Billy Lange has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
That attitude will come in handy this year as the Navy men's basketball coach attempts to replace the production of graduated Midshipmen Kaleo Kina, Clif Colbert, Brian Richards and Adam Teague. The seniors guided Navy to a 19-10 record last season.
In their place will be a five-man freshmen class, which Lange unveiled Monday.
Pete Banos, a 6-10 center from Trumbull, Conn, Montez Blair, a 6-3 shooting guard from Erial, N.J., Jordan Brickman, a 6-0 point guard from San Antonio, Texas, Troy King, a 6-7 forward from Gaithersburg, and Alex Newsome, a 6-9 center from Denver, N.C., compose Navy's 2009 recruiting class.
Two of Navy's plebes have completed a post-grad year -- Banos at the Naval Academy Preparatory School and Newsome at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Blair was a basketball and track star at Timber Creek High, Brickman was the No. 46-ranked senior in Texas last year, and King was an MIAA A all-conference pick at St. John's Catholic Prep in Frederick.
Lange spoke with Recruiting Report earlier this week about Navy's 2009 class.
You came into this recruiting period knowing you were losing Kina, Teague, Richards and Colbert. What were your plans to address those losses?
The first thing we wanted to do -- and I always try to do this -- but we were very gung-ho on not settling for anything. We wanted to give ourselves the best opportunity to get the best players we could possibly get. We wanted a good blend of guys with upside and guys that could contribute right away. I don’t want to make it seem like we don’t try to get the best players. But with this group of guys, not that we had staff arguments, but we debated and dissected this class more than any class we’ve ever brought in because we realized the importance of it. And it was fun. It was enjoyable, but we were very, very picky. After being here five years, we kind of know the type of player capable of [succeeding academically], the type of person capable of being a successful Midshipman and basketball player. And we tried to hit that 100 percent.
Banos spent last year at the Naval Academy Prep School. When did he commit to you?
He committed in the summer of 2007. So we had him secured during the 2007-08 season and he prepped during the 2008-09 season.
How did he fare at the prep school?
He had two knee surgeries when he was there. He had a torn meniscus and then after his rehab, he had some complications with it and had to get it done again when the season was over. So he didn’t have a full season to focus on his skills because the injuries held him back. With that being said, he had a fairly good season. When you’re away from home for the first time, those circumstances can break your spirit a little bit.
Is he 100 percent healthy now?
He’s healthy right now, but he’s not [100 percent] healthy. He’s cleared to play, but he’s not at the physical level that he’s going to need to be to compete for us. We’re going to be patient with Pete. The long-term vision here is getting him right, strengthening his legs and getting his weight to where he can compete at Division I practices and games. That curve has started to accelerate. Pete, because of his size -- he’s 6-10 and probably 275 now -- he’s got to get in that 260 range. He put on a lot of weight [because of the injury]. But he can shoot. You’ve got to see this kid. He looks like he’s straight out of the WWF, old-school wrestling. He’s a big, big guy. He’s skilled, he can reverse the ball around the perimeter, he can knock down the mid-range jump shot, he’s got great hands and a great nose for the ball. He’s not a great back-to-the-basket player yet, but he’s good around the basket. I’m not putting any undue expectations on him until we can get his body ready to compete.
How did you get involved with Blair?
[Navy assistant] Eugene Burroughs went to an event in Kansas City. He saw Montez at the event. Eugene and I have been together for five years, and he has an idea of a guy that he’s going to like and I’m going to like. [Blair] comes from my home area in South Jersey, so I did some homework and called some coaches I know there. No one was ready to sell him, but they all said he works hard, he’s very intriguing, has great upside and is a great kid. But he really exploded on the scene late in his junior year of high school.
In Las Vegas, we were going around this tournament and had other guys that were higher priority guys, just because we had seen them for six months. We had an open game slot, so we thought, ‘lets run over to this gym and catch this kid Montez Blair.’ It took about five minutes [to convince me]. I remember thinking, ‘We’ve got to get this kid.’ We contacted his high school coach, who I had known for years, we checked him out at an open gym at his high school, fell in love with him and the rest is history. Of all the guys [at his position] we were looking at, it was a no-brainer that Montez was exactly what we needed. And we fit him as an institution. The Naval Academy is exactly what he was looking for. He fit us, and I think our institution fit him to a “T.”
Blair was a track star in high school. Talk about his athleticism and what he’ll bring to your team.
There are good athletes and there are guys that are athletic. He’s both. He’s got great timing, has great hands, great coordination and change of direction. He’s a very good athlete. He’s athletic in terms of his jumping and his agility is very, very good. He’s doesn’t have to jump over high bars for us, but he can swoop to the rim; he has the ability to finish above the rim. He can go get the basketball. His quickness is very good. As he gains strength and confidence and experience, he’s going to compete. He is maniacal in his approach to basketball. His intensity in getting better is like [his approach] to everything in his life. He’s not going to leave the gym until he’s finished what we’re trying to teach him. It’s the same thing with the classroom. He’s the exact same way.
What type of point guard is Brickman?
