By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — For the first time in 15 years, there's a face other than Joe Mihalich's at the top of Niagara University men's basketball.
Twelve days after Mihalich — the winningest coach in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference history — left to take the helm at Long Island's Hofstra University, NU athletic directory Tom Crowley introduced former LIU Post coach Chris Casey as the 21st head coach in Purple Eagle history.
"Most times coaches get new jobs because they have to clean something up," said Casey, who led LIU Post to two Division II NCAA Tournament appearances in three years. "That is absolutely not the situation here. I'm getting the opportunity to come in to something that can be special. ... (Mihalich) created an atmosphere up here, and to be able to come into that my first year on the job, that's a blessing.
"(Mihalich) established something special here," he added, "and at the very least, we are going to maintain that and we're going to give every effort to take that to another level."
Casey brings with him 27 years of coaching experience at the Division I, II and III levels. He served as an assistant at D-I programs Central Connecticut State, Saint Peter's and St. John's, where he coached Anthony Mason Jr., older brother of NU leading scorer and first-team All-MAAC sophomore Antoine Mason.
"This isn't the first time I've met Antoine," Casey said. "Any time you have some level of familiarity, that helps."
Casey inherits the youngest roster in the MAAC, one that finished 19-14 and won the conference last season. Only one player — center Devon White — will graduate, and the team will return two first-team All-MAAC sophomores (Mason and point guard Juan'ya Green) as well as All-MAAC freshman T.J. Cline.
Casey met his new team for the first time this week and came away impressed.
"They're an outstanding bunch of guys," he said. "When I stepped in that room to meet them, you could just feel how much they care and how much they love Niagara basketball ... and that's exciting because when you have guys that care and it's important to them, that's your foundation."
With the vast majority of the roster returning, most of the turnover will come from the new coach. Mason said Casey's style is comparable to Mihalich's.
"Of course there's going to be a little change," Mason said. "But I think it's going to be mostly the same. He lets his players make plays, play free, push the ball, and that's a lot of what we did last year.
"Everybody has to make adjustments, not just the players or the coach. Everybody has to contribute for the greater good."
Casey touched on some housekeeping issues at the introduction. He said he's been in touch with Jamall Robinson, who committed to NU under Mihalich. He has meetings set up with the families of Robinson and Scooter Gillette, who played only seven games as a senior and is looking for a medical redshirt. He also said he'd like to play a challenging non-league schedule.Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.