Jimmy Murray (above) and Moravian enjoyed their first postseason win in 27 years last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
As recently as 2014-15, the basketball program at Moravian College was a winner of just five games. Now, the Greyhounds are fresh off of their first winning season since 2012 and best in over a decade, not to mention their first postseason win in 27 years.
The common denominator? Head coach Justin Potts.
In Potts’ second season at the helm, last year, Moravian nearly quadrupled its win total from the year before his arrival, putting together a 19-9 campaign and reaching the Landmark Conference championship game.
With all but four players back — three of which filled starting roles, including double-digit scorers like forward Brandon McGuire and guard Sean Hanna — from last year’s successful team, the pieces are in place for another step forward in year three of the Justin Potts era.
“I like our group, I think we have a good mixture of guys returning,” he said. “We bring back 12 guys from last year’s team, obviously had a really good year, got to our conference championship. I’m excited, most guys seem like they had a pretty good offseason, it’s a hard-working group, they compete, they get along, they fit in well to the style that we’re playing.”
“Our expectations are to try and get a little better every day,” he added. “And hope to play our best at the end of the season.”
A few the pieces lost from the 2017 graduating class leave considerable voids to be filled entering the upcoming campaign, most notably McGuire, who averaged 17.9 points his senior year.
Hanna — who averaged 10.2 points per game — and fellow graduate Isaiah Jennings, a starter in 19 games last year, are also key departures from last year’s 19-9 squad.
“Brandon had a [Moravian] Hall of Fame type career, and Sean and (Isaiah) played in a lot of games and have a lot of experience,” Potts said. “We’re definitely going to miss those guys. They were kind of the cornerstone of rebuilding the program.
"It’ll be hard to replace their experience, but I like the group they have.”
At guard, 6-0 sophomore and Plymouth Whitemarsh alum Jimmy Murray finished second in scoring with 13.2 ppg last year, while leading his team in 3-point shooting (44 percent) and foul shooting (86 percent). Fellow junior Oneil Holder, a 6-foot-5 forward, chipped in 10.8 points of his own while snatching five rebounds per game.
Potts also mentioned sophomore guard C.J. Barnes — who averaged 7.1 points per game off the bench and shot 38 percent from long distance last year — as someone he expects to step into a bigger role in his second year at Moravian.
“I don’t think you replace them with one or two guys, I just think you have to have guys increase their productivity and increase their roles from a year ago,” Potts said. “And that’s what you hope, as we try to build the program at Moravian, you want guys to kind of take that next step every year.”
In particular, his pair of juniors with two years of starting experience under their belts — Murray and Holder — will carry a good portion of the offensive load this season.
Potts said both players exemplify the kind of year-to-year improvement a coach hopes to see out of his younger guys when looking to rebuild a program.
“I expect both guys to have good years,” Potts said. “Oneil was rookie of the year as a freshman, his numbers last year were good, I think he knows he’s got more in him. And Jimmy had a good freshman year and then a really good sophomore year, made that jump you hope most guys make. They’ll be definitely big parts of us being successful.”
In order for those two players to step into necessary leadership roles, one of the major improvements Potts hopes to see out of them is consistency.
“The one thing Brandon and Sean did, is they were there every night and you knew exactly what you were getting,” he said. “Jimmy and Oneil need to have those nights. Last year they had some up-and-down nights, and they’re not going to have that luxury anymore as they move to upperclassmen.”
Fresh off of a solid freshman year, forward and Bonner-Prendergast alum John Hargraves — who averaged 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds last year — also stands out to Potts as a developing leader, even as an underclassman.
“He’s got that quality of leadership just kind of in him,” Potts said. “I’ve been a college coach for 18 years and I haven’t seen many guys that work as hard as he does. His effort on the court while he’s playing, his academics, lifting, all those kinds of things, he’s really grown in every area since he’s been at Moravian.”
In Potts’ offense, however, the scoring has commonly been taken care of by committee; the 2016-17 team behind McGuire and Murray, for example, saw four different players average between seven and 11 points, while another five averaged between two and five.
Potts mentioned the likes of junior guards Nicolas Casazza and Will Brazukas -- the latter being a Father Judge alum -- as other key pieces going forward what he deemed an "equal opportunity offense."
On top of improving role players, the Greyhounds welcome a trio of local freshmen that includes Archbishop Wood guard Keith Otto, Father Judge guard Matt O’Connor and Stroudsburg forward Sean Wilson.
“I think all three guys will have to find ways to adjust to college,” Potts said. “But I’m excited about all of them, I think they’ll all have a hand in us being successful.”
While several different players are expected to fill a bevy of different roles, they all share the characteristic of a great fit in Potts’ pressing, up-tempo system.
Especially having gone through two full years with his system in place, Potts said the level of comfort and familiarity between himself and the players has only continued to grow.
“I definitely think it’s been an important part of kind of turning the program around,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to the guys that I inherited, they bought into what we were doing from day one, and that’s really important when you’re trying to turn things around.
“That was the first step, and the second step was recruiting guys that we felt kind of fit the style, and everybody getting comfortable. Last year, I think the success was a product of guys being comfortable and everybody kind of understanding what’s going to make us successful.”
As Potts continues to make his mark on the program at Moravian, the future seemingly continues to brighten.
And in the eyes of Jimmy Murray, 2017-18 should bring continued improvement upon a standout season of a year ago.
“We’re just trying to get back to where were,” he said. “Definitely trying to get further than we were last year, trying to improve on the season.”