Lumpkins premature departure has American University scrambling
About this series: This look at American University’s prospects for the coming season is the first in a series of eight team-by-team SWOT previews of the Patriot League.
For those not familiar with the SWOT concept, here is what the acronym stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
In this context, we examine what are each teams strengths and weaknesses, who might get opportunities or what opportunities there may be for team success and what are the biggest threats to the team’s success in the 2011-12 season.
LAST SEASON: 22-9 (.710)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 11-3 (2nd)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 4/1
2010-11 FINISH: Lost in Patriot semifinal.
COACH: Jeff Jones (Virginia ‘82)
RECORD AT SCHOOL: 182-150 (11 years)
CAREER RECORD: 328-254 (19 years)
For the first time in five years, American enters the season unsure of where its points will come from.
Between Garrison Carr (2008, 2009) and Vlad Moldoveanu (2010, 2011), the Eagles have enjoyed the luxury of playing with one of the league’s top two or three scorers on their side.
That luxury is gone this season. In fact, for the first time in five years AU enters the season without a proven scorer in its lineup.
It wasn’t planned this way. When last season ended, coach Jeff Jones figured on building this season’s offense around second team all-league big man Stephen Lumpkins.
Then came June’s baseball draft and Lumpkins went from being AU’s big man in the middle to the big man on the mound for a Kansas City Royals farm team.
“We didn’t know that was coming. That blindsided us,” said Jones.
Losing the 6-8 Lumpkins in June forced AU to scrap its plans for this season and go back to the drawing board. An August trip to Italy allowed Jones and his staff to explore its options. They think they have an alternative approach figured out.
Still, at the league’s media day in late October, just two weeks before the season opens, Jones said he was still putting together the piece of his team’s new system.
“We’re kind of doing it on the fly,” he said. “We’re having to improvise.”
Fortunately for American, it is Jones doing the adjusting. In a season of uncertainty, the Eagles can take some comfort in knowing the guy with the best winning percentage of any active coach in the league is calling the shots.
A two-time Patriot League coach of the year, Jones has led the Eagles to four regular season league titles, more than any other active coach. Jones’ 182 Patriot League wins are second only to Lafayette’s Fran O’Hanlon (226), who had a six-season head start. Add in Jones’ 146 wins at Virginia, where he took the Wahoos to five NCAA Tournament appearances and another in the NIT in eight seasons at the helm, and he actually has 102 more career coaching wins than O’Hanlon.
Jones’ .574 winning percentage is tops among current PL coaches and ranks fourth among the league’s coaches all time. Not counting newcomers Ed DeChellis (Navy) and Matt Langel (Colgate), Jones is the only Patriot League coach whose team has never had a losing record in league play, something even former league coaching greats Pat Flannery and Ralph Willard cannot boast.
No wonder AU recently rewarded him with a contract extension that runs through the 2016 season.
In rough seas, there is much to be said for having a strong, steady hand on the helm, and Jones gives American just that.
The obvious weakness is up front, where the loss of Lumpkins means 6-10 sophomore Tony Wroblicky will be forced into an expanded role.
Jones’ original plan was to allow Wroblicky to continue his development coming off the bench to relieve Lumpkins. Now Wroblicky will have to start and play the bulk of the minutes in the post.
“Wroblicky is the one guy we think can consistently be an offensive post presence,” Jones said. “He needs to demand the ball. We’re hoping he develops a scorer’s mentality.”
Riley Graft (0 ppg, 0.2 rpg), a forgotten man last year, should also get minutes at the five spot. Graft, a 6-11 senior, started 16 games as a sophomore, most filling Moldoveanu’s spot until the George Mason transfer became eligible to play at the end of the first semester.
Graft led the team in scoring four times and averaged 5.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in around 19 minutes playing time per game. But with Moldoveanu available full time and Wroblicky emerging as Lumpkins’ backup, he became the forgotten man in Jones rotation, only seeing action in five games.
By necessity, Graft will play more this season. So should 6-7 junior Daniel Fisher (0.2 ppg, 0.4 rpg), an Australian import who has only played 125 minutes total his first two seasons.
“Daniel is a little undersized, but he can bang,” Jones says. “He and Graft will back Wroblicky. We’ll go with a three-guy rotation, sort of a tag-team. It does give us 15 fouls to use.”
That will be more of a problem in some of AU’s non-conference matchups than it will be in the Patriot League, where top-quality big men are few and far between.
Still, Jones can’t be excited about the prospect of having to use Wroblicky, Graft and Fisher to guard somebody like Bucknell’s Mike Muscala., who dropped 54 points on the Eagles in two meetings last season (and that was against Lumpkins). Those 15 fouls Jones alluded to? Muscala was 15 of 19 from the line in those two games.
Again, the coach is looking at Plan B.
“We’re not going to be as much a standard sit down, go toe-to-toe with you and play head-up in man-to-man. We’re going to have to do some different things because we are much smaller than we have been for the last several years,” said Jones.
