LOCATION: West Point, NY
CONFERENCE: Patriot League
LAST SEASON: 8-19 (.296)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 4-8 (5th)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 2/3
NICKNAME: Cadets, Black Knights
COLORS: Black, Gold & Gray
HOMECOURT: Christl Arena (5,043)
COACH: Pat Harris (Army '79)
record at school 16-38 (2 years)
career record 16-38 (2 years)
ASSISTANTS: Chris Beal (Towson State '92)|
Denny Carroll (Dayton '71)
Marty Coyne (Army '81)
Andy Johnston (New Hampshire '87)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 12-7-10-8-8
RPI (last 5 years) 266-307-290-285-290
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in conference quarterfinal.
Call it the fish-or-cut-bait moment. Every coach imported to revive a sagging program faces it. At some point, his grace period is rescinded, and the faltering steps forward or unintended stumbles backward are no longer enough. More defining strides are required. The folks upstairs want proof that their faith in the coach is being rewarded. They want real victories, not just moral ones. For the last two seasons, Army's Pat Harris has been riding the wave of low expectations. The Cadets have not played a postseason game since 1978, so no one thought he could lead the team to the promised land right away. Eight victories in his rookie season seemed reasonable and, given his unabashed enthusiasm for the entire West Point experience, even tolerable. Last season was, well, more of the same an identical 8-19 record. Outscored by more than 13 points per game. Another second-division Patriot League finish. One and done in the Patriot Tournament. And so on. So perhaps it's time for Harris to cast his line into the water or just hang out and drink beer back at the tackle shop. After all, he has had a few seasons to implement his system, to recruit his guys, to see who can play and who can't. It doesn't seem unreasonable for West Point brass to expect some legitimate forward strides.
Frankly, baby steps just aren't going to cut it anymore. What will make Harris' job more difficult are the graduation losses of his starting backcourt, George Tatum and Babe Kwasniak. Tatum, an All-Patriot first-team pick, paced the Cadets in scoring (14.8 ppg) and chipped in 5.2 rebounds per game, a nice average for a swingman. Kwasniak saw his numbers drop significantly from the season before, although he had a team-high 86 assists. Army will thus try to progress with three returning starters, although one of them, Joe Clark, broke a foot 10 games into the season and never came back. In addition, these Cadets are mighty young: There are no seniors and only two juniors. "Chemistry will be very important to this team, both on and off the court," Harris said. "We will be a young team that will need to come together and mature. ... Having such a young team is both exciting and scary in the same breath. The fact that we are so young means that we have a tremendous upside, and if our players believe in themselves and our program, it could be a very good season." Harris will look to his frontcourt players to carry the load. His top returning scorer is 6-4 junior forward Seth Barrett (12.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 34 steals), the squad's leading rebounder and shot-blocker (21). Barrett shot well .496 from the floor and .717 from the line and showed a nice overall improvement of his game over his freshman season, when he was chosen to the league's all-rookie team. "We'll need Seth to extend his game a bit,"Harris said. "He's good with his back to the basket, but we want him to develop his medium-range shot. He's a great athlete and came on strong at the end of last season." Looking to return to form at small forward is 6-5 junior Clark (4.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who joined Barrett on the all-rookie team two years ago. Clark broke his ankle in the spring of 1998, which may have contributed to his slow start last season, then fractured a foot last December and was lost for the year. If his injury troubles are behind him, Barrett gives Harris the versatility of a reliable swingman. "Joe has done a great job of adding to his game and improving upon his weaknesses," Harris said. "He is continuing to develop physically and we will need his leadership as well as his on-court contributions. "When you are void of upperclass players, like we are now, you often lack consistency and leadership," he said. "For us, Joe Clark and Seth Barrett have to step forward and become the leaders of this team." At just 6-7, sophomore Jont Harrell (5.