The Marist men’s basketball team is prepared to shake up the MAAC with the new additions made to the team, including the three freshman recruits that are new to the Red Fox squad. The Red Foxes have traveled to Washington D.C. to take on American University tonight at 8:00 p.m. to open their season.
Adding two new point guards to the roster, the duo of Noah Harris and Jao Ituka, will add significant depth to the team’s guard position. The point guards have impressive offensive stat lines coming out of high school. Harris averaged 24.5 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.9 rebounds in a shortened 2020-21 season with Rutgers Prep. Ituka averaged 27.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.2 in his 2019-20 season for Gaithersburg High School in Gaithersburg, MD.
On the defensive side of the ball, center Rollin Belton was a significant signing for Marist. Belton was the top defender for Ruston High School in Louisiana, finishing with a 16-7 team record in 2020 while he averaged eight points, six rebounds, and three steals. Listed as 6-foot-8 on the roster, the center will prove to be an impactful addition for the Red Foxes.
“[I’m excited] to be in a new environment and getting adapted to everything. Not only that, but college life,” said Belton.
Despite the big step-up, all three freshmen are quickly adapting to the new program. Due to the extra year of playing eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, starting center Jordan Jones and guard Terrence Echols are returning to play for the 2021-2022 season as graduate students. Having a more mature squad is helping the new recruits feel acclimated, which will result in the Red Foxes having a more solidified team.
“We’re all really close and we hang out with each other,” said Ituka. “Nobody’s trying to let anybody down, and you got your brother’s back.”
Ituka also mentioned the relationships he has formed with members of the team that have helped him mesh into his own role, including senior guard Matt Herasme. “He’s really somebody I look up to on the team, [for] leadership and advice,” said Ituka. “I can talk to him about anything, and that goes for all of the upperclassmen too.”
Whereas Belton and Ituka are adapting to a college environment far from home, Harris is a New Jersey native who played for Rutgers Prep in Somerset, NJ. He agreed that being close to home was a big motive for playing in Poughkeepsie. “My parents can come see me play here at Marist, so the distance is huge,” he said.
The recruits also commented on the good relationship they have solidified with the coaching staff. The first-year recruits have molded into the program led by head coach John Dunne, who has led the Red Foxes to impressive win totals in just three seasons of coaching. “The coaches are my guys; I can talk to them whenever I want about basketball or not,” said Harris.
While entering a Division I program might sound nerve-wracking on its own, Ituka did not have problems fitting in. He was a three-year starter for Gaithersburg and a leader for the offensive system that allowed his team to be so successful. He cited that his mindset is what let him adapt to the chemistry on the team.
“I’m a competitor and love to compete and I didn’t really think about whether it was easy or not,” said Ituka. “I just go out there and play hard, and everything else really came full circle.”
Competitiveness is a trait of Harris, too. Despite the pressure, he sounded confident and eager to start the 2021-22 season. To add to any nerves to start the season, the Red Foxes are on the road for the first three games of the season against American, Columbia, and Princeton.
“I just can’t wait for the energy in all of the buildings we’re going to play in, since we’re traveling a lot,” said Harris.
For Belton, the anticipation of playing in the college atmosphere was something to look forward to, not to shy away from. “I’m looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd,” he said. “I’m excited to be playing college basketball itself.”
While Marist upperclassmen make up the bulk of the roster, the freshmen hope to gain valuable experience this year by learning from their teammates and developing their own game. Due to the responsibilities at the point guard position, Harris believes building a leader mindset will be the most important factor to improving his game during his first season with the team.
“I’m trying to become more of a leader on the court, and I can do that vocally or just by playing my game,” said Harris. “I’m just trying to build up more and more conscience that I need to get there.”
Edited by Connor Kurpat and Sam DiGiovanni
Photo from Marist Athletics