Millersville head coach Casey Stitzel will have one of the youngest rotations around this season. (Photo courtesy Millersville Athletics))
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(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.)
After eight seasons at Delaware Valley, Casey Stitzel took over the reins of the Millersville program last season.
It was a perfect fit for Stitzel, who was looking for a new challenge after turning around the Del Val program. His father, Glenn Stitzel, is in the Millersville Athletics Hall of Fame for his accomplishments on the hardwood and the baseball diamond.
In his first year with the program in 2016-17, Stitzel’s team went (9-17, 8-14 PSAC).
Cornell Yarde II, the team’s second leading scorer in 2016-17, graduated, and Jon Lott (Coatesville), a 6-3 guard who started 15 games, transferred to Arcadia. The Marauders will also be without 6-6 forward Amadou Kaba (Penn Wood), who tore his Achilles this preseason.
Back for Stitzel is junior guard Marcus Adkison. After transferring from Shepherd University (W.V.), Adkison started in 25 of 26 games last season, averaging 15.4 ppg for Millersville.
Senior guards Conrad Chambers (Chester) and Jordan Greene (Abington Friends) will give Millersville two reliable veterans. Chambers averaged 12.5 ppg in 2016-17 while Greene averaged 11.5 ppg, becoming one of the team’s best players down the stretch.
The rest of the team is all newcomers.There are nine freshmen listed on the roster. Stitzel said as many as six of them could play this season. Mark Perry, a 6-5 forward from Lackawanna College, will also be in the mix for minutes.
In his second year with the program with his first full recruiting class, Stitzel hopes to take another step forward. Here are the (copy-edited) highlights of our conversation:
City of Basketball Love: What was that like to come in last year and take over the program where your last name means so much?
Casey Stitzel: It’s been great. My dad is the biggest reason why I am where I am today at my age. He’s been my rock all my life and been so supportive, got me involved with the game of basketball and to have him, to be at the school trying to rebuild a program where he had such a great four years, has such great memories from, is a dream come true for me and my family and we’re excited to have him around. He comes around a lot, tell mes what I’m doing wrong. The guys love it and I obviously love having him here and helping me out with the program.
CoBL: What were the differences for your last year jumping from the D-III to the D-II level?
CS: I would probably say the biggest thing is the room for error. In D-III we had a lot of very talented players, and I was blessed to have some really talented teams and when you make mental mistakes, sometimes because we were so athletic and so much more talented than the other teams we would get away with it. Well, at this level, everyone’s got players. Everyone’s talented. Everyone’s big. Everyone’s strong. Everyone has size and is athletic, so the room for error is smaller, which is great because that’s a challenge and as a coach, that’s what you want. You want challenges for your team and for you as an individual. It’s definitely a difference and this a high level league. I think it’s one of the best leagues in the country and our region is obviously the best region in the country, so every night you have to give it your everything and be ready to play because you will get beat. There are so many talented teams and so many talented coaches.
CoBL: The makeup of this year’s team, you have seven freshmen, how young will you be or will the veterans play enough minutes to make up for it?
CS: We’ll be really young. I would say we’ll probably be one of the younger teams that will play all year, if not the youngest. We’ll play nine or 10 guys, you’re probably looking at six freshmen in the Top 10. We only have four returners who played last year. Actually one, Amadou Kaba just tore his Achilles, so we’re actually down to three experienced players. Even those guys, they’re still learning how to win, how to be a leader and all that stuff and they’ve definitely made a lot of progress since last year. But we’ll be really young, we’ll be really inexperienced and we’re going to have to win games on talent and we’re going to have to win games on culture and doing things the right way and playing harder than other teams. Because in the beginning we’re going to play a lot of guys who haven’t experienced this level and experienced college basketball before. I’m hoping by January, by the time we get into PSAC play that we’re playing our best basketball and these guys are no longer freshmen because they’ve had so much experience early.
CoBL: Jordan Greene from Abington Friends and then Conrad Chambers from Chester are the only two seniors on your team. How much are you relying on those two to deliver your message to some of these younger kids?
CS: A lot. Jordan was probably our best player the last month of the season. He had some really big games against West Chester and when we upset Shippensburg, he was terrific, had a double-double. He really turned it on. He had a little bit of a slow start last year, but toward the end of the year, he was a lot better player, if not our best. Conrad was the opposite last year. Conrad started off really well and he finished the year a little bit in a slump, and I think it was a little bit because of his conditioning. I gave him a challenge this summer of getting in better shape, getting his body right, getting stronger and he did that. He’s been awesome, they’ve both been really good. Conrad is a big vocal leader for us. He’s always talking for us. He’s been playing really well in our scrimmages. We’re really happy with those two guys and obviously they’re going to be a big reason why we exceed expectations and they have to show not only good basketball, but they have to be a leader and they have to show these guys what it takes to compete every night in a very good league.
CoBL: Marcus Adkison came in last year and had a pretty good year. How did he end up at Millersville and what kind of talent does he bring to the team, especially coming back as the leading scorer?