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), often found himself overmatched at center, where he played for the bulk of his 24 starting assignments last season. Harrell had a decent freshman season. He will look to break out this season by supplementing his play in the pivot with a fair amount of time at forward. This should allow him to continue to rebound as well as take advantage of his open-court skills. Clark's injury led to substantial minutes for 6-5 sophomore forward Charles Woodruff (2.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg), who had a so-so freshman season. He gained valuable seasoning in his unexpected role, appearing in all 27 of Army's games, and Harris will look for a greater contribution from him this time around. Two newcomers, 6-5 freshman Matt Collins (Chantilly HS/Centreville, Va.) and 6-4 sophomore Neil Forbes (North Kingstown HS/North Kingstown, R.I.), will also seek playing time at forward. Forbes spent his entire year on the junior-varsity team. Sharing time with Harrell at center will be 6-9 sophomore Matt Rutledge (2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg), a seven-game starter who averaged 12 minutes in each of his 24 games. Rutledge is considered something of a project, but he possesses two things one can't teach size and potential. With the Patriot League largely devoid of dominant big men, Harris has visions of a future superstar. "Matt has made great strides since he's been here," Harris said. "We were forced to give Matt a lot of minutes last year, but he progressed nicely. He still needs to develop his skills and get comfortable with his role." Also manning the pivot is 6-7 freshman Adam Glosier (St. Charles West HS/St. Charles, Mo.), who will swing out to power forward as well. Despite the graduation of Tatum and Kwasniak, the backcourt isn't entirely unstable. Chris Spatola (8.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg), a 5-11 sophomore, started 16 games and played in all of Army's games as a freshman. He was the team's top three-point shooter (.422), its third-leading scorer and its second-leading assist man (62). He also earned a spot on the league's all-rookie team. Spatola will enter this season as the Cadets' starting lead guard. Despite Spatola's reliable outside touch, he will be looked on to provide a steadying influence as a passer, not to shoot the lights out. "Chris understands his role as a point guard," Harris said. "He won't have to score to contribute to this team." Who spells Tatum at the two slot is the bigger issue. The most experienced option is 6-1 sophomore Joe Quinn (1.8 ppg, 0.6 rpg), who saw limited action in 21 games. The hard-working Quinn made an impressive 7-of-16 three-point shots. The only other Cadet with experience is 5-11 sophomore Frank Schafer (0.7 ppg, 0.1 rpg), who played in just nine games. A more intriguing possibility has Harris handing the point-guard reins to 5-9 freshman Ray Fredrick (Hillside HS/Durham, N.C.), who played well at the point for the U.S. Military Academy Prep School team last year. Undersized, he brings a great deal of quickness to his game, not to mention the guts to take the ball to the hole. If Harris likes what he sees, Fredrick will play the point and Spatola will shift his smooth stroke to the two slot. Also competing for time will be 6-1 freshman Justin Haney (Villa Park HS/Anaheim Hills, Calif.).
Blue Ribbon Analysis
BACKCOURT C BENCH/DEPTH D|
FRONTCOURT D+ INTANGIBLES D
Pat Harris enters the third year of his attempted salvation of Army with what looks to be a depleted arsenal. His backcourt features Chris Spatola, an all-around decent player but not, as yet, anyway, a superstar, and a question mark at the other slot; his frontcourt includes the solid Seth Barrett, the rusty Joe Clark, and the out-of-position Jont Harrell. To top that, the Cadets are a frightfully short team that shoots poorly. The bench is untested and not particularly impressive. All in all, it's not exactly the best recipe for cooking up a winner. On the plus side, last year's injury problems exposed more of the squad's youngsters to playing time they wouldn't have gotten otherwise. No one graduates after this season, so if these guys can find a way to jell, they will return armed with confidence and chemistry next year. And many current Cadets impressed enough people as freshmen to earn spots on various years' Patriot All-Rookie teams. Alas, Army's history has seen too many of those up-and-comers flame out as sophomore jinxes. Every time this program seems ready to put it all together, the weight of recent despair comes crashing down, bringing with it yet another losing season. These Cadets are at a similar place: If the young players are able to fulfill their potential and stand and deliver, Army will, well, still lose more than it wins this season. But they just might give West Point a reason to believe a corner has been turned. Otherwise, Pat Harris may find himself slicing worms in the not-too-distant future.
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