Drexel head coach Zach Spiker at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
(Yong Kim/Philly.com Staff Photographer)
Every great team has a superhero-esque bench to support them. The bench provides the starters and coach the stability and comfort that while the best players on the team are resting, the game will not go to waste. Last year's Golden State Warriors starters were a great example of this. They had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, and Kevin Durant. Their bench consisted of Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and many more players who would no doubt start on other teams. These players were crucial in keeping their starters healthy and rested. However, in Drexel’s home opener against Bowling Green, their bench was slashed in half.
Before the start of the game, Miles Overton, Tramaine Isabell, and Alihan Demir were declared ineligible to play. Overton suffered a strained calf, Isabell failed to meet team standards, and Demir is still unable to play due to transfer rules. These absences put pressure on head coach Zach Spiker, leaving him with a meager three man bench featuring senior Tyshawn Myles, freshman Tadas Kararinas, and freshman Jarvis Doles.
In the first five minutes of the game, shooting guard Sam Green committed his first foul and was immediately subbed out for Doles. Instead of giving Green the chance to rest and avoid another foul, he was promptly subbed back into the game for Troy Harper who would go on to commit two fouls in the first half.
Doles, on the other hand, amassed three fouls in just three minutes and was quickly subbed out for Kararinas.
Kararinas didn’t play much better. While the Lithuanian native didn’t foul anyone, he only had three points and had just two rebounds despite being 6-foot-10. He also committed one of Drexel’s 9 turnovers, three of which coming from the bench. With under six minutes remaining in the half, Kararinas was subbed in for senior forward Tyshawn Myles.
Myles played for the rest of the first half and compiled a modest four points along with two rebounds of his own.
By the start of the second half, Kurk Lee had seen 20 minutes of play, Sammy Mojica had seen 18 minutes of play, and Austin Williams had seen 17 minutes of play. These players were overused due to the underwhelming amount of players on the bench and the inability of those players to give their starters a break. The bench’s ineffectivity was no doubt a contributing factor to the sudden loss of Drexel’s ten point lead in the second half.
Drexel looked and played like they were exhausted, a trait seen most clearly in their 6-foot-8 forward, Austin Williams. Williams had a tremendous first half scoring 16 points, collecting 6 rebounds, a steal, and a block all in 17 minutes of play. However his 17 minutes of play in the second half were the exact opposite. He struggled to score, dropping just two points and committed three fouls. Fellow forward and starter, Sam Green, didn’t fare well either.
Green would foul out of the game with 30 seconds remaining in the game. He scored just 5 points in 22 minutes of play, missing his only 3-three point attempt. However, the forwards weren’t the only ones who played poorly in the second half.
Philadelphia native Troy Harper, scored just 3 points in the second half, tacking on his third foul of the game 7 minutes into the half and turning the ball over just seconds later. Harper ended the game shooting 1-11 from the floor, dropping just 8 points. Some of this performance can be attributed to when late in the second half, he was subbed in for after laying on the floor, clutching his leg and wincing for a considerable amount of time.
“8 points, 26 minutes, some of those minutes weren’t healthy, but he gutted it out,” Spiker said of Harper.
Players as crucial as Harper shouldn’t be forced to ‘gut it out’ in a game that Drexel is losing in. However, when there’s no bench to replace Harper, he doesn’t get enough time to heal which could be problematic in the future. Someone who literally had no time to regroup himself was fellow guard and freshman year standout Kurk Lee.
The former CAA’s All-Rookie Team member scored just 7 points in 20 minutes of play, committed 4 turnovers and shooting 25% from the floor and was 0-3 from 3-point range.
In the second half, Kurk Lee managed to play another 20 minutes, Sammy Mojica played 20 minutes and Austin Williams played another 17 minutes. These three players got to sit a combined three times in the entire game.
If coach Spiker was able to use Tramaine Isabell at the very least, the game may have looked a lot different.
Before transferring to Drexel, Isabell played primarily off the bench for the University of Missouri. While at Missouri, Isabell racked up two 17 point performances and had 10 points or more eight times. Isabell was described by Walker Orenstein, a staff member of D1 Circuit, as a “a flash to the bucket faster than [Orenstein’s] camera shutter can keep up”.
Spiker would have had the ability to rest Lee, Mojica, or Williams more often, possibly allowing them to be rested enough to maintain their lead entering the second half, had Isabell played.
The adjustments were made however, when in their next game against Arcadia, the Dragons were much better in terms of the bench’s performance.
