Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
To look at the Iona men’s basketball roster is to see a Who’s Who of the top high school programs in the New York-New Jersey area. Under second-year coach Kevin Willard, the roster is dotted with players from New Jersey powerhouses St. Benedict’s Prep, St. Patrick, Don Bosco and Bloomfield Tech, as well as New York schools Rice, Molloy and Cardozo.
“I’m really excited about the team, more or less because I really feel we have a great group of kids to work with,” Willard said. “Every day they come in with a great attitude, really positive, really upbeat to work and get better. And as a coach, it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
The Gaels recently went undefeated through three games during a Canadian exhibition. Jonathan Huffman, a junior transfer from Louisville, scored 20 points in two of the games, and showed an ability to hit the 3-pointer.
“Jonathan played really well offensively in Canada. He’s a legit 7-foot, he’s long. He’s pretty athletic for a guy his size, but the one thing he does probably better than anything is he shoots the basketball. He just has a very pure stroke. He puts a lot of pressure on teams because we can really space the floor with him out there. And he shot 80 percent in Canada, he was 9-of-10 from the 3. He gives us something that a lot of teams don’t have, a guy that can get 7 or 8 rebounds a game, but also hit 4 or 5 3’s in a game at the same time.”
Another transfer is Kashif Pratt, a 6-4 guard out of Rice who came over from Seton Hall. A natural two, Pratt will see time at small forward.
“Kash has really improved his body,” Willard said. “One thing he improved, too, is his shooting. He’s just an all-around good player. I don’t think he does anything excellent, but he does everything good. He’s just a basketball player. He understands the game; he knows how to play. He’s almost like another point guard at the floor.”
At the point guard spot, St. Benedict’s product Scott Machado of Queens (pictured below left) and St. Patrick of Elizabeth’s standout Jermel Jenkins will split time.
“Both come from great programs, are extremely well-coached,” Willard said. “It’s amazing how well-coached they are. And they both have a great feel of how to play point guard. They don’t need to score to effect the game, and really neither one of them scored in Canada. But they did a great job of understanding what a point guard should do. I’m really excited about them.”
Iona also picked up two other New Jersey players, forward Keon Williams of Hackensack, who tore his Achilles the day before the Canada trip and has had since had surgery (he will redshirt), and guard Kyle Smyth of three-time Bergen Jamboree champion Don Bosco.
“Kyle Smith is a lot like Kash,” Willard said. “I look for guys that just have that natural feel to play basketball. They might not be the greatest athletes, they might not be the greatest shooters, but they understand the game. They know when to drive, when to pass, and I think Kyle Smyth does that as well as anybody. He has a great feel for the game. And he’s a tough son of a bitch, which I love.”
Willard has also augmented his coaching staff, plucking Steve Sauers from Seton Hall as an assistant. Another former Pirates star and assistant, Shaheen Holloway, is also on the staff.
“I told (Seton Hall head coach) Bobby (Gonzalez), ‘I heard some good things about Steve and I’d like to talk to him. I’m not trying to intentionally take everyone from your staff. I know if they’ve worked for you, they know how to work and they know how to coach,'” Willard said. “And he was great. He said, ‘No problem.'”
Iona finished 12-20 a year ago, 8-10 and in seventh place in the 10-team MAAC. Siena won the league and Rider was second.
“Obviously, Siena and Fairfield are probably at the top of it right now,” Willard said. “They have the most seniors and experienced starters coming back. I think Fairfield has their top 8 coming back. I think the league’s wide open. I think Siena has the advantage because the tournament is on their home floor. I think they’re going to be the favorite.
“I’m looking forward to maybe getting better and hopefully trying to play against everybody in the league.”
The Gaels open at home Nov. 14 against Hampton before hitting the beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam for an opener against Wisconsin Nov. 21.
Iona will get several area players in for official visits over the next few weekends, including forward Paris Bennett of St. Patrick, forward David Laury of the NIA School in Newark, forward Mark Cisco of Mendham, forward Ronnie Spencer of Monmouth Academy and Chris Matagrano of Blair.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.