by Dan Gardella
When it rains it pours.
It was hard enough for Anthony Latina to begin prepping his crop of newcomers to get ready for an unprecedented 2020-21 season, but now he will be without one of the four returning players who played meaningful minutes last season.
This week, junior forward Zach Pfaffenberger, who looked ready to take over in the Pioneer front court, succeeding E.J. Anosike and Jare’l Spellman, tore his achilles in practice and will likely miss the entire season. Pfaffenberger, along with Aaron Clarke, and Tyler Thomas entered the 2020-21 season as the lone significant contributors from last year’s team that broke the program record for wins in a season.
So what’s next?
In my original breakdown of the roster over the summer, I saw freshmen Bryce Johnson and Nico Galette having steady minutes even with Pfaffenberger in the rotation. Now, the two first-year players will likely occupy the two starting forward spots when the season tips off. Latina has been very clear that Galette and Johnson have met expectations so far in preseason camp.
“They’ve confirmed the things we thought about them through the first few weeks together,” said Latina.
Johnson, who was Sacred Heart’s first signee in the class of 2020, is as versatile as can be for a 6’7 forward. Latina called Johnson a “high energy athlete who has a high motor”.
Similar to Johnson, Nico Galette shared some of the same characteristics in terms of versatility and IQ to the game in Latina’s eyes.
While there is no defensive presence like Jare’l Spellman anymore, the newcomers such as Galette and Johnson can allow Sacred Heart to space the floor more. The Pioneers have not had any issues putting the ball in the basket over the past few seasons. The difficulty will come on the defensive side with a top shot blocker and top rebounder gone and the main backup sidelined for the season.
Another option in the Sacred Heart frontcourt is JUCO transfer Cantavio Dutreil. Latina could either utilize him as the first big man off the bench, or have him crack the starting lineup. Dutreil is the closest thing to Jare’l Spellman in terms of his style of play: A skillful athlete with a vision for protecting the paint.
Over the past two seasons, Latina shifted between three big men while playing small ball at times. We could see a similar strategy this season. The only difference this season is that there is no set strategy as to how the rotation will look as the season progresses. We could see lots of shifting depending on who is playing well given most of the roster has not played a single minute of college basketball.