MCLA men's basketball team enters Year 3 with Shell

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NORTH ADAMS — It's a little earlier than normal, but the MCLA men's basketball team will have to be ready to start its season tonight.

The Trailblazers, who were 10-16 last year, are in New York City for a road clash with John Jay College.

"It's a long preseason, but it's shorter than it used to be. We've had some hiccups along the way. By and large, there's been a lot of energy," coach Derek Shell said. "I think half the team is new and half are returners, so it's always helpful when you have some veterans to show the new guys the simple things that we like to be done in a certain manner.

"I'd say positive energy is a good way to describe" the preseason.

Shell is starting his third season at the MCLA helm. After a 2-22 first year, the Trailblazers not only went 10-16, but finished 6-6 in MASCAC play, beating Framingham State in the conference tournament quarterfinals but losing to Bridgewater State in the semifinal round.

"By far, by far," said Shell, when asked if this is the earliest he's ever played an opener. "Last year, they allowed us to start this early, but our schedule was already made so we didn't. It's definitely different for me. Most of our guys, I think, are grateful for the shorter preseason. For me, as a coach, you never feel like you have enough time to prepare."

Shell said that while he's got seven returners, the Trailblazers graduated a double-figure scorer in Adam Conquest, along with Joe Wiggins and Keiland Cross. Noah Yearsley, who led MCLA by scoring 13.5 points per game as a freshman, did not return.

"We lost our top four scorers from last year, so that's going to be a challenge to replace," the coach said. "I'm hoping between a combination of the veterans and some of the new guys, that'll make up for what we lost. It's tough to assess right now.

"I'm hopeful that we're in better shape than we were in the first year, when I came in pretty late. We're going to have to overcome the size issue, so that's going to be a challenge."

At 6-foot-6, Conquest was the tallest Trailblazer, while Cross and Wiggins played much bigger than their 6-1 and 6-0 respective measurements.

Sophomore forward Tanner Owens now has the mantle at 6-5 as the tallest Trailblazer. He played in 13 games last year and averaged only 4.5 minutes per game. Freshman Gerald Herbert from Green Tech over in Albany, N.Y., is a 6-4 forward, but he was a quarterback at Green Tech and can play a physical game.

This isn't the first time the Trailblazers have been smaller.

"I think matchups are always a key. We're going to enter the first semester with the idea that we're going to try to play up-tempo. I think we have to try and create some chaos on the defensive end and get as many easy baskets as we can," said Shell. "It's not as easy as flipping a switch on. It's going to take some commitment and it's a work in progress.

MCLA's top returning scorers are 5-10 point guard Ki-Shawn Monroe (8.1 points per game) from Putnam High School in Springfield and 6-3 forward Mike Demartinis (8.0 points per game).

"We have some guys that can [shoot three-point shots]," said Shell. "But you know how shooting goes. It's nothing you can rely on every night all season long."

Sophomore Joaquin Scullark, a transfer from Fulton-Montgomery (N.Y.) Community College, could be one of the newcomers who could see a lot of early playing time.

The MCLA men are picked to finish sixth in the seven-team MASCAC. Bridgewater State is the preseason pick to win the conference title, and the Bears got six of the seven first-place votes. Salem State is second and Fitchburg State is third. Worcester State, picked to finish fourth, got the other first-place vote.

The Trailblazers will play six games before coming home. They open at John Jay, and then will play Kean (N.J.) in the first round of Amherst College's Ken Wright '52 Invitational next weekend.

The long road trip includes a game at Williams on Nov. 20, and then a contest on Dec. 1 at St. Joseph (Conn.). That's the newly-formed Division III men's squad that is coached by former UConn coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun.

The Trailblazers will open at home against RPI on Dec. 4.

"We're pretty stacked in the first semester. Part of that's geography, part of that is by design," the MCLA coach said, "to hopefully to make it a little easier when we hit MASCAC play."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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