April 21, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - It's a very important offseason for Marshall men's basketball.
Tom Herrion knows that, and he says that.
After the Thundering Herd stunningly slipped to a 13-19 finish in 2012-13, the Marshall coach heads toward his fourth year wanting to reverse more than the ball against a zone defense.
Herrion loses three inside players in 2012-12 seniors Nigel Spikes, Dennis Tinnon and Robert Goff, but Herrion thinks his 2013-14 Herd can play "big" in other ways.
The way he looks at it, what became a season-long shuffle of sports started when the NCAA denied freshman point guard Kareem Canty initial eligibility, and Canty had to sit out the season, as did forward Ryan Taylor as an academic non-qualifier. That began Herrion's season of musical chairs and rotation upheaval.
The Herd landed two more junior college transfers last week, appearing to complete a three-man signing class for '13-14. However, the Herd coach is quick to remind that forward Shawn Smith, guard Justin Edmonds and big man Cheikh Sane are only half of what will be new for the Herd.
Besides Canty and Taylor, Marshall has 6-8 TyQuane Goard, a former West Virginia Class AAA All-State first team pick at George Washington High. Goard played 7.2 minutes per game in 29 games in 2011-12 at Ohio University, then transferred and sat out here last season.
"We'll play different next season because of our makeup," Herrion said a couple of days ago in his Henderson Center office. "That excites me. We'll play with more perimeter-oriented guys, and we're going to have more skill on our roster.
"We played with a bigger lineup last two years. Now, we won't have that much girth and size, but we'll be able to handle the ball better, spread the floor, be quicker, look like some of my (College of) Charleston teams, truly start to pressure more, extend the floor.
"I'm excited about having the personnel to be a better pressing team and cause more havoc with our defense to help create offense."
Saying it's "a long way until school begins (in late August)," Herrion said more changes may be coming to the Herd roster, but he said he wasn't going to talk about what-ifs. Asked if he's finished recruiting for 2013-14, he offered a yes-and-no response.
"We're never done recruiting," the Herd coach said. "I wouldn't say we're done, but I feel pretty good right now on the composite of what our roster could look like. Obviously there's so much time between now and the start of school in August, so you always keep your ears to the ground for possibilities.
"But I really like the guys we're going to add, six total, as of now."
I asked Herrion for a brief "scouting report" on those six. He offered the following:
Kareem Canty, 6-1, 179, Harlem, N.Y.; sat out last season; Faith Baptist Christian (Fla.):
`Clearly, we recognize he's a true point guard. We were all caught off guard by the NCAA ruling last fall, right down the last minute ... Under the rules, he has taken more of advantage of the resources he has available to him of any kid that we've had sit out here, working so hard. He kind of always has played with a chip on his shoulder, but it's bigger now after having to sit out, having the game taken away from him. He's changed his body, and that true point adds a dimension that obviously we need. I'm told he's improved his shooting. He's a diligent worker."
Ryan Taylor, 6-6, 228, Louisville, Ky.; sat out last season; Hargrave Military Academy:
"He's kind of a swing forward, combo forward, a 3 to 4 (positions). We had him here last summer, very skilled, good size, nice versatility, a guy who will help our ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Ryan's a very talented offensive player, but he's got to continue to get stronger, and he did a good job this season at that when he sat out. The game comes relatively easy to him at the offensive end of the floor."
TyQuane Goard, 6-8, 210, Charleston, W.Va.; Ohio transfer, sat out last season:
"He benefitted, obviously, from having a season of practice with us; the other two (Canty, Taylor) didn't get that ... High motor, high energy. He's got to get bigger, put on more weight, but he's a guy with high basketball IQ, really smart both ends on floor. He can be an anchor for us because he knows our rotations and stuff defensively, right plays, right time ...a guy who can really help you win games. More of a 4 but can guard multiple positions."
Shawn Smith, 6-6, 220, Sacramento, Calif., City College of San Francisco:
"Had a really good season with his team, 31-1, lost the (California JUCO) semifinals game (averaged 10.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 53% FG). That's phenomenal and you don't underestimate being in programs that win. Shawn's strong, really athletic, kind of a hybrid guy, a combo forward, 6-6, big-time body. He was a really good football player in high school, good motor, really effective when the game opens up and floor opens up in transition ... a terrific rebounder."
Justin Edmonds, 6-4, 210, Albion, Mich.; Owens CC in Toledo, Ohio:
"A big, big versatile guard, good size for a perimeter player (18.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg for 26-10 NJCAA Div II team), obviously had a tremendous year and half at Owens, hurt midway through season, knee surgery, he'll rehab through the summer, and we were fully aware of that. The irony of it is we just kind of discovered Justin when we were recruiting another player at Owens, James Kelly, who signed with Miami (Fla.). Justin plays really hard, outstanding defender, can score the ball. We like his versatility. All three we signed this year are from really successful junior college programs."
Cheikh Sane, 6-9, 217, Dakar, Senegal; Snow (Utah) College:
"We knew we needed to add a frontcourt guy and he probably had a bigger jump from his freshman to sophomore year of anyone in the country (10.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 54% FG for a 2011 JUCO Division I team). Cheikh has a 7-foot, 7-1 wingspan. He's got to put weight on this summer, which he will with us. Has a really good feel for the game, especially for a guy that hasn't played basketball for that long. Rebounds it well, a guy we think will make an impact immediately for us."
Herrion said the new faces fit with the change of pace the Herd wants to play next season.
"Players will be able to play more natural positions," he said. "I don't think we will or have to get caught up a lot in 1, 2,3 (positions). We'll have great versatility.
"We'll be able to put a lot of different lineups on the floor, a lot of different combinations, interchangeable pieces, which I really like. We'll maybe only have two or three one-position guys on the roster. Everyone else on our roster, we look at it like they could play two or three positions.
"Again, it's an adjustment for us as a staff, and it's exciting."
Herrion said the Herd's schedule remains a work in progress, and it's always a "difficult task, putting the pieces together." He said Marshall will go to Morehead State and Akron and play West Virginia in Charleston, but beyond that in nonconference play, it's still up in the air. A return game to Nevada looks to be pushed back a year at the Wolf Pack's request.
In a Conference USA membership that has lost Memphis, UCF, Houston and SMU and added Old Dominion, Charlotte, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, FIU and FAU, the Herd knows it will play 14 schools once (seven home, seven road) and go home-and-home with ODU in a one-season format before membership morphs again.
"Other things we've got to button up," Herrion said on the schedule. `We want to play a competitive schedule. We'll have an exempt event (early season), hopefully one where we play one road game and get three at home.
"We've got a 16-game conference schedule, but it's different now. It used to be you knew who you have home, who you have away. Now, there's a lot of uncertainty there; maybe we know a little better at the end of May at conference meetings.
"I do wish we played more conference games. It would ease some of the struggles we have in non-conference, trying to fill a schedule. With 16 conference games, we have almost as many (15), in non-league when you're in an exempt event."
The bottom line for Herrion this offseason is getting the Herd back on track, only a year after becoming the first coach to take Marshall to an NIT berth in a quarter-century.
"At the end of the day, I want guys who want to be here, do the right things on and off the floor, day in, day out," Herrion said. "Last season was obviously the exception, not the norm by any means, especially in my coaching career.
"We've already started the process of doing everything we can as coaches, as a staff, as a program, to make sure that doesn't happen again ... , to restore the momentum, excitement and success that we built."