots), rebounded much better than our opening game (UNC 45, FFLD 39) and dove on the ground for loose balls on every opportunity. These are the building blocks for an incredibly bright future for our program. Think of our program in this way: before you hear the tea kettle whistling, there’s a whole lot of energy going on inside that leads to an eventual break-out. No one can see inside the tea kettle but that doesn’t mean something worthwhile isn’t going on. What our coaches have seen with our team dating back to the summer is all the necessary energy needed for our program’s eventual break-out. We see it; you will too.
PS Talent helps too (see below)!
Say his name three times in a row as fast as you can:
On the National Letter of Intent Signing Day, we signed Aidas Kavaliauskas, a point guard originally from Lithuania, to our program. Aidas was initially spotted by assistant coach Tom Parrotta at a European tournament in Istanbul, Turkey proving that our staff is determined to comb the globe to attract the best players we can for our program! After assessing Aidas as an impact player in the Class of 2016, Tom and I got immediately involved in Aidas’s recruitment (including Skype calls and conversations allaying concerns from Aidas’s Mom about attending college in the States) and Aidas committed to Fairfield soon thereafter. This season, Aidas will compete at SPIRE Institute located in Geneva, Ohio before joining our team next season. He is a tough kid, really smart and another key addition who wants to help lead Fairfield to the next level. Between Jerome Segura ’18 (who has simply had the BEST offseason of any of our returning players), we think our point guard position is going to be among the best in the league for several seasons.
We’ve all gone on trips away from home but have you ever had a 3 game road swing like this?
To start our season, we faced off in the Connecticut Six versus Yale, the preseason favorite to win the Ivy League. Foul trouble plagued us throughout the game in addition to not being able to play our starting center, Jonathan, in our usual fashion. Our second game of the year—again on the road this time versus UNC—came with a challenge from me to the guys: rebound as a team and give ourselves a chance to win. We fought all afternoon (UNC Head Coach Roy Williams praised our fight and competitiveness in his postgame press conference), grabbed 39 rebounds to their 45 and as a result were within 10 points of the #1 ranked team in the country well into the second half. Last night marked our third straight game away from home to open our season. This time, we took on the Big Ten’s Northwestern University Wildcats coached by Chris Collins, former player and assistant coach at Duke University. With a group of underclassmen coupled with senior leadership, we rebounded and competed and had the Wildcats on the ropes. As a team, we were down at the half by ten and at one point down 16 early in the second. Did we stop competing? Of course not! We dug even deeper and rallied to have two possessions with less than two minutes to tie the game. Sophomore Tyler Nelson, who made 64 three’s last season, had two great looks from downtown that couldn’t find their way through the hoop. Again, with our team’s competitiveness and Tyler taking those shots over the course of the season we’re going to win games. Every game that we’ve competed in at a high level is preparing us for our bottom line: being in great form for the MAAC tournament in March. That’s our goal: always has, always will be.
We just play really hard:
“Scrappy”. “…Toe to toe with Carolina”. “Never give up”. “A revelation”.
Whether its Hall of Famer UNC head coach Roy Williams, Northwestern head coach Chris Collins or various media outlets including ESPN and the Big Ten Network, these have been the comments used to describe how hard our team competes--and for good reason! I know my team and my team knows me. If there’s one thing that my coaches and players know about my coaching mentality it’s this: my guys are going to play really, really hard. And if we don’t play hard, there is going to be heck to pay. My expectation is that I’ll see my guys boxing out, diving on the ground for loose balls, getting out in the lanes for fast breaks and sprinting back equally as hard to defend in transition. Amadou and Jonathan are tough enforcers in the paint and it shows. Jerome will harass the other team’s point guard from end to end and it shows. If there’s one loose ball or ten loose balls, senior Coleman Johnson is going to dive on the ground for them and it shows. What does this all mean? It means when we get our leading rebounder, Jonathan, back for the UNC game, he grabs 10 rebounds and allows us to grab 39 rebounds as a team (to UNC’s 45). It means one of my fearless freshman, Jerry Johnson, nails a step back 3 (holding his follow through so the entire gym can see it!) right before the half to go into the locker room only down 8 to the #1 team in the country. It means vs. Northwestern our Stags outrebounded a Big Ten team in their own gym 41 to 33. It means while playing a mix of three seniors and six underclassmen vs. Northwestern our team had the ball, down 3 points with 2 minutes against the Wildcats. So when the comments you read above are pouring in from opposing coaches and media folks who have seen us play, I know and my guys know that what they are seeing is a natural consequence of the seriousness we put into playing hard and competing.
I’ll leave you with this: the staples of a winning program are talent, player improvement, hard work and leadership. Our talent has taken a major boost with the signing of our freshmen class. Consider the talented future of our program with Jonathan, Jerry Johnson, a scoring guard who is shooting 37% from three, Matija Milin, another European gem who had 9 points and four rebounds vs UNC and Curtis Cobb who has had two double figure scoring games already and is shooting 55% from three. In terms of player improvement, from the summertime until now our players have become better skilled, more confident and several of them have taken momentous leaps in production (especially Marcus, Jerome and Coleman). The work that we’ve done and continue to do has made us GAME READY. And leadership: that’s something I know well from my own experiences as a college student-athlete, professional player and head coach and have spent tireless hours instilling leadership in Marcus, Amadou and Jerome. We are in good hands in that department.
Fairfield fans: our future is BRIGHT.
NEXT UP: Our Webster Bank Arena home opener vs Sacred Heart November 21st at 7PM (following our women’s game). Go Stags!!!
Head Men’s Basketball Coach