Fordham Men’s Basketball Using Experience as Advantage This Season

Jalen+Cobb+%28above%29+is+ready+to+take+on+a+bigger+role+for+the+Rams+this+season.+%28Courtesy+of+Fordham+Athletics%29

Jalen Cobb (above) is ready to take on a bigger role for the Rams this season. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Andrew Posadas, Managing Editor

When we last saw Fordham Men’s Basketball, they were coming off arguably their best performance all season in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Basketball Championship at Barclays Center. The Rams defeated George Washington University convincingly 72-52 and advanced to a second-round matchup against Duquesne University, a team Fordham lost to twice earlier in conference play, albeit in two competitive games decided by a total of just seven points. All things being considered, head coach Jeff Neubauer and his squad had an opportunity to reach the A-10 quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ended Fordham’s aspirations to make a potential run as everything suddenly shut down back in mid-March for collegiate and professional sports. A decision Neubauer understands was necessary, yet emotional, for his team to accept at that time as their season concluded prematurely.

The hardest part about our season ending so abruptly was thinking about the guys who were seniors,” Neubauer said. “Those guys were fighting and competing, and then suddenly it was over.”

Fordham graduated two starters in senior guards Antwon Portley and Erten Gazi, both of whom battled injury woes during the season before returning to play productive basketball up until the shutdown. Gazi had been averaging nearly 14 points per game over the final five games while Portley finished the season scoring in double figures in three of the Rams’ last four games.

More importantly, Portley’s departure sees the program lose its team captain and unquestioned leader in the locker room. Neubauer knows it will be difficult to replace Portley’s leadership but as he points out, Fordham returns multiple players who have been through “the rigors of college basketball.”

The Rams bring back six players who started at least 10 games last season, all of whom will be asked to take on bigger roles coming into this season. In particular, guard Jalen Cobb enters his junior year looking to build on what was a solid sophomore campaign finishing third on the team in scoring (10.3 ppg) while leading the Rams in assists (70) and finishing seventh in the A-10 in steals (1.8 spg). 

Cobb does not feel any added pressure in taking on more of a leadership role. “This is exactly where I want to be. I’ve wanted this opportunity, and now it’s here at the right time,” said Cobb. “All summer I prepared myself for this opportunity, now it’s just time to shock the world with my teammates.”

Fordham also brings back sophomore center Joel Soriano, who blossomed in the second half of last season with five double-doubles in the Rams final six games. Senior guard Josh Colon, now Josh Navarro, transferred from Salt Lake Community College to provide an instant spark on both ends when he was inserted into the Fordham starting lineup last season. Colon never looked back, starting the last 23 games for the Rams and finishing second on the team with 65 assists.

Another key player returning will be redshirt senior Chuba Ohams, who was averaging 11 points and eight rebounds in 13 games for the Rams before suffering an unexpected leg injury during pregame warmups which ended his season on Jan. 5. Fordham hopes to get Ohams back at some point this season, but for now, he continues his role as a vocal leader in practice. Ohams praised his teammates for their improvements made over the offseason at Fordham’s A-10 media day and added that they have “shown me something that I hadn’t seen from them last year.”

As for what we saw from them last year? Despite finishing with an overall record of 9-22 that included going 2-16 in conference play, the Rams lost 14 of those 22 games by single digits primarily due to their staunch defense. Fordham led the A-10 in scoring defense (61.7 ppg) and finished 10th in the NCAA. Even against better competition in conference play, Fordham held nine of their 19 A-10 opponents to under 60 points, solidifying their place among the nation’s better defensive teams.

Inversely, the Rams finished at the bottom of the A-10 in scoring offense and field goal percentage. Fordham could only muster up an average of 59 points per game on 38% shooting through 31 games last season. All that seems to be missing now is consistency on the offensive end and putting up enough points to win those closely contested games. In what he expects for his offense this year, Neubauer emphasized the team’s strides to become better in terms of decision making and shot selection. Ultimately, he wants to “rely on the impact of experience” this season so that the team’s offensive production starts matching their defensive prowess.

Neubauer admits that implementing new on-court strategies over the summer proved quite difficult with team activities limited to Zoom meetings during such an unprecedented offseason. Not being able to practice in person until the fall was clearly a disadvantage for all college basketball leading up to this season. A confirmed positive COVID-19 test within the program prompted a mandatory two-week quarantine before team activities resumed again on Nov. 14. Neubauer knows the team cannot afford another 14-day quarantine during the season, and it all starts with the entire team following every health and safety protocol. Even so, he can only control what happens with his team. Recently, a member of Iona College’s Men’s Basketball program tested positive for COVID-19, leaving Fordham’s home opener against the Gaels in danger of being postponed or canceled. However, the official word on the game’s status has not yet been announced.

Fordham’s other notable non-conferences games this season features a rematch against Manhattan College, who defeated the Rams in overtime by one point in the annual Battle of the Bronx, as well as a date with St. John’s University at Carnesecca Arena on Dec 8. It will be the first meeting between the Rams and Red Storm in four years.

Considering all the uncertainties surrounding the upcoming season, Fordham returns with an experienced roster that is hungry to prove it can be competitive against non-conference foes and A-10 opponents on a consistent basis. The A-10 preseason poll, unfortunately, has Fordham finishing last for the third consecutive year. Cobb said the team is ready to prove those voters wrong, adding, “It motivates us tremendously. We use it as fuel to the fire.”

Will experience be enough fuel to help Fordham light a competitive fire in the A-10 and throughout the entire year? That question can only be answered on the basketball court when the 2020-2021 season gets underway.