[Charlon Kloof and Andrew Nicholson begin to celebrate St. Bonaventure’s first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference title – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]
By Ryan Lazo, Co-editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13
Mark Schmidt walked up to the podium during his introductory press conference in 2007 and told the media hordes that he planned to have St. Bonaventure University basketball back on the map within five years.
Perhaps a trip to the local market to pick up a mega-millions ticket should be his next stop after proving his proclamation true last season. The Bonnies stunned everyone by capturing the program’s first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference title.
But after losing seniors Da’Quan Cook and Andrew Nicholson, expectations in Olean, N.Y. are considerably lower than last season.
Bona was selected to finish 11th in the preseason coaches’ poll and had no player represented on a preseason All-Conference team for the first time since 2008.
However, the players are striving to prove them wrong.
“Our guys want to prove that they were not a one-man show,” Schmidt said at the Big 4 Media Day. “That’s the chip on their shoulder. We need to make up for those 18 points and nine rebounds.”
And contrary to what many believe, it is possible for the Bonnies to surprise again.
Yes, it’s true that not only was Nicholson the best player in the A-10 but one of the best in the country.
But don’t forget about the team he had around him — a team that returns 10 letter winners from last season including five seniors. And one of those seniors is seemingly a forgotten man.
Michael Davenport had his season cut short after suffering a shoulder injury, but the shooting guard is being counted on by Bona’s head man.
“We’re expecting him to score the ball,” Schmidt said. “He has a chance to be a 1,000-point scorer, and we don’t have many of those throughout a career.”
And he is just one of the reasons why this St. Bonaventure team will exceed expectations and surprise once again.
Why the optimism?
Well, for starters this may possibly be the deepest team Bona has had in years. With a stable of guards that would make even Xavier blush, the Bonnies have the firepower to go shot-to-shot with the elite teams of the conference.
And it starts with the continued development of Demitrius Conger. Conger was second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 12.1 points per game and also grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game.
But it was the semi-final game against University of Massachusetts Amherst where he unveiled the potential he has.
In a game begging for someone to step up with Nicholson riding the pine because of foul trouble, it was Conger who took over. Utilizing an assortment of moves: hop-steps, up and unders and spin-moves, he was able to open up space in the lane for his own shot and set up others.
And when it was over, he finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists — just two assists shy of St. Bonaventure’s first triple-double.
But the depth doesn’t stop there.
Charlon Kloof took over the reins of point guard and gave Bona a weapon it didn’t have in years. Not only was Kloof able to find open teammates, but he could also create for himself.
Perhaps even more important was how he completely shut down opposing teams’ guards on defense.
Add in Jordan Gathers and Youssou Ndoye after one full year of experience under their belts, and this Bona team suddenly looks dangerous.
Well, a finish in the top seven of the conference is not out of the question.
And as Bona fans found out last season, one weekend during the conference tournament can change everything.
St. Bonaventure may have lost their star in Nicholson, but the depth and talent of the team is more than enough to keep them well armed in defense of their A-10 title.