Jeffs Ready For Return to National Prominence|
November 27, 2000
AMHERST, MA - Mix a dash of veteran leadership, a pinch of talented sophomores, toss in some spicy newcomers and blend thoroughly with a smidgen of team chemistry, and you have Head Coach Dave Hixon's secret recipe for men's basketball success in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
Hixon returns 11 players from a 1999-00 squad that won 14 if its last 16 games, including a convincing 95-79 win in its regular-season finale at Conn. College - the top ranked team in the region at the time - to finish 19-9 overall, earning one of four at-large bids in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Senior tri-captains Brian Daoust (Dover, MA), Erik Kelly (Staples, MN) and Abe Sexson (Athens, Greece) all return as tournament-tested veterans, ready to point the way toward a second consecutive trek to the "Big Dance".
Daoust, fresh off a stint as an All-Region defensive back on the Jeffs' NESCAC Champion football team, is a four-year starting point guard, leading the conference in free throw percentage at just under 87% as a junior to go along with a team-high 96 assists and a 12.0 point scoring average. Kelly was the Jeffs' leading scorer at 14.3 points per game on the strength of a team-high 68 three-pointers from the shooting-guard slot, and also led the NESCAC with 71 steals. Meanwhile, Sexson, a 6'9" center with international experience, looks to be a force on the boards after bolstering Amherst's reserves as a junior.
The Jeffs also boast four talented sophomores who look to make a big impression as the season wears on. 6'8" center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) gained valuable experience in 24 games as a rookie, averaging 5.8 points and 2.6 boards off the bench, while fellow big-man Stephen Zieja (Hadley, MA) added 7.8 points and 4.7 rebounds on a nightly basis. 6'3" swingman Suli Jenkins (Brooklyn, NY) and reserve point guard Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH) were similarly impressive as newcomers and showed continued improvement during a rigorous pre-season training camp.
Aside from a solid crew of returnees, several newcomers will have an immediate impact, such as 6'2" guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC), who Hixon describes as a "multi-faceted player and great defender who can really shoot the ball," and combo-guard John Donovan (Colt's Neck, NJ), a defensive stopper who shot 87% from the charity-strip as a prep All-Star. Also look for 6-4 power-forward Tim Jones (Richmond, VA) to add some punch on the offensive glass to go along with a deft shooting touch in the paint.
"I think our young guys will have to mature quickly to fill the void left by three experienced graduated players, particularly at the big-man spot," said Hixon, in his 24th season at the Amherst helm. "Senior leadership at the guard slots will help, but it'll take an overall team effort to get back to the post-season."
The Jeffs will have a new pot of gold to shoot for after a demanding 23-game regular-season slate, as the top seven teams in the NESCAC will qualify for a first-ever conference tournament and a chance at an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. First, Hixon's Jeffs will have to contend with their most difficult schedule in recent memory, including perennial NESCAC rivals Conn. College and Williams, as well as a bevy on tough non-conference foes.
"Our NESCAC schedule speaks for itself," Hixon added. "Besides that, we continue to play some of the strongest teams in the region in Babson, Brandeis, Worcester State and Clark University. We also play some key games on the road that make our schedule more difficult than it may be a year for now."
Amherst opens its season Tuesday night at non-league rival Mass. College with its home opener set for Thursday night at 7:30 against Clark University. The Jeffs split their meetings with the two schools during the 1999-00 season, including a 108-72 opening-night home win over Mass. College.