A Love Letter to Northeastern Men’s Basketball

By Milton Posner

People fall in love with teams for different reasons.

Sometimes it happens before you reach the age of awareness. By the time you can talk, you can recite the whole starting lineup, and by that point it’s so ingrained in your DNA that you can’t fathom a “before” time. You can’t fathom an “after” time either. It’s a part of who you are.

Sometimes you find a team because you switch cities, and it seems as good a way as any to make the new town into a hometown. Sometimes it’s the influence of a new group of friends or a new romantic partner, and before you know it, you’re rooting for a team you never cared about before, or even actively despised.

And sometimes it happens because you observe a team closely — not just physically, but as a storyteller. When you craft a narrative for that team in real time on the radio, then synthesize a more detailed one in print after the final buzzer, weekend after weekend after weekend, you find yourself attached to it in a way you can’t quite explain. It’s something different. It’s a new first love.

You become aware of all the little things about the team that escape the box score, the recaps, and the casual fans. You become unflinchingly convinced that Max Boursiquot should win CAA Defensive Player of the Year, even though the media and coaches leave him off the all-defensive team altogether. You’re only half-joking when you swear up and down on the radio that Shaq Walters, a 20-something percent three-point shooter, could be a viable threat from distance, then smile with satisfaction when he shoots 38 percent the next season. You understand that Donnell Gresham Jr.’s value comes not from his stats, but from his leadership, savvy, and impossibly steady hand directing an offense. You appreciate the way the basket apparatus shakes after Anthony Green throws down a monstrous alley-oop, and the way it keeps shaking as the Huskies set up on defense. You marvel at Jordan Roland hitting multiple threes with his non-dominant hand, but you know what the hosts on SportsCenter don’t — that his consistent, deadly left-hand floater game means he could hit that shot a third time.

You become intimately familiar — too familiar — with the conference they play in, and realize that it has no consistent internal logic, that predictions are guesswork, that the only point in forming expectations at all is to have them shattered. Like the universe, it is under no obligation to make sense to anyone. So when the team you love is pegged to finish seventh out of ten, trudges into conference play embattled by a non-conference schedule groaning under the weight of high-major schools, then wins its first seven conference games and ties for the regular season title, you’re enthralled, but by no means shocked. The conference is simply insane.

You see the team’s balanced offense, the endless string of all-conference first team guards, the bevy of valuable role players, the March Madness trip, the three straight CAA title game appearances — and yet the one that sticks in your head most is the time they took a helpless Holy Cross team behind the woodshed and made them wish they’d picked up a different sport as children. Maybe it’s because you spent the last few minutes of the first half involuntarily laughing into your headset as they built a 41-point lead.

For the last three and a half years, I’ve covered Northeastern men’s basketball for this station, first as a mostly lost sideline reporter, then as a slightly more comfortable color announcer, and finally as the lead play-by-play guy. That journey made me comfortable behind a microphone and confident telling a story. It confirmed that this is the line of work I want for myself, mostly because it seldom felt like work.

It also granted me access to a smaller, cozier fandom than most. Northeastern basketball, while reliably competitive in the CAA and occasionally a thorn in the side of a Power Five squad, is not world-famous, especially in a city where every college team is overshadowed by the perennial powerhouse that dons green in TD Garden. So the team’s dedicated fans can always identify with each other in a niche, specific way.

And that’s why, after spending my entire life as a Lakers fan and two-thirds of it as a Dodgers fan, the Northeastern Huskies men’s basketball team occupies a space in my heart that no other team does. It’s intimate and up close and personal. It’s a story waiting to be told.

It’s ours.

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.