The Hofstra men’s basketball team got a head start on the 2017-18 season with a late summer exhibition tour to Canada that head coach Joe Mihalich hopes plays dividends in March.
The Pride swept four games north of the border while also bonding off the court during the long bus trips to Ontario and Quebec. Mihalich said the journey facing top Canadian college teams was also a unique opportunity for his players to experience cultural sites in historical cities like Montreal.
“It was a great experience for our guys,” said Mihalich, whose Hofstra team was picked to finish fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) preseason poll. “It was a great chance for the guys to come together and we played some great games there.”
The Pride return leading scorer Justin Wright-Forman, who averaged 18.1 points per game last season. The 6-4 junior guard emerged with a breakout sophomore campaign after barely seeing playing time as a freshman during senior year of 2016 CAA Player of the Year Juan’ya Green.
“His maturity is what I’m most impressed with,” said Mihalich of Wright-Forman, who scored 25 points in Hofstra’s season-opening 77-74 win against Army-West Point. “He’s very confident.”
Wright-Forman brings explosive scoring ability to the backcourt and Mihalich is also hoping for big production in the paint by 6-9 senior Rokas Gustys. The Lithuania native was hobbled by injuries last year, but still averaged 9.2 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. As a sophomore, Gustys ranked second nationally in rebounding.
“He is really committed to make this the best year of his life,” said Mihalich of Gustys, who tallied 14 points in Hofstra’s 75-57 Nov. 13 victory against Kennesaw State. “I think he is going to.”
Hofstra boasts plenty of depth to complement Wright-Forman and Gustys including sophomore guard Eli Pemberton, who averaged 12.8 points a game as a freshman and tallied a career-high 27 points in 72-69 win against Dayton in the Charleston Classic on Nov. 17. The Pride should be aided in the backcourt by the return of junior point guard Desure Buie, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL and meniscus. Kenny Wormley, a transfer from Iowa’s Indian Hills Community College who previously played at Siena, gives the Pride another weapon around the perimeter.
Forwards Joel Angus III and Matija Radovic are newcomers to Hofstra who could be integral pieces of the Pride’s drive to finish atop the CAA standings. Angus arrives on Long Island as a Hofstra graduate student after a three-year career at Southeast Missouri State while Radovich played on five Serbian national championship teams.
Oceanside High School graduate Hunter Sabety returns to the Pride frontcourt looking to make waves in his final college basketball season. Last year in his first season in a Hofstra uniform after transferring from Division III Tufts University, the local product provided a spark off the bench leading Hofstra the team with 40 blocked shots and ranking second in rebounding.
“He came here as a Division III transfer and he has turned himself into a very good Division 1 player,” said Mihalich of the 6-9 260-pound Sabety, who started four games last year when Gustys was injured. “He’s terrific.”
The schedule is highlighted by a Dec. 22 game across the street from Hofstra’s campus at Nassau Coliseum against national power Villanova, which is led by former Pride head coach Jay Wright. Hofstra’s first two CAA home games are slated for Jan. 5 against James Madison at 7 p.m. and Jan. 7 versus Elon for a 4 p.m. tip-off.
College of Charleston was picked to capture the CAA, but Mihalich thinks the Pride have the ability to make a run at a conference crown and achieve the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2001. The veteran head coach hopes Hofstra can achieve one of the league’s top seeds for the CAA tournament and be positioned for a March Madness run.
‘We have a tough non-conference schedule that will hopefully sharpen our teeth for conference play,” he said. “Our expectations are that by the end of the year we are one of the teams that can win the CAAs.”