HARRISONBURG — The morning after being eliminated from the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, James Madison basketball coach Louis Rowe was on a plane looking for the next crop of Dukes.
In the world of college basketball, there is little time to reflect on the past season before the focus shifts to the future. There are the meetings with returning players where offseason goals are discussed and the rush to solidify recruiting classes before April 12, when the signing period opens again.
At JMU, the men and women face two very different sets of questions entering the offseason. Here are three questions for each program heading into the spring and summer.
What Can Fans Expect From Rowe’s Two Transfers?
Last year, Rowe brought in two transfers — Stuckey Mosley from Toledo and Gerron Scissum from VCU — who had to sit out this past season due to NCAA regulations. The pair practiced with the Dukes this season, which gives them a leg up on the fresh faces that will join the squad in the wake of seven seniors graduating.
Mosley is a dynamic point guard, who will help solidify a position of weakness. Ramone Snowden called the junior a “hooper,” and Jackson Kent said Mosley will “be a really good scorer in this league.” The Orlando, Fla. native has earned rave reviews from the coaching staff, and he will help Joey McLean by taking over the ball-handling duties.
Scissum is a solid stretch forward whose athleticism has been his calling card since he was in high school. He’s the type of energetic defender Rowe loves, and his 6-foot-8 frame will create problems for the opposition. The sophomore spent a lot of time this season transforming himself off the court into the versatile athlete Rowe loved when Scissum came out of high school.
How Will Rowe Fill The Openings On The Frontline?
The Dukes are losing their entire frontline to graduation, a major concern for Rowe moving forward.
The first-year coach has brought in three talented big men with his first four signings, but he said he’s still looking for more size at the junior college level. Regardless of whether Rowe brings in more freshmen or a JUCO forward, they will need to quickly adapt to his defense-first mindset immediately.
The two players to watch will be Zach Jacobs and Dwight Wilson.
Jacobs was named the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association’s Division I Player of the Year after leading Trinity Episcopal in Richmond to a state title. The senior scored 38 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the championship game.
Wilson led Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Fla., to the state title game, and is ranked as the 35th best recruit in the state by FloridaHoops.com. The 6-foot-8 forward put up eye-popping numbers as a junior, and should be an instant-impact post player for the Dukes next season.
Can McLean And Snowden Turn Into Strong Leaders?
JMU’s seven seniors were the heart and soul of the team this past season, so it will fall on the Dukes’ two rising seniors to pick up where their former teammates left off.
Their leadership will be particularly important with so many new faces joining the program. Perhaps the biggest burden falls on McLean, who is known for being a quiet person on the court — much to Rowe’s chagrin at times.
The coach said he saw McLean grow more vocal as the season progressed, but added the junior isn’t naturally as talkative as the gluttony of vocal senior leaders JMU benefited from this season. McLean said he worked this year on finding a balance between being too aggressive and too passive with his voice so that he doesn’t alienate his teammates.
Snowden said his leadership needed to start with his own self-improvements, but stressed the need to set a good example early for the newer players.
How Does O’Regan Adapt To A New Team Dynamic?
The first-year Dukes women’s coach will have plenty of decisions to make next season that he did not have the luxury of making this year.
This season, O’Regan had a steady rotation of nine players he mixed and matched depending upon the situation and guided the Dukes to 26 wins. However, JMU loses one senior and gains three impact post players, meaning O’Regan will need to manage minutes without upsetting too many players.
The addition of three post players also points to a potential shift in style of play from a high-octane attack to a more balanced pace that can accommodate the slower forwards. O’Regan wants his team to push the ball whenever possible, but JMU might not be able to do so without putting itself at a potential disadvantage.
O’Regan dealt with the adversity of this season well, but next year will be a tougher test as he tries to manage a longer bench and discover the style of play that works best for his team.
Who Will Separate From The Pack?
The strength of this year’s JMU squad was that any one of the eight players around Precious Hall could have a big game and help put the Dukes over the top. The problem is that those eight struggled with inconsistency, following up stellar performances with sub-par ones.
This offseason is a great opportunity for someone to take the reins and become that consistent threat. Being that type of player doesn’t necessarily have to mean doing it all for the Dukes. It’s about being consistent in whatever way they can contribute to the team.
Freshmen Lexie Barrier and Kamiah Smalls are the two players who should take big steps in that direction over the next few months. However, sophomore Logan Reynolds and junior Tasia Butler will also be expected to take that next leap in their development this summer.
“When somebody like [Hall] graduates, others are going to rise,” O’Regan said after Thursday’s 69-67 overtime loss to Villanova. “I just don’t know exactly who, but it’s something that’s going to happen.”
How Will JMU Replace Precious Hall?
This question is not about replacing Hall’s scoring — her 22 shots per game will be evenly distributed — rather how the Dukes can replace everything else the senior brought to the table this season.
She was the heart and soul of this year’s team, playing with an unrivaled passion and poise. She was the rare player who could carry a team to victory by herself.
Although the Dukes will certainly miss Hall production next season, it was the senior’s competitive fire and poise under pressure that will be the hardest to replace. She willed this team to 26 victories, and Thursday’s game-tying 3 at the buzzer put that on full display.
Those intangibles are the reason O’Regan called her “maybe the most unbelievable player that I’ll ever coach,” after the loss to Villanova.
“Part of what P has shown them is that part of wearing a JMU jersey is playing with that bravado, with that confidence, with that passion and competitiveness,” O’Regan said. “My hope is that we won’t miss it, and it gets developed from this point forward to whenever we play our first game.”