CS: Last year when i got the job, I got a call from a few people I’m really connected with in Virginia. They told me this kid was leaving Shepherd, he was really talented and he was looking to go Division II, so once he got his release, got in contact, visited, he was actually the first guy who committed to me when I got the Millersville job last summer and I got it late, so we are obviously involved with a lot of transfers because most high school kids by then have already decided. Marcus was great last year. I thought he had a good year. I really challenged him to better with his intangibles, dealing with adversity and being a leader. I think he’s come back this year as even a better basketball player. He’s stronger. He’s more skilled than he was last year, and he’s more confident. Marcus is as talented a guard as I’ve ever coached, and I think talent wise he’s one of the most talented guards in this league. It’s just all about him finding out and figuring out how to make other guys better and leading us to a winning season and a winning basketball program. But Marcus has all the talent in the world. He’s a great kid, he’s a guy who can go out and get you 30 on any given night. Now, we’d like to see him be a guy who can get five or six assists and make other guys he’s going to be playing with better players now. He has more talent around him, so the challenge for him is can he make other guys better and he’s been doing a great job of that so far this year.
CoBL: There are seven guys on your team now from Virginia. What are your connections to that area? How did you recruit so well in there?
CS: My brother’s a high school coach in Virginia, so that’s my biggest connection. Through him, I’ve gotten to know a lot of other AAU coaches from the Richmond area, down in the Virginia area. With us rebuilding last year, we were recruiting a lot of PA kids at the beginning. They’d look at our program and they obviously look at some of the top schools in the PSAC and it’s going to be hard to get kids over those established programs because we obviously are in a rebuild. So we decided to do this out-of-state model and we were really lucky to get some talented kids, really good kids from the Virginia that we’re hoping to turn out to be really good players. It’s an area that we’re going to continue to recruit hard, the DMV, and the whole Virginia area, is going to be an area where we can really take advantage not having many Division II schools to compete with.
CoBL: Any of those freshmen really sticking out in the early going?
CS: We’ll definitely start two freshmen. Our big kid Caden Najdawik has been terrific so far. He’s a 6-8 kid who is super athletic and super skilled. He’s just been a high level kid from Day One. James Sullivan is another kid who probably will start. He’s just a high IQ kid that can really shoot and really just high intangibles, great work ethic and really smart. We expect big things out of him. D’Marco Suggs is another big kid that’s been great for us. He’s a strong kid who can score inside and has been great in our scrimmages. Detwon Shelton, Andre Watkins and Jamal Washington are all competing for playing time and have had really good moments so far. I would not be surprised if there’s games this year where we play all six freshmen, which we’ll probably be the youngest team in Division II in the country. But that’s how we knew it was going to be with the rebuild. We want to build the program with freshmen. Hopefully here, it pays off and we get these guys experience and we can be a factor in the league for the next few years.
CoBL: What’s the style of play and the attitude you are trying to build within your program?
CS: We want to play up-and-down. We want to play in transition. We want to push the ball. We want to press a little bit. We want to be active on the half court defense. We want to trap ball screen, get in the passing lanes. On offense, we want to do a lot of dribble drive, motion and ball screens offense. One of the things we had to make and adjustment with, because D'Marco and Caden? Have been so good early, that we’ve kind of had to change our offense a little bit and go with a little two bigs and three out, two in offense because they’re just too good not to keep on the court. We’re kind of making that adjustment now, but we’ll do a lot of ball screens, a lot of dribble drive. I’m big on spacing. We have guys like Marcus and Conrad who can really shoot the basketball, so I think we’ll be a tough team to double inside because we have really good shooters. The big thing for us is our first scrimmage we had about seven or eight guys in double figures. That I think is going to be the model for this team. Any given night, could be somebody else’s day. We have to be unselfish and understand that and know, hey I might play 30 minutes this game and the next game I might play 10. That’s the type of team we have and if we’re going to be successful, we have to have that down.
CoBL: Year Two, you’re so young, you’re in the middle of a rebuild as you said, so what is a successful year for you this year?
CS: I would compare us to a lottery team that’s been drafting in the lottery. We have a bunch of young players who are super talented kids and great kids, and we just want to get better every day. That’s what I keep trying to tell my guys. Every time we step on the court, whether it's film, weight room session, or one-on-one with a coach, a practice, a scrimmage or a game, we want to improve what we didn’t do well before. We just have to enjoy the process, I know I sound a little bit like the Sixers right now, but that’s really what it’s about. We have to enjoy it, understand it, and I’m hoping by January and February my guys are no longer freshmen and we’re playing the way they are capable of playing and now hopefully we can be a team that’s involved in the playoff hunt. If we get in, I think we’ll be a tough team to beat because at that time at the end of February, our guys will have four months of college basketball experience. We know it’s a rebuild. We have to keep getting better every day. We have to keep doing the right things, and I think the future is bright here in Millersville.