Tramaine Isabell, who was ineligible against Bowling Green, scored 22 points in nearly 30 minutes of play off the bench. Sam Green, who started in the Bowling Green game, scored 9 points off the bench in 20 minutes of play. The bench was responsible for nearly 35% of the points scored against Arcadia, a huge improvement from the 10 bench points (14% of the total) last game.
The Arcadia game is a testament to how effective of a team Drexel can be when they have a solid bench. Drexel’s four man bench allowed Kurk Lee to play seven less minutes than last game and Austin Williams to play six less minutes. When the starters are given the time to rest in a game, they can be more effective. For example, Troy Harper went from scoring just 8 points to scoring 17 points.
Despite their strong play, coach Spiker still wants the team to compete at a higher pace. That will come from quality bench minutes, which will provide ample time for everyone to rest, recharge, and give the opposing team different lineup looks.
“What we have to get better at is playing 40 minutes [of high level basketball] and not looking like we’re absolutely gassed and then the next thing you know, we let an offensive rebound go and then a layup,” Spiker said in the press conference. “Then we look like a team that’s not very well conditioned.”
If the bench can perform at a similar level as the Arcadia game, if not better, the starters will be able to play more productive minutes. If the team is able to do that, then the future will be bright for Drexel Basketball.
The Empire's season podcast series will cover college basketball in the City 6. We will be releasing a podcast to accompany a written report covering our outlook for the teams' seasons. Please note that the podcasts and the written season previews may differ in writers and opinion.
William Derry and Benjamin Simon
Zach Spiker enters his second year in charge of the Drexel Dragons after a disappointing 9-23 overall record last season. Despite struggling to win close games and losing 17 of their last 20 contests during the 2016-17 season, the Dragons took major steps in rebuilding their program.
Last year, freshmen Kurk Lee and Kari Jonsson had a combined usage rate of 41%, while Wake Forest transfer Miles Overton (9.5 ppg) gave the Dragons a scoring threat off the bench when healthy. Senior Rodney Williams was by far Drexel’s team MVP. Williams led the Dragons in scoring (15.6 ppg), rebounding (6.8 rpg) and double-doubles (5). His effort went beyond the boxscore, as he continued to battle even when Drexel fell behind early in games.
With Williams set to graduate, coach Spiker knew that he would have to replace the versatile forward but what he didn’t know was that he would also have to replace the team's best three-point shooter. Less than a month before Drexel’s home opener against Bowling Green, the Dragons announced that Jonsson had decided to leave the basketball program due to personal reasons and return home to Iceland. Replacing Jonsson, who is now playing professionally in Iceland, shot 44% from three last year and will not be easy shoes to fill for the Dragons. But with Overton back healthy and transfers Tramaine Isabell and Troy Harper now eligible, Spiker and company are looking at double digit wins after just missing out on it last season.
Who’s Gone? Rodney Williams (F, graduation), Mohamed Bah (F, graduation), Major Canady (G, graduation), Kari Jonsson (G, personal reasons [Returned home to Iceland]), John Moran (G, graduation), Jeremy Peck (F, transferred to UNC Asheville), Elgin Ford Jr. (G, graduation), Andrew Cartwright (F, Unknown)
As mentioned above, Rodney Williams was Drexel’s most productive player last season. Williams exemplified what it means to be a Dragon on and off the court. His stat line only told part of the story as Williams routinely made the extra pass to his teammates, tightly defended the opposing team's forwards/centers and regularly motivated his teammates. He will be greatly missed by Drexel’s basketball program.
Mohamed Bah was a key reserve big for the Dragons last season. Although Bah did not fill up the stat sheet during his four year collegiate career, he was a willing rebounder who could finish around the rim. Bah’s experience will be missed. Major Canady returned last season after missing two consecutive years due to two separate injuries. Canady made his long-awaited return to the court against Kean University on December 18th and received a standing ovation from the home crowd. Having said that, Canady saw limited minutes for the rest of the season. Drexel will miss Canady’s leadership, defense, and basketball IQ.
Kari Jonsson, who abruptly left the program last month, will certainly be missed. Many expected Jonsson to pair with backcourt teammate Kurk Lee and cause problems for teams in the Colonial Athletic Conference for the foreseeable future. Jonsson’s ability to consistently hit three-pointers will be a big loss because there may not be a player on Drexel’s roster who can fill his shoes. John Moran joined Drexel after graduating from Richmond University. Moran had a year of eligibility left due to a medical hardship waiver. Moran played in 31 of Drexel’s 32 games and served as a backup guard.
