Five Fresh Faces Look to Fill Void
It is tough to rebuild a basketball team when it loses six players to graduation.
Especially if five players were responsible for 67 percent of the total minutes played, 74 percent of the team's scoring, and 80 percent of the team's assists from the previous season.
And imagine that three of these players were the three best from long range and that five shot above 75 percent from the free-throw line.
It sounds impossible to replace that production, right?
This is exactly what the 2010-11 men's basketball team will have to overcome.
However, help is on campus.
The Bulls will replace these six seniors with possibly the best recruiting class since the 2001 group that came within seconds of winning the Mid-American Conference Championship.
"I feel like this class is really good. We've been compared to Turner Battle's class," said guard/forward Auraum Nuiriankh. "The way that everybody in the class can play… I know we're freshmen and we're going to have some bumps along the road, but talent-wise it won't be a let down."
The incoming freshman class features a well-rounded group, adding depth at every position.
Nuiriankh will be joined by center Cameron Downing, forward Javon McCrea, and guards Corey Raley-Ross and Jarod Oldham.
The contribution these players can provide for the Bulls will determine the success that the squad can achieve this season.
Former point guard John Boyer led the entire country last season in assist-to-turnover ratio. Replacing the leadership that Boyer provided will go a long way in helping the Bulls rebuild, and Oldham is exactly the type of player who can take on this role.
When asked who would take on the leadership role for these freshmen, McCrea answered "Oldham" without hesitation. And Oldham is more than willing to take on this challenge.
"I kind of took on the lead role 'cause I'm a point guard," Oldham said. "Point guards have to take on that lead role."
The 6-foot-3 guard hails from Eisenhower High School in Decatur, Ill., where he served as team captain for two seasons. Oldham prides himself on his defense, hard work, and competitiveness.
Joining Oldham in the backcourt will be Raley-Ross. The 19-year-old guard comes to Buffalo from Charlotte, N.C. Raley-Ross was a three-year captain for Harding University High School and a three-time All-State selection.
His decision to come play for the Bulls was aided by the recruiting of fellow North Carolina native and current Bulls assistant coach Turner Battle.
"[The team] started recruiting me in my junior year at a local event back home called Carolina Challenge," Raley-Ross said. "I talked to Coach Battle and we had a lot in common. Coach is from North Carolina, too, so that helped a lot."
Raley-Ross was a scoring machine in North Carolina. He averaged 25 points per game in his senior season. He will be part of the solution in trying to replace the offensive production of former Bulls guard Rodney Pierce.
Nuiriankh will be contributing to the team in multiple areas. He is currently listed as both a guard and forward, and his versatility has been evident ever since he played as a child.
Prior to playing for the Bulls, Nuiriankh attended Arundal High School in Baltimore, Md. In his senior season, he averaged a double-double with 22.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
Unlike the rest of the freshmen, Nuiriankh did not come straight to Buffalo from high school. He first attended Charis Prep in Wilson, N.C. He helped lead his team to a 35-6 record last season.
The 20-year-old chose Buffalo because of the welcoming coaches as well as the opportunity to play right away.
"[The coaches] showed me love all the way through the recruiting process," Nuiriankh said. "They enticed me with the chance to play early because a lot of other schools have some senior wings I'd have to play behind."
Of course, no team can win without a solid big man, and that is exactly what Downing will be. The 6-foot-9 center towers over most of the Bulls squad despite being one of the youngest men on the team.
Downing grew up in Tulsa, Okla. where he began playing basketball at a very young age. He attended Tulsa Memorial High School, leading the team to three straight conference titles. In his senior season, his team reached the state finals but could not come out on top. Earlier this year, he was named Oklahoma's 5A Player of the Year.
He is ferocious under the boards and set his school's record for rebounds in a season with 896.
High expectations are nothing new for Downing, so he is excited about the opportunity to prove himself at this level.
"I've had high expectations all through high school so it's not a big deal," Downing said. "Having the pressure on me really helps me focus on my game. It's a challenge and I'll stand up to any challenge."
Alongside Downing, big man McCrae will provide the Bulls with a much-needed inside defensive post presence. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound forward will be a handful down low for the MAC competition for years to come.
In his senior season at Newark High School (N.Y.), McCrea averaged 22 points, a shade under 15 rebounds, and eight blocks per game. And if his stats weren't impressive enough, he led his team to a 23-2 record and a conference championship.
Even though he was the 2010 All-Greater Rochester Boys Basketball Player of the Year, he feels that he will need to work harder to earn respect at the next level.
"[It will take] a lot more work," McCrae said. "Practices are more intense. You've got to go hard every day."
Success may not come quickly for these five. Their leader, Oldham, didn't want to make any predictions, but he was confident that this group of players can fill the holes left by its predecessors.
"I think if we keep working as hard as we will… I think we will be successful," Oldham said. "[The former players] contributed a lot. Those are some big shoes to fill, and I think it's going to take some time to fill them, but I think we'll get the hang of it."