Hello all. The guys at the JMU Sports Blog gave me the privilege of writing to everyone once again, and this time, I thought I’d write about a certain event just around the corner…National Signing Day. Not just any national signing day but Everett Withers’ first “true” recruiting class (given that he only had 2 months to recruit last year). As we all have seen and heard, the old regime supposedly got a bit lazy on the recruiting trail, or they, quite frankly, were not as successful bringing in talent to Bridgeforth Stadium. Since graduating from JMU in 2012, I would consider myself a “die-hard” JMU football fan, and I have developed a bit of an obsession with the recruiting world that is considered the life-blood of college football. To that end, I present you with 3 unique recruiting objectives or themes that I’ve noticed from the new era in 2015: read more…
The Dukes defeated the Delaware Blue Hens 88-82 in the Convo last night. As you can tell from the score, it was not a defensive battle. It was an old fashioned shoot out. And it was a wonderful game for chicken loving students, who received free boneless wings for showing up and went home with free Chick-fil-a nuggets when the Dukes eclipsed 78 points. JMU moved to 13-9 overall and 6-3 in the CAA. Delaware fell to 4-16 and 3-6 in league play. The Dukes are tied for third, with their next two games coming against the CAA’s top two teams, William & Mary and UNCW.
There’s really only one point we’d like to make about this game. The win came as a direct result of the Dukes playing great team basketball. This is not the CAA’s most talented team. JMU has had better rosters in the past. But these guys work together and play hard. Every player who saw minutes last night, contributed in some ways. Four of the five starters scored in double figures. The one starter who didn’t, Winston Grays, had a solid all around game with 8 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists. Jackson Kent and Tom Vodanovich both had career highs in points with 19 and 17 respectably. Yoyo had a quit first half, but was too much for the Blue Hens after the break and finished with 17 points. Ron Curry struggled from long range, but still managed to score 15 points, pull down 7 boards, and dish out 8 assists. The bench guys all made the most of their minutes. Everyone played hard and found a way to add value.
Andre Nation is a tremendous talent and was the Dukes most talented player prior to be kicked off the team. If you don’t think the Dukes are playing with more effort and intensity since his departure, you’re not paying attention. JMU currently sits in third place and has a chance to jump up to the top of the league. The Dukes welcome William & Mary to the Convo on Saturday and follow that game up with a homer against a surprising UNCW. Wednesday night’s CAA results (W&M dropping 100 on Hofstra and Drexel up-ending Northeastern in particular) showed us the league is very much up for grabs. The Dukes are definitely in the mix.
The first 300 students at tonight’s basketball game against Delaware get free boneless wings. Which is obviously awesome. The catch is that the above video strongly implies that the wings are made of UDee, Delaware’s blue chicken mascot. Which is even more awesome.
We fully endorse this idea of linking game promotions to the opposition’s mascot. And we look forward to students eating these the next time William & Mary comes to town.
You can say a lot of things about this JMU basketball team, but you can’t say it’s predictable. After getting destroyed by Northeastern Thursday night, the Dukes mounted a furious second half comeback to beat Hofstra on the road Saturday. JMU dug itself quite a hole, but managed to limit the CAA’s most potent offense to just 18 points after the break. As a result, the Dukes turned a double-digit deficit into a huge 69-63 road victory. The result left JMU and Hofstra tied for second with identical 5-3 marks in league play. They’re a game back of William & Mary, Northeastern, and UNCW who are tied atop the CAA at 6-2.
The Dukes might not be predictable, but plenty of fans are. And many of them were spouting off doomsday predictions after the lopsided loss to Northeastern. As we stated in our gamer, we didn’t think it was that bad. The Dukes didn’t shoot themselves in the foot or give the game away with mistakes. Northeastern just played great and beat them. It happens. With that being said, we definitely weren’t counting on a big road win at Hofstra. In fact we said it would take a full 40 minute effort to beat them. Then the Dukes underachieved for the first twenty minutes, but managed to win with a great second half effort. The lesson, we know nothing.
