COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) It has been about two decades since the St Mike's men's basketball program last qualified for the D2 NCAA Tournament, but for the first time in a while there seems to be some buzz around the program .
That's because second year head coach Eric Eaton has been tearing it up on the recruiting trail lately. Eaton didn't really having any time to put his imprint on the program last offseason since he was hired August 1st, but he's making the most of his first recruiting cycle with four guys committed for next year.
"We've got Nahshon Battle who's coming from Woodstock Academy in Connecticut, tough kid shoots the ball, has got good size," said Eaton. "Nazzir Andino, he was at Redemption Christian Academy in New York as a postgrad. Point guard, 6' 1". I really like his IQ, I like his vision. Chuma Oyigbo, Chuma's from outside of Boston. 6' 5" wing, wiry, strong, pretty athletic. I think that he is probably the guy that has the most upside right off the bat. And then most recently we got a signing from Patrick Gardner, 6' 10" inside outside threat from Nassau Community College down on Long Island. I think he's gonna be a little bit of a matchup problem too because he's got great size and he can step out and shoot the ball as well."
Now St. Mike's had a bit of a tough end to the season, dropping their last 5 games to finish 7-19 for the third consecutive year, but there were some definite bright spots, including Freshman guard Kasai Brown who led the team in scoring at 16 points per game en route to earning NE 10 rookie of the year honors. There's a clear learning curve and Eaton believes with what more experience in the system they'll see improvement.
"The only thing I really wanted was their best effort every day," Eaton said. "If I was getting their best effort every day, I'd be fine with whatever the results were, and they gave it for the most part. And I think we ran out of gas late in the year because they weren't used to that. They weren't used to the length of the season and giving that effort every day. They now know what nobody knew last year. They know what to expect in practice, they know what to expect when we're preparing for an opponent. They didn't have that advantage last year and they're going to be able to impart that information to our new guys, hopefully as quickly as possible so that we can hit the ground running."
As previously mentioned, it's been a long time since St. Mike's was particularly competitive in men's hoops, but the history is certainly there. The Knights got as far as the D2 Sweet 16 back in 2001 and have four Elite 8 appearances to their name all time. It would seem they have a long way to go to get back to those lofty heights, but Eaton is confident in the program he's building.
"I'm not remotely interested in the 'Year 2 improvement,'" he said. "I want to be in the NCAA Tournament next year. You know whether that's reality, whether I've been in the house too long or whatever, that's not for me to decide, that's for us to decide on the floor."