Lynden Ostrander, ’12, Staff Writer
The 2011-2012 Merrimack Mens basketball campaign for a NE –10 tournament championship came to an unfortunate end in the quarterfinals at the hands of eventual tourney winners, the Stonehill Skyhawks by a score of 85-66. In Wayne Mack’s last game in a Warrior uniform, Mack had a game high 26 points to move into 17th on the all time scoring list, and a team high seven boards, in a valiant effort to say the least.
Coming into the pivotal matchup against the Skyhawks, Merrimack was scorching hot, winning five of their last six in the month of February. Merrimack was tabbed at number seven in the East region, and needed a win against Stonehill to make noise in the NE-tourney, and to look worthy of an NCAA bid in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee. Only the top eight teams in the region make the “big dance.’’ With the loss, Merrimack finished their remarkable season with a 15-12 overall record, and posted a 12-10 conference record for the year.
When it came time for the NCAA selection show this past Sunday, the Warriors sadly learned they would not be joining the Madness this year. Surprisingly, Philadelphia University was chosen instead of Merrimack for the last seed in the East region, the same squad the Warriors had beaten head to head earlier in the year. Nonetheless, in a season filled with ups and downs, Merrimack finished with a winning record, won seven consecutive home games to garner a playoff berth, yielded a conference first teamer in Mack, induced a whopping nine double doubles from Mike Clifford and for only the second time in school history, produced an illustrious senior trio of 1000 point scorers, in Mack, Aaron Strothers, and Roland Davis.
Coach Bert Hammel commented after the crushing loss to Stonehill .
“We all feel for the seniors, and know how much they mean to our program.” The five seniors graduating from this year’s ball club are fiends and lifelong teammates who care more about the name on the front of the jersey than on the back. One can’t possibly fathom five better human beings than Wilfredo Pagan, Wayne Mack, Roland Davis, Aaron Strothers, and Juan Carlos Rosich.
Pagan is the epitome of a hard worker. He earned the Lawrence Boys Club scholarship from nearby Central Catholic high school and is the nicest guy you’ll ever come into contact with off the court. On the court he leads the team in charges drawn this year and has increased in playing time each season, culminating in becoming a starter this year averaging almost 30 minutes a game. Since high school he’s had a knack for coming up big in big time games. In the state championship, he dropped 21 points this year he had multiple double-digit games, including a career high 14 off the bench to spur a win against St. Rose this year, and always seemed to hit clutch three or draw a momentum swinging charge, when his team needed a spark. He will be deeply missed by Coach Hammel.
Next up the vocal leader and rock of the team is Roland Davis. Davis hails from Deer Park, New York, but transferred from the College of Charleston. He immediately proved he was a winner, dropping 22 points in his first game in a Warrior uniform. Davis is a flat-out scorer, a consistent threat from beyond the arc, and creates his own shots. Couple that with ankle-breaking handles, playmaker ability, and superior court vision, and you’ve got yourself a heck of a player. He appeared in all 30 games, and had 17 double-digit games. If Davis hadn’t already proved he was a force to be reckoned with, last year he had two 30-point outings and was second on the team in points per game. Fast forward to this year, and the success just kept mounting. Davis had a career high 33 points this year, and earned conference player of the week the first week of the season. Furthermore he finished the year fifth in the conference in total assists, led the team in assists per game, and had an astounding team leading 50 threes from downtown. Topping it off he was the first senior of the 2012 class to amass more than 1000 points in his career, becoming the 37th member of the elite club, he capped off his impressive career averaging 12.5 points an outing.
When you talk about the word consistency, the Wareham Massachussetts native Aaron Strothers comes to mind. Consider this: in only his sophomore year Strothers shot 71.5 percent from the floor, led the team in rejections, and averaged double digits. Last year he almost averaged a double double, led the team in blocks again, had a career high 32-point performance and had an astronomical field goal percentage of 64.6, which tied the school record. This year he led the team in blocks three years running, third in the conference in field goal percentage, fifth in field goals, seventh in offensive boards, and second on the team in points per game at 13.5 a game. Strothers nickname of “Smoov’’ says it all: he’s smooth with the ladies, an outgoing loveable kind of guy, and always has a smile on his face. On the court I have watched him blossom into one of the most consistent players in Merrimack history, polishing his interior moves from the blocks over the years, shoring up his defensive ability, and more importantly becoming the last but not the least of three seniors to collect 1000 points in his career this year.
Then there is the unspoken leader, Wayne Mack. Mack hails from Paterson, NJ, where he was a four year quarterback and dual athlete who turned down multiple football scholarships to showcase his skill at Merrimack. Mack is a special talent that doesn’t come around all too often. His freshman year he made the conference rookie team and started all but one game. Sophomore year he started every game, averaged double digits again, and poured in 19 in the NCAA semifinal against rival Bentley. Last season Mack averaged 14 points and five boards a contest, and still somehow led the team in assists and steals. Mack is arguably one of if not the most complete player in the Northeast conference. He has the rare ability to light a team up for 20 plus, and shut down the other team’s best player night in and night out. He can create his own shots, beat you in multiple ways, sky for boards with the biggest of bigs, has unmatched court vision, is a consistent career free throw shooter. He always wants the ball in his hands when the game is in the balance, and most of the time when the chips are down he comes through.
This year Mack took his game to a whole new level. He just averaged the most minutes in the conference, was first in charity stripe percentage, was third in steals and fourth in the conference in scoring, led the team in eight statistical categories, and attained first team all-conference status, and maybe player of the year honors in the whole conference, no big deal. Simply put, Mack proved he was the most dominant and multi-faceted player in the conference. And yep, you guessed it, he easily notched the 1000 point plateau this year.
These five seniors were a joy to watch over the last four years, and more than made their mark on the Merrimack tradition of excellence, and setting the bar almost out of reach for future athletes to replicate their success. These five men are the example for the future Merrimack athletes. They would work with the Lawrence Boys and Girls club, sometimes have lunch or dinner with the kids the day before games. These men would talk to the kids before and after the games, give them advice, truly living like role models. The relationships formed not just between the athletes and the kids but amongst the cohesive group of players will last a lifetime, and those kids, lives will be forever impacted
. When you see Merrimack alum constantly show up for games, return every year for the alumni game, and witness 50 plus alum in the stands, you can feel the brotherhood and sense of family that is passed on through the years, almost like a never ending tradition. And that is what separates Coach Bert Hammel and Merrimack itself from any other basketball experience or school in America.
That being said the junior division 1 transfer from the University of Buffalo, has the future looking bright for Merrimack. In his first year here Clifford was an absolute force on both ends of the floor, racking up a mind blowing nine double doubles on the year, was first in the conference in boards per game, second in offensive boards, and fourth in total boards. Clifford was a board shy of averaging a double double a game, showing his utter ability to consistently dominate a game. Junior Tyler young might be the most athletic raw talent on the warrior roster, a talented shot blocker, who can extend defense with his deceptive range. Junior Kevin Regan is a lock down defender, who can shoot lights out, and a reliable player with experience for next years’ squad. Lastly watch out for Dante Thompson who didn’t much action this year, but has raw talent you can’t teach, can jump out of the gym, and might be the best dunker on the team, and a highlight reel waiting to happen. He is young at barely 18, but if molded, has the potential to be a problem for the next three years for opposing defenses, and can alter an abundance of shots defensively.
With Bert Hammel heading into his 33rd year next season, the Warriors have the experience at the helm, and the athletic ability down low to make a run next year. Though Merrimack graduates five key seniors this year, the future seems bright beyond the horizon in the upcoming years for Merrimack basketball.