Young and Talented Roster Leads NEC Men’s Basketball to Breakout Season
New England College Captures 2018 Regular Season Title.
For New England College men’s basketball coach Charlie Mason, season number 16 is as sweet as they come. The head coach’s 16th season on the NEC sideline has come with unprecedented success for the Pilgrims, and it all culminated last Saturday with a 114-83 win over Lyndon State. The victory over Lyndon inked the team as North Atlantic Conference (NAC) regular season champions for the first time in program history. The win was the 19th of the season, tying a 27-year old program record for most wins in a season. The 114 points the team put on the board were the most by the team in a single game in over three years.
Coach Mason’s roster features no seniors, two juniors, five sophomores, and eight freshmen. The Pilgrims will host a semifinal game at 5:00 p.m. on Friday night, the first semifinal appearance for the program since the school joined the NAC seven years ago. “The poise and character these young guys bring each day is remarkable.” said Coach Mason. “We’re headed into uncharted waters, but today at practice they’ll act like they’ve been doing this for 10 years.”
Coach Mason credits his team’s depth as being the top factor in transforming last season’s sub-.500 team into this year’s 19-6 powerhouse. “On nights when some things aren’t going right, we have a deep toolbox to reach into. Our starters are great players – but any of the reserves could score 15 points off the bench on any given night.” said Mason. The Pilgrims have the second- and fourth-highest scorers in the NAC on their roster in junior Ricky Leonard (17.3 ppg) and sophomore Izaiah Winston-Brooks (16.8 ppg). Both players have earned NAC Player of the Week honors throughout the season.
Even more impressively, freshman Calvin Cheek leads all three NCAA Divisions in steals (132) and steals per game (5.28), and offensively adds 10.1 points and a NAC-leading 4.5 assists per game. He also became the first Pilgrim to record a triple-double in over three years with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against Lyndon State last weekend. “Cheek is a game-changer.” said Mason of the six-time NAC Rookie of the Week honoree. “He makes his teammates better and is a threat on both ends of the court.”
In addition to the accolades earned by Leonard, Winston-Brooks, and Cheek, Coach Mason named freshman Kareem Octavien as the most underrated player in the conference. “He does things off the ball that go unnoticed. His defensive ability, his assist-to-turnover ratio, and his ability to create pace has allowed us to play faster basketball.” said Mason. “And even more remarkable – he and Jason Jones both bring an energy that adds so much to the team dynamic.”
Jones, a junior, is a defensive threat – second in the conference in rebounds per game (8.6) – but what he brings to the court is often overshadowed by what he brings off the court. Mason believes Jones is a natural leader and said some the other players have described him as “The best teammate they’ve ever had.”
Also impacting the sideline, Mason credits assistant coach Malcolm Wynn and graduate assistant Jaiwon Martin for aiding in the team’s turnaround. Mason believes Wynn has had a very clear impact both on and off the court and named Martin as someone the players can look up to. “I knew we were going to be better than we were last year, but the team is four-fifths underclassmen. I never could have predicted we’d have so much success, but getting here says a lot about the team’s commitment and buy-in.”
- The Pilgrims are also invested in the classroom and have compiled the highest team grade-point average in 21 years.
- The winner of the Friday’s semifinal will play in the NAC championship game on Saturday, also in NEC’s Bridges Gym.
- The NAC Champion will receive the conference’s automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.