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Date Posted: 13:16:55 11/18/05 Fri
Author: J.J.
Subject: It's about respect for Blue Devils
In reply to: J.J. 's message, "Devils look to shoot their way to top of NEC" on 09:34:41 11/18/05 Fri

Yet another article to kick off the season.
By: John F. Silver, Journal Inquirer
November 17, 2005

NEW BRITAIN - It has been almost four years since the Central Connecticut State University men's basketball team won the Northeast Conference championship and subsequent NCAA berth, and it is undeniable that the aura has changed in New Britain.

Central is coming off a 12-16 season - its first losing season since coach Howie Dickenman's first year - and a first-round exit in the NEC tournament at the hands of Monmouth.

It was a long and difficult offseason for the Blue Devils. The coaching staff was overhauled and leading scorer DeMario Anderson transferred out. "We had as much respect as any team in the league and we have lost it. We want that back," Dickenman said. "We need to get that swagger back. We lost a lot of close games last year and that can shake your confidence."

The Blue Devils will open the season Friday night in the Mohegan Sun Classic when they host Birmingham Southern in New Britain (8 p.m.). Northeastern and Brown will play in the first game of the tournament on Friday (6 p.m.).
The Blue Devils, picked fifth in the conference in a preseason coaches poll, have some talent to work with.

Junior forwards Obie Nwadike and former walk-on Javier Mojica are the main threats for the Blue Devils. Nwadike is an undersized power forward at 6-foot-4 and is coming off a season in which he averaged 11.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Mojica, a 6-foot-3 wing from Auburn, Mass., averaged 9.9 points per game last season, mostly off the bench. "Javier may be our best all-around player in a true sense of the word," Dickenman said. "And Obie can go out there and on any night score 20 for us."

On the perimeter, senior guard Justin Chiera (7.0 ppg) will start at the point, with sophomore Tristan Blackwood (5.2 ppg) at the off-guard spot. Chiera and Blackwood are interchangeable and Dickenman expects both to see considerable time at the point. Chiera is coming off a down season. His scoring average was a career low, and he shot 36 percent from 3-point range. A return to form should be in order. Blackwood had a strong summer competing with the Canadian U-21 team at the Junior World Championships in Argentina.

Senior guard Lenny Jefferson is the top returning scorer on the perimeter at 10.2 per game but will sit out the first three games under an NCAA suspension for competing in an unsanctioned summer league in Bridgeport.
Also returning is sophomore forward Jason Hickenbottom, who started 14 games as a freshman and averaged 4.4 points.

The scoring is there, but with Anderson's abrupt departure late in the summer, the Blue Devils will have to find a new go-to guy.

The frontcourt figures to be a work in progress. Junior center Jemino Sobers is the leading candidate in the pivot. The 6-7 Sobers has had an injury-plagued career, playing only 65 minutes as a sophomore, but he can be an effective shot-blocker with his long arms.
"It comes down to confidence with Jemino," Dickenman said. "He didn't even know if he was going to play again. He isn't as aggressive as we want him to be, but he is improving."

Dickenman also has a couple of penny stocks on the bench that he hopes to hit big in 7-foot-3 red-shirt freshman center Jermaine Middleton and 6-foot-11 sophomore Indo Beaudot. To call the pair works in progress is an understatement, but Dickenman is hoping they will produce dividends down the line. With Sobers the only other player over 6-foot-6, their development is much needed.

The Blue Devils brought in a pair of players in 6-foot-2 combo guard John Williams of San Jose, Calif., via Marianapolis Prep in Thompson, and East Lyme forward Chris Winters, who prepped at St. Thomas Moore last season.

The Blue Devils will be tested early. After the Mohegan Sun Classic, Central will be on the road for the next five games against Florida International, Binghamton, Harvard, St. Bonaventure and NEC opponent St. Francis (N.Y.).
Central doesn't play its next home game until Dec. 18, when it hosts LaSalle.

Central has had some great teams and dominant players under Dickenman. He is confident a return to NEC glory isn't that far away.

"We lost some good players along the way, two NEC Players of the Year, and when you lose those players you slip a little bit," Dickenman said. "We have to get back to that level of respect that we have earned."

©Journal Inquirer 2005

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