Tyaire Hudson (5) is the only starter left from last year's Neumann squad, which went 25-3 and hosted an NCAA tournament game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
ASTON, Pa. -- Four stars remain in the gym from Neumann’s tremendous season last year. However, only one of them is on the court.
Flying thirty-five feet above the floor in the Mirenda Center are the names DeShawn Lowman, Carl Wallace, and Darien Barnes, enshrined on a banner honoring the Knights’ history of 1,000-point scorers. Each of those three averaged double figures last year, when the Knights won a program-record 25 games and the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) championship.
The lone standout from that team still running up and down the floor for the Knights is Tyaire Hudson. And though he’ll join his former teammates up eventually, getting to the 1,000-point mark at the end of last season, he’s got one final year of college hoops to accomplish something else.
The 5-foot-11 guard has found his way to the Knights’ forefront after two years of being surrounded by some of the best players to ever go through the school.
Lowman (1,827 career points), Wallace (1,173) and Barnes (1,128) represent the best class in Knights history, a ragtag group that came together from different backgrounds to lead Neumann basketball to its best season ever.
Barnes, a 6-9 forward originally out of Penn Wood, averaged 14.8 ppg and 10.9 rpg and put together a triple-double in the league championship win over Gwynedd Mercy. Wallace, a 6-4 forward from Frankford, averaged 14.6 ppg and 8.7 rpg. The best of the bunch was Lowman, a 6-1 guard from Delaware who averaged 19.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 3.6 apg while serving as the program’s emotional heart and soul.
Their departure left a gaping hole in a program that had become one of the top in the CSAC under Rullo’s first four years.
“Last year those three guys got a lot of the notoriety,” Rullo said, “but (Hudson) was kind of a guy that was the sleeping giant behind the scenes for us.”
Hudson, who started 26 games a year ago, was fourth on the team at 11.7 ppg while leading the team with 4.0 apg, similar numbers to the year prior.
Prior to arriving at Neumann for his sophomore season, Hudson -- who graduated from Hodgson Vo-Tech (Del.) in 2012 -- played one season at Camden County in 2012-13, but left for personal reasons. With Neumann head coach Jim Rullo looking for a point guard and Hudson looking for another chance going into the 2014-2015 season, the two found each other and haven’t looked back.
“He’s a man of few words but he’s taken advantage of an opportunity and he’s run with it,” Rullo said of his point guard. “And it’s a credit to him, where a lot of people have written him off, he’s proven a lot of people wrong and as a coach, you really take pride in that, it’s pretty special to see.”
With four straight seasons as either the champs or runner-ups, Neumann basketball has established a precedent for itself in the CSAC under Rullo’s direction. If the Knights are going to stay atop of the CSAC at season’s end, it will be due in large part to the leap in Hudson’s game.
Living in the shadows of the aforementioned seniors, the 5-11 guard snuck under the radar, averaging 11.6 points per game over his first two seasons in which he started all but three games for Neumann.
Now serving as the team’s leader, Hudson has elevated his game on and off the court. Currently leading the team in points (20.9), assists (4.1), and steals (2.6), there is no doubting the value Hudson brings his team on the court.
Neumann head coach Jim Rullo sees another side of his 24-year-old guard that has helped the team click.
“He knows what’s required from all the players that we have,” Rullo said. “He knows when guys aren’t putting their best effort forward, and that helps me as a head coach because he starts to police that for us, which is what you want in a leader especially in a point guard.”
Hudson has received plenty of help from some returners and newcomers alike.
Freshman forward Aaron Johnson-Chavis is second on the team in scoring (15.9 ppg) and its leader in rebounding (8.3 ppg); another newcomer, Raquan Brown-Johnson, is averaging 14.0 ppg and 5.9 rpg. Senior guard Billy Cassidy, now in his third year at the school, is averaging 9.6 ppg and hitting 36.5 percent of his triples; his 16 3-pointers are nearly as many as the rest of his teammates combined (18). Junior wing Jordan Collins, a deep reserve last year, is averaging 6.6 ppg in 17.4 mpg off the bench.
So far, it’s a group that’s working. The Knights are off to a 6-2 start following their 102-74 win over Delaware Valley on Wednesday night.
Hudson contributed 25 points and eight assists without a turnover to the winning cause as Neumann pushed by the Aggies with an impressive second half, outscoring Delaware Valley 54-35 over the closing 20 minutes.
There’s still a ways to go to get back to the level of play that Neumann was elevated to last season, when they beat opponents by an average of more than 18 points per contest and earned a chance to host an NCAA Tournament regional for the first time. But Hudson is encouraged by what he’s seen so far.
“We started out better last year, but the two losses that we took, we learned earlier on in the season than we did we learned later on in the season last season,” Hudson said. “It’s always good when you take a loss and you learned from it. I feel like we’re going to be pretty good.”
If the Knights do end up getting there, they would stand on the brink of history. In spite of the great teams that have passed through the past few seasons, Neumann University still stands without a win in the NCAA tournament.
First things first, however.
“We know the first step is to win the CSAC championship in order to get to the national championship so we are just going to take it one step at a time,” Hudson said. “ If we win our CSAC championship,I feel the sky's the limit, anybody can win in the tournament so once we get there, (but) for now we are just prepping to get to that moment.”
While Lowman, Barnes and Wallace’s names serve as an ever-constant reminder during practices and home games, that’s not the only way they’re seen at the Mirenda Center. Lowman was in the crowd for the Del-Val game; Hudson said Barnes and Wallace also has come to several home games.
And when they’re not present, those 4,128 points are still there.
“I’ll definitely be looking up at the banner from time to time, just walking around the gym,” Hudson said, “so I know those guys are always going to be there for me.”
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