Keeler: Patience should pay off for Dukes fans

James Madison University men’s basketball fans need to be patient.

Wait for it, wait for it … in the long run I think JMU fans will be delighted with what they see.

The Dukes have a very young squad, with 11 combined freshmen and sophomores. They start four sophomores and one senior, the only senior on the squad.

It could be easy for JMU fans to look at the Dukes’ 6-12 record and be down about the season. JMU won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament last year and made the NCAA Tournament. It’s understandable that JMU fans are hungry for more.

There’s no doubt in my mind good times are ahead for the Dukes, just not necessarily this season.

However, I think now is still a great time to be a JMU men’s basketball fan. To me there’s always something special about watching a young team in any sport grow into a very good team. There may be some bumps along the journey, but that’s part of what makes getting to the other side so special.

So far this season attendance has been good, and JMU coach Matt Brady said he thinks the fans are in for a treat if they continue to watch and support the Dukes.

“I think this is going to be a fascinating team to watch grow, not just this year, but for the years to come. I think we have some talented guys, and we have to just keep putting it together, and hopefully the crowd keeps coming back.”

The Dukes have certainly had their share of setbacks this season. They had to endure some injuries, and of course point guard Andre Nation missed the first 15 games due to a violation of athletic department policy.

Still, the Dukes won some games and have been competitive in a lot of games. In CAA play, Brady said he expects every CAA home game to be close because of his team’s youth.

“It will be a little different on the road because we are so young, but home games I don’t think there’s going to be more than a one or two-possession spread really during the course of the season,” Brady said.

The Dukes lost 78-74 on Saturday to a very experienced Delaware squad, and that experience proved to be the difference. The Dukes struggled down the stretch, while the Blue Hens made the plays they needed to for the win. The same thing happened again Wednesday in a loss to Northeastern.

There’s no question that next year or the after it will be the Dukes making the plays to win the games.

“It’s one of those things — you can’t hurry up youth,” Brady said. “And you’re going to have to be in a lot of games like [the Delaware loss] and you’re going to have to hopefully learn from it.”

The Dukes are averaging 62.7 points per game, while giving up 67.9.

One of the real bright spots for JMU is the play of the three starting guards — Nation, Ron Curry and Charles Cooke. The trio is averaging a combined 42.3 points per game.

“I think those three guards are three of the better guards in the league,” Brady said. “But they’ve all got to become a little more skillful, and they got to become a little more patient and they’ve got to become older, but I can’t rush that.”

There’s that age thing coming into play again.

The Dukes also have several other really promising players including sophomore starter Taylor Bessick and reserve freshmen Jackson Kent, Tom Vodanovich and Ivan Lukic.

JMU will most likely continue to be up and down throughout the rest of the regular season — some good wins and some bad losses — but the Dukes should be playing their best basketball when it counts the most.

The Dukes surprised a lot of teams when they won the CAA Tournament last year, and who knows, maybe lightning can strike twice.

JMU fans should feel like they’re playing with house money this season — with no expectations. It’s possible that you’ll be pleasantly surprised in March, Brady sure hopes so.

“We’re going to try and get better as we go along,” Brady said. “We want to be a team that nobody wants to play later in the year. It would be nice along the way if we won some of these [close] games. And I think we will.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd