Griffs add point guard Atkinson to compete roster

By Nick Veronica

Canisius got a verbal commitment from point guard Chris Atkinson Tuesday night, filling the Griffs’ final scholarship opening that was created by Jan Grzelinski’s departure.

Atkinson

Atkinson

Atkinson played point guard for Long Island Lutheran, which was the New York State Sportswriters Associations’ top-ranked team on Long Island and 14th-ranked team statewide in Class AA.

Atkinson (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) was not rated by Rivals but is listed as having offers from Iona and Northeasten.

Atkinson gave a verbal commit to MAAC foe Monmouth in October, but apparently became decommitted at some point between then and now. A verbal commitment is non-binding and is not “official” until the athlete signs a Letter of Intent.

(Atkinson’s Twitter name is Michael Scofield, a character from the show Prison Break)

I expected Jim Baron to target a forward with his final opening, but Atkinson’s commit gives Canisius the same numbers it had last season: five forwards, eight guards.

Canisius roster (*new for 2015-16):

Guards (8)

Malcolm McMillan*, redshirt senior
Jamal Reynolds, senior
Kiefer Douse*, junior
Kassius Robertson, sophomore
Adam Weir, sophomore
Raven Owen, redshirt freshman
Isaiah Gurley, redshirt freshman
Chris Atkinson*, freshman

Forwards (5)

Kevin Bleeker, senior
Phil Valenti, junior
Jermaine Crumpton, sophomore
Cassidy Ryan, sophomore
Ronald Gombe*, freshman

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Postgame video: Canisius 63, Quinnipiac 57

By Nick Veronica

[Valenti injury update + Immediate reactions]

Canisius coach Jim Baron


Baron spoke on losing Valenti and the players who stepped up in his absence, but made sure to pump the brakes before doling out any compliments.

“We’ll see,” Baron said (2:30). “[Kassius] did a great job. I mean, you know, these guys are young kids. We want them to carry it over. So let’s not make it one-and-done, you know? But he did a great job.”

On Valenti, Baron said: “Our prayers are with him and his family. It was a tough one, that was a tough one. He plays so hard, he gives it everything he has, and he goes down. That was a tough one for us. Our prayers are with him. I thought that the guys really rallied for him. They really rallied for him. They stepped up.”

However, the most important note from Baron’s press conference was that he loves the ‘fear the stache’ shirts the team gave out prior to the game.

fearthestachejimbaron

Canisius gave out ‘fear the stache’ shirts to students before Friday’s game. Jim Baron loved the shirts. (Giraffe suit sold separately.)

“I’ll tell you what,” Baron said, “they made me look good on that T-shirt. They had me with a stache, and hair. I love stuff like that. I love to promote. I’ll do anything I can to help promote this program. They came up with that idea. At Rhode Island, we had a bobblehead. You know, how many guys have a bobblehead? And the bobblehead had a bank in it so you could put coins in the top of the head, it was really neat. I think it’s terrific. Any time we can promote the program… I’ll stand at the top of the building if they want me to. I think it’s all good. I’m happy they came up with that idea.”

(I think we found Canisius’ next promotion.)

Canisius players Kassius Robertson, Jermaine Crumpton, Jan Grzelinski


Quinnipiac did not meet with the media Friday night.

Canisius smoked by UMass, 75-58

By Nick Veronica

Canisius struggled in all phases of the game Saturday in a 75-58 road loss to UMass, falling to 4-4 on the year.

CCLogobigThe Griffs trailed by 25 points at halftime, 46-21, and as many as 27 in the game while allowing the Minutemen to shoot 50 percent from the floor (25 for 50). Canisius was outrebounded 38-28 and committed 24 fouls, which matches a season-high.

Zach Lewis led the Griffs with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting, which will actually help his season shooting percentage. Josiah Heath scored 10 and added four rebounds, three steals and two assists. Phil Valenti had six points and five assists before fouling out.

UMass senior forward Maxie Esho had 20 points and nine rebounds — both game highs — while playing just 26 minutes. Center Cady Lalanne added 16 points and eight boards for the Minutemen, who have also beaten MAAC foes Manhattan and Siena.

UMass (6-4) was a six-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament and was the highlight of Canisius’ nonconference schedule.

The loss was the 400th of Jim Baron’s career. He is 434-400 all-time.

Point guard watch: Freshman Jan Grzelinski started at point guard, as expected after Jim Baron’s Niagara press conference, and scored three points on 1-of-4 shooting, dished out three assists and had two turnovers in 25 minutes. Jeremiah Williams had eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three-point range, and added an assist, a rebound, a block and a turnover in 15 minutes off the bench.

