- Four years ago, William and Mary head coach Tony Shaver inked a group he envisioned would develop into the foundation of a winning Tribe men's basketball program. Fast-forward to 2007-08 and Shaver's visions are starting to become reality as the senior quartet of Laimis Kisielius, Nathan Mann, Kyle Carrabine and Chris Stratton have the College poised to make a run that hasn't been seen by the Green and Gold in some time.
The group was a focal point last season as the College put together its best year in nearly a decade, finishing with a 15-15 record, including eight wins in the difficult Colonial Athletic Association. A new system and a new attitude have the Tribe on a continuing path of building a winning tradition in Williamsburg.
Despite losing leading scorer and All-CAA player Adam Payton, who signed a professional contract in Switzerland, the Tribe returns four starters and 11 letterwinners from last season's milestone team. Kisielius and Mann have been entrusted as co-captains to lead the Tribe into a 2007-08 season filled with high expectations. W&M also returns starters, junior forward Peter Stein and sophomore guard David Schneider, from a season ago.
"This will be the deepest, most experienced and battle-tested team our staff has coached at William and Mary," Shaver said. "Our players made great strides in the CAA last year, and we plan to continue the climb toward the top of the conference. Our early season schedule is very challenging, but this team should be poised to handle it."
The Tribe backcourt is headlined by returning veterans Mann and Schneider, who combined to start 51 games in the Tribe's three-guard system last season. Carrabine and sophomore Danny Sumner join the group as the most experienced backcourt players on the Tribe roster.
Mann enters his senior season as one of the best 3-point shooters in W&M history. The gunner from Overland Park, Kan., ranks sixth on the W&M career 3-point field goals made list with 140 and sixth on the 3-point field goals made per contest standing at 1.63 per game. Mann also ranks among the Tribe's all-time leaders in assists (19th at 2.13 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (eighth at 1.32).
Mann struggled to find his stroke in the early part of last season, but broke out of the slump as the calendar turned to the CAA portion of the slate. Over the final nine games of the 2006-07 season, the 6-2, 190-pounder averaged 13.3 points per game, while connecting on 40.7 percent from 3-point range in the final 13 games of the season. Overall, Mann led the Tribe with 54 made 3-point field goals and ranked third on the team in scoring at 9.1 points per game.
In the Tribe's first win over UNCW at Trask Coliseum since the 1993-94 season, Mann equaled his career high with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 from 3-point range. He also knocked down what proved to be the game-winning field goal with just over two minutes remaining on a jumper over a UNCW defender. Mann enjoyed similar results in the College's win at home over James Madison, scoring 21 points, while knocking down 5-of-6 from 3-point land.
As a rookie in 2006-07, Schneider established himself as one of the grittiest players in the CAA. The Phoenix, Ariz., native earned CAA All-Rookie Team honors, while ranking fourth on the Tribe in scoring at 8.1 points per game and leading the team in assists per contest at 2.65. Despite playing a conference ledger loaded with experienced backcourt players, Schneider finished the season with the fewest turnovers of any primary point guard in the CAA. He ranked 11th in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Known for his all-out, all-the-time attitude, Schneider played with a reckless abandon rarely seen from a collegiate rookie. In his collegiate debut, he showed the future of Tribe basketball could be even brighter as he scored a team-high 18 points to go along with nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 38 minutes of action at Kansas State, earning CAA Rookie of the Week honors in the process. Schneider also tallied an 18-point effort in the College's CAA opener against Towson. For the season, Schneider ranked second on the team with 42 3-point field goals and minutes per game at 30.2.
After playing sparingly in his first two seasons with the Tribe, Carrabine made his impact as a junior in 2006-07, establishing himself as one of the top reserve marksmen in the CAA. The Naperville, Ill., native played in all 30 games for the College. In 13.2 minutes per game, he averaged 3.5 points and 1.7 rebounds, while shooting 32.8 percent from 3-point range. His points per game average ranked 10th among CAA reserves, while his 22 3-pointers were sixth among players off the bench in the league.