Jeremy Peck was a part of Drexel’s 2016 recruiting class and was tabbed as being a stretch 4 with refined post moves. That being said, Peck did not see a considerable amount of playing time. The Texas native decided to transfer following the season to UNC Asheville. Like Moran, Peck spent one season with the Dragons but his presence will still be missed. Elgin Ford Jr. joined Drexel’s team last season but did not play very much. It is unknown why Andrew Cartwright is no longer listed on Drexel’s active roster.
Who’s New? Tramaine Isabell (G, Jr. Transfer), Troy Harper (G, Jr. Transfer), Jarvis Doles (F, Fr.), Tim Perry Jr. (F, Fr.), Alihan Demir (F, So. Transfer), Tadas Kararinas (F, Fr.), James Butler (F, So. Transfer), Kevin Doi (G, Jr.)
Tramaine Isabell transferred from Missouri to Drexel before last season and had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Now eligible, Isabell is primed to be an important contributor for the Dragons, especially with the sudden departure of Jonsson. Though Isabell’s numbers from when he played at Missouri are not transcendent, he has a record of playing well in high-pressure situations. For instance, Isabell drilled a three-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining against Oklahoma State during his freshman year, which earned him a spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day. If that play was not convincing enough, Isabell came back during his sophomore year with the Tigers and had back-to-back 17-point outings against Ole Miss and #21 Texas A&M. If Isabell can bring that kind of production on a consistent basis for the Dragons then he’ll be a mainstay in coach Spiker’s starting lineup.
Philly native and Neumann Goretti alum Troy Harper transferred from Campbell University to Drexel after his sophomore year. Like Isabell, Harper sat out last season due to transfer rules and is eligible this season. Harper was second in scoring (13.5 ppg) during his sophomore campaign with the Fighting Camels and also averaged 3.3 rebounds per game. Harper will most likely come in off the bench for Drexel but should provide the Dragons with an offensive spark by driving to the basket and attacking the rim as well as knocking down open jumpers and three-pointers.
After not receiving any enticing Division 1 scholarship offers, Jarvis Doles decided to enroll at Mt. Zion Prep. Doles signed with Drexel last November and should see some playing time this season. Doles averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds per game during his senior year at Hammond High. At 6-foot-9, 215 pounds, Doles has grown an inch and gained 15 pounds since his senior year. With his height and athletic ability Doles should be a fixture in coach Spiker’s rotation off the bench.
Tim Perry Jr., the son of former Temple standout and NBA player Tim Perry, completed a prep year at the Phelps School before committing to Drexel in January. Perry averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while playing at Phelps. The Cherry Hill East graduate is 6-foot-10, 218 pounds, which is an ideal size for a big in college basketball, especially if he gained some more weight. Perry will most likely start the year on the bench but could see early playing time if he competes in practice and coach Spiker wants an athletic forward who can protect rim and run the floor.
After transferring from JUCO Central Wyoming College this past offseason Alihan Demir is eligible to play immediately. Demir, who is from Ankara, Turkey, averaged 13.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 29 games for Central Wyoming last season. Demir is a stretch four who can spot up, knock down a standstill jump shot, and can finish at the basket off the dribble. What might separate him from the rest of the true forwards on Drexel’s team is his ability to move without the ball and break down his defender off the dribble. Thus, Demir may see minutes off the bench early in this year and could complement forwards Austin Williams and Tyshawn Myles who like to play near the hoop.
Tadas Kararinas spent last year at well-known Findlay Prep before joining Drexel this season. Kararinas is a 6-foot-10, 210-pound forward from Silute, Lithuania and was a member of the Lithuania youth national team. Kararinas’ size at 6-foot-10 automatically gives him an advantage over most players in college basketball. Just last Wednesday Kararinas scored 16 points (6-7 FGM-A) and was perfect from three (3-3 3PM-A) in an exhibition charity game against Villanova. It was only an exhibition game but with Austin Williams out, Kararinas proved that he’s not afraid to let it fly from beyond the arc and can make it when he does. It will be interesting to see how coach Spiker uses Kararinas this season if he does at all.
Kevin Doi is a junior guard from Rolling Estates, California and attended the Chadwick School before enrolling at Drexel. Doi will most likely serve as a reserve and see limited playing time. Doi is a Dean’s list student.
James Butler transferred from the United States Naval Academy and will sit out this year due to transfer rules.