Starters: Canisius – Jan Grzelinski, Zach Lewis, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti, Josiah Heath. UMass – Trey Davis, Jabarie Hinds, Derrick Gordon, Maxie Esho, Cady Lalanne.

Next: Canisius hosts Stony Brook at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 18.

Postgame interviews: Canisius 64, Vermont 60

By Nick Veronica

Interviews following Canisius’ season-opening 64-60 win over Vermont…

Canisius coach Jim Baron

Baron touched on a wide range of issues, from winning the first game without his son, Billy, to the play of freshman point guard Jan Grzelinski and winning with a crop of newcomers.

“If you look at our [stat] sheet, a lot of these guys, who are these guys?” Baron asked rhetorically.

Baron also said he missed having Billy next to him during the national anthem.

“First time in seven years I haven’t had one of my sons playing for me,” Baron said. “Very tough. I knew [Billy] could pull us out.

“Usually he stands next to me at the national anthem. And when I looked over and I didn’t see him…” Baron trailed off. “We had just talked today. He said ‘Dad, good luck.’ It was kind of touchy.”

Baron said after the interview that Billy’s coach in Lithuania doesn’t speak any English.

Canisius players Jan Grzelinski, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti

First question for Wroclaw, Poland native Jan Grzelinski: What’s the right way to pronounce your name? (Do not attempt without adult supervision.)

Valenti said after losing to Daemen, practice this week was “same old.” He was funny on the next question — asked if his career-high 24 points is something he can do regularly or if it was just a good day, he leaned in and asked, seemingly very concerned, “What do you mean?” To say, “Why wouldn’t it?” Reynolds laughed. (1:13)

I conveniently ran out of storage space mid-interview … Grzelinski talked about adjusting to the American game and Valenti said his ankle is now 100 percent after a sprain kept him out of the first exhibition.

Vermont coach John Becker

Becker on guard Ernie Duncan, who labored through 10 minutes Saturday after sitting out the last game with a back injury: “You saw him out there. He looked like an 80-year-old man.”

Gameday: Canisius vs. Daemen (exhibition) 11/11/14

Daemen at Canisius (exhibition), 7 p.m., Koessler Athletic Center

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By Nick Veronica

Canisius Golden Griffins: 0-0 overall, 1-0 exhibitions.
Daemen Wildcats: 0-0.

Keep an eye on: Continue to monitor who plays point guard for the Griffs. True freshman Jan Grzelinski started at the point in the first exhibition earlier this month and did decent. Kassius Robertson and Jeremiah Williams should also see time there. For Grzelinski, showing that he can distribute and effectively run the offense is more important Tuesday than showing his three-point touch or ability to drive the lane. Clean up the defense and prove you belong first, worry about lighting up the scoreboard later.

Valenti status: Projected starting forward Phil Valenti missed the first exhibition game due to an ankle sprain. The Griffin reported that he returned to practice last Thursday and should see some minutes in tonight’s game. “If it were up to me, I would be out there,” Valenti said.

I’m less optimistic we’ll see Raven Owen, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot earlier this preseason. This should be the final game of Jermaine Crumpton’s suspension.

Daemen coach Mike MacDonald

New Daemen coach Mike MacDonald

Familiar face: Mike MacDonald makes his return to the Koessler Athletic Center tonight in his first game as Daemen coach. MacDonald was an assistant at Canisius from 1989-97 and the head coach from 1998-2006, winning 20 games in the 2000-01 season. He then coached at Medaille before being hired away by Daemen, which is making the jump from NAIA to Division II this year. His son Matt plays Division I for Fairleigh Dickinson.

Player to watch: Daemen’s 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward Gerald Beverly was an all-conference selection for the Wildcats last year and was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged a double-double at 18.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game and blocked 111 shots. The Gates-Chili High School product led all players with 24 points and 10 rebounds in last year’s exhibition against Canisius (a 102-84 Griffs win). If Beverly is in Beast Mode again tonight, Jim Baron might ask him to switch teams at halftime.

Sooo, Canisius should win, right?: Right. This is a tune-up. Canisius should win by double-figures. Anything less is cause for concern, just like giving up a game-tying attempt the buzzer should have been in the first exhibition. Jim Baron is going to say Daemen is a “great team” that “has some players” no matter what happens, but a tight game against a D-II team with a new coach is a red flag for any Division I team. (Come to think of it, Baron has already said “Daemen’s gonna be a good team. They got all their players back.”)

Wild card: Check out this dunk Cassidy Ryan posted on Instagram:

How to follow the game: I’ll have updates on Twitter and a blog after the game, and you should probably follow Big 4 Talk’s Jonathan Snyder, too. GoGriffs.com will have live stats, but no word yet on a radio broadcast. Tweet with #Griffs to join the discussion.