Carrabine did earn two starts last season, and showed improvement defensively and on the glass. The 6-7 wing showed consistency throughout his junior campaign and was regularly one of the first Tribe reserves into the contest. Carrabine scored a career-high 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range against Towson. He proved his valor in the classroom as well in 2006-07, earning Second-Team CAA All-Academic honors.
During his rookie campaign, Sumner struggled to learn the Tribe system in the early going, but came on toward the end of the season and finished with 21 appearances for the College. Over the final weeks of the season, Sumner came off the Tribe bench and provided solid minutes on the road at VCU, Fairfield and Drexel. The 6-7 wing scored seven points at VCU, while chipping in five points and a career-high three assists at Drexel.
Sumner showed he has the talent to succeed on the collegiate level in just his second game with the Tribe. In the College's 77-53 home-opening win over Wagner, the Fairfax, Va., native turned in a career-high 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the floor. He connected on a pair of 3-point field goals in 16 minutes of action. During the offseason, Summer worked hard in the weight room to fill out his body, adding 15 pounds of muscle.
Senior Marcus Barnett returns for his second season with the Tribe after joining the program as a walk-on prior to the 2006-07 season. Barnett is a local product from Hampton, Va., who is long defensively for the point guard position. He will provide valuable depth after garnering a year under his belt last season. Barnett appeared in five games for the College as a junior.
While W&M is loaded with experienced returning players in the backcourt, the group will be pushed by rising trio of freshmen. The College adds a Vali Lazarescu, John Sexton and Nils-Paul Skåra to the ranks in the backcourt. Lazarescu is a 6-4 wing player, who comes from a highly successful program in Canada at the College of Champlain St. Lambert in Montreal, Quebec. The school is known for producing Division I talent under head coach John Dangelas.
Lazarescu is a physical presence despite his freshmen status and was rated the No. 5 prospect in Canada by HoopstarsCanada.com. He is known as an athletic player, who can flat-out score. Lazarescu's athleticism has been on display as he won numerous slam dunk contests throughout Canada, including the Q-Ball All-Star Classic. He averaged over 20 points per game at Champlain St. Lambert and was named MVP at the Hagen Tournament.
Sexton is a sharp-shooter from Mississippi. As a senior at West Union High School, he averaged a triple-double at 32.7 points, 12 rebounds and 11.1 assists per game on his way to second-team all-state honors. Sexton was a prolific scorer during his high school career, finishing with 2,969 points. He started his high school career at Munford in Memphis, Tenn., before moving to Myrtle, Miss., and West Union. At Munford, Sexton was just as deadly a scorer, averaging 25 points per game as a sophomore on his way to District AAA Player of the Year honors and Memphis All-Metro honors.
Skåra rounds out the incoming Tribe group and sports international experience, having played with the Norwegian Senior National Team in 2006. A native of Kolsås, Norway, Skåra joins the Tribe as a walk-on, but has impressive credentials. He helped guide BÆrums Verk to back-to-back Norwegian Junior National Championships in 2005 and 2006, and was named league MVP in 2006.
The Tribe will have the unique opportunity of returning every frontcourt player from a season ago, giving the College six players with collegiate experience. Kisielius and Stein return after starting the majority of last season, while Stratton, juniors Alex Smith and Chris Darnell and sophomore Steven Hess all garnered significant minutes for the College a season ago.
Kisielius is the Tribe's most experienced returning player after starting each of his first three seasons of his career. He has started 73 games in his career, including 28 a season ago. For his career, Kisielius is averaging 9.1 points per game and last season averaged a career-high 11.3 per contest, which ranked second on the team. During the 2006-07 season, Kisielius showed a vast improvement in shooting the longball. He shot 40.4 percent from 3-point range as a junior, the seventh-best in school history.
The Vilnius, Lithuania native may hold the key to the Tribe offense as a versatile big man, who can wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his quickness and ability to drive coupled with his outside shooting. Kisielius has also shown the ability to find the open man during his career. Last season, the 6-8, 225-pounder ranked second on the team in assists and dished out a career-high five on a pair of occasions.
Kisielius made his presence felt in some of the Tribe's biggest games a season ago. In W&M's 60-47 upset win over NIT participant Drexel, he scored a game-high 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds as the Tribe defeated its highest ranked (RPI) opponent in five years. He also torched CAA Champion VCU for a season-high 22 points in Richmond on Jan. 29.
