By Drew Karpen
The 2012-13 basketball season could not come quicker for the Allegheny College men’s team. A year after going 5-20 overall and 3-13 in the North Coast Athletic Conference, third-year head coach Jim Driggs is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“The guys have a good understanding of what we are trying to do as a program,” Driggs said. “Having been around now, we have a sense of knowing what the expectations are on the floor, but also in the classroom and everything that involves Allegheny basketball.”
The Gators get underway Friday at 8 p.m. at the David V. Wise Center against Pitt-Titusville during opening day of action in the inaugural Greg Richards Memorial Tip-off Tournament. And for the first time in his brief stint as the Gators’ head coach, Driggs will finally enter a season with a squad that has significant in-game experience at the collegiate level.
Allegheny said good-bye to just one player from last year’s team. That one player, however, was 6-foot-6 forward and second-team All-NCAC pick James Ness, who led Allegheny in minutes per game (30.9), points (15.0 per game), rebounds (7.4 per game) and blocks (25) a season ago.
“It will be a big loss,” Driggs said about Ness. “We don’t have a lot of depth at the four or five position with his loss.”
With Ness’ departure, Driggs has elected to take advantage of the speedy guards that remain, who will transform the Gators to a more up-tempo style of team.
“We want to take advantage of our depth at the guard position this year,” Driggs said. “We are going to try and push it more and spread the floor more.”
With a roster filled with guards, 12 to be exact, Driggs realizes that his best way to keep up with the competition is to outrun them.
Driggs is hoping the new-look offense will improve the Gators 64.7 points per game from a year ago.
The Gators will be looking to its returning back court of senior Devone McLeod and junior D’Andre Corbin to lead the charge.
McLeod, who was named to the NCAC All-Conference team in 2011, will be the top returning starter, averaging 11.9 points per game last season.
“I have been real impressed with Devone,” Driggs said. “He has played well in our scrimmages so far.”
McLeod’s back court partner, Corbin, has put up stellar numbers of his own — ranking in the top three in assists the last two seasons in the NCAC. Last year, Corbin and McLeod finished third and fourth, respectively, in the NCAC in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Also returning for the Gators are junior Ryan Stanko and sophomore David DiBernardi. Stanko averaged 8.6 points per game and led the team with 49 3-pointers. DiBernardi averaged 6.5 points a game and had 29 treys.
With Stanko, DiBernardi and McLeod (41 3-pointers last year), the Gators return their top three 3-point threats from a year ago.
That crew will be joined by sophomore transfer Josh Valentic, who played for Wheeling Jesuit last year and helped the Cardinals advance to the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament as a freshman.
“I recruited him heavy my first year at Allegheny,” Driggs said about Valentic. “He can really shoot the basketball and score from the perimeter.”
Clark Tritto, a 6-3 junior, and Bobby Theiss, a 6-4 junior, will headline the Gators’ front court this season after seeing action in all of the Gators’ games last year. They’ll be joined by 6-6 sophomore Chris Milon and 6-7 freshman Andrew Sestina who will add some size to the post.