As we pointed out earlier, one positive to take away from the loss to Northeastern was the play of Ron Curry. The junior’s hot shooting continued as he dropped in a career high 25 points to lead the Dukes over Hofstra. There’s really not much we can say about his shooting of late, other than we hope it continues. Jackson Kent chipped in with 13 points on 5 for 10 shooting. It was his best effort in weeks and ideally should build his confidence a bit. The Dukes are a much more dangerous team when he’s shooting well. Yohanny Dalembert had an off night shooting, but made his presence felt pulling down a team high 9 boards.
By managing to go 1-1 against two of the leagues top teams on this brief road trip, JMU is in a great position. They get to face a struggling Delaware Blue Hens at home Wednesday night. It’s a game they should win. It’s also a game they need to win because they follow it up with back to back games against two of the teams above them in the standings, UNCW and William & Mary.
The only thing we can expect from this team is that they’ll continually surprise us. There have been some good surprises, including yesterday’s second half comeback, and some bad ones we don’t need to rehash. With all of the appropriate small sample size caveats, it does at least appear that the team is playing a little harder and with more enthusiasm since Andre Nation was let go though. Even in Thursday’s loss, there wasn’t any moping around. That improved effort and attitude should pay dividends down the stretch. If the good Dukes show up and manage to take 2 or 3 on this homestand, they’ll be in the mix. The CAA is clearly set in one-bid land, but things are set up for a fun and competitive battle for the bid. No reason the Dukes can’t grab it.
In the first game of a crucial two game road trip, JMU came up short at Northeastern. Way short. The Dukes lost to the Huskies by the score of 82-59. Ron Curry paced the squad with 21 points in the loss. A win would have pushed JMU into a 5 way tie for first place in the CAA. Instead, Northeastern took over sole possession of first at 6-1 in league play and 14-6 overall. JMU dropped to 5th place and currently finds itself just a game above .500 in CAA play at 4-3 and 11-9 overall. If you’re a JMU fan, this was one you’d probably like to forget. Here are 3 quick thoughts on the loss.
The Duke Shot Relatively Well…In Garbage Time
This wasn’t like the stinker against Valpo, in which JMU couldn’t buy a bucket. JMU actually shot the ball pretty well. The Dukes shot a respectable 50% in the first half and 44% overall for the game. They even eclipsed the 40% mark from long range. Unfortunately, the majority of JMU’s scoring came in garbage time. Even more unfortunately, garbage time probably started with about 15 minutes to go in the first half. This is basically just a long and convoluted way of saying that this game was over early. Really early.
Northeastern came out of the gates blazing. The Huskies knocked down a ridiculous 8 of 13 three pointers in the first half. Northeastern was out to a double digit lead before most JMU players could even break a sweat. That’s only a slight exaggeration. Not even 10 minutes into the game and JMU found itself down 25-6. Things got worse from there. Northeastern scored 49 points in the first half. Credit to the Huskies for shooting well, but JMU’s poor defense didn’t make it too tough for them. This one was never in doubt. Northeastern simply out-shot, out-rebounded, and out-defended the Dukes. The Huskies won in all phases.
Ron Curry Though
It’s tough to find bright spots in a loss as lopsided as this one. Given that, it would still be hard not to be encouraged by Ron Curry’s performance. After struggling from the field for much of the season, Curry found his touch tonight. The junior guard went 5 for 5 from long range and scored a season high 21 points. We can only hope that something finally clicked and Curry’s strong shooting will continue.
A Chance for Redemption
This is one we just need to forget all about and move on. JMU just got beat. It wasn’t like earlier losses in which ill advised shots, bad decisions, and poor ball control did the Dukes in. They simply came out of the gates slow and let a better team put them away early. That’s definitely not good, but in some ways it’s better than giving away a game they should have or could have won.
It does expose a critical weakness of this team though. The Dukes really struggle to play a full 40 minutes. Often this means that JMU gets off to a slow start. That’s something they can’t afford to do against the top teams in the CAA. There is potential on this roster, but unfortunately there’s a talent gap between JMU and teams such as Northeastern, Hofstra, and William & Mary. It will take a full 40 minute effort from the entire JMU team to beat the CAA’s contenders. Luckily, the Dukes will get a chance to try to bounce back and beat one of those top teams this weekend. JMU travels to Hofstra for a big road game on Saturday. Win it and the Dukes are definitely in the mix. Lose and JMU will be facing an uphill battle from here on out.
