Men's Basketball Preview

Fans of the Genesee Community College men's basketball team got a little spoiled in recent years.

After an "off" year, the Cougars hope to become one of the elite teams in the country once again.

The first steps toward a possible return to prominence will happen when the Cougars host the GCC Tip-Off Tournament today and Sunday.

In the first round, Gloucester County College meets defending national champion Cuyahoga Community College at 3 today, with GCC facing the Community College of Rhode Island at 7 p.m. The consolation game will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday, with the championship tilt scheduled for 5 p.m.

GCC went 23-8 a year ago - a solid record, but a bit of a downer after back-to-back appearances in the NJCAA Division II Tournament.

The Cougars - who lost Akim Neverson, Avery Oliver and Wayne Kittelberger to graduation - started three freshmen last season and hope that situation reaps benefits this year.

"Last year, we were awful young. (We didn't have) a lot of experience," sixth-year coach Michael von Schiller said.

GCC's top returning players include a pair of guards, first-team all-region selection Don Juan Tyson and former Batavia High School standout Phil Santiago.

"You can see the difference with Don Juan and Phil their second year. I think they're both going to have great years," von Schiller said. "They give us some experience."

And the Cougars added another guard in New York City-area prep star Derrick Gabriel, who averaged 29 points and 14 assists in high school. Other guards who could contribute are sophomore Juvar Houston and freshmen A.J. White and Larry Warren, an Albion product.

"Our guards are as good as anybody," von Schiller said.

The only players listed as forwards are sophomore Bart Tooms - a 6-foot-11 returnee from Holland - and two freshmen, 6-5, 270-pound Reggie Holmes and Ian Brown. Brown, however, broke his foot on the second day of practice and won't be able to practice for another five weeks.

Albert Coles, a 24-year-old who transfered to GCC from Lackawanna Community College, can't join the team until at least January. He might sit out the entire year so the Cougars can have him for all of next season.

The Cougars play in the eight-team Columbus State Holiday Tournament on the final weekend of November and at the St. Clair Tournament on the first weekend of December.

"We'll probably play five games against Top 10 teams in the first three or four weeks," von Schiller said.

And after back-to-back home games against Mohawk and Fulton-Montgomery Nov. 11 and 20, the Cougars don't have another home game until Jan. 20, when they host Erie. Including the two tournaments, the Cougars will play 12 consecutive games away from home.

And when they get into regional action, GCC will face the likes of Erie, Mercyhurst-North East and Monroe.

"Our region is brutal," von Schiller said.

In order to do well in the region, the Cougars will need to step right in and perform.

"We're going to shoot the ball well. No teams are going to pressure us that will give us any trouble," von Schiller said. "I think the only thing that's going to hurt us is (rebounding). If we get killed on the glass, we're in trouble."