April 30, 2021 

Patriot League notebook: The coaching carousel spins on; Lafayette’s Natalie Kucowski drafted by WNBA

How will new mentors at Army, Boston University, Colgate and Loyola (MD) impact the league?

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It has been an eventful spring for the Patriot League off the court with a spinning coaches’ carousel, players on the move, and another visit from the WNBA draft board.

In the month since the season ended with Lehigh’s first-round loss to West Virginia in the NCAA tournament, four programs have hired new coaches: Army, Boston University, Colgate, and Loyola (MD).

What’s to know about these new faces? Each hire played Division I basketball, three of the four spent time as an assistant at an Ivy League school, and two led programs as Division III head coaches. We’ll take a look at each new mentor and share who benefits the most from the latest leadership changes.

The league also has some players on the move. As a result of the pandemic, the NCAA has relaxed its transfer rule for this upcoming season in combination with an added year of eligibility. Players are taking advantage of their options. Who’s on the move?

The Seattle Storm drafted Lafayette forward Natalie Kucowski with the 35th pick in this year’s WNBA draft, making it the second consecutive year that a Patriot League player was selected. Last spring, Holy Cross forward Lauren Manis was drafted with the 32nd pick by the Las Vegas Aces. What’s the next step for Kucowski? And where can you find Manis playing today?

Let’s break it all down and look at what it means moving ahead:

Wake Forest assistant coach Melissa D’Amico makes the jump to head coach at Boston University. Photo credit: Wake Forest Athletics

Boston University lands a power five assistant as its head coach

Wake Forest assistant coach Melissa D’Amico has been named to lead the Terriers’ women’s basketball program. She replaces Marisa Moseley, head coach for three seasons before departing for the same role at the University of Wisconsin.

The Terriers have been one of the best teams in the league over the last two seasons and return a lot of firepower for another run to the championship game next year.

Boston’s new mentor is familiar with the conference landscape. D’Amico is making her second appearance in the Patriot League having spent two seasons (2013-2015) as an assistant coach at Colgate. The Raiders went 8-22 and 9-22 in those two campaigns.

This past year, D’Amico helped guide the Demon Deacons to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1987-88 season. Before her stint at Wake Forest, she spent three seasons serving as an assistant coach for Yale University.

Between the lines, D’Amico brings the experience of playing four years at Notre Dame under Hall of Fame coach—and former Lehigh head coach—Muffet McGraw. D’Amico played in 119 games for the Fighting Irish, starting 58. Notre Dame was 86-41 overall and 43-21 in the Big East Conference in that stretch with an NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance.

D’Amico also had a five-year international professional playing career with stops in Spain, China, Greece, Poland, and the Czech Republic. She finished her playing career with DSK Karlin in Prague.

She inherits one of the most talented squads in the conference and a roster that loses just one player from its regular rotation in senior point guard, Katie Nelson. Nelson had 12.0 points and 4.3 assists per game and was a First-team All-Patriot League selection this year. The Terriers advanced to the league championship this season before falling to Lehigh, 64-54. They were 12-3 in the COVID-condensed campaign.

Outlook: Boston University will be among the favorites to win the title next season. They return five of their top six scorers and, with super-sub Emily Esposito inserted back into the starting line-up, their first unit will bring the most starting experience in the league to the floor. D’Amico has inherited a top team and expectations will be high—and they should be.

Who benefits the most: Junior guard, Sydney Johnson. She averaged 11.9 points per game last season while shooting 73-of-167 (43.7%) from the floor in a regimented, set-play approach in the half-court attack. If D’Amico plans to open up the offense, Johnson’s going to showcase her scoring talents and emerge as a star in the league.

New Colgate coach Ganiyat Adeduntan at her introductory press conference. Photo credit: Colgate Athletic Communications

Colgate names former George Washington University assistant as its head coach

Colgate has announced the hiring of Ganiyat Adeduntan to lead its basketball program. The Raiders are coming off a truncated 1-8 season that ended prematurely due to multiple injuries that limited the team’s opportunity to compete.

Adeduntan spent the previous four seasons on Jen Rizzotti’s staff at George Washington as the program’s recruiting coordinator. She helped the Colonials win an Atlantic-10 Conference championship in 2017-18. Rizzotti and her staff were fired on March 15 but Adeduntan lands on her feet at Colgate, inheriting a young and talented roster.