He can score. That’s what I like about him. He has the ability to make shots from that position, but the best thing is his court vision and his creativity. He has the ability to deliver passes on time. He doesn’t even have to think about it; it’s so seamless to him. It was important for us to get a point guard last summer, and when it was all said and done, he stood head and shoulders above [every other point guard] we were involved with. It wasn’t even close.
How do you envision him and O.J. Avworo coexisting? Will they play together?
We’ve started two point guards every year since I’ve been here. I’m not saying those two will start together, but in terms of playing together, I’ve got no problems doing it. Both play bigger than their size and have a nasty streak to them. Jordan has better scoring ability than O.J. at this point, but he’s still going to play his game. There’s no doubt they’ll both be on the floor together. How much is yet to be determined, but there’s no doubt in my mind [they’ll play together].
How important is it to land a local guy like King?
It’s been a priority ever since I’ve been here. This year we’ll have [four local guys], between Chris Harris from Richmond, Greg Brown from St. Mary’s Ryken, Jordan Sugars is from Winchester, Virginia and Troy next year. It’s been a priority and we’re just trying to see [local recruiting efforts] come to fruition right now. It helps that we’re located [close to where] Troy [is from]. But it wouldn’t have mattered if he was from anywhere in the country, [because we still would have recruited him]. Being able to land Troy and his versatility and scoring punch was critical for us.
What are some things you’re looking for from him immediately? Will it be his shooting?
The biggest thing that we look for now -- and it didn’t happen by design; it kind of happened by accident -- is we ended up with a majority of players on our roster that are multifaceted. I would use the word ‘versatility.’ It’s funny, we kind of look for it with new recruits. I swear it wasn’t the plan. You’re starting from scratch, baking a cake, you end up with something else and man, it tastes pretty good. It kind of happened this year and we looked for it. With Troy, when you say skill set, I can’t tell you any one thing he does great, but I know he does many things really well. And that kind of lends itself to how we want to play.
When we were recruiting him, we’d talk to his high school coach and he’d say, ‘Oh man, he can really shoot. He’ll fit in great.’ I [also] like his ability to drive, he posts up and he slashes, and he can guard [bigger guys]. I saw him in an AAU game guarding a 6’10 guy and being able to push him around. He’s just so physical. So I never looked at him as this great shooter, but I’m not complaining. I’ll take it.
How beneficial was Hargrave for Newsome in terms of competition and development?
Huge. The coach at Hargrave was keeping us updated daily on him. He was talking about how much he developed. He developed the physical maturity, but I sensed in the past year how much more emotionally mature he became also. He’s in a position to lead and he’s very, very confident. The experience at Hargrave he gained from the competition he was getting, and a year more of maturity lends itself to him playing right away. I expect him to compete immediately for minutes. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be because our other guys have improved that much. If he can stay healthy and adapt to what we do from a skill-set standpoint, my expectations are that he plays.
Talk about Newsome’s game and what he brings to the table.
He knows exactly what he does and he does it very well. He’s going to post you up deep. He doesn’t wow you with a million moves, but he’s quick on his feet. Being left-handed makes it a little awkward for the defense. With that being said, he’s still a freshman. But of all the kids that we’ve recruited that are 6-9 or bigger -- probably six or seven guys in that range -- he has come more ready to play from a low-post scoring standpoint than anybody else. He’s got a good pedigree for scoring the basketball.
Which of these freshmen will you expect to contribute immediately?
I think just by what we’ve lost in Adam and Clif, which were the forward positions, Troy’s got a chance to contribute right away. You just look at what you need. With that being said, I’m trying to remain cautiously optimistic. I just feel that this class, talent-wise, all of them are going to be able to push for minutes. It would not shock me if four of these guys are playing a lot. What I enjoy is that it’s not like we have to count [on them for sure]. Five years ago, with Teague and Colbert, those guys were going to play for better or for worse. With this group, I feel like they’re going to compete and push guys to play, and it’s going to strengthen our basketball team.
Last year you lost Greg Sprink but still posted Navy’s best record in 10 years. Now you’re losing Kina, Teague, Colbert and Richards. So will this recruiting class help make up for that lost production?
I remember talking about this last year and I didn’t know how to answer. Kina’s a great scorer, but you’re talking about Greg Sprink who had [multiple] 35-plus point games during his senior year. I think what this group has going for us is that you ask who’s most ready to play, and I really have a hard time answering. And that’s a good thing because I think they all can. I think this group has an opportunity to be the deepest group we’ve had. I think we have an opportunity to make up for the production we lost.
We can play big, we can play small. We’re very quick and versatile. [It will be] more than maybe one guy stepping in and getting Kina’s 20 points per game. Their versatility mixed with the guys we have coming back, I think we’ll be able to make up some of what we lost. Is it going to be all of it? It’s tough to put that on freshmen with so many seniors graduating. But I’m very confident in these guys. I’m just confident that they’re going to push for playing time. To me, I think it makes us deeper and gives us more options. That’s the way I look at it.
Sun photo by John Makely / January 22, 2006