The Start of a New Era for Fordham Men’s Basketball

Fordham’s history is in the past and the future is only beginning, as Kyle Neptune leads his new-look Rams and begins to build a culture that extends beyond the results on the floor.


Men’s Basketball is looking forward to a new season with a new coach, a new mindset and a clean slate. (Alexander Wolz/The Fordham Ram)

Think back to the 2006-2007 NCAA Men’s Basketball season, the last time the Fordham Rams had a winning record. Finishing 10–6 in the Atlantic 10, it took a four-point loss to the University of Rhode Island to shut down the sharpshooting Marcus Stout and rough and tough Bryant Dunston in the conference tournament.

Little did fans know that loss marked the end of not just the seniors’ time at Rose Hill but of an entire era. Fordham has not had a winning season since then, a far cry from the days of the NCAA Tournament. A team with a dense history, playing in the oldest gym in the country, has faded away in recent memory.

The journey to getting back there starts this season. Jeff Neubauer parted ways with Fordham this past offseason after six seasons in the Bronx. A tireless coaching search ensued and in came Kyle Neptune, a two-time champion at Villanova University. Now, he is looking to bring that same pedigree to the Bronx and build a contender out of Fordham.

So the questions begin, the biggest of all being, why Fordham? What attracted the first year head coach, likely with several potential suitors, to take over a program many believe is doomed to fail? 

Some of those answers came through in the recent Atlantic 10 Media Day, with his Brooklyn roots being one of them. “Fordham’s a great place. I knew it coming in and was even more impressed with it as I got to know people,” he said about the transition.

 “People” means a multitude of things in this case, whether it is Athletic Director Ed Kull, who he referred to as “one of the best in the business,” the employees around Fordham Athletics, the coaches beside him in the film room or of course, the players themselves.

Starting with those suits on the sidelines, Fordham presents a diverse coaching roster consisting of familiar faces from Villanova and East Coast names shifting homes in the A-10. Director of Operations Nima Omidvar hails from George Washington University and assistant coach Tray Woodall comes off a stellar stint with Atlantic 10 Champion team St. Bonaventure University. Associate head coach Keith Urgo spent a decade with Penn State following his time in Villanova, with those ties linking to some of the Rams’ recruits.

Rounding out the staff is Ronald Ramon, an 11-year international player and director of basketball operations at Pittsburgh University, former Wildcats player Henry Lowe, Villanova graduate assistant Rob DePersia, player development coordinator Will Braden and recruiting coordinator Tre Morton.

All of those names have come together to build the roster that will take center court next Tuesday. Some players Fordham fans will remember, including graduate students Chuba Ohams, returning to the court following an injury-riddled season, along with Josh Colon-Navarro, juniors Kyle Rose and Jalen Cobb and sophomore Albe Evans.

Beyond that, the only thing familiar about this Fordham team is the maroon and white on the jerseys. Neptune and his staff yielded a total of nine new players through offseason recruiting, a major focus from the moment he stepped onto campus. What was the message? Simple: finding those who embraced the culture he was trying to build.

“We wanted guys that were basketball junkies,” Neptune said. “We wanted guys that really believed in Fordham’s mantra and wanted to come in and get a great education and play basketball at a high level.” So they went out on the recruiting path to go get them, and in many ways, succeeded in a short amount of time. 

Sophomore Antrell Charlton arrived after earning All-State honors at Indian River State College, sophomore center Rostyslav Novitsky came from Monroe College and junior guard Kam’ron Cunningham shuffled from Dayton State College to Mississippi Valley College before arriving at Fordham. 

Continuing that theme of experience, even the freshmen on the roster, Abdou Tsimbila, Pat Kelly and DJ Gordon, have collegiate time behind them as former Nittany Lions. There is just a single true freshman, Ahmad Harrison from Baltimore.

Perhaps the two biggest newcomers are junior Antonio Daye Jr., the leading scorer at Florida International University, and graduate student Darius Quisenberry, a two-time All-Horizon League selection at Youngstown State University. “He’s an offensive juggernaut … He’s also very unselfish,” said Neptune. “He’s been huge for us so far, especially being an older guy in a leadership position.”

“An older guy” characterizes much of this Fordham roster, consisting of junior college transfers, graduate students and returners. That combination of international and local focus, young and old, represents the diversity Neptune has strived for in his recruiting. “We’re completely open-minded moving forward to just recruit guys who believe in what Fordham stands for.”

