HARRISONBURG — It will be a different looking team this season for James Madison University’s men’s basketball team.
The Dukes return only two players from last year’s squad.
JMU head coach Louis Rowe said that he hopes the team will play with the same energy and passion that they had last year.
“I want us to play hard and together,” Rowe said. “Hopefully we tried to recruit a little more length, a little more athleticism. But still that toughness and that effort and energy you want to stay the same.”
Second-year coach Rowe said the team should be deeper than last year, but the Dukes will be very inexperienced.
Senior point guard Joey McLean and redshirt senior forward Ramone Snowden are the two returning players from last year’s squad that had seven seniors.
McLean averaged 9.4 points and 2.6 assists per game. Rowe said he’s excited about the season McLean can have.
“He’s playing really, really well,” Rowe said. “And not so much that the ball’s going into the basket, but I just think that he’s at a really good place. We do some things differently with our guards. They have a lot of responsibilities in our offense, especially in transition, trying to push the ball. Last year it was all new to him. And this year he’s really comfortable with me, I guess. I hope he is. And I think he has a comfort level with himself.”
The Dukes have six freshmen on the squad, along with two sophomore transfers and two junior transfers.
The most experienced player on the team will be senior transfer Cameron Smith, who played three years at Florida International University.
Smith played for Rowe at FIU when Rowe was an assistant coach at FIU before taking the JMU job last year.
“He had some struggles at FIU,” Rowe said of Smith. “I’m just really happy to see how happy he is. He seems like he’s happy on and off the court. Cam is a fifth-year senior who is really athletic, really physical, really long arms. He really understands selfless basketball, really only here to try to help us. So to have a guy like that in your program is really big.”
Rowe said he knows he will have to have a lot of patience with his young squad this season. Many of the players have never played basketball at the Division 1 level, and it will take time for them to adjust.
The Dukes, who open the season with Bridgewater College on Nov. 10, have a challenging non-conference schedule. Their toughest game should be at Florida University on Dec. 20. Rowe said he expects the Colonial Athletic Association to also be very strong this season.
The Dukes also play several old rivals such as Old Dominion University (Nov. 13), George Mason (Nov. 29) and the University of Richmond (Dec. 9).
“I think there’s some really, really quality opponents (on the schedule),” Rowe said. “I think there’s some panache to some of the games, especially for me. These guys don’t appreciate it, but for me Old Dominion, Mason, and Richmond are really good games. And I think they’re going to challenge our guys. And I think some of the styles are really good — Richmond and Mason. Just some of the styles are really good to get us prepared for the CAA.”