JMU alum and former QB for the Dukes, John DeFilipo is the NFL’s newest offensive coordinator…for the Cleveland Browns. So, congrats? Well, yeah. John is coming off a job with the Oakland Raiders, so he’s in the rare position where a move to the Cleveland is actually a huge step up in term’s of organizational maturity. In Oakland, DeFilippo coached the QBs and did a pretty good job getting the most out of rookie Derek Carr. John is well respected in NFL circles and considered to be a rising star in the coaching profession by some.
All kidding aside, this is awesome news and a terrific opportunity for one of JMU’s own. The NFL is obviously the dominate player on the sports landscape in America. John has been chosen to perform one of the rarest and most sought after positions in sports. It’s well deserved.
As a coordinator, John will have responsibility for improving the Brown’s offense and trying to bring some playoff success to a city that badly wants, and deserves, a winner. Cleveland fans have been subject to some heartbreaking moments, including the Drive, and the Fumble. They even briefly lost their team to Baltimore when Art Modell split. But they’re a loyal bunch who have stuck by the Browns through it all, which makes this an awesome opportunity for John. If he and the rest of the coaches can groom Johnny Football and turn him into a bona fide NFL franchise QB, they’ll be the toast of the town.
DeFilippo played QB for JMU and his name was mentioned as a possible coaching candidate after Mickey Matthews departure. While we’re happy with the Everett Withers hired, DeFillippo was actually the guy Todd and I were hoping would get the job at one point. We couldn’t be happier that he’s getting a shot to run an NFL offense. Heck, maybe some of you fans of a certain completely disfunctional NFL organization being run by a small angry man with a Napolean complex could jump on the Browns’ bandwagon and support John. In any case, congrats and good luck to DeFilippo.
We’re in the thick of hoops season, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have one eye on Everett Withers and the football program at all times. After the Dukes had Co-Offensive Coordinator and play caller Drew Mehringer snatched up by the Houston Cougars, Withers had to find a replacement. Mehringer really came into his own as a playcaller and left some big shoes to fill. After a bit of internet speculation, JMU made if official and announced the hiring Brett Elliot heading into the weekend. He’ll serve as the Co-Offensive Coordinator and QB coach.
Much like he did with Mehringer, Withers poached a young guy from a top program with the Elliot hire. Elliot comes to JMU where he served on the coaching staff of Mississippi State as the quality control coordinator. He’s a former college QB who started his career at Utah playing for Withers former boss, Urban Meyer. He entered the 2003 season as the starter, but got hurt and lost his place to future NFL first round pick Alex Smith. Elliot transferred to DIII Linfield College, where he won a national championship and had a record breaking career. After college he had a brief stay with the San Diego Chargers before bouncing around the arena league and getting into to coaching in 2012 at Mississippi State.
Elliot is relatively inexperienced, but appears to bring some real potential to the table. He’s a talented QB who should be able to step in and build on the success Mehringer and Vad Lee had. At Mississippi State he had a chance to work with a bright group of offensive minds and a talented QB in Dak Prescott. Withers displayed an eye for young talent with the coaching staff he assembled last year. We expect similar success with the Elliot hire.
Men’s Hoops Drops Elon
The hoops team won its second game in a row after the dismissal of Andre Nation. Yohanny Dalembert and the Dukes knocked off Elon 75-72 in the Convo Saturday night. JMU controlled much of the game until a furious late run by Elon, and a series of misses from the free throw line by the Dukes, made it was closer than JMU fans wanted it to be. Yohanny Dalembert shined in the win, scoring 16 points on 6 for 7 shooting. YoYo also grabbed 12 boards. He probably would have eclipses the 20 point mark, if not for an uncharacteristically poor night from the stripe. He managed to hit only 4 of 10 free throws. Jackson Kent and Ron Curry also reached double figures, scoring 15 and 10 points respectively.
The win moved JMU to 11-8 overall and 4-2 in the CAA. Elon fell to 10-9 and 2-4 in league play. The Dukes are tied with UNCW and Hofstra for 3rd in the CAA. Brady and the Dukes have a big week with an important road trip to face a couple of contenders. JMU will play at Northeastern and Hofstra. Two wins and JMU will suddenly find itself in the mix for the CAA. Anything less than that, and they’ll be fighting it out with a pack of teams in the middle.
