SFU men hope strong finish helps this year

LORETTO – St. Francis was suffering through a disastrous 2012-13 season – and disastrous might be putting it kindly – when something surprising happened near the end.

The Red Flash started winning games. Just a few, and against weak Northeast Conference competition, but they were wins nonetheless.

For a team that started 0-11 and then 1-19, any victory had to be viewed as a wonderful occurrence.

The effort in those wins – three out of four games starting in mid-February – followed by a hard-fought double-overtime loss in the next-to-last-game, by no means salvaged SFU’s 5-24 season. But they did provide some sliver of hope for the future.

That sliver is what gives Flash coach Rob Krimmel hope that this season could be much different for his team.

“It gave our guys some momentum going into our postseason workouts and something to hang our hat on,” Krimmel said during Wednesday’s media day on campus.

Krimmel’s first season coaching his alma mater could not have started worse, but the inspiring finish and returning all but one of his top players provides some optimism for this season.

“I knew that these guys wouldn’t quit,” the coach said. “They completely bought into St. Francis University and to the program and what we’ve asked them to do.”

The players might have bought in, but coaches around the Northeast Conference didn’t show any faith in SFU as they picked the Flash to finish ninth in the 10-team league. That probably shouldn’t be a big surprise given St. Francis’ immense struggles in recent years, but don’t try telling that to junior forward Earl Brown.

“For them to rank us so [low], it’s disrespectful,” Brown said. “Honestly, it just adds fuel to the fire.”

It’s pretty easy to explain how St. Francis can earn more respect.

“One is to win. That’s number one,” Brown said. “Number two, I don’t even think there’s a number two. Just number one.”

But that’s the issue. St. Francis hasn’t won for a long time now, and losing big has become commonplace for the tiny Division I program.

The Flash went 6-23 two years ago, and coach Don Friday was fired after going 32-86 in four years. Krimmel was hired amidst controversy since his father, Bob, is the athletic director, and his first season did little to quiet the critics who questioned the move.

But Krimmel did keep his players motivated and kept them fighting for the entire season, which is why the late victories meant so much.

St. Francis lost leading scorer Umar Shannon, who averaged 11.2 points. He had a year of eligibility left, but since he had already graduated, he could transfer and play immediately, and he wound up at Quinnipiac.

Brown is the team’s top returning player, a workhorse who earned the NEC’s Most Improved Player honor last season. He averaged 10.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, and his 25 rebounds during a January win over Central Connecticut State were the most in the country last season.

Brown was not selected preseason all-conference, which also upsets him.

“It’s burning in me still to this day,” he said.

The Flash return numerous players who started at various times last year, including: guards Ben Millaud-Meunier (9.3 ppg), Greg Brown (3.7), Ollie Jackson (7.9) and Stephon Whyatt (6.7) and forwards Stephon Mosley (8.3) and Ronnie Drinnon (4.8).

There’s no go-to scorer on the roster, which could be a problem.

The biggest problem, though, figures to be the same issue that’s plagued St. Francis for years – winning on the road. The Flash have gone a staggering 9-74 away from home over the past five seasons, and they can’t become be a factor in the NEC unless that changes.

“To be a great team, you’ve got to win on the road,” Krimmel said. “We have to find ways to win games on the road.”