Two of the Tribe's most improved players over last season were Smith and Stein. During his sophomore campaign, Stein started 26 of 30 games and produced 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest. Despite the solid numbers, Stein's biggest impact on the Tribe came in the form of things that don't show up on a stat sheet. He was the College's best post defender and provided a valuable presence inside with his relentless effort. Nowhere were those two things more on display than in the Tribe' upset of Drexel. Stein only tallied four points, but added seven rebounds and two blocks, while giving one of the top frontcourts in the CAA fits on the defensive end.
Stein also added a wrinkle to the Tribe offense. The Houston, Texas native shot 34.6 percent from 3-point range and showed the ability to help spread the floor, while taking opposing big men further from the basket. In the Tribe's road win at James Madison on Feb. 7, Stein scored a career-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor.
No Tribe players gained more valuable experience in the offseason than Smith. After enjoying a breakout season for the College in which he was one of the top reserves in the CAA, Smith played for the Panamanian Senior Men's National Team over the summer. He competed at both the 2007 Pan-American Games as well as the Olympic-qualifying FIBA Americas Championship, which included NBA players such as Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.
During the 2006-07 season, Smith led CAA reserves in rebounding at 3.6 per game. He also ranked among the CAA reserve leaders in scoring, chipping in 5.5 points per game for the College. He played in every game for the Tribe and started four games during his sophomore season.
On multiple occasions, Smith showed he should be a force to be reckoned with in the CAA for years to come. He notched career highs with 16 points and nine rebounds at Delaware on Jan. 13. In Tribe's CAA opening win at George Mason, Smith took it to CAA All-Defensive Team member Will Thomas. The 6-5, 250-pound forward, scored 11 points and recorded a trio of 3-point players against the Patriots.
Stratton, Darnell and Hess provided valuable minutes off the bench for W&M in 2006-07 and further bloster a deep and experienced front line. Stratton averaged a point per game last season. He provided a spark of the bench in the Tribe's contests at James Madison and against UNC Wilmington. Against the Dukes, Stratton played a career-high 18 minutes and pulled down a season-best three rebounds. He added four points and a blocked shot in 11 minute of action against UNCW.
The Burke, Va., native is the quintessential teammate and leader in the Tribe locker room. The walk-on forward is an all-out, hard worker and a role model for his younger Tribe teammates. He has the ability to step into various roles whenever the situation calls for it.
Darnell, like many of his Tribe teammates, took advantage of the off-season adding muscle to his 6-9 frame. He has been a spark plug and high-energy guy off the W&M bench his first two seasons, appearing in 48 games. Darnell can shoot the ball from the perimeter and is explosive around the basket. In his first two seasons, the Stafford, Va., native has averaged 2.2 points per game, while pulling down nearly two rebounds per contest. Last season, he ignited the Tribe offense in an 81-65 win over Georgia State, equaling a career-high eight points and bringing the W&M faithful to its feet with a thunderous baseline dunk in the second half.
In his rookie season with the Tribe, Hess appeared in 23 games, averaging 1.1 points and 1.0 rebounds per game. He showed the ability to be a presence inside during the 2006-07 season and gives the College another quality big man option in the low post.
With the Tribe frontline in foul trouble, Hess came off the bench to provide 11 quality minutes on the road at James Madison. He finished 2-of-2 from the field for four points to go along with a rebound and blocked shot. The Charlotte, N.C., native provided a similar surge at Old Dominion. He played a season-high 15 minutes against an experienced Monarch front line and finished with two points, three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
The Tribe will also add a rookie to its already loaded stable of bigs with the addition of Marcus Kitts. The 6-9 forward was one of the top players in the state of North Carolina, receiving an invitation to the 10th annual Carolina's All-Star Classic. He led the North Carolina squad with 10 rebounds in the contest.
A three-time all-conference selection in high school, Kitts should pay immediate dividends to the Tribe frontcourt with his ability to rebound the basketball. He is quick off the floor and has exceptional hands for a player of his stature. He led his Middle Creek squad to the school's first Tri-Eight Conference Championship and a berth in the 4-A state playoffs as a senior in 2007.