NEW BRITAIN - For the Central Connecticut State menâ€™s basketball team, continuing to grow and gaining valuable experience is something the Blue Devils hope surfaces as it enters the program enters its second season under Donyell Marshall.
â€śI think itâ€™s just building that foundation and getting a great culture here and letting those things take over in terms of building the program,â€ť CCSU assistant coach Mike Witcoskie said.
Marshall was not available for comment for this story.
Right out of the gate, the Blue Devils will have the chance to do just that with a tough stretch of non-conference games and playing three games in five days against Hartford (tonight), Rutgers (Nov. 12) and St. Johnâ€™s (Nov. 14) all on the road.
â€śThatâ€™s what the non-conference is for,â€ť Witcoskie said. â€śItâ€™s to challenge yourself and put your team into some different situations. Weâ€™re going to play three games in five days right off the bat and see how we react to that.â€ť
Off of a 6-23 season, the best record the program has had since the 2013-14 season, thereâ€™s a lot left to be desired as the Blue Devils look to take the next step of becoming a contender in the Northeast Conference after finishing ninth out of the 10 teams in conference last year.
It wonâ€™t be easy, but the Blue Devils have some reason for hope, specifically in terms of experience.
While the loss of the second-leading scorer from last season, Khalen Cumberlander, will be tough, the team returns three of the four top leading scorers from last year in Austin Nehls (13.4 ppg), Mustafa Jones (10.7 ppg) and Tidal Pierre (8.1 ppg).
And much is going to be expected out of Nehls entering his junior season.
â€śAustin is going to have another really good year for us,â€ť Witcoskie said. â€śHis consistency in terms of his preparation and effort I think heâ€™s going to continue to take growth steps.â€ť
Returning seniors Jones and Pierre are expected to improve on the floor but more importantly, will be their experience as the team only has four seniors on the roster.
With two of the three leading scorers returning and Junior College transfers Tyler Kohl-Ross and Deion Bute bringing some ability on both ends of the floor, the Blue Devils are in position for another improved season.
â€śWith junior college transfers we get guys with experience playing at a higher level compared to the freshman who donâ€™t have as much experience so that will be important because of the experience they bring in,â€ť Nehls said.
Kohl, a 6-foot-5 guard, comes to CCSU from Mineral Area College in Missouri and is the brother of Blue Devils assistant coach Anthony Ross. CCSU is hoping that Kohlâ€™s versatility on both ends of the floor will help the Blue Devils.
Bute, at 6-foot-9, is expected to be a force on the defensive end for CCSU and comes over from Tallahassee Community College (FL) where he showed his ability to rebound the basketball with 7.6 rebounds per game.
The Blue Devils are hoping the improvement on the defensive end of the floor with the added experience will help them keep up on the offensive end of the floor with any team in the NEC.
With the schedule, CCSU will certainly be tested coming into conference play.
â€śThe past three years Iâ€™ve been here I feel that we havenâ€™t been in as good of a position as this yearâ€™s group,â€ť Jones said. â€śNow in the second year with coach [Marshall] this is his real first recruiting class and we have more experience so it should be a good year for us.â€ť
Dan Orencole can be reached atÂ 860-973-1811 orÂ firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan