Tommy Dempsey: "Last year really humbled us"
The Rider coached looked out at a room full of coaching colleagues and media members and jokingly asked, "think I'm the only one who picked us first?"
Dempsey, in fact, did not pick Rider first -- a difference from the eye-opening vote he cast last year, when his Ryan-Thompson-led team hoped to challenge Siena for the MAAC crown.
With first-place votes split between Fairfield (which came out on top) and Siena (second), the Broncs were picked fifth in the league's annual preseason coaches' poll.
Last year Dempsey had cast a first-place vote for his own team, hoping to deliver a message to his players that they should fear no one. He was the only coach who voted for anyone other than Siena -- a vote that drew criticism at the time and that proved far off base when Rider finished tied for fifth in the league at 9-9.
A year later, Dempsey doesn't regret the first-place vote.
But he's happy to deliver a different message this year: that Rider needs to improve significantly if it wants to contend for its first MAAC title.
"We're trying to focus on winning every day in practice," Dempsey said. "I know it's a cliche, but I think it's important to us. Last year I'm not sure we got better throughout the season. This year, we're focusing on each day needing to get better. We need to be a better team in January than we are today and a better team in February than we are in Janury. That didn't happen as much last year and part of it was certainly my fault. Our approach wasn't where it needed to be."
Dempsey has repeatedly said that last year's team had a sense of entitlement -- a point he reiterated last year. The Broncs thought they were nearly unbeatable in November -- a feeling that only grew stronger when they upset No. 18 Mississippi State in the season opener.
Rider then stumbled badly in December and January, losing six of their first nine MAAC games. By mid-January, the Broncs were nowhere near the regular-season title race. The end result was a 17-16 finish and a loss to eventual champion Siena in the MAAC tournament semifinals -- an experience that Dempsey said is a major motivating factor.
"Last year really humbled us," he said. "We're hungry and practice has been great, so I certainly expect big things from us."