By Julian Bell
(HACKENSACK) – The FDU Men’s Basketball Team sits second in the Northeast Conference with a 8-2 conference record. Fourth-year Knights Head Coach Greg Herenda says discipline and consistency are the keys to his team’s success.
“I directly attribute it to our practices during the break,” Herenda said. “After a very difficult loss at Ohio State, we went home for Christmas, enjoyed the holidays with our families, and then we just came back and went to work.”
Despite their scintillating NEC record, the Knights have struggled in non-conference play, accumulating a 2-8 record outside of the comfort zone of conference play, but some of those losses came against top competition. In December, they lost to the Cincinnati Bearcats (17-2) who are currently ranked first in the American Athletic Conference. They gave Ohio State all they wanted and more in Columbus, before falling to the Buckeyes 70-62. In his usual upbeat style, Coach Herenda took the positive from those tough losses.
Herenda wants his team to become NEC champions two years in a row for the first time in FDU history.
“We really took a hard look at our defense and our rebounding,” Herenda said, “and we just said we had to improve on both of those things. We’ve just been grinding it out every day, so all of our success goes to the players, but not only being good players, but the way they’ve practiced and handled our early season adversity.”
Last season, the Knights became NEC Tournament champions and made their first NCAA Championship appearance since 2005. They accomplished this despite losing 15 games, finishing their 2015-2016 season 18-15 while remaining the second-ranked team in the Northeast Conference. This season, the Knights are No. 1. And they’re doing so, despite some key injuries.
“We were playing without Earl Potts and Ghassan Nehme,” Herenda said, “and our players that were playing were banged up. So we were not a healthy group or a deep group.”
Herenda said the quality of the opponents was also a factor. “We were playing against high level competition, so losing those games hurt, but it wasn’t surprising because we didn’t have everyone healthy,” Herenda said.
“Once we got through the Christmas break, we got everybody back, we were relatively healthy, and we were prepared to atone for our sins.”
One player in particular is a rising star on Herenda’s team who has averaged a strong 19 points per game in the NEC. Junior guard Darian Anderson was just declared the NEC Player of the Week for the second time this season. Anderson, who also played dominant basketball last season with the Knights, averaged 28 points in last year’s tournament. Herenda is especially proud of Anderson and believes that he deserves all of the attention he’s getting.
“He’s maturing,” Herenda said of Anderson. “He’s a junior now and he was thrown into a tough situation as a freshman and he had a tough freshman year. We lost 15 straight games his freshman year, but now he’s just growing physically stronger, mentally he’s tougher, and his greatest quality is that he’s a winner.”
Herenda said winning is nothing new for Anderson.
“He’s won his entire life,” Herenda said, “and I think that’s what jumps off the page as far as Darian Anderson. He does everything for us: he rebounds, he guards, he scores the ball, he passes the ball. He helps us win and he’s our alpha dog.”
Herenda will continue to rely on Anderson’s explosive game play to lead his team as the NEC tournament nears. The junior guard is not the only weapon the Knights have in their artillery. Power forward Mike Holloway is an effective blocker, rebounder, and jump shooter, and scored a career-high 25 points in a non-conference game.
But in the NCAA, athletes have to succeed not only on the court, but in the classroom. And Herenda is proud of his team’s performance in both arenas.
“We had a strong academic semester in the fall , but I think our players are very in-tune,” Herenda said. “You can tell when individual players don’t take care of their business off the floor; it creeps onto the floor. Right now, we’re kind of playing the way we’re studying. All of our players are eligible [under NCAA rules], and our grade point average was a 3.02 in the fall semester. So the’re punching the clock at both ends.”