Brown men’s basketball revamps its roster for a challenging 2017-18 season

Last season, the Brown men’s basketball team went 9-7 in nonconference action.  The nine wins tied the program’s record for non-league victories with the 2001-02 and 2014-15 teams.  The Bears’ 8-0 start at home was the best beginning since the 1934-35 squad. In league play, Brown appeared to get a boost of confidence from its nonconference schedule, dominating Penn and Cornell on the road and losing by one at home to Yale. With a 2-3 start in Ivy competition, the Bears were looking good for the fourth spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament.  

Unfortunately, Brown lost its next five matches, derailing its hopes for an upper division finish. Despite beating Dartmouth on the road to start the next to last weekend of the season, the loss to Harvard the following evening eliminated the Bears from postseason play.  The team did bounce back in its penultimate game, beating Columbia by 20 and damaging the Lions’ hope for the league’s final four. A Senior Night loss to Cornell left the Bears with a 4-10 record (13-17 overall), tied for sixth in the Ancient Eight.

Brown loses three vitally important players to graduation.  Steven Spieth was a first-team All-Ivy forward who averaged 17.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals a game.  In his career, he started 117 games with 1,367 points, 687 rebounds and 337 assists.  At the point, Tavon Blackmon averaged 11.1 points and 3.9 assists per contest.  Overall, he started 109 games, totaling 1,166 points and 465 assists.  Shooting guard JR Hobbie shot 66 three pointers on 47 percent outside shooting, averaging 2.3 made three-pointers and 7.9 points a game.  In his four years, he shot 42 percent from downtown and hit a school record 257 threes.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Bears will be led by four players who saw significant playing time last year. Junior wing Obi Okolie started 29 games, averaging 9.1 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. Sophomore guard Brandon Anderson started 28 games, averaging 8.2 points on 40 percent shooting. Sophomore Joshua Howard started 22 contests, averaging 8.7 points on 52 percent shooting, as well as 4.2 rebounds a game. Junior forward Travis Fuller started seven games averaging 7.5 points on 52 percent shooting, along with 5.7 rebounds a game.

With the loss of three seniors as well as five other players for unspecified reasons, Coach Mike Martin had to bring in a big class of five first-years and one sophomore transfer to add to his roster of seven returning players. The incoming group includes Zach Hunsaker, a 6’ 2” guard from Snow (Utah) College. He averaged 20.4 points a game and hit 92 three pointers in a season where he was named to the NJCAA-Division 1 (Junior College) All-American first team. Desmond Cambridge, a 6’ 4” guard/forward from Tennessee, played a prep year at the Hun School of Princeton. He averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, while being named the New Jersey Prep Player of the Year by The Trentonian. Matt DeWolf is a 6’ 9” power forward from nearby Barrington, who played his last two years at Northfield Mount Hermon prep school.  Last year, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. George Mawanda-Kalema is a 6’ 3” guard from Virginia, who averaged 20.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his senior season.  Tamenang Choh, a 6’ 5” small forward from Massachusetts, averaged 10.7 points a game for the Brooks School.  Lastly, Jake Shaper is a 6’ 3” shooting guard from the Kinkaid School of Houston.

In addition to the new recruits, Brown will see the return of senior Jason Massey.  The 6’ 4” shooting guard from Florida played for the Bears his first two seasons before sitting out last year.  In his 2015-16 sophomore campaign, he played in 27 games, starting 18, averaging 6.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists a contest.

The Bears’ 2017-18 schedule includes a 13-game nonconference slate that features three contests against Rhode Island (Nov. 28) and Providence (Dec. 6),  Northwestern (Dec. 30) teams that made last year’s NCAA Tournament and are expected to compete for spots to the Big Dance in 2018. Other than a match at Stony Brook (Nov. 22), the remainder of the pre-Ivy League schedule consists of games against lower-ranked regional mid-majors and one Division III team. Brown will host games against Johnson & Wales (Nov. 11), LIU-Brooklyn (Nov. 25), UMass-Lowell (Dec. 9), Marist (Dec. 22) and NJIT (Jan. 3). The squad will travel to Quinnipiac (Nov. 13), St. Francis of NY (Nov. 19), Bryant (Nov. 26), and Central Connecticut State (Dec. 2), in addition to visits to the Seawolves, the Wildcats and its two major Ocean State rivals.

On Jan. 12, the Bears start league play with a visit to New Haven for the first of two consecutive Saturday night games against Yale.  The team will have its first full Ivy weekend on the 26th and 27th, when Dartmouth and Harvard come to the Pizzitola Center. Following three straight home games, the Bears will travel to Penn and defending champion Princeton before returning home for Cornell and Columbia on February 9 and 10.  

Brown will start the second half of the conference schedule with four straight road games.  The Bears will visit Harvard and Dartmouth on the 16th and 17th, followed by trips to the Lions and Big Red on the 23rd and 24th.  The team will return home for the final weekend of the regular season with a game against the Tigers on March 2nd and a Senior Night contest against the Quakers on the 3rd.

With the graduation of its seniors, Brown losses a large amount of its leadership, in addition to its statistics.  The returning core will have to make up for both as the team goes through the 2017-18 season. The youth of the roster and overall quality of the nonconference schedule may not be enough for the team to achieve a final four result in an Ivy League that has a strong upper division and an improved lower division.  However, the team should develop confidence and experience as it gets ready for a promising future.