'Pards have 1 thing going for them: O'Hanlon

Much has been made of Lafayette’s loss of Jamaal Douglas, the Leopards’ second leading scorer and arguably best player last season.

Douglas bailed on Lafayette after his sophomore season, transferring to Eastern Kentucky, where he will get a full scholarship, something Lafayette does not offer. In the process, Douglas took 9.9 points and 7 rebounds per game and his 6-6, 240-pound frame, leaving Lafayette with a big hole where its frontline was supposed to be.

“Fran’s (O’Hanlon) situation is difficult because of losing Douglas. If he would have been back, they would have been competitive. Losing him really hurt,” said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard.

“That kid was improving dramatically. He couldn’t shoot a lick -- we were recruiting him too, and I loved his toughness and his strength, but I didn’t know if he could shoot it. Last year, at the end of the year, he was maybe their best three-point shooter.”

With Douglas gone, Lafayette is left with senior Andrei Capusan as its top returning frontcourt player. Capusan, who is listed at 6-8, 210, averaged 7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last year. The dropoff from Douglas to Capusan, though, is far greated than the 3 points and 3 rebounds per game difference in their averages. Douglas had developed into a pretty fair outside shooter with the ability to step out past the arc to knock down a three. Capusan only tried three treys all last season and did not connect on any of them.

Capusan is also a dropoff defensively from Douglass, who bloked a team-best 28 shots and came up with 22 steals, compared with 16 blocks and 17 steals for Capusan. Douglas also was plus-one in assist-turnover ratio (42 assists, 41 turnovers), Capusan had 24 assists and 51 turnovers.

With Douglas back for his junior year, Lafayette was solid in the middle. Without Douglas, that middle is a void.

In a league with frontcourt players like Bucknell, Holy Cross, Lehigh and Colgate have, Lafayette is going to find itself at a serious disadvantage. That disadvantage is heightened by the fact that the Leopards backcourt, while solid, is hardly a match for the guards on the top five or six teams in the league.

In other words, it looks like another long season ahead for Lafayette, who will be hard-pressed to match last season’s 9-19 mark.

What might make matters even worse for the ‘Pards is the fact that they probably will not be as bad as Army.

If Lafayette were to suffer through a season similar to the one the Black Knights experienced last year, with only one win over a Division I opponent and a last placxe finish in the league, maybe, just maybe, the clamor from alums would finally be loud enough to get new president Daniel Weiss and the school’s trustees to acknowledge the reality of the Leopards non-scholarship situation.

That will not happen for one simple reason: O'Hanlon is too good a coach. The two-time PL coach of the year has a long history of getting the most out of his teams. Even last year, when the Leopards finished seventh in the eight-team league, they still played a lot of people tough. Included in their 19 setbacks were five where the margin was four points or less. Turn those around and Lafayette would have been a .500 team, despite the no scholarships.

While it seems unlikely that the Leopards will finish higher in the final standings than they did last season, it seems just as improbable that they will finish lower.

More likely, though, is a scenario similar to last season, where O’Hanlon’s team got better as the season progressed, pulling off two huge upsets in the final week of the regular season that left the illusion that Lafayette can still be competitive without scholarships. In retrospect, getting trounced by bitter rival Lehigh in the regular season finale might have been better in the long run for the program than the 81-76 win was.

Lafayette’s guards might not have the athleticism of some of the other backcourts in the league, but with juniors Jamaal Hilliard and Marcus Harley, the Betley cousins-- senior Pat and sophomore Matt, sophomore Paul Cummins and freshman Andrew Brown, of whom big things are expected, the Leopards do have enough depth to allow O’Hanlon to try to push the ball more on offense without worrying about tired legs being a detriment to that pesky matchup zone defense he likes to employ.

Or at leasst they will once Hilliard and Harley get back on the court. Both will miss at least the Leopards' first two games due to injuries.

The frontcourt enjoys no such depth. After Capusan, the drop off is drastic. There is sophomore Everest Scmidt, who at 6-7, 270, at least brings some bulk to the middle and 6-7, 195 sophomore Ted Detmer. But the two sophomores between them averaged less than 3 points and less than 3 rebounds. Neither started a single game as freshmen, with Detmer appearing in 21 games, Schmidt in 15.

Next in line are a quartet of freshmen, none of whom are likely ready for prime time. At least some of whom will have to play anyhow.

With 11 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Lafayette is obviously in the rebuilding mode. Whether those non-scholarship building blocks can provide a foundation to return the 'Pards to the league's upper division remains to be seen.

One thing seems certain: O'Hanlon will be there for the forseeable future to oversee those recovery efforts. The 10-year contract he signed in 2004 is probably the best thing Lafayette basketball has going for it at the moment.

God only knows why a coach would sign such a deal, agreeing to stay in what looks to everyone outside of Easton to be a no-win situation. God also knows O'Hanlon didn't have to stay. He had offers aplenty to go elsewhere; his name is mentioned every time a coaching job opens up back in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Maybe it's the view from College Hill, or the selection of drafts on tap at Pearly Baker's that keeps him in Easton. Or maybe his kids dig the Crayola Factory. Or maybe he just likes the challenge.

Whatever the reason, Lafayette fans should thank their lucky stars every night than O'Hanlon has stuck around. Until the school joins the modern world and offers scholarships, O'Hanlon is all that stands between the Leopards and the abyss.

Corky Blake Lafayette preview from the Express-Times

Andre Williams Lafayette preview from the Morning Call
Lafayette schedule
Lafayette roster

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