Between getting the paper out, working on our new digital high school football coverage and dabbling in a little college football, it's been a while since I found any time for college hoops. I did however, chat with Tommy Dempsey for 20 minutes last Friday. Here's the story, which is also up at Trentonian.com.
This fall has been nothing like last year’s, and that’s OK with Tommy Dempsey.
When the preseason MAAC caoches’ poll is released next month, Rider will likely be slated no higher than fifth. Unlike last year, Dempsey will not pick the Broncs first on his ballot — something he did last year to inspire confidence in a team that was seeking to dethrone Siena as conference champion.
Instead, as the Broncs go through fall workouts, Dempsey is happy to be away from the spotlight.
“We’re embracing the fact that people don’t think we’re going to be very good,” the coach said. “We’ve challenged them. We don’t have a guy in our locker room who’s been an all-league player. ... When you don’t have any all-league players on your team you’re not going to be picked very high. They don’t think your players are very good, or they’d put them on an all-league team.”
It’s not that Rider hasn’t been represented on all-MAAC teams for the past several years. Far from it. The Broncs have had a first-team all-MAAC player in each of the past four years and have had either a first- or second-team selection every year since joining the league in 1997-98.
The problem is that each time the Broncs have had a Player of the Year candidate under Dempsey, it’s been a Thompson brother — a luxury Dempsey will be without for the first time since taking over for Don Harnum in 2005-06.
The lack of star power, coupled with high expectations for Fairfield, Siena, Iona and Saint Peter’s, means the Broncs will be pegged as a middle-of-the-pack team.
“The expectations are low,” Dempsey said. “We don’t have to live up to expectations that we put on ourselves. We’re taking a more low-key approach We’re taking the approach that we’re going to get better every day, we’re going to win as many games as we can and this is going to be a really good basketball team.”
That’s a marked contrast from last September, when Dempsey and his players insisted they’d be disappointed with anything less than a conference title.
After Rider upset No. 18 Mississippi State in its season opener, the Broncs’ confidence appeared validated. Shortly thereafter, though, the team slipped into a months-long funk.
Preseason MAAC Player of the Year Ryan Thompson struggled in December and January and Rider needed to win six of its final nine MAAC games just to finish .500 (9-9) in the league.
After losing to Siena in the MAAC tournament semifinals, Rider finished 17-16 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2006-07.
The feeling, both inside and outside the Broncs’ locker room, was that the team underachieved.
Yet the upcoming season is far from hopeless. Rider doesn’t have Ryan Thompson, but does have four returning starters, several of whom — Justin Robinson, Mike Ringgold and Novar Gadson — have shown streaks of dominance.
Rider also has what could be Dempsey’s best recruiting class. Shooting guard Anthony Myles is the school’s first HoopScoop top 200 recruit, and power forward Danny Stewart is expected to provide immediate help with defense and rebounding.
The Broncs suffered from poor chemistry last year, a factor that led to three players — forward Jermaine Jackson and guards Carl Johnson and DeShawn Mitchell — leaving the program.
“We didn’t play as well together last year,” Dempsey said. “We didn’t rebound the ball well and we didn’t play good enough defense. Those are areas we’re stressing every day, and areas they seem to embrace.”