Before George Washington, she spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Northeastern—her second stretch for the Huskies after getting her start on staff in college basketball as an administrative assistant from 2010-12.

Between stints at Northeastern, Adeduntan gained college head coaching experience at the Division III level for Wheelock College in Boston from 2012-2014, posting an 8-43 record.

Adeduntan had a successful playing career as a 1,000-point scorer at Florida State under head coach Sue Semrau. She was named to the ACC All-Freshman Team and claimed All-ACC Honorable Mention honors as a junior in 2005.

Adeduntan brings a unique academic and professional path to her role as a mentor. She earned both her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing (Nurse Practitioner) from Florida State and a Doctorate in Nursing Practice from Northeastern. She lands at a Colgate program in need of a re-set after the resignation of head coach Bill Cleary.

Outlook: Everything will trend positive for the Raiders in the short term. They will have no trouble improving upon their one-win season. Colgate posted a 19-win campaign in 2019-20 and was expected to be competitive this past season despite its youth and the graduation of leading scorer Rachel Thompson; injuries and the pandemic season took a toll and a coaching change was the result.

They are much more talented than their 1-8 record indicates. Junior guard Alexa Brodie returns as the team’s leading scorer at 13.0 points per game and forwards Tiasia McMillan and Lindsay Blackmore—both sophomores—will be impact players in the frontcourt. If the group is healthy, a winning season is realistic and within its grasp.

One challenge to follow is on the defensive end. Adeduntan is a defensive-minded coach and they’ll be venturing into new territory with a group that has been playing a match-up zone for several seasons.

Who benefits the most: Adeduntan. The divorce between Cleary and Colgate creates a soft landing for the new coach with an athletic administration that needs the change in leadership to work. There is no doubt that the refresh will be a positive in the immediate aftermath and Adeduntan will get a full, supportive opportunity to succeed. Despite the challenge of this past season, the trajectory of the Raider program has been heading upward and Adeduntan steps into a scenario with both the potential to succeed and the space to endure any growing pains.

New Army head coach Missy Traversi on her first day. Photo credit: Army West Point Athletics

Head coach Missy Traversi departs Division II Adelphi for a top post at Army

Missy Traversi has been named head coach for Army, replacing Dave Magarity who retired at the end of the season after leading the program for 15 years. She arrives at West Point with 13 years of coaching experience that spans from high school to all three levels of collegiate basketball.

Expect a change both in style and energy at Army moving ahead. Traversi’s philosophy of play is an up-and-down fast-paced approach, 90-feet of defense, and an attacking mindset from behind the arc.

Traversi just completed her fifth year as the head coach at Division II Adelphi University. She coached the Panthers to an 83-37 (.692) overall record, a NE-10 tournament championship in 2017, and two NCAA Division II Tournament appearances.

Before landing at Adelphi, she spent two seasons (2014-16) as the head coach at Division III Wheelock College in Boston. Traversi went 29-22. Coincidentally, she succeeded Colgate’s new coach, Adeduntan, who coached the previous two seasons there.

Preceding her time at Wheelock, she spent three years as the head girls’ basketball coach at Attleboro High School (2011-14), one year as an assistant coach in the Ivy League at Harvard University (2010-11), and two years as the head girls’ basketball coach at Dover-Sherborn High School (2008-10).

Traversi played point guard from 2001-05 for current Purdue coach Sharon Versyp when she was the lead mentor at the University of Maine, and competed professionally in Sweden for Brahe Basket and Jamtland Basket.

During her playing career at Maine, Traversi helped lead the Black Bears to an overall record of 86-35 (.711), one America East Tournament Championship, and an NCAA Tournament appearance. A 2004-05 First-Team All-Conference selection, Traversi scored 1,130 points in her career.

Outlook: The transformation of style at Army next season will be fun to watch. Traversi has proven herself a winner and her continued success depends on how quickly she can match personnel to philosophy. She inherits a squad that went 9-11 and returns all top players from the rotation.

The return of rising senior Lindsey Scamman from injury is a central piece to the puzzle in 2020-21. The Black Knights graduated just two seniors and neither figured prominently in the regular rotation. Expect a new approach on the Hudson from Traversi—and an improved Army program moving ahead.

Who benefits the most: Rising sophomores Lauren Lithgow (All-Rookie team) and Sam McNaughton are going to have the chance to grow and contribute to Traversi’s system. The speedy McNaughton and the three-point shooting Lithgow should fit well into an uptempo style that uses a deep rotation and aims to maximize the three-point line.

