Team preview: Drexel Dragons

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2012-13 season, exclusively on Insider

Originally Published: October 19, 2012
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM

At one point early last year, Drexel was 1-2. The Dragons had lost to Norfolk State in the Caribbean and made just nine of 50 3-point attempts. Considering the Dragons were 305th in 3-point shooting the previous season, there was an uneasy belief this would be an agonizing repeat performance. It was like the show Survivor -- only the cast had changed.

But three games later Bruiser Flint got rapid-fire shooter Chris Fouch back from injury and Drexel ripped off 19 straight wins, and 25 of 26, before losing to VCU in the CAA tournament finals. Though the Dragons were passed over by the NCAA tournament selection committee, the tribe had spoken: different Drexel.

Oh, they played the dominating Drexel defense, which we've all become accustomed -- 56.1 points per game given up and .290 3-point field-goal defense led the conference. The Dragons still attacked the glass with abandon, finishing second in its annual battle with Old Dominion for top rebounding dog.

But along the way Drexel became a wonderful offensive team. The Dragons were first in the CAA in assist-to-turnover ratio, 3-field goal percentage (.378), and free-throw percentage (.741). They were shooting teams out of ballgames and scoring in the 70s with regularity.

Asked about moving forward this year -- a year in which Drexel loses one key component and is as stable as any team in the conference -- Flint said simply:

"This year is no different. We had the bull's eye last year too. We're gonna do what we do."

Entering his junior season, Frantz Massenat (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.1 rpg) will be the preseason player of the year -- and many thought he was the best player in the league last year. All the 6-4 Massenat managed to accomplish: he led the conference in assists, 3-point field goal percentage (54 of 120, .450), and as-sist-to-turnover ratio (2.2-1). Massenat guided Drexel to its best ever CAA record.

The lefty is also a rangy defender and a true leader. Massenat started his entire freshman season as well, so Flint knows the team is in good hands. What's left?

"He knows the pressure is on you when you're the preseason player of the year," Flint said. "The expectation is a lot different, but the kid really handles things well. He's always been a very good leader, even as a fresh-man. He's done a remarkable job becoming a better shooter."

Damion Lee (12.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) won CAA freshman-of-the-year honors and garnered votes for all conference as well. The 6-6 sophomore was that good. He made 35 starts, hit 63 threes, and had more assists than turnovers (62/60). What's more, Lee was atypical of a freshman in that he was very aggressive. He got to the line 110 times (making 85, .773) and was second on the team with 30 steals.

Lee is capable of shooting the Dragons out of slumps, a true bucket maker. He dropped 25 of Drexel's 61 points at defensive-minded Northeastern and carried the Dragons to a late-season win at ODU with 24 points. Importantly, Lee carries his own defensive mind, which makes Flint smile.

"He's got to understand he's more of the scouting report," Flint said. "People are going to expect more of him and come after him a little. But Damion's an unbelievable worker. He doesn't take days off and you know those kids are going to be [okay]."

Though he's battled injuries throughout his career, 6-1 senior Chris Fouch (10.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg) was able to work out over the summer for the first time. Fouch is firepower personified, a high-volume 3-point marksman. Flint has asked Fouch to be more efficient and it's paying off: Fouch's scoring went down by about four points per game from his sophomore season but he hit two more 3s last year. He's settling into a gunner's role and is comfy coming off the bench.

His importance to Drexel is easily underscored. Fouch missed the first six games of last year and the Dragons staggered to a 2-4 start. With Fouch healthy, he dropped 23 points on Princeton and 24 points at Niagara -- those two games jump-started Drexel's 19-game winning streak.

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Derrick Thomas (8.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg) is a senior and rounds out what is, by far, the conference's best backcourt. The 6-3 Thomas missed the last five games of the year because of a suspension but is so dependable on the court -- he has had more assists than turnovers in all three Drexel seasons, including 64/46 last year -- and is the team's best defender.

Flint knows some aggressiveness on offense will be beneficial for the Dragons, but the key for Thomas is knowing his strengths. Though his scoring went up, Thomas' statistics were overall worse. Scoring is not necessarily what makes him valuable to the team.

"He can lock people down but I told him 'you started trying to score points and got away from what you do best … defense' and he agreed," Flint said. "He is four-year starter, and it's not because of injury. He's steady, plays hard, and is an aggressive kid and very consistent."

The frontcourt is a question mark, but Flint believes it isn't because he needs to replace all-everything Samme Givens, a 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound stalwart. Flint believes 6-8, 240-pound Dartaye Ruffin, (5.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), can fill the role, but Flint wants the freshman Ruffin, not last year's version. The junior had a subpar sophomore season, tailing off in every category except games in which he fouled out (six).

Still, Ruffin's raw numbers were not terrible -- he made half his shots (80 of 159) and plucked 57 offensive rebounds. Those are the reasons Flint is hopeful, going along with the cure of sophmoritis.

"I was disappointed in him last year. He didn't come in in great shape, and he didn't have the right attitude," Flint said. "He needed to go back to being the kid he was his freshman year. He's in great shape, and you can see how hard he's worked."

The senior who will see extended frontcourt time is 6-9, 260-pound Daryl McCoy (4.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg), already a defensive presence and a true brick wall. Flint doesn't need him to be a scorer -- not with all the backcourt weapons -- but a free-throw line jumper to complement offensive rebound stick backs would be a nice addition.

The beauty is that McCoy doesn't have to be anything but himself, and lend four years of experience to the team. It's a role McCoy embraces.

"After four years Daryl's going to be Daryl," Flint said, laughing. "We know what he's going to give us -- some defense and toughness. He will probably score a little more, but we want him to give the ball more to the new guys."

The new guys (other than Lee) span three classes: 6-6 redshirt freshman Tavon Allen, 6-6 sophomore Kazembe Abif (1.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg), and 6-10 junior Goran Pantovic (1.1 ppg, 3.0 rebounds).

Allen was injured in the preseason, and though he could've returned -- and would've played -- Flint chose to hold him out.

"I need somebody to play point guard behind Frantz, and Tay can score the ball," Flint said. "Tay can really shoot it. By the time he came back we had our rotation down, so we sat him for the year."

Abif was coming along last season, a freshman year of discovery, before an ailment ended his season just 19 games in. And Pantovic "started playing a little late in the year" Flint said.

The final two players will fight for time. Point guard Aquil Younger (0.6 ppg 23 assists) played spot duty in backup of Massenat and was overwhelmed as a freshman. Still the 6-0 sophomore carries Philadelphia tough. Casey Carroll is an athletic 6-8, 210 pounds and is a redshirt freshman.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A
BENCH/DEPTH: B
FRONTCOURT: A
INTANGIBLES: A-

Flint is stubborn. He will play the same way whether Drexel is picked to finish first or last: defense, rebounding, and go shoot the ball. The difference is that up until last season you could count on a 56-53 rock fight in Drexel games. Not anymore. Massenat, Lee, and Fouch are pure scorers and give Drexel the ability to beat you in a number of offensive ways.

It matters. This year the only people not picking Drexel to win the conference are fools. The reward: the NCAA tournament, something that eluded the Dragons despite last year's wonderful regular season.

"Yeah we have some unfinished business a little bit," Flint said. "We've got to win our conference. We don't talk about it, but we understand what we need to do. We won 29 games and didn't go to the tourney last year. It's an unspoken word."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.