By From the Lowell Sun
By Lynn Worthy
LOWELL -- Coming off a 21-win season last year, this season's River Hawks should be bigger, stronger, and deeper.
The UMass Lowell men's basketball team went on a wild ride last year, the first season under head coach Greg Herenda. The River Hawks came into last season with 10 new players to go with their new head coach. They responded with a 21-8 record, going on a 13-game win streak at one point. UML finished second in the Northeast-10 Conference, and the River Hawks qualified for the NCAA Tournament where they fell in overtime to Merrimack College.
This year's roster appears to have even more talent as the River Hawks prepare to tip-off the season at UML's Costello Gymnasium today against Mercy College at 3.
"I think we have a chance to be a very good basketball team if we play at high energy level, high intensity, and the key is to play with a high IQ as well," says Herenda, last year's NE-10 and Northeast Region Coach of the Year. "I think this team right now is in the process of figuring all of that out. The sooner we figure it out, the better we're going to be."
The River Hawks return last year's NE-10 Freshman of the Year in point guard Kyle Caiola and Defensive Player of the Year Max Kerman.
Kerman will sit out the first three games of this season as a suspension for violating university policy stemming from an incident last year.
The River Hawks return all but one of their top eight players from last season as forward Victor Colon did not return to school for his senior year. However, UML picked up a big man in former Lowell High standout Kingsley Onyechi. The 6-foot-7 225 pound Onyechi will play his final season of eligibility as he attends graduate school. He'll team up with 6-foot-9 senior center Ali Kanaan to provide an inside presence.
Last season UML went into the NCAA Tournament ranked in the top 15 in the nation in points allowed, 3-point percentage defense and steals per game.
"We're getting used to helping ad trapping and all that stuff off the ball, but it's going to help out," Kerman says of playing with two big men. "Because when guys get beat, they're going to run into our twin towers. I think we're tightening it up now. I think we should be all set come Sunday."
Offensively, Caiola led the team in scoring last year (tournament play included) with 14.1 points per game. Senior Kevin Carr played a huge role off the bench last season scoring just under 12 points per game while shooting 37 percent from behind the 3-point line. Craig Heatherly is another wing player who shot the ball well from downtown (39 percent in 3-pointers) and Marcus Johnson is an athletic guard capable of handling the ball.
Former Methuen High scoring machine Romeo Diaz (6-foot-5 190 pounds) adds depth on the wing as a freshman, and UML also brought in freshman Scotty Tavares-Taylor, a lightning quick point guard who helped the Tilton School win the prep national title last year.
Kanaan seems to believe this year's team is poised to accomplish even more than last year's squad.
"I think we're going to build on last year," Kanaan says. "Every year I've been here we've improved in wins from one year to the next. I think we're at a great place right now. Everybody is doing their job. Nobody is slacking. I think we're going to go further than last year. Last year, one of our goals was to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and we made it but lost the first game. This year our goal is to hopefully go far in the NCAA Tournament."