Danielle O’Banion comes from the University of Minnesota to re-charge the Greyhounds of Loyola (MD) as the program’s new head coach. Photo credit: University of Minnesota Athletics

Loyola (MD) chooses veteran coach from the Big Ten

University of Minnesota assistant coach Danielle O’Banion has been named head coach at Loyola (MD). She comes to the Greyhounds with 19 years of coaching experience at the Division 1 level and replaces longtime coach Joe Logan, whose contract was not renewed after the season.

O’Banion has made assistant coaching stops at Minnesota, Memphis, and Harvard. She brings head coaching experience from a four-year run at Kent State from 2012-16. Her teams went 21-98 during her tenure.

She brings veteran leadership and resiliency to the Baltimore campus. Midway through her tenure at Kent State, O’Banion was diagnosed with cancer–stage 2 lymphoma—and continued to coach through her treatment. She was awarded the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award for women’s basketball at the 2016 Final Four.

O’Banion served twice as an assistant at the University of Minnesota (2002-07, 2018-21) and Memphis (2008-12, 2016-18), and spent a year at Harvard (2001-02). As an assistant coach, O’Banion helped her teams make five NCAA tournament appearances and one run to the Final Four.

She played for four years for Boston College from 1997-2001 when the Eagles played in the Big East conference and was a co-captain during her senior season. She helped Boston College to its first two NCAA tournament appearances in program history.

Outlook: Anticipate improvement for the Greyhounds’ program. The roster is expected to return and that experienced group will help O’Banion’s transition. Last season’s 0-13 mark was a remarkably difficult stretch of COVID starts, stops, and cancellations—and it took a toll on the team.

They’re closer to turning a corner than at first glance. Seven of the team’s losses came against teams that advanced to the semi-finals of conference playoffs and the group had six losses within 10 points or less.

The question for O’Banion and her staff will be: how can they solve the team’s shooting difficulties? Loyola (MD) was last in scoring offense in the league at 50.4 points per game and last in shooting, converting just 32.7% shots from the field and 64-of-254 for 25.2% from three-point distance.

Who benefits the most: Isabella Therien. The senior forward is returning for a graduate year and is the Greyhounds’ best all-around player. Coach O’Banion is going to look for a steady presence and Therien is going to get the call. She led the team in scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg) and will be a key building block next year.

The former league Rookie of the Year has had an injury-plagued career at Loyola (MD) but was healthy and playing well down the stretch of the season, starting 11 games.

Photo and graphic courtesy of Lafayette Athletic Communications

WNBA’s Seattle Storm draft Lafayette’s Natalie Kucowski

In this year’s WNBA draft, Lafayette senior forward Natalie Kucowski became the first Leopard in program history to be drafted into the WNBA. The Seattle Storm selected Kucowski with the 35th pick.

She finished her career with 1,415 points, 1,197 rebounds and was named both the 2020-21 Patriot League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. In her final season at Lafayette, she averaged 17.8 points per game and 13.3 rebounds per game.

It’s the second consecutive season that the WNBA has made a draft selection from the Patriot League. Last year, Lauren Manis of Holy Cross was selected by the Las Vegas Aces in the third round as the 33rd overall pick. Manis has been playing with Kangoeroes Basket Mechelen in Belgium.

On April 19, Manis was again invited to camp for the Las Vegas Aces. Kucowski is currently in camp with the Seattle Storm.

More league moves. Who’s coming and going?

  • Bucknell forward Tessa Brugler (First Team All-Patriot) is headed to Drexel to play for a graduate year.

  • Boston University point guard Katie Nelson (First Team All-Patriot) is following her former Terrier coach Marisa Moseley to the University of Wisconsin for a graduate year.

  • Villanova’s Taliyah Medina is transferring to Lafayette. The 6’0 guard appeared in 19 games for the Wildcats, posting 2.3 points per game and 1.3 rebounds per game.

  • Lehigh sharpshooter Mary Clougherty is headed to D.C. to compete for Georgetown University as a graduate student.

  • Loyola (MD) assistant coach Candice Walker has landed the same role at St. John’s University.

  • Former Bucknell star and Patriot League Player of the Year (2020) Ellie Mack is returning for a second season at Oregon State. Mack started 20 games for the Beavers, scoring 6.8 points and grabbing 3.7 rebounds per game. She shot 40.5% from the floor.

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Written by Todd Goclowski

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