Men’s Basketball Preview: Examining the Drastic Changes, Returning Cast, and Outlook of John Dunne’s Squad

Marist Men’s Basketball is back. 

After an unexpected tournament run to the MAAC championship game enshrined in the program’s history, the Red Foxes begin their 2023-2024 tonight facing local opponent Army West Point. 

Marist finished last season in last place in the MAAC (13-20 overall, 6-14 MAAC), but won three straight playoff games in Atlantic City to reach the championship. They were merely one game from March Madness before losing a 76-55 loss to the Iona Gaels, ending their run and turning the page to the offseason.

“Every year is a brand new team, you start from scratch,” said head coach John Dunne. “We have returners that have the experience of success in the tournament, getting to the championship game.”

Some key returners Dunne alluded to are sophomore guard Isaiah Brickner, junior guard Noah Harris, senior guard Kam Farris, and graduate student forward Javon Cooley. All four players are integral in continuing the momentum created in the MAAC tournament.

“We have guys that know what it takes. We can come in with the same intention that we ended last year with,” said Brickner.

Marist struggled offensively last season, ranking 10th in the MAAC in scoring per game and ninth in three-point shooting percentage, assists per game, and rebounding margin. Underwhelming offense led to multiple losing streaks of three games or more, and winning consecutive games only twice in conference play. 

In fact, only one player on the roster last year averaged over 10 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from the field. 

“Our best attribute, other than Patrick [Gardner], was our high character; our willingness day in and day out to prepare to win. Even when things weren’t going well for us as a team or individually. That’s not easy to do,” said Dunne. 

Though there’s no need to mention, the significant change in the roster is the loss of the aforementioned star center Patrick Gardner. The Merrick, New York native was an All-MAAC Second-Team and NABC All-District First-Team selection, averaging 19 points a game, shooting 49 percent overall and 38 percent from deep. He is now a member of the Long Island Nets, the NBA G-League affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets. 

“You can’t replace Patrick with one player, so you just have to do it by committee. He was one of the most efficient players in our league and a bucket-getter. Last year, we were centered around him,” said Dunne.

A player who helps fill that scoring void is guard Isaiah Brickner. A cog in Marist’s run to the MAAC championship, he scored 21 points in the quarterfinal win over Quinnipiac and led the team in assists last season. His development will be a key indicator of how much success Marist has this year.

“We had a completely new team last year, we didn’t really have a leader. I think I’m trying to step into that role, being able to be that second coach on the floor,” said Brickner.

Along with Gardner, Marist lost additional players in the frontcourt, hurting the depth. Graduate student Stephane Ingo exhausted eligibility and sophomore center Rollin Belton transferred to Ouachita Baptist University. 

Players expected to fill these big-man minutes come to Marist through the vast depths of the transfer portal, which Dunne utilized to bring Gardner and Ingo to Marist in the first place. Sophomore center Max Allen II, transferring from San Jose State University, and junior forward Jackson Price, transferring from The Citadel.

“Max is a big guy who’s got good skill inside. We basically lost all our bigs, so Max and then Jackson Price who is a transfer and has an opportunity to make an impact for us,” said Dunne.

Allen is “basically a freshman” according to Dunne because he played so little at SJSU in 2022 before suffering a season-ending injury. Playing at a high-level high school program in AZ Compass Prep, Allen will look to be a key piece to this Marist team. 

“Be a big, physical guy, making sure we are all playing physical and holding the team accountable,” said Allen.

Price comes to Marist as primarily a bench player at The Citadel, averaging 6.7 points per game in 16 minutes per game last season. 

Another player who could see time down low is freshman forward Jason Schofield. Schofield, a 2024 recruit, re-classed to join the Red Foxes this season and won a championship with South Kent School in Connecticut, where fellow Red Fox junior forward Matt McCool spent one prep year before joining Marist in 2022.

The coaching staff saw changes too; former University of North Carolina guard Derrick Phelps joined to serve the Marist bench as an assistant coach. Dunne’s coaching staff shifted after assistant Dorian Long left the program to serve as assistant under first-year head coach Monte Ross at North Carolina A&T.

“Derrick (Phelps) is in charge of our guard play and developing them. He brings great experience from playing at a high level in college and also was in the league for a little bit. He’s got a great temperament and fits the Marist community really well,” said Dunne. 

Other newcomers to the Marist roster are freshman guards Jadin Collins and Josh Pascarelli. Both are highly touted recruits, Collins from Rutgers Prep in New Jersey–where Noah Harris played his high school ball–and Pascarelli from St. Francis Prep in Queens, New York.

“Both have an opportunity to make an impact. If they’re not starting, they will be on the court,” said Dunne.

Collins averaged 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals as a senior. He also had a 26-point performance en route to a win over No. 6 nationally-ranked opponent Neumann-Goretti. Pascarelli was named CHSAA AA MVP and an all-state selection, averaging 20 points per game. 

“Josh (Pascarelli) can shoot; he can do a little bit of everything. He is going to be an offensive powerhouse for us, and he can defend too. I’m excited to play with him,” said Brickner.

Lastly, a newcomer who can add some wing shooting is Isaiah Sulack. Sulack, the team’s third and final transfer, comes to Poughkeepsie from the University of Tennessee as a former walk-on. At 6’5, Sulak can shoot from the perimeter and gives a younger team some veteran presence as a graduate student.

Sophomore wings Trace Salton and Jaden Daughtry are two players who will need to contribute more offensively. Both are good athletes and play with tremendous effort; Daughtry finished fourth on the team in rebounding and should develop after getting his first exposure to college basketball last season. 

Marist opens its schedule on a four-game road trip before hosting Bucknell on November 25 for their home opener. The Red Foxes are away for six of their nine non-conference games.

“We’re on the road a lot. That always challenges you, how we will handle all the travel built-in with school. It’s not just a physical challenge, but a mental challenge as well,” said Dunne.

The non-conference schedule includes a matchup against an ACC school for the first time since 2016 when Marist played Duke. 

“We end with a road contest with Notre Dame, which we’re excited about playing in South Bend,” said Dunne.

Looking at the MAAC, the coaches’ preseason poll slotted the Red Foxes No. 8 of 11 in the preseason poll, with Rider and pre-season player of the year Mervin James picked to win the conference. MAAC powerhouse Iona was picked a close second despite losing former NBA and College head coach Rick Pitino to St. John’s while enduring major roster turnover.

Brickner, selected to the All-MAAC second team, is the only player from Marist to be picked on an All-MAAC team.

As mentioned, Marist will open the season facing Army West Point. The Cadets were picked to finish last in the Patriot League and return only one starter from a season ago. First-year head coach Kevin Kuwik arrives after one season as an assistant at Butler and five years at Davidson. 

“Starting the year at West Point, they’re always tough. They’re soldiers so that’s a good battle for us right out of the gate,” said Dunne.

The Hudson Valley matchup will be held in West Point’s Christl arena at 8 p.m., with a Marist team looking to prove its worth on the road and set a precedent for the MAAC season.

Edited by Dan Aulbach and Aidan Lavin

Graphic Credit: Cara Lacey; Photo From Marist Athletics

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