Projected Starting Lineup:
So., G: Kurk Lee (Proj. Stats: 14 PPG, 4 RPG, 6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 40 FG%)
Kurk Lee had a phenomenal freshman season, averaging almost 15 points per game (14.9), 3.9 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.6 steals. Lee was one of the lone bright spots for the Dragons last season as he scored in double-figures in all but 4 games and broke Drexel’s rookie scoring and assist record. Lee’s quick first step and overall speed while dribbling the basketball allowed him to blow past taller defenders and create fast break opportunities for Drexel. The Baltimore native’s skillset fits in perfectly with the up-tempo style of play that coach Spiker implemented last season.
Drexel guard Kurk Lee attempts a shot during practice.
(Steven M. Falk/Philly.com Staff Photographer)
Jr., G: Tramaine Isabell (Proj. Stats: 10 PPG, 2 RPG, 2 APG, 1 SPG, 35 3P%)
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Isabell should crack coach Spiker’s starting lineup due to his ability to score the basketball in a number of different ways. The Seattle native can attack the defense by driving to the basket, spot up for a three if his defender plays off of him, and get to the free-throw line where he shot 76% while at Missouri. Isabell also has the ability to make the extra pass when necessary. With Jonsson gone, look for Isabell to step up as a three-point threat this year.
Sr., F: Sammy Mojica (Proj. Stats: 12 PPG, 6 RPG, 3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 40 FG%)
Sammy Mojica has been an ironman for Drexel over the past two seasons, playing in every contest. Last year, Mojica scored in double-figures 22 times, while averaging 31.6 minutes, 11.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.2 steals. Mojica’s ability to dribble, pass, shoot, rebound, and defend allows coach Spiker to use him at a variety positions and in numerous gameday situations. One improvement that would solidify Mojica’s spot in the starting lineup would be consistency. If Mojica can be consistent night in and night out then he should remain in the starting five throughout the season.
Sr., F: Austin Williams (Proj. Stats: 10 PPG, 9 RPG, 2 BPG, 58 FG%)
Austin Williams was Drexel’s most improved player last year. Williams increased his production in every major statistical category and even led the Dragons in field goal percentage (61%). After only scoring 26 total points and grabbing 72 total rebounds in his first two seasons at Drexel, Williams scored 220 points and tallied 194 rebounds during his junior year. Williams was a force to be reckon with on boths ends of the floor, notably in the post. If last year was any indicator of what Williams could potentially be, don’t be surprised to see him average 10 points and 9 boards while protecting the basket for Drexel.
Sr., F: Tyshawn Myles (Proj. Stats: 4 PPG, 4 RPG, 48 FG%)
If Drexel faces a team with two dominant bigs then Tyshawn Myles should start alongside Williams. Myles is 6-foot-8, 250 pounds and can bang with the best of them down in the paint. Though Myles’ stats do not jump off of the page (2.2 ppg and 2.8 rpg), his ability to defend in the post and protect the rim are valuable on a team with many inexperienced bigs on the roster.
Reserves: Miles Overton (G, Sr), Troy Harper (G, Jr.), Sam Green (F, So.), Jarvis Doles (F, Fr.) Tim Perry Jr. (F, Fr.), Tadas Kararinas (F, Fr.), Alihan Demir (F, So.)
Miles Overton and Troy Harper feature to be the first guys off the bench to start the season. Overton returns for his senior year after missing the final eight games with an injury. The transfer from Wake Forest played below expectations last season. After leading the team in usage percentage at 27.6% a year ago, the guard will have to shoot the ball better. It was clear that coach Spiker had confidence in his ability to shoot, but Overton never seemed to get comfortable. Harper comes to Drexel after spending his first two years of collegiate eligibility at Campbell University. Harper is an athletic 2-guard who should see minutes as a spark plug off the bench for coach Spiker. While Overton should see minutes in the starting lineup as the year progresses, Harper will primarily be used as one of the first guys of the bench.
Sam Green returns for year two with the Dragons and he shapes up to be an interesting addition to the regular rotation. Green earned the team’s most improved award at the end of the Dragons’ 2016-17 season, an accolade that cannot be overlooked. Green is a big bodied guard/forward who can hit the three and play from the perimeter, but can also score around the rim thanks to his size. With the Dragons’ short bench, Green could certainly be pushed into a bigger role. As Spiker could very well go small-ball to play more uptempo, Green could see minutes as an undersized ‘4’. He would be perfect for that role in a small-ball lineup because his size will allow him to play solid defense in the post, but his offensive skillset will expose the mismatched ‘4’.
