New-look Hoopcats back to work

Seven newcomers look to lead Cats
Seven newcomers look to lead Cats
Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 6:50 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Last winter was yet another dominant season in a long line of them for the Hoopcats. But a combination of graduation and transfers saw eight players walk out the door this Spring.

For a lot of programs, that’d be tough to bounce back from, but the Hoopcats have slowly but surely become a program that reloads more than it rebuilds.

“I’m really optimistic about this team,” said head coach John Becker. “We have a really high ceiling here, and to look at the tape after practicing, it’s only August and look how far we’ve come. It’s exciting.”

Seven new players have joined the fray, and they range from guys entering their fifth year of college hoops all the way down to true freshmen.

“With the transfer portal, it’s a really wild experience,” said incoming grad transfer Dylan Penn. “Vermont just seemed like the right place for me and the best fit for me.”

“When they were recruiting me, they showed a lot of love,” added freshmen George Ochoa. “I saw a picture of like all the fans that come to the games. So I was like, you know, this is the place where I have to be.”

Penn is probably the most celebrated of Vermont’s incoming transfers. A three year starter at Bellermine, Penn earned tournament MVP honors leading the Knights to the A-Sun title last year. For those who weren’t aware, Bellermine is still in the transition period from D2 to D1 and thus was ineligible for March Madness last year. That was one of the reasons Penn chose Vermont, but it wasn’t the only one.

“I’m really big on going to the tournament,” Penn said. “That’s my big goal and ambition for this year. Vermont, their track record speaks for themselves. Coach Becker, he’s done a wonderful job here. And I played with Robin (Duncan) since I was eight or nine years old. He texted me around Easter time, seeing if Vermont was a place I’d still consider. I said yes. And a few weeks later I ended up committing.”

The freshman also make up one of the best recruiting classes Vermont has ever had as well. George Ochoa, a big from Southern California, says he and the others are starting to find their footing.

“College basketball’s a lot quicker,” Ochoa said. “You’ve gotta use more of your IQ here. It’s just a different game. The older guys, they know more, so I’m just trying to learn from them and just trying to pick up on things.”

UVM is a bit lucky. The NCAA allows teams to take a foreign trip once every four years to bond, practice, and compete against other teams ahead of the start of the school year. It’s UVM’s turn to do that again this year, as they are set to head to Montreal for a trio of contests this weekend. Coach Becker says the timing could not be better.

“It couldn’t come at a better time having the international trip,” Becker said. “We’re so appreciative of the university and the department for giving us this opportunity to go up there for the weekend and play three games. And I know the guys are really looking forward to it.”

Vermont opens that trip Friday as they visit Concordia.

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