Knight, Olivero, Mgebroff and who?

There are three names you hear over and over and over every time you talk to somebody about Lehigh hoops: Joe Knight, Jose Olivero and Jason Mgebroff..

‘With Joe Knight, Jose Olivero and Jason Mgebroff, we have a great nucleus,” said Billy Taylor during a conversation at the league’s media day.

The only other names he mentioned were freshmen. And they came up when he was asked specifically about the new members of the Mountian Hawks team.

You look around and you notice a lot of people are picking Lehigh to be in the top three in the league and it makes you wonder about the quality of the math programs at these supposedly fine academic institutions. Is it just me, or do others worry how Lehigh is going to man five positions with three players?

Billy Taylor is a fine coach, but he is no magician. Unless his assistants are named Penn and Teller, a few other names on the Lehigh roster need to become recognizable in a hurry.

Especially when you stop and look real close at the three who you know.

Let’s start with Knight. Is he good? Certainly? Is there reason to suspect he is going to score 45 a night in league play? Of course not. Even with that tournament record showing against Colgate, Knight only averaged 13.6 points per game.

That is not chopped liver. Knight was fourth in the league in scoring and led in assists. Not bad at all for a guy who took the previous season off to bring up his grades at a Texas Community College.

“Getting him another year of experience in our program will be very important and beneficial to our team’s success. I look for him to have a really big, breakout year,” said Taylor.

”He is somebody who has scored well, when he was at High Point before he transferred to Lehigh. He has shown he has the ability to score. But he also distributes the ball . . . He is somebody who can do both and he has really improved defensively.”

All true. At High Point Knight averaged 16.3 ppg as a sophomore in a season that included a 40-point bomb dropped on Vanderbilt.

The problem for Lehigh is, this is a guard-dominated league. As impressive as Knight’s numbers have been, as good a player as he is, four other guards were named to the preseason all-league team ahead of him and only a Lehigh flack could make an argument that he got hosed.

Take a look inside Knight’s numbers and you will see what we mean. In five games against the top two teams in the league last year, both of whom return their entire backcourts, Knight shot 12-for-59 –- 20 percent – from the field. He reached double figures in just two of those games, and would have averaged less than 10 per game if not for the 10-for-10 foul shooting that boosted him to a 24-point night when Lehigh upset Bucknell in Stabler. From the field in that one, Knight was 6-for-15.

Olivero actually had better numbers against BU and HC, averaging 14 points per game. His 33 percent (17-for-52) shooting against those two, though, only looks good because it is being mentioned so close to Knight’s 20 percent. On its own, 33 percent isn’t even good enough to earn the label mediocre.

Then there is Mgebroff, who even Knight admits “took a little bit of a step back last year.”

As a freshman, Mgebroff appeared ahead of the normal Patriot League big man curve. The 6-10 center averaged 7 points and almost 4 rebounds per game. He got better as the season progressed, too, shooting 63 percent from the field in league games and making the all-tournament team after scoring 42 points in three games.

Last season, though, Mgebroff’s development slowed. His 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds were only marginally better than his freshmen numbers, this despite more playing time. Mgebroff was solid, but hardly spectacular.

Taylor blames it on having to adjust to a new point guard.

“It took time for jason and Joe to get comfortable playing together,” Taylor said.

He is convinced Mgebroff will have a better year.

“Jason looks good. He is running well, rebounding the ball well. I think he understands what he has to do for our team to be successful. It is somewhat of a new role for him because he has never been thrust into the limelight in terms of having to shoulder a good amount of the scoring and rebounding load,” Taylor said.

“We want him to do that. We want him to be a physical presence in the paint because we think he can be a difference maker.”

He will have to be. The two guys starting at forward beside him are 6-5, 195 junior swingman Kyle Neptune and 6-6, 200-pound sophomore Bryan White. They might consider running some of those old Wendy’s ads in the Mountain Hawks’ promos on Service Electric. Where is the beef?

Between them, White and Neptune averaged a combined 6 points and 4 rebounds per game last season. Neither offers the offense that Nick Monserez (8.7 ppg, 44 three-pointers) did or the defensive toughness and rebounding tenactity that Earl Nurse (team-high 5.6 boards per game) brought to the table.

The beef, by the way, would be the 7-foot, 250-pound freshman on the bench. John Gourlay averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and blocked four shots per game at Arkansas’ Subiaco Academy. But then, don’t all 7-footers who can run and chew gum at the same time post impressive numbers in Arkansas prep school circles?

There seems to be general consensus that Gourlay is a good recruit. Patriot League teams don’t get many legitimate 7-footers. But they also do not get ready made big men, unless they are 20-some-year-old Germans. If a 7-footer was ready to step in and compete at the Division I level right off the bat, he would not end up at a Patriot League school. He’d be at Duke or UConn or Kentucky or someplace like them.

Foot injuries in the preseason have not exactly speeded up Gourlay’s progress, either.

Another freshman mentioned in any discussion of Lehigh’s frontcourt is 6-9 Philip Anderson.

“Anderson is 6-9-and-a-half and has terrific skills. He can shoot the ball really well,” said Taylor.

Until those two freshmen get their sea legs, expect Taylor to rely heavily on seniors Mike Fischman (6-9) and James Anderson (6-7) off the bench.

In the backcourt, Taylor is big on another freshman, 6-5 Canadian Greg Page.

“Greg brings some more depth to the wing position. He has a great body and really understands the game,” Taylor said.

The other perimeter threats on the bench are 6-2 freshman Matt Szalachowski, a local 20-year-old product who prepped at Blair Academy and 5-11 senior Mitch Gilfillan, a former all-rookie pick whose future stalled when he got stuck behind Austen Rowland as a sophomore and Knight last year.

Obviously, for Lehigh to live up to top three expectations, they are going to need some freshmen to grow up in a hurry.

Can they?

“It is always hard to say,” Taylor said.

He is about to find out.

“They all will be in the rotation. They will all get a chance to play. It ultimately comes down to what they do with those minutes on the floor,” said Taylor.

NOTES: When they hand out Lehigh media guides, they should include a pair of reading glasses . . . the font size throughout is smaller than the stuff newspapers use for box scores . . . the size used for stats, including last season’s boxscores, is even smaller . . . Lehigh gets the earliest tip of any league school, opening Sunday against Northwestern in the opening round of the 2005 BCA Invitational on the campus of the University of Wyoming. . . . From Lehigh’s opening game notes: Under Billy
Taylor, the Mountain Hawks are 36-4 when outrebounding their opponents, including a record of 10-2 last season. When getting outrebounded, Lehigh is just 13-26 under Taylor . . . That gives some perspective on the potential problems of a small frontline, eh? . . . We used the phrase “eh” as a salute to Page, who comes from Quebec, not for Anderson, who hails from La Canada, which is in California . . . Knight’s hops are no secret, but did you know in addition to being able to sky, he also can cover great distances in the air. In fact, Knight was a Tennessee high school state champion in the long jump . . . Szalachowski is the younger brother of Lehigh director of basketball operations Brad Szalachowski played for two seasons at Lehigh, then served as a student assistant coach for two seasons before joining the staff following graduation in the spring.

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