As big men, Tadas Kararinas, Alihan Demir, Tim Perry Jr., and Jarvis Doles will have to factor into the rotation. The Dragons will need their help with a lack of depth in the frontcourt that features only two returning bigs. Both Kararinas (3-3 from 3 against Villanova) and Demir (attempted 35 3-pointer’s at Central Wyoming) present the option as pick-and-pop bigs. They both provide experience as Kararinas has played for the Lithuanian U20 National Team and Demir has a year of collegiate basketball under his belt. Although Austin Williams did not play in their game against Villanova, they both received more than 15 minutes in the scrimmage.
Perry should factor in less than his fellow new coming bigs. While Perry will not be ruled out of the conversation, he may benefit from a year under his fellow big men and getting used the college game physically. If he does want to play, he will have to beat out one of the other bigs because Spiker’s rotation will probably only feature a maximum of four bigs. Jarvis Doles is in the same spot as Perry. If he can etch out one of the more experienced bigs, he could see minutes if the team decides to go small ball. However, the Baltimore native could use a year to get used to college play before being thrust in full throttle.
vs. Houston (Nov. 17th, 2017)
Drexel takes on arguably the toughest team of their schedule on November 17th. Houston, after being picked 6th by The American conference voters, returns Rob Gray Jr., who averaged 20 points per game. Houston also brings in Mr. Texas winner Cedrick Alley Jr., who will round a talented and powerful Houston team. Drexel will have their hands full, but it will be a good measuring stick and opportunity for the Dragons to play against big time competition.
at La Salle (Dec. 7th, 2017)
Drexel will travel across town to take on fellow City 6 foe La Salle in the first of three straight road games for the Dragons. Last season, Spiker’s squad lost a high scoring battle 89-78 to La Salle. While Drexel trailed for most the game, they battled and won the second half. But the Explorers were too much by the end and ultimately pulled away. Drexel is a year older and will look to take advantage of an Explorers squad that returns First Team All-Big 5 selection BJ Johnson. Like Houston, La Salle will be a tough matchup for the Dragons, but the opportunity at playing the local Philadelphia team will be exciting. The Explorers also have a lack of experienced big men, so it will be entertaining to watch the strong guard play.
vs. Towson (Jan. 18th, 2018)
During one of Drexel’s best games last season, the Dragons fell to Towson 104-103 in double overtime. The game came after losing four of the team’s last five games. In their next meeting, Drexel lost again 69-65 after having led with two and a half minutes left in the game. Towson, located right outside Baltimore, will be an opportunity for sophomore Kurk Lee and freshman Jarvis Doles to come home and play in front of friends and family. Lee’s father was also a standout star for Towson. It will be a meaningful game for the Baltimore natives and because of the closeness of last year’s games.
The Dragons’ schedule features many high profile teams including Houston, Temple, and La Salle. However, they will also go up against lower level teams such as Arcadia, NJIT, and Robert Morris. Spiker’s team will take a leap forward in his second year with the program. Kurk Lee is the real deal and the backcourt that surrounds him has the experience and talent to compete with the best of the CAA. The main problem will be the frontcourt and overall team chemistry. Will they find at least two reliable bigs to complement Austin Williams? How will the team work together, especially with the plethora of guards? The Dragons will show flashes of major potential throughout the season, but will struggle with the lack of consistent depth and filling the holes of Rodney Williams and Kari Jonsson.
“[Freshman point guard] Kurk Lee (St. Frances) was probably one of the biggest selling points. He was my host on my visit. I felt the love, felt welcome and felt at home when I was on the visit. Two Baltimore guys, obviously the connection is going to be there off the bat. I’ve seen him play and know how good and unselfish he is. I think together we can make a dynamic duo.” -Freshman forward Jarvis Doles in an interview with the Baltimore Sun on his commitment to Drexel last fall
"Tim will do well for Drexel, because he is a self-motivated big kid who has something to prove every time he is on the floor. I think in a few years people in the city and CAA will be impressed." -Coach Brian Shanahan on freshman forward Tim Perry Jr. in email response to Philly.com
“I don’t know if you ever have enough depth.” -Drexel head coach Zach Spiker in an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News on having five guards who could all play a considerate amount of minutes.
“It just unfolded and he is returning home and I think he will have a very good professional career and I wish him the best.” -Drexel head coach Zach Spiker told Philly.com after the announcement was made about Kari Jonsson leaving the program and returning home.
“I believe that I can play at that level, and I was waiting for a coach to pick up on it. I do need to gain weight and put on some more muscle, and that's the one thing the (Drexel) coaches have told me. In high school, you can get by not being that big, but in Division I, you'll start getting tossed around if you aren't strong enough.” -Drexel commit Coletrane Washington in an interview with Tri Live
-Drexel loses to Charleston in the quarterfinal of the CAA tournament