Despite a tough start to his tenure at Fordham a year ago, men's basketball coach Tom Pecora has high hopes for his Rams this coming season.
"This is an unforgiving league, as any good league is," Pecora said at the Atlantic 10's annual Media Day in Brooklyn on Thursday. "But I feel confident we're gonna make strides in moving forward this year."
After winning four games in a row in December 2010, including a stunning comeback victory over St. John's, Fordham proceeded to lose 17 games in a row between Dec. 29 and March 2. The Rams salvaged a 77-73 win over UMass in their final game of the season to avoid going 0-16 in the league.
That would have been Fordham's second straight winless season in the Atlantic 10, after going 1-15 in 2008-09 -- leading to the dismissal of former coach Dereck Whittenburg.
Pecora, who led Hofstra to four 20-win seasons in his final six years there before taking the job at Fordham, wasn't used to losing on that kind of scale.
"I wasn't shocked by it (though)," Pecora said. "What set us back a little bit was Brenton Butler got hurt, played a little banged up for a while. And then Marvin Dominique got hurt, and that really hurt us because we lost depth on the baseline, so foul trouble plagued us and we had to sit in zones more than we thought.
"Now, there were some A-10 games where I thought we were gonna be able to eke out a win, and then we just folded late. And I think a lot of that had to do with -- it's not about just the minutes they're playing that night, it's about the minutes prior and the way you have to practice when you're banged up and things like that."
Fordham lost just one starter, Butler, from last year's squad. The Rams will again be led by 6-foot-7 junior forward Chris Gaston, who led the team with 15.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game last season. (The rebounding average placed him fourth in Division I.) But Pecora has also added seven freshmen to the roster, including some high-scoring guards from local New York City high schools.
"I'm excited. I think that it'll be more like teams I've coached in the past, in the sense that I felt at times last year due to our lack of depth I had to coach every pass, and I'm not built that way," Pecora said. "I like to give guys freedom offensively, and I'll coach 'em up defensively and really get them right rebounding and defending the basketball. But by having greater depth this year we'll be able to play a little bit more like our teams have played in the past."
Fordham was picked to again finish in last place in the Atlantic 10 in the conference's preseason poll, but Pecora thinks his team will do better than that -- although he won't set a specific goal.
"I don't put hard numbers down," Pecora said. "We have the same goals all the time. We talk about having a winning nonconference record. We talk about having a winning record at home -- I mean, that's important as you build a program, the first thing you need to do is win at home. And then as you mature, you can go win on the road. And I think we'll move forward in that process as time goes on."
Fordham opens up its season at Syracuse on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 4 p.m.