Rider Notebook: Baggett wants Broncs ready to run
LAWRENCEVILLE — One thing is clear about new Rider coach Kevin Baggett: his team is going to be in shape.
“More running,” said junior forward Danny Stewart when asked to name some of the changes Baggett has made since taking over for Tommy Dempsey.
“He wants us in tip-top shape.”
Baggett said he wants to get back to the days when Jason Thompson was at Rider and the team would get out and run.
“I don’t think teams get back defensively the way they need to and I want to be able to put pressure on a defense,” Baggett said. “I want to press, and in order to do those things you have to be in shape. I think early on we always did a good job of gradually getting in shape, and I’m trying to make them get in shape sooner rather than later.”
The Broncs averaged 71.6 points per game last season, second to Iona (82.9), but the real problem was on the defensive end. Rider finished ninth in the conference, allowing 74.6 points per game.
Baggett already has his team working to remedy that.
“He wants us to get up on people,” said senior guard Jon Thompson. “He wants us denying one pass away.”
He’s also wasted little time drilling it into his team’s head that another start like the one they had a season ago is unacceptable.
The Broncs got off to a 1-10 start, the program’s worst in 68 years, and although they eventually found their legs and won 10 conference games, the season was disappointing. Then Dempsey surprised a lot of people when he left to take the coaching job at lowly Binghamton.
All of a sudden, Baggett was the man.
He has seven new faces — six freshmen and St. John’s transfer Nurideen Lindsey — whom he’ll have to blend together.
“The guys that are returning, I’m yelling at them to tell those newcomers what we went through last year so we don’t go through it again,” Baggett said. “I think the unfortunate part for some of the newcomers is that they can’t really understand right now, but when they get thrown in the fire that first game, they’ll understand.”
Rider opens the season Nov. 9 at Alumni Gymnasium against Robert Morris.
Baggett said he’s expecting a strong season from Danny Stewart. The 6-foot-7 junior is going to play his more natural position — power forward — since Junior Fortunat is ready to step in at center.
Fortunat, a 6-foot-9 sophomore from Montreal, missed the first 10 games a season ago while he waited for the NCAA to clear his academic transcript.
“I need Stewart to take the next step and be able to play on the perimeter,” Baggett said. “He’s worked hard this summer on his body and being able to put the ball on the floor and shoot perimeter shots.”
Stewart made 28 starts last season, averaging 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
“We have high hopes,” Stewart said. “There’s a paper in the locker room that shows all the standings and we’re (picked) ninth. We have to come out and play hard. We have a new team — six freshmen — and we have to build chemistry. I think chemistry is a real big thing this year.”
Baggett hopes moving him back to power forward will help him stay fresh.
“I thought he got off to a good start last year and faded a little bit toward the end of the year,” Baggett said. “I need him to be consistent throughout the entire year. I think having Junior will help because Danny had to guard five-men and bang with them and I think he got worn out early.”
Rider will play a closed-door scrimmage Oct. 30 and then an exhibition Nov. 3 against Scranton.
The Royals went 17-6 last season, reaching the Division III Elite Eight.
Baggett said he’s set with four of his five starters at this point with Lindsey and Thompson in the back court and Stewart and Fortunat in the front court. The fifth spot is still up for grabs.
Baggett could opt for junior guard Anthony Myles or 6-foot-7 freshman forward Shawn Valentine, who’s made an early impression.
The coach also said there are no injury concerns outside of the usual bumps and bruises that come with practice.
If you had trouble keeping track of the roster changes this summer, here’s a look at who’s in and who’s out.
IN: Khalil Alford, Jamal Nwaniemeka, Zedric Sadler, Derrick Stewart, Shawn Valentine (scholarship freshmen), Myles Melville (walk-on), Nurideen Lindsey (transfer).
OUT: Novar Gadson, Brandon Penn, Jeff Jones, Kevin Noon (graduation), Eddie Mitchell, Charles Oliver, Mark Medley (transfer).