Presidents' 2011-12 Season Preview
The sixth preseason men’s basketball camp under Head Coach Glenn Gutierrez is underway at the Henry Memorial Center, one Gutierrez feels may be the most important during his tenure due to the youthful 2011-12 roster. The Presidents graduated five players from last year’s squad, who combined to provide 55 percent of the team’s scoring and rebounding, including the program’s eighth all-time leading scorer Brian Felker (1,324 points).
Gutierrez will rely on senior guards Uchenna Okocha and Zach Zelinsky to bridge the gap from last year’s senior-laden squad to one of the youngest teams in school history this winter. Okocha and Zelinsky have a combined 41 games of varsity experience, but Gutierrez is pleased with how the duo has handled preseason camp thus far. Okocha and Zelinsky were freshmen on the Presidents’ 2008-09 team that won the ECAC Division III South Championship.
“Uchenna and Zach have program experience and that is an important part of their leadership,” said Gutierrez, who owns a 71-68 career record. “They have been vocal and they understand how important their leadership means to our team.”
The Presidents’ 15-man roster includes 10 freshmen and one sophomore. Although Gutierrez has never coached a group as young as this year’s Presidents, he is enjoying the challenge.
“I’ve never been part of a group this young in 27 years of coaching,” he added. “I’ve had to develop a new level of patience in our early practices, but I am really having a lot of fun with these players. They have a great approach to practice every day and their work ethic has been terrific.”
The two juniors on the squad, guard Zach Bellhy and forward R.J. Pilato, are the most experienced returners and the coaching staff believes both players can take their games to new levels.
Bellhy, who enters the season with 501 career points, is a 37 percent career shooter from three-point range. He has shown flashes of brilliance in the first 51 games of his career, but Gutierrez is looking for consistency from the athletic guard.
“Zach has all the skills and tools to be a standout player,” said Gutierrez. “He can shoot it and can take the ball to the basket. He needs to bring that same level of intensity every day and use his teammates to get open looks. Zach has been doing a good job thus far and we have high expectations for him.”
Pilato is a 6-foot-5 forward who has played on the frontcourt his first two seasons despite being primarily a perimeter player in high school. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last year, numbers he expects to improve upon.
“I have been very pleased with R.J. during practice,” added the head coach. “He has improved each season and I believe he can turn into a solid post player in the PAC. He is doing all the things necessary to become the player we know he can be.”
Bellhy and Pilato aim to help the Presidents’ offense, a facet of the game that has plagued the team the last two years. Under Gutierrez, W&J has prided itself on its defensive effort (3rd in PAC last year in scoring defense in 2010-11); however, the Presidents were eighth of nine in the league in scoring offense (63.9 ppg).
Sophomore Brett Rubin-Goldstein will also provide depth in the Presidents’ backcourt along with the freshman class. With the loss of last year’s senior class and the youthful roster, it was no surprise that the Presidents were selected sixth in the PAC Preseason poll.
“We’ve talked a lot about the potential that exists for this team,” concluded Gutierrez. “We are working on getting on the same page and that may take some time. I believe we have a very high ceiling. This freshman class has size, athleticism and an ability to score. Most of all, right now, I am impressed with the tremendous effort they are giving every day.”