Peeping Terp: Getting To Know Wagner Basketball

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2013-14 Wagner Seahawks

Overall: 19-12, .613

Conference: 12-4, 2nd in Northeast Conference

Head Coach: Bashir Mason, 38-24 at Wagner

Key Departures: G Kenneth Ortiz (SR), G Latif Rivers, F Orlando Parker, C Naofall Folahan

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After two years facing top-billed teams like Kentucky and Connecticut, the Terrapins have taken a different approach this year. On Friday, the little-known Wagner Seahawks stroll into College Park to try their hand at an early upset. But these games are typically predictable: the heavily armed home squad with a preponderance of talent, much like early season SEC football games, blows out an inferior mid major from a non-power five conference.

Wagner is no different, and yet they might be. But first, a little about Wagner.

A small (~2,100 total students enrolled), liberal arts school in New York City, Wagner, the Seahawks aren’t what one would consider a powerhouse of a school. That said, they’re not without pride and history. Former NBA head coach P.J. Carlesimo led the team in the late 70’s and early 80’s; Dan Hurley (now Rhode Island’s head coach) made them a known entity in college basketball; their move from Division I-AA to Division I made them the 7th smallest college to participate in Division I athletics.

And lately, Wagner’s been pretty good for itself. When Hurley arrived on campus in 2010, Wagner was coming off a 5-26 season under then-coach Mike Deane. Hurley then worked his magic and got them to .500 in the conference and 13 wins. The next year, that turned into a 25-6 record and a second place conference finish. Hurley’s exploits landed himself a gig at Rhode Island, and he took the first train out of town.

Which brings us to the youngest college coach in America’s tenure: Bashir Mason. Mason’s first season in 2012 ended up with 19 wins, a surprise for most watching. But last year when he repeated the same results, the Seahawks thought they may actually have found yet another coaching gem in Mason.

Mason’s story is a great one of a kid who managed to get out of one of the highest crime areas in the U.S. to become the head coach of a Division I program. Better still, last year he was back in school getting his master’s degree in education while at the same time coaching the Seahawks. Anyone can appreciate a good American Dream story, and this one in particular is impressive.

Last year, Mason had the Seahawks playing some of the better defense in college hoops. They had the best defense in the conference, held opponents to 39% shooting on average (good for 12th nationally), and were 13th nationally in blocks. From the ground up, the team was built on defense and strong guard play from seniors Kenneth Ortiz (13.9 PPG, 4.5 REB, 4.2 AST) and Latif Rivers (13.3 PPG). But they also had one of the nation’s top shot blockers in Naofall Folahan to protect the rim. Unfortunately, four of their starters are gone this year.

There are literally only three players remaining from the Hurley era: Marcus Burton (11 PPG), Hugo Nauris (1.4 PPG), and Dwan Anderson (5.5 PPG, 3 REB). In particular, Dwan Anderson himself has an interesting story. Originally a Tom Izzo recruited Michigan State signee, Anderson was an absolute monster of a shooting guard out of Suttons Bay, Michigan. The untimely death of his mother his senior year however, landed him with Hurley at Wagner of all places. Hurley left, but Anderson remained. Fortunately for the Terps, Anderson is out for a little longer following surgery on his foot.

The onus will be on Mr. Burton, the 6-foot speedster to pick up the slack. Unfortunately he’s never started a game in his career, and neither has anyone else on the Seahawks roster. If forward Mike Aaman (a Rhode Island transfer) is medically cleared to play, he could help against the Terps, but after tons of concussions he has not been medically cleared as of today. And there’s always French import Hugo Nauris, a lengthy swingman shooter who can’t really shoot that well.

But Wagner does have some talent on their roster. Corey Henson is a familiar name for DMV high school hoops fans; Henson was a great shooter at nearby DeMatha. Japhet Kadji is an IMG Academy kid who also happens to be the brother of Miami Hurricanes star Kenny Kadji. Stedman Allen was a solid JUCO player who averaged 17 PPG and 6.5 RPG last season at Labette CC.

Wagner has some solid pieces, but there’s definitely some wonder as to whether they’ll be able to gel in time to play a team like the Terps. Usually when two young teams meet, it’s the one with the most talent that wins, and Maryland has that by a long shot. Still, Wagner looks to be a good early season matchup featuring a bright young coach and some players who could definitely make things tougher on Maryland.

It’s basketball season, y’all. Get excited.