Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of our 2016-17 college season preview, six weeks of coverage that will span everything from Division I through Division III, junior college and more. To access our entire college of preseason content, check out our Season Preview Hub.)
Earlier this offseason, CoBL spoke with each of the Division I coaches in the area for a Q&A session, and now we’re expanding it to include the various Division II programs in the CoBL coverage region.
With the first full-time D-II and D-III practices beginning on Oct. 15, we’ll be using the next few weeks to sit down with the area’s D-II head coaches and see where they’re at as they prepare for the 2016-17 season.
Lock Haven head basketball coach Mike Nestor has accomplished what no one at the school has been able to do for over 30 years: make the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
Now entering his sixth year as head coach, Nestor is as excited as he’s ever been about this season’s team. Coming off a season in which the Bald Eagles finished 8-14 in PSAC play and 12-15 overall, the 2014 PSAC East coach of the year and his team will look to replace a handful of key seniors, including Tracy Peal (20 mpg, 7.5 ppg) and Al Blount (22 mpg, 7.2 ppg).
The start of the 2016-2017 season brings a lot of new eligible talent for Nestor to work with. First off, Nestor will look to two redshirt freshmen for immediate back court help. Amir Hinton, an Abington native, and Jihad Barnes, out of Philly Electric, are guards that will challenge for big minutes in this year’s campaign.
The Bald Eagles also added Chester sharpshooter and point guard Khaleeq Campbell, who will look to insert himself into the lineup right from the start.
In a difficult PSAC East conference, competing with West Chester, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, and Shippensburg among others, Nestor will rely on his two returning top scorers, both Braheime Jackson (11.1 ppg) and Ra’eese Hunt (7.8 ppg) to carry the load night in and night out.
Here are the (copy-edited) highlights of our conversation with the sixth-year Lock Haven coach:
CoBL: How have this year’s preparations been different from years past, if at all?
MN: At this point we’re pretty comfortable in what we do preseason to get our guys ready but this is a really big group of new guys we’re bringing in. This is the first time we’ve had a really big group of guys coming in together and there’s a lot of excitement in terms of the new players. We’re teaching all of new guys at once right from the start, but our daily routine is the same as always, we like to keep it on a schedule to make it easier for the players to get into a routine.
CoBL: By my count, you guys head eight players average at least seven points per game last year. Do you expect the rotation to be as big this year as it was last season?
MN: I think it will be a little bit different this season. Last year we had so many seniors on our team and guys that have been with the program for a while and we got a lot of guys a bunch of minutes each game. This year, I think our rotation will be a lot smaller, which should help us because guys will get into the flow a lot better and feel better about what they’re doing. Hopefully we can stay healthy and keep our rotation to about eight or nine guys.
CoBL: The two key returners for you guys are Braheime Jackson and Ra’eese Hunt, a senior and a junior. How do their roles increase not just on the court as players but as leaders off the court?
MN: Braheime has been with us for five years and he’s been with me the longest. He’s really grown and matured each and every year. His game has improved each year, this is the first year he’s going to be looked at as a more vocal leader. He plays an undersized post position for us and we need him to really produce. As for Ra’eese, he’s very skilled offensively and I think this could be a breakout year for him in terms of what he could bring into the program. He’s worked very hard this summer and came back in great shape. He’s gonna be expected to do a lot for us.
CoBL: Is there anyone on the team you are looking for on the team to break out this season and really step up and produce?
MN: One player to watch for sure is Cole Renninger, a transfer (from Lehigh). His work ethic is as tough as any player that I’ve coached. We tell the freshmen to watch and follow his lead because he brings it every night, works to get better, and is a great role model in the locker room. He earns every minute he gets out there on the court and we need his energy this season. Another player to watch is Craig Slade, he’s going to have to fill a lot of minutes as our big man and we have to continue to improve his fitness and scoring ability. He’s someone that is prepared to have a big increase in production this year.
CoBL: Your team opens with an exhibition game against Penn State, a high-major Division I program. What does your team get out of that experience to use for the season? What do you learn from that type of exhibition?
Nestor: Two things, really. Penn State has a lot of new guys on their roster as well, and it’s a fun experience for our guys to go into an arena like the Bryce-Jordan Center and play in a venue like that. How many times a year does a Division 2 team get to play against a Big 10 team? You can get a good handle of where your team is before the season. Of course they will be bigger, tougher, faster, and stronger, but you can get an idea of who’s willing to compete on your team, fight, and not back down. It gives us some film to look at before the games really count. We’re gonna take it seriously of course but I also really want our guys to enjoy the whole experience.
CoBL: Looking at the PSAC as a whole, where do you see your team slotting in? How do you stack up to other PSAC teams?
Nestor: I think the East keeps getting stronger. Pretty much every team is returning a lot of talent and a lot of experience and our goal every season is to improve on the season past. We’ve made the playoffs three consecutive years which has not been done in over 30 years. I’m hoping that we can find our way to the playoffs and manage to get a win this season. Making the playoffs is something that we put as our number one goal, and our second goal is to win that first playoff game. You always want your last practice to mean something. Once you get into the playoffs, you never know what can happen.
CoBL: Which freshmen and new starters are you looking to make immediate impacts?
MN: [Abington's] Amir Hinton is a player we think can be really special. He’s got a lot of talent and if he puts the work in he can make a big impact coming off a redshirt year. He can be at that level of league newcomers, especially being able to sit out and year and practice with us and see how we operate. We also had Jihad Barnes redshirt, so that he could learn from our top two point guards last season. He learned a lot from them and he’s gonna apply that to his game to improve this year. As for true freshmen, we’ve added Khaleeq Campbell from Chester, who might be a bit smaller, but he can really shoot and dribble the ball extremely well. He’ll take some lumps as a true freshman but he’ll definitely be in the rotation.
City of Basketball Love: What have you guys done to ease the freshmen into the team and into the college life?
Mike Nestor: We’ve done a good job getting them situated early, starting workouts as early as we could just so that we could see them on a different field. It’s been very beneficial for us and we are young but we’re excited for the group that we have and we think they can be successful if they put the work in.