As I’ve said a bunch lately, the only silver lining to Elon joining the CAA is that it coincided with my own move to that part of North Carolina. This is giving me the chance to see even more JMU road games than I did back in NoVa, where the trek out to GMU (now moved on to a better conference just sayin’) or god forbid Towson on a weeknight was a nightmare. Especially for the teams I might not otherwise have checked out. In this case, Kenny Brooks’ CAA Domination Machine was tops on the list and it was fun to see Elon’s “facility.” Look, Elon is a beautiful, high-resource, rapidly improving academics school. It’s a far cry from the “school for dumb upper-middle class kids” I remember from two decades ago. And I’m definitely looking forward to hosting a football road tailgate in the manner of our WVU at FedEx bustrip next year. But their gym, oh their gym. I am not kidding when I say that it favors an elementary school setup more than even most high school facilities. They have a curtain and a stage behind the basket. Read that last sentence again, I’ll wait. That is amazing. It makes the Convo look like the Barclay’s Center (except it does have way-better video boards and live screens that even the players are distracted by of course!).
In any case, it was a good bit of dorky, middle-aged blog geek fun to sit right behind the JMU bench and joke around with the families of the Dukes’ players. Also met a great couple from Staunton who made the trip (I honestly think they were the only other unrelated JMU fans there). In any case, here our a few observations in no particular order.
Actual Basketball Thoughts
It’s refreshing to see how mellow Coach Brooks is and how he and the other coaches stay positive throughout a game. Their example of support and encouragement carries over to their players and clearly improves the team’s play.
Precious Hall is a beast. You don’t notice it at first, but she’s a true alpha dog! Never loses confidence and is always looking to be aggressive. The Dukes need it as they don’t have anyone else who seems to naturally want to be a takeover type of player. Gwathmey could be, but she doesn’t seem to realize just how good she is sometimes.
KB doesn’t break it out much, especially against mostly inferior CAA competition, but putting Jazmon at the head of a press is incredibly disruptive to other teams. So long, so active, so athletic. It’s impossible for smaller guards to deal with her and the whole thing looks very Jay Wright Villanova-ish scary when the Dukes employ it.
If Mickens ever finds a jumper, she could be incredible. She’s the only true ballhandler on the squad right now and her defensive instincts are incredible so she’s already super important to the Dukes, but she could get to whole other level with any hint of a threatening shot.
Okafor is a BCS-conference level player that is slowly learning to dominate CAA-level competition. Elon simply didn’t have anyone inside capable of dealing with her.
JMU’s backup wings/guards – Perez and Barron – hustle their butts off, but you can tell they’ve got a ways to go in KB’s mind on the defensive end.
Ode to Agent Steinzz
It is with another nod of congratulations to our friend-of-JMUSB and inspiration Dan Steinberg on his recent promotion that I’m delighted to comment briefly on two fashion-related items for the women’s team.
First of all, the shoe game for the women needs to step up. Despite a solid relationship with the Swoosh, most of the team stays with safe and rather dull black or gray offerings. Their are three exceptions. First, Precious Hall, who goes with some futuristic-looking orange-and-purple (also strangely a retro color combo to the original Bo’s) on gray combo. Second, reserve F Carly Brew, who goes with a spirited purple shoe that old guys like I us who always want more purple can support. And of course Angela Mickens, the lead guard whose dark gray, ratchet looking low-tops with loose laces combo is pure baller! Seriously, that look is amazing.
But in addition to the kicks, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Coach’s fashion for tonight’s roadie. KB was just chillin’ in his 1/4 button Polo Sweater pullover, wool slacks, and bucks. No overformal Coach K suit on one hand, no underdressed Belichikian sweats on the other. Just perfectly splitting the difference in his own laid back way. Of course funniest thing is while he looks like he’s hitting the Men’s Grill at Spotswood, all of his assistants are dressed to the nines.
In any case, thanks to the women for delivering the usual – a solid performance, great effort, and another victory!
In its first game since the dismissal of Andre Nation, JMU steamrolled Drexel by the score of 54-35. The Dukes now sit at 3-2 in the CAA and 10-8 overall. After the loss Drexel finds itself at 3-13 overall and 1-4 in the CAA.
