BY Dan Gardella
On Oct. 23, the Northeast Conference (NEC) held its annual Basketball Social Media Day at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. On that day, the Sacred Heart Men’s Basketball team was picked to finish second in the Coaches Preseason Poll and the Sacred Heart Women’s Basketball team was picked to finish third.
The men’s team, led by head coach Anthony Latina, was picked to finish ninth in last season’s poll, but used strong freshman campaigns from All-Rookie selections Cameron Parker and Koreem Ozier to exceed expectations and finish third. With all but one player returning, the expectations are much higher this season.
“It’s always great to be acknowledged by your peers. It’s something to be proud about. We are, however, trying to focus on things that matter,” said Latina. “Whether you’re picked first, second, or last, it doesn’t matter. The focus has to be on working hard every day and being the best team we can be day in and day out.”
After a year in which Latina brought nine newcomers in the program, he said that the coaching philosophy is different in terms of simplifying things. With all but one player returning, Latina said that they can stress certain things earlier in the season. By doing so, Latina believes that team will be prepared for more situations.
Along with the Coaches Preseason Poll being released, junior E.J. Anosike was named to the conference’s preseason first team. Anosike, who was named the conference’s Most Improved Player last season looks ready to continue to grow as a player.
“This offseason, a lot of my focus has been on trying not to put limits on myself,” said Anosike. “I want to be the best possible version of myself. There are no limits. Why can’t Sacred Heat win an NEC championship? Every day, we push ourselves to get better in different aspects of the game.”
On the women’s side, head coach Jessica Mannetti looks to lead her program to their 21st consecutive appearance in the NEC Tournament. She will look to do so with six newcomers, including five freshman and a transfer. With plenty of new faces, Mannetti stresses the importance of buying into the culture she has created.
“We have players like Adrianne Hagood and Olivia Dabney who have the playing experience where they know how to fix things or save a possession,” said Mannetti. “I think the freshmen and transfers that have joined are really growing into the culture, but there is still a challenge to continue to motivate them.”
Although the newcomers are learning, Mannetti said that there will be an immediate need for them to step into the rotation and contribute immediately. While there is upperclassmen experience, there is plenty of talent and IQ among the newcomers to help them compete for minutes.
From a player’s perspective, junior Adrianne Hagood has been through the process of becoming acclimated within the system. She said that knowing where you have to be in the offense, along with knowing how to fix a mistake, were some of the toughest things that newcomers have to learn upon playing for Mannetti.
Hagood, like Anosike, was also named to the conference’s preseason first time. However, she aims to be more of a leader both on and off the court.
“I try to talk to the underclassmen both on and off the court,” said Hagood. “In practice, I’ll watch them and see where they are struggling. I would talk to them to make sure they are on the right spots on the court. I will go first in a drill so they can see what they have to do.”
The men’s team opens their season on Nov. 5 on the road against Providence while the women’s team opens their season the following day on Nov. 6 against Seton Hall in South Orange, N.J.