The other question mark is at the point. Last season it was point guard by committee for the Eagles, with off guard Nick Hendra actually serving as the team’s main playmaker.
Hendra has graduated and Jones is still searching for a lead guard.
“Getting the point guard position solidified is one of the most important things or us. That was a problem last year,” said the coach.
Most likely it will be junior Danny Munoz, who started 20 games at the point as a not-ready-for-primetime freshman two years ago and came off the bench last season.
“We’ve seen some glimpses of Danny Munoz finally playing the way we thought he could when he was recruited,” Jones said.
As for a backup at the point, who knows. Before AU’s trip to Europe, Jones was cautiously optimistic about Wayne Simon, a 5-10 sophomore, who had been expected to command a lot of minutes at the point as a freshman but struggled with the transition to college ball and appeared in just 7 games last season, playing a total of 19 minutes.
“There is still more for Wayne to do before I will say I am comfortable with him in there,” Jones said before the trip. At the league’s media day, he didn’t mention Simon by name, so it would seem he still has a ways to go before he gets the coach’s vote of confidence.
If there is one thing an unsettled transition creates, it’s opportunities. At American, they abound.
Troy Brewer, a 6-5 senior who moved into the startling lineup last year after sitting out a season following his transfer from the University of Georgia will have a chance to be the go-to guy offensively.
Brewer knocked down 59 three-pointers last season, one less than team-leader Moldoveanu. Jones is looking for him to be a more complete player offensively this season, getting to the basket and the foul line more, rather than relying on spotting up at the arc.
“We will need Troy to take a more aggressive role offensively,” says Jones. “We have to figure out a way to get him 20 shots a game. he is going to have to carry the scoring load.”
Charles Hinkle, a 6-5 senior who played in 23 games last season after transferring from Vanderbilt, will also see his chances expand with Moldoveanu gone. Hinkle, who only played 13 minutes per game last year, is more naturally at home on the wing, but out of necessity, he will likely be used as an undersized four (a common commodity in the Patriot League).
Another guy who should see his minutes increase is junior guard Blake Jolivette was recruited as a point guard and even started there 10 games as a freshman. That experiment has ended, though, with the realization the 5-11 Jolivette is best suited to playing off the ball, where he will serve as a change of pace coming off the bench behind Brewer.
John Schoof, a 6-5 coach’s kid out of Fairfax, Va. will get a chance start right away as a freshman on the wing opposite Brewer. A solid shooter and decent ballhandler, Schoof is a glue guy who comes ready to handle Division I competition after playing at the highest levels of AAU ball.
Since joining the Patriot League in the 2001-2002 season, American has never finished in the bottom half of the league standings. But this could be the year the Eagles find out what it is like to play a first round tournament game on the road.
With the loss of Lumpkins, American heads into the season needing to replace its top two scorers, top two rebounders and its assists leader from last season’s second place squad.
As it was, the Eagles were going to need a committee to replace Moldoveanu’s 20.4 points per game. Without Lumpkins, the guy expected to chair that committee is gone.
American got by with a committee at the point last season, but that was mainly because selfless senior wing Nick Hendra stepped up to dish off 4.3 assists, ranking second in the league.
This year American has no proven distributor to run the offense and no proven go-to guy to dish to. Without doubt, offense is going to be a challenge.
“We have to figure out how to get to 64 (points),” Jones says.
Brewer did average double figures last season as the third option in American’s offense. But he is mostly a perimeter jump shooter and it remains to be seen if the rest of the Eagles’ offense can keep defenses honest enough for Brewer to get those 20 shots per game Jones is looking for.
Even if Brewer averages 20 ppg, its hard to figure where American is going to find the 44 other points each game Jones figures his team will need to have a chance to win.
Depth is also an issue. Suffice to say after the turmoil he went through when Lumpkins jumped ship, Jones doesn’t even want to think about what will happen if the Eagles have injury problems – especially if Brewer or Wroblicky were the guys who were hurt.
There are people Jones can plug in at the other spots. But take away their best remaining big man, or the anticipated top scorer, and American could be in a heap of trouble.
RED, WHITE, AND BLUE NOTES: Lumpkins was 2-1 with an ERA of 7.02 in 10 outings with the Royals Arizona Rookie League team … Opponents hit .343 against the big left-hander before he was shut down three weeks before the season ended … American opens with a Nov. 2 exhibition against Division 3 powerhouse Randolph-Macon, which is coached by former Bucknell, Navy and Colgate assistant Nathan Davis … The Yellowjackets knocked off AU two seasons ago and were withing 2-points in the final minute before AU pulled out a 61-55 win last season … Jones is one of two active coaches in the league to have taken two different schools to the NCAA Tournament (the other being new Navy head coach Ed DeChellis, who has been there with East Tennessee State and Penn State