NORTH ADAMS — MCLA interim men's basketball coach Tony Skiffington said he didn't know his team was the preseason No. 6 team in the seven-team MASCAC preseason poll. He also said it doesn't matter very much.
"Preseason Poll? I didn't even know we were sixth. I didn't look at it, because I really do not pay attention to preseason polls," said Skiffington. "The year we went to the [MASCAC Tournament] finals, we were sixth in the preseason polls."
The Trailblazers were 8-18 last year and 5-7 in conference play. Skiffington is in a one-year audition as interim coach. He replaces Jamie Morrison, who stepped aside earlier this autumn.
MCLA opens its season Friday night on the road at Southern Vermont. The Mountaineers are the preseason No. 1 team in the New England Collegiate Conference preseason poll. Southern Vermont received seven of the nine votes in the coaches poll.
The Trailblazers will play four of their first five games at home. The home opener is scheduled for Sunday afternoon against Norwich. Seven of MCLA's nine pre-Christmas opponents had winning records. Two, NYU and Wesleyan, made it to the NCAA Division III tournament. Southern Vermont won the ECAC New England Division III championship. This year, the Trailblazers get Williams College at home.
"That's fine. We're not just going into those games looking to compete. We're going into those games looking to get the victory," said Skiffington. "I know pretty much who we're playing and what they have. I feel pretty confident there is not a game on our schedule that we don't have a chance to win."
As to the Trailblazers, the first-year coach said practice has gone well and they are adjusting to some of the changes he has put into play.
"We've put a lot of new stuff in, different philosophies and different ideas. The kids are really taking well to it," said Skiffington. "We had a scrimmage with Western New England. We ended up losing in regulation by three, but we also shot 17 of 35 from the free throw line in that scrimmage."
The Trailblazers bring back their top three scorers in seniors Khalil Paul (11.0 points) and Paul Maurice (8.7), along with junior Adam Conquest (9.2).
MCLA also brings back its top two rebounders from last year in the 6-foot-6 Conquest (5.0) and 6-7 Dakari Hannah-Wornum.
But things all start in the backcourt where 6-4 Paul will man the point on offense. He replaces Ruben Delrosario.
"He's a very smart player. He handles the ball really well. Sometimes, I think he wants to take on a scoring role and he'll have his opportunities," Skiffington said of Paul. "A lot of the options I have put in for the transition offense go right through him."
The coach said that having a big point guard will also help. Defensively, Paul will move to the wing.
One of Paul's backups at the point is freshman Collin Parrott, who graduated from Wahconah in the spring. Parrott and former St. Joseph standout Joe Wiggins are the two local players on the MCLA roster.
"They are probably going to see pretty equal action. I think Joe might see a little bit more. Collin has come along much better than I thought," said Skiffington. "Joe's just a phenomenal athlete. He fits right in. Joe's probably going to be the sixth or seventh man right now. He's going to play starter's minutes.
"Collin is sharing minutes with Ki-Shawn Monroe from Putnam. They're both freshman point guards. They have their ups and their downs. Collin is a tremendous competitor and he's smart. I like the way both of them are playing right now."