As they gear up for this season, men’s and women’s basketball look to post winning records for the first time since the 2016-17 season and the 2017-18 season, respectively.
During the 2020-21 season, men’s basketball finished with five wins and 12 losses in total while the women’s team fared slightly better with a 9-14 overall record. Both teams were knocked out in the second round of the A-10 tournament, but both men’s head coach Jamion Christian and women’s head coach Caroline McCombs said they are confident in their teams’ abilities to get back on track.
“I definitely believe that we’ve made a ton of strides,” Christian said. “Starting with the talent we’ve been able to put together on the roster, moving into our style of play, and just understanding a deeper belief of where we need to be to be a top four team in this league.”
Christian, who is entering his third season as the head coach, said he has emphasized versatility this year as he has rebuilt the roster and is optimistic about the impact on the defensive end.
“We’ve always had a system full of versatility and I don’t think we’ve been able to do that to the fullest level that we wanted to maybe in the first two years, but I definitely feel like in the third year we’ve been able to build a roster with so much versatility.”
McCombs, who is entering her first season as the women’s head coach, said she has emphasized having a strong defensive identity.
“We’re going to be a tough defensive minded team,” McCombs said. “We’re going to be scrappy, we’re really going to get after it. We’re going to be exciting in that way. We have to put our hand on something and that’s going to be our defense, something that we know that we can control every day.”
On the offensive side, the men’s team will be led by senior forward Ricky Lindo Jr. and junior guard James Bishop.
In the seven games he played during the 2020-21 season, Lindo Jr. averaged 11.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while shooting at 52.4 percent clip. He recorded five double-digit rebounding games and four double-doubles, the most of any A-10 player following his debut.
As a sophomore last season, Bishop averaged 19.1 points and 5.1 assists while hitting 42.7 percent from the field and his scoring average was the second highest in the A-10 conference. Bishop said he’s been putting “long hours in the gym” this offseason and working out with his teammates to help create a “great connection” with each other.
Christian said he sees Bishop stepping into the role of a distributor, not just a scorer. He said he is confident in Bishop’s leadership and ability to contribute to a winning culture as a second year player.
“When you’re trying to build it into a championship level program, you need players with the right kind of personality, not just to score enough points, for the personality to lead your team with toughness to lead your team through tough times,” Christian said. “James Bishop has done that from day one when he came in here. He’s never made excuses. He’s never complained about anything. And he’s only made us better culturally, day in and day out.”
The Women’s team will be led by senior guard Maddie Loder and graduate student guard Kyara Frames, who transferred from Albany. In the 2020-2021 season, Loder averaged 4.8 points and 1.6 assists at a 29.5 percent clip from the field. She led her team with 87.9 shooting percentage from the free throw line.
As a senior last season, Kyara Frames averaged 8.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while converting 37.5 percent from the floor. She also led Albany with 21 steals as well as in three-point shooting, knocking down 35.7 percent from deep for a total of 25 three-point buckets.
Both Loder and Frames said they would look to take on a leadership role under the new coaching regime and a revamped roster featuring just six returners from last year’s squad.
“I think that the pieces we have we all kind of feel like a puzzle,” Frames said. “And I think that because we’re all very supportive of each other and we want to see each other more than when we’re on the floor, we’ll get the job done. So I’m just excited to see how all of us come together in terms of this season to win some games and just have fun.”
Christian said he’s been focusing on building the men’s team chemistry, especially since much of the team has remained on campus since April.
“I think some of that chemistry really will be developed when we get our fans in the building here,” Christian said. “We get that first lob dunk or layup in transition and we can feel that energy.”
The men’s team will begin their season with an exhibition match against Hood College at the Smith Center Monday. Tip off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. The women’s team duels crosstown rival American Tuesday, November 9 at home for a 5:30 p.m. start.