 In addition, much of this roster has the shared experience of coming to Fordham for the first time at the same time. Because of that, Neptune, along with Ohams and Colon-Navarro, emphasized the chemistry the team built before sharing a second on the court.

One would think Neptune would lean on those returning players during his first year in the Bronx. In some ways he has, hoping they carry forward the defensive backing the team has shown in the past. But beyond that, this year is all about this team.

When asked about that adjustment process, Neptune described it candidly, saying, “It kinda is what it is.” Instead, he wanted to credit his players for making it that much easier, with the theme of unity again ringing the loudest.

“I think this team has been incredibly together from the time we came on campus in June,” said Neptune. Ohams, who has seen five rosters through his time at Fordham, echoed that. “Everybody instantly clicked like that,” he said.

Maybe, though, it is because it did not take much effort to recruit those players in the first place. “As a staff, we’ve talked about how easy of a sell it’s been so far. We’re all East Coast guys, we love the city and I think that really resonates with guys from out-of-town and guys in-town as well,” Neptune said. “That’s a guy from New York City,” Ohams added. “He’s familiar with Fordham University already, so there’s not much help that he needed.” 

Ohams is from the city too. He very well could have packed his bags and moved into the transfer portal but decided to return to the Bronx instead.

 “Some of the conversations we had were just how much he could develop me as a player but more so how he can develop me as a man,” he said. “He didn’t just care about me as a basketball player. He wanted to mature me more in the outside world.”

That mantra has shown through during this offseason. Neptune has taken his team on a boat tour around the Statue of Liberty, a dining experience at Tao, a shopping venture at the Under Armour Brand House and even a show at the Metropolitan Opera. 

“Obviously we have a huge New York identity. We really look at ourselves as a New York City school. We take pride in being a part of this great basketball culture,” Neptune said. 

Because of that, Fordham has put multiple marquee New York schools on its regular season schedule, including Manhattan College, St. John’s University and the opener against Columbia University. The Rams will also head to Barclays Center, taking on the University of Miami in the 2021 Hall of Fame Invitational, and down south for the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.

What that will ultimately translate to on the floor is the big question. It is no secret that Fordham’s biggest struggle lies there, presenting a stout defensive program but severely lacking on the offensive end and scoring a conference-low 51.8 points per game in the 2020 season.

Neptune describes his ideal team as the antithesis of that: moving up and down the floor, driving the paint and kicking it into space. Simple tenets of “unselfish basketball,” as he terms it.

Beyond that, though, Neptune is more concerned about building a culture, the theme that became most apparent in his comments this past Wednesday. “We want to defend and rebound, and we want to be a really gritty team. We want to walk on the court every day and leave the court after the game knowing that we were the tougher team.”

That reigns true regardless of the results, as Neptune acknowledges it may take time for those to come. Whether Fordham sits at first or last in the Atlantic 10, the latter of which represents its ranking in the preseason polls, the attitude the team maintains throughout matters most.

“We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and we want to come together as a program and be elite at the things we are asking our guys to do,” coach Neptune said. “If we don’t go on and are a tough and gritty team, we’re going to go back to the drawing board and try to hold ourselves accountable to that.”

The Rams will have to meet that challenge in a difficult Atlantic 10. But that does not matter, nor does Neptune’s past. He recognizes that will follow him throughout this first year, with the blueprint being fairly similar to that on Lancaster Avenue. Even Ohams acknowledged that, saying, “We already put him on a high [pedestal].”

Neptune said his time at his last school, Villanova was “really over.” “We’ve had some great experiences at Villanova. We always consider it partially home, but that doesn’t really help us now. We’ve got to come together as a staff, come together as a team and do what’s best for this team moving forward. We’re really trying to get to know our guys, set our standards, create our own culture and move on from there.”

Time will tell what exactly that culture looks like, and it will certainly evolve beyond just this year. For now though, Neptune has placed his stamp all over Fordham’s program as he aims to bring some big changes to the team. 

“He pushes us every day,” Ohams said. “He never takes a day off, and we love that, so I’m extremely confident in where this program is heading.” Colon-Navarro shares that same confidence, saying, “Play hard. We’ll be happy with the results.”

Fordham has been devoid of a basketball culture for some time, and Neptune’s primary goal must be to rebuild that. Early signs indicate that is the case, as the program digs itself out of the past and builds a new identity for itself. It can only happen if the players and the university buy into the process. Regardless of the results, this feels like a team, and a season, bound to take that first step forward.