Dempsey confident Myles, Stewart will have immediate impact
A Thompson -- Jason from 2005-08 and Ryan for the last two seasons -- has led the Broncs in scoring and been the face of the program. It's unlikely, coach Tommy Dempsey acknowledges, that any one player will fill the role of Ryan Thompson, a two-time first-team all-MAAC selection who finished fourth on the school's career scoring list.
But with playing time available and weaknesses to address, Rider finished with perhaps the most highly regarded recruiting class of Dempsey's five-year tenure.
Anthony Myles, a 6-foot-4 combo guard from Camden, Del who signed a national letter of intent last month, is rated the No. 171 high school senior in the country by Hoop Scoop -- the highest rating for any player headed to a MAAC school and by far the highest for any player to sign with Rider.
Danny Stewart, a 6-7 power forward from Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia rated the No. 371 player by HoopScoop, was highly regarded even before a senior season in which he played a key role on a team that won Philadelphia Catholic League and Pennsylvania state titles.
The Broncs feel theyve also addressed a weakness in outside shooting by bringing in Tommy Pereira, a 6-2 guard from Nottingham, England who verbally committed late last month to Dempsey and will sign a letter of intent as he's approved by the NCAA clearninghouse.
"You can get on the side of the fence to say 'what are they going to do without Ryan Thompson?'" Dempsey said, "Or you can get on the other side of the fence and say 'you know, we have some fresh faces, some talented guys coming in, we still have some talent here and hopefully we can mix the group together better than we did last year."
Even with Thompson, Rider's 2009-10 season was one of the most disappointing in recent memory. The Broncs have had high expectations in recent years -- a concept epitomized by last year's team, which was picked third in the MAAC and expected to contend for a third straight postseason berth.
Rider upset Mississippi State in its season opener but finished just 17-16 overall and 9-9 in the MAAC before losing to Siena in the conference tournament semifinals.
The outlook for the 2010-11 Broncs is unclear. Last year's team could have finished far worse than it did had Thompson not carried it from February on. Yet Thompson is the team's only departed starter. Justin Robinson, Novar Gadson and Mike Ringgold -- the veteran core moving forward -- have all shown all-league potential but been inconsistent, especially when deferring to Thompson.
Dempsey has shown a willingness to give freshmen extensive playing time, and that figures to be the case next year with Myles and Stewart, both of whom will contend for starting spots.
The impact of freshmen is hard to foresee. Some -- the Thompson brothers included -- have entered with relatively little fanfare and exited as all-time greats. Others have entered with loads of hype, only to fall short of expectations.
Dempsey isn't counting on Myles to replicate Ryan Thompson's production from Day One or for Stewart to average a double-double next season. But last year's team had glaring weaknesses that, with Thompson's departure, could have grown far more troubling.
Rider, with Ringgold as its only true post player in the starting lineup, got beat up on the glass and struggled with interior defense.
The Broncs' hope is that Stewart's presence -- coupled with the development of rising sophomore Dera Nd-Ezuma -- will make them tougher in the low post and more formidable on the glass.
"We feel that those guys really can give us a presence in there that we didn't always have, which made us have to play some of the smaller groups we had to play," Dempsey said.
Then there's attempting to replace Thompson, who recovered from a disappointing start and averaged nearly 17 points per game last year.
Stewart, the No. 1 rated high school player in Delaware, may never replicate Thompson's production. But Dempsey views the Polytech High product as a player with physical traits comparable to Thompson's.
"I think it was the right time to get a kid like Anthony because he was able to come watch Ryan play in our style -- same size, lot of the same skill-set, " Dempsey said. "So sometimes when a young guy comes on his visit, part of it is to watch your team play but part of it is to try to envision himself where he would fit in. Anthony had a lot of respect for Ryan and his game and the way he played -- that he was so versatile -- I think Anthony looked at Ryan and said 'that's the type of player I want to be.'"