Team preview: Rider

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

There's no doubt Tommy Dempsey's first season as a Division I basketball coach could have come under easier circumstances.

Dempsey took control of the Rider program last summer when former coach Don Harnum was promoted to interim athletic director. It was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Broncs, who graduated their No. 2 all-time leading scorer and advanced to the 2005 MAAC championship game, and it was.

Relying on too many young players and having its best player injured late in the season, Rider lost its final six regular-season games and finished last in the MAAC after tying for first the season before. Some even wondered if Dempsey would be removed from his job before the "interim" label he carried throughout the season was.

"It was a tough situation, but one that I think will make us stronger," said Dempsey, who was promoted to head coach on April 6. "We've got a hungry group and last season left a bitter taste in our mouths."

With Dempsey's status resolved and a solid core returning, it would be a big surprise if the Broncs did not improve this season.

"I think we are going to take a big step forward," Dempsey said. "We've got a really good group of sophomores and juniors."

That group is led by 6-10, 245-pound junior Jason Thompson (16.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.8 bpg), a second-team All-MAAC selection.

Thompson has grown three inches and added muscle to his 245-pound frame, making him a major match-up problem.

"Not only is he more skilled than many of his opponents, he's bigger than them," Dempsey said.

One of the best, if not the best, players in the league around the basket, Thompson has added to his face-up game by improving his shot and ability to take opponents off the dribble.

"I don't see any reason to believe that he is not going to be a player-of-the-year candidate the next two years," Dempsey said. "He is very driven to be the best player in the league."