Yohanny Dalembert led the Dukes with a highly efficient 15 points and 5 boards in only 23 minutes of action. He shot 6 of 7 from the field. Winston Grays stepped up and did his best to fill the vacancy left by Nation, scoring 11 points. Despite some struggles protecting the ball (he had 5 turnovers), he looked energized and played his best game in weeks. Ron Curry had another off shooting night, but hit a few big buckets down the stretch, including a ridiculous three with the shot clock winding down late. More than anything, Curry controlled the tempo and commanded the team from the point.
The Dukes started off slow and fell behind by as many as nine points early. They seemed to settle down midway through the opening half and quickly stormed back. Drexel’s play on the other hand, seemed to deteriorate throughout the first half. At one point the Dragons missed 17 straight shots. It might have been an uglier shooting performance than JMU’s complete stinker against Valpo. Some credit is due to the Dukes defense, but some of it was just due to flat out bad offense. Regardless of the root cause, Drexel managed only 35 points and 24% shooting. The CAA’s leading scored, Damien Lee, came into the game averaging over 20 points a game, but managed just 14.
To be clear, Drexel is not going to challenge for the CAA title. It’s a stretch to think the Dragons could even finish in the top half of the league. The 18 point win is still a good sign for JMU though. The Dukes had just a single win in the DAC prior to tonight. And given yesterday’s news regarding Nation, this was a pretty big test. A test that JMU passed. The Dukes showed that they’re not ready to give up the season, just because Nation is gone. It was an ugly game at times, but JMU played with enthusiasm and was able to blow out a conference-mate on the road.
Andre Nation is no longer a member of the JMU basketball team. This afternoon Head Coach Matt Brady announced that he had dismissed Nation from the program. The move is effectively immediately, but Nation will remain on scholarship for the remainder of the Spring semester. Brady didn’t go into great detail and simply stated “Working with Andre this year, it has become apparent that he no longer fits within our program and the vision we have for the future. I care about Andre and his well-being and wish him all the best in the future.” He added that neither he nor any of the remaining players will discuss the matter further.
The DNR’s Nick Sunderland reached JMU AD Jeff Bourne for comment. Bourne told Jones that the decision was made solely by Coach Brady and there was no specific incident that led to Nation’s dismissal. Instead, it just seems that Brady decided that the situation with Nation had deteriorated to the point where the program was better off without him.
As most JMU fans know, Nation has had a number of off the court issues and has been suspended multiple times. After his most recent suspension, Brady announced that Nation was facing a “zero tolerance” policy. Sadly, Nation getting kicked off the team practically seemed inevitable. Unfortunately it proved to be just that.
Now there are a number of ways to break this down. We could lash out at Nation and attempt to take him down, assaulting the character of a young man we’ve never met in the process. Or we could look down at him from our perspective as older alums and condescendingly lecture him about how he’s wasting his talent and a chance to graduate from a institution like JMU. Both of those options seem utterly pointless, not to mention sort of pathetic if we’re being honest. So instead we’re just going to say that this is sad. It’s sad because as a freshman, Nation was a joy to watch and made us excited for the future of JMU basketball. He was immensely talented, played both ends of the court with enthusiasm, and seemed to be a fun guy off the court. He also gave us plenty of highlights including a game winning alley-oop dunk to defeat Delaware, going toe to toe with Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Hoosiers during March Madness, and more blocked shots, steals, and slams than we can count. And while he clearly hadn’t been playing up to his potential this season, he still managed to treat us to another game winning alley-oop. He was voted to the CAA All Rookie team as a freshman and the All CAA third team as a sophomore. Prior to this season he was selected to the preseason All CAA first team. The point is that he was (and still is) a tremendously talented basketball player. Now he joins the (larger than we’d like it to be) list of players who have left the JMU program since Brady took over.
We wish Nation well. However, he’s definitely had some issues and had become a distraction, so we trust Brady that cutting bait was the right move. It’s still hard to not to think about what might have been, if Nation would have managed to steer clear of some of his issues and reach his potential. Two years ago we were thinking about JMU making multiple trips to the NCAA tourney under the leadership of Nation, Ron Curry, Taylor Bessick, and Charles Cooke. Now only Curry remains from that group we thought would form the core of a successful JMU hoops program. But we move on. Maybe this will be a case of addition by subtraction. We certainly hope so.