CAA Preview: Northeastern Huskies

Last season: 23–11 (14–4 CAA, second place), won CAA Tournament, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Third

Losses

  • G Vasa Pusica
  • G Donnell Gresham Jr.
  • G/F Shawn Occeus
  • F/C Jeremy Miller
  • C Anthony Green

Additions

  • G Vito Cubrilo
  • G Tyson Walker
  • G Guilien Smith
  • G Quirin Emanga
  • G/F Shaquille Walters
  • F Greg Eboigbodin
  • F Connor Braun

By Milton Posner

Notwithstanding the clobbering from Kansas that sent the Huskies home, Northeastern had an superb 2018–19 season. They overcame injuries to key players as they battled through a challenging non-conference slate, then finished second in the conference standings behind a balanced offense and crippling perimeter defense.

In the CAA Tournament, they dismissed UNCW, exacted revenge on Charleston for the previous year’s tournament final defeat, then knocked off the Hofstra Pride and its unanimous Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman to capture the conference crown. The March Madness berth was Northeastern’s first since 2015.

Two-time CAA first-teamer Vasa Pusica graduated, as did bruising center Anthony Green and backup big man Jeremy Miller. Northeastern also lost two juniors. Savvy combo guard Donnell Gresham Jr. joined the Georgia Bulldogs for his final college season. Lockdown perimeter defender Shawn Occeus turned pro and was drafted 35th in the NBA G League Draft by the Salt Lake City Stars, the G League affiliate of the Utah Jazz. He joins Jarrell Brantley and Justin Wright-Foreman, both CAA first teamers, in the organization.

Sweet-shooting senior guard Jordan Roland figures to be the Huskies’ biggest offensive threat. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season behind Pusica, with his school-record 99 three-pointers accounting for 60 percent of his points. He did most of his damage as a spot-up shooter, letting Pusica and Gresham create in the pick-and-roll and benefitting from the open looks their gravity created. Without them, Roland may have to create more opportunities for himself through drives, floaters, and off-the-dribble jumpers.

After two productive years coming off the bench — the second one worthy of the CAA Sixth Man of the Year Award — Bolden Brace made the starting lineup last year. He didn’t disappoint, starting all 34 games — the only Husky to do so — and averaging ten points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. His six rebounds per contest led the team, and his 6’6”, 225-pound frame let him slow speedy guards and hold firm against bruising forwards. The Huskies will need every ounce of his versatility this season.

Redshirt junior Max Boursiquot can provide solid offensive contributions and defensive flexibility, though the hip injury that sidelined him last season may affect his mobility. Jason Strong, Myles Franklin, and Shaquille Walters saw limited minutes off the bench last year, but will likely be called on to score a bit and prop up the Huskies’ formidable three-point defense. Redshirt sophomore Greg Eboigbodin, who practiced with the team last season, will try to fill the hole the graduating Green left in the middle.

Quirin Emanga stands out among the new recruits. He’s an athletic 6’5’ guard/forward with a seven-foot wingspan and a burgeoning skill set. For a more detailed player profile of Emanga, click here.

Connor Braun is a mobile 6’8” forward with solid handles and driving ability. Vito Cubrilo’s speed and quickness earn him buckets on drives, he’s got a sweet-looking perimeter stroke, and, like Emanga, has played high-level European youth ball. Guilien Smith averaged 12 points per game his sophomore year at Dartmouth but missed almost all of the next season due to injury and saw his minutes — and numbers — drop when he returned. If he returns to form, he can mitigate the loss of Pusica at point guard. Tyson Walker, at just six feet and 162 pounds, will look to stand tall with his flashy drives and transition speed. Bill Coen, now the CAA’s longest-tenured coach after the firing of William & Mary’s Tony Shaver, is tasked with blending the new talent.

Bottom Line: This will likely be the first time in six seasons Northeastern doesn’t have an All-CAA first team player. This makes their balanced approach even more important. Unlike last year, they have a slew of new players whose production will prove necessary. How well Bill Coen incorporates the new players, and how well they perform, will determine whether Northeastern contends for a second straight CAA title or falls to the middle of the pack.

CAA Class of 2019 Goes Pro

Picture credit: nuhuskies.com

By Milton Posner

On April 7th, four CAA basketball players stood on a speedily assembled court in America’s largest shopping mall as dollar bills fluttered around them.

Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica, Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman, Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley, and UNCW’s Devontae Cacok had won the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship — and its $100,000 prize — after seven straight wins over teams representing other conferences.

It was an entertaining, financially rewarding experience for two-thirds of the CAA’s 2019 First Team. But it would pale in comparison to where they were headed.

Pusica went first. Two weeks after the 3X3U Tournament, he signed a contract with KK Partizan, the winningest team in his native Serbia’s top basketball league. Since joining the team, he has averaged eight points, two rebounds, and two assists over 12 games. Pusica possesses the deliberate ballhandling, mature decision-making, and versatile scoring skill to isolate or to attack in the pick-and-roll.

Brantley and Wright-Foreman went next. The Indiana Pacers drafted Brantley with the 50th pick, then flipped him to the Utah Jazz for Utah’s 2021 second-round pick and $2 million. The Jazz also nabbed Wright-Foreman 53rd with their own pick. It marked the first time since 1992 that two CAA players were chosen in the same draft.

Both have great upside; Brantley is a 6-foot-7-inch, 255-pound powerhouse boasting strong athleticism, positional versatility, and a diverse offensive skill set. Wright-Foreman is an electric combo guard who displays blazing quickness, on-the-catch and off-the-dribble shooting, and strong drives courtesy of deft handles and space-consuming spins.

On Tuesday, the Jazz signed both of them to two-way contracts. These contracts allow players to alternate between the NBA and G League (minor league basketball). Brantley and Wright-Foreman will likely spend most of their time with Utah’s G League affiliate (the Salt Lake City Stars), but they can spend up to 45 days with the Jazz.

They will make about $80,000 (prorated) for their G League time and about $900,000 (rookie minimum, also prorated) for their NBA time. The Jazz can make either contract into a standard NBA contract at any time, provided they have a free roster space. Should the pair finish their two-way deals, they would be eligible for qualifying offers and restricted free agency.

Brantley played four Summer League games — he was limited by a hamstring injury — averaging nine points (38 percent shooting) and five rebounds in 22 minutes. Wright-Foreman also played four games, averaging 12 points on 33 percent shooting, three rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 26 minutes per game.

But it was Devontae Cacok who shone brightest in Summer League. The 6-foot-7-inch, 240-pound dynamo averaged 23 minutes across eight contests, logging 12 points on 60 percent shooting, nine rebounds, and two steals a game for the Los Angeles Lakers. His Summer League coach and teammates have praised his defense, rebounding, energy, and toughness.

On July 9th, the Lakers signed Cacok to an Exhibit 10 contract, essentially a training camp invite with a bonus attached. It incentivizes Cacok to remain with the Lakers’ G League affiliate by paying him $5,000 to $50,000 if he is waived by the NBA club, signs with the G League team, and remains there for at least 30 days. The Lakers can also convert the deal into a two-way contract, allowing Cacok to transition between the NBA and G League clubs.

Just 100 days ago, these four athletes donned glitzy plastic sunglasses, gold-colored chains, and shot dollar bills from guns as they celebrated a win in a high-octane but mostly-for-fun tournament. Now they’ve all got real jobs, and how they develop and expand their skills will determine their longevity in an ever-changing sport.