By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — It was the ideal scenario unfolding on Monteagle Ridge just over two weeks ago. A new head coach was coming in to take over the men’s basketball team, taking the reins of a team, featuring a young roster that anticipated staying together, ready-made to defend its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship.
Unfortunately, it was just too good to be true. On Monday, a Niagara athletics department spokesman confirmed that star players Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley were given their releases to transfer.
Head coach Chris Casey, who was traveling as the news unfolded, said the following day that he was not expecting the players’ departures. At the same time, he isn’t entirely surprised.
“Nothing really catches you by surprise,” said Casey in a telephone interview with the Gazette on Tuesday. “I think any time that change happens, there’s the possibility of something like this happening, someone transferring.”
Still, back on April 22 no one really saw this coming. The players, dressed in their warm-up suits, were among those present to welcome Casey inside the Gallagher Center. Green, when asked if he was considering a transfer, stated that he hadn’t thought about options. Meanwhile, he had hinted that the team seemed ready to stay together and build on their successes from the 2012-13 season.
“We had a pretty good season last year so I think everybody would stay together and we can build on that and maybe win the MAAC championship,” Green said that day.
There’s no indication if and when Green and Tanksley will land at a new school. Back at Niagara, Casey says the door is still open to both players but he’s preparing to move ahead without them.
“That’s been done already. We’ve had that conversation,” said Casey when asked if he would try convincing both players to reconsider. “They’re certainly welcome back, if anything changes. At this point it’s a little more in their hands than in my hands.”
One player Niagara still counts on for next season is last season’s leading scorer, Antoine Mason.
“He’s told me he is all in,” Casey said.
In the meantime, the new head coach has been busy working for his new employer, seeking recruits. In fact, that’s what he was doing on the same day the news broke about the loss of his two stars.
As the spring continues, Casey will watch more game videos and continue evaluating his roster as he prepares to begin working with his new roster. He’ll be able to work directly with them in just a few short weeks.
“The good thing is we’ll have summer school and, with the new rule that was passed a short time ago, we can get in the gym and do some individual workouts which will be great,” Casey said.Freelance writer Jonah Bronstein contributed to this article