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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Hope has been in short supply for the St. Bonaventure program since 2003, when a recruiting scandal rocked the small Catholic university near the New York/Pennsylvania border to its core. So it comes as a surprise that head coach Anthony Solomon found a glimmer of it last season in of all places, a loss.
When the Bonnies traveled to Richmond for their season finale, they truly had nothing left to play for. They had two Atlantic 10 conference wins, over the Spiders at home and Duquesne on the road, which was double the amount of wins they had in 2005, but still not an amount to be proud of. To make matters worse, the Bonnies didn't have the A-10 conference tournament to look forward to, now that only 12 of the conference's 14 teams qualified, as opposed to all of them in previous seasons.
"It was unlike anything most of us had experienced," Solomon said. "Usually, no matter what happens at the end of the season, you play in a tournament where if you win you advance. That week was the first time we had practiced knowing that when the horn went off [in Richmond], our season was over."
St. Bonaventure had every reason to mentally not show for the game against a team that, although not great overall, had been very good in its home arena. Instead, however, the Bonnies battled.
They led by one point at halftime, and by four with one minute to play before the Spiders came back to win in the final seconds.
His team's performance made Solomon believe it had turned a corner.
"None of us who are in this business do it for moral victories," Solomon said. "But we took some positive steps. Now we have to keep building."
The Richmond game also served as a springboard to an off-season that, by St. Bonaventure's recent standards, was an overwhelming success.
The entire team, which includes four returning starters, returned to campus in June for a four-week "bonding session." While the players got familiar with each other's games, the coaching staff simply tried to remember each other's names. Three assistant coaches left at the end of last season and were replaced by former director of basketball operations Jake Luhn, Andy Johnston, who before joining the Bonnies was the associate head coach at Long Island University-Brooklyn, and UMBC's Dino Presley.
Then in July, the program received notice that its three-year NCAA probation had ended. The probation was the final vestige of the 2003 scandal, which involved a player being admitted to the school without the proper academic credentials. The scandal led to the firing of the school's president, athletic director and head coach. With the probation off the books, the Bonnies could begin planning for the future, instead of living in the past.
With his team right mentally, Solomon is now focused on making it more competitive in the A-10. More than anything, that will require playing better defense.
The Bonnies' scoring offense (68.1 ppg) was fifth best in the A-10, but their scoring defense (73.4) was second worst. They allowed 80 or more points eight times, all losses.
In the second game of the season they scored 88 points against Niagara -- and lost 101-88.
"Any time you're able to score 88 points, that's exciting," Solomon said. "But you don't want to give up triple-digits. There were too many times last year where we were just taking it out of the net.
"We don't have to change the type of defense we're playing. We just have to get better at executing. We have to get more consistent."