Depth will be key for JMU men’s basketball this season

JMU's Ron Curry looks to drive to the basket during a game last season. Curry, a senior, will look to lead the Dukes to a strong season. JMU opens Friday at Richmond. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University men’s basketball coach Matt Brady has been waiting patiently to have a team that could run a full court man-to-man press successfully and this year he’s finally got it.

Brady has wanted to be able to use this system over the last few years, but team turmoil, disciplinary issues and players leaving the team has affected that.

As the Dukes get ready to open their season on Friday at Richmond, Brady is confident in this year’s team.

“This year we do have the depth (for full-court pressure), particularly in the backcourt,” Brady said in at a news conference on Monday. “This has kind of been the plan three or four years in a row now, and if nothing changes we feel like we have great depth. The most depth that we’ve had since I’ve been here. So we’re going to use that depth to pick up full court and play full court man-to-man, and really bring the game to our opponent night-in, night-out.”

The Dukes will be without starting forward Yohanny Dalembert to start the season due to a meniscus tear in his left ankle. Brady said the 6-foot-8 junior is expected to miss two-to-four weeks. Dalembert averaged 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last season.

JMU will look to lean on senior guard Ron Curry, who led the team with 13.9 points per game last year.

After guard Andre Nation was dismissed from the team last January, Curry stepped up into a leadership role, according to Brady, and he said he expects more of the same this season.

“He just kept evolving as a player,” Brady said. “I think he felt like he was needed to step up, and he did a remarkable job. …He obviously had a significant year shooting the ball last year, and everybody recognizes when we’re in a close game Ron’s going to have the ball. And that’s really the way he wants it, and it really is what you want from your senior leader, is for them to want to have the ball in their hands. And last year he flourished in that role.”

The Dukes return all five starters from last year’s 19-14 team and several key reserves as well. Starters junior guard Jackson Kent averaged 10.3 points per game last year, and junior forward Tom Vodanovich averaged 5.4 points and 4.0 rebounds.

The Dukes have two new faces in 6-foot-2 freshman guard Kevin Kangni and junior college transfer Shakir Brown (Angelina College).

Brady said the starting lineup may continually change, and there will be a lot of competition for playing time. He said everyone on the 13-man roster will have a chance to play and make their mark on the team.

“Everybody’s going to get an opportunity to impact our group on the court during the course of 40 minutes at some point,” Brady said. “Whether that’s November, December, I don’t know, but it’s related to how you practice and how productive you are in practice and in games.”

The Dukes have a tough schedule to start the season. After the road contest at Richmond, they play West Virginia University on Monday in Charleston, West Virginia. They then host the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic, with games against Florida International, Oral Roberts and UT-Martin.

“We’re playing two quality teams that have NCAA (Tournament) aspirations,” Brady said of JMU’s first two games. “We scheduled these games for a reason. We have similar aspirations as a program, and our group feels like they’re going to compete. It’s two great games for our team …We hope that we are going to learn a lot about our team and be prepared for the rest of the non-conference schedule.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com