NORTH ANDOVER — For the first time in his 33 seasons, Merrimack mens hoop coach Bert Hammel actually paid attention to a preseason conference poll.
The Northeast-10 Conference coaches chose the Warriors 16th and last as the 2012-13 season commences this weekend.
“Talk to me in February,” chuckled Hammel, whose club which graduated five impact seniors a year ago opens the campaign tomorrow and Saturday night at the Bentley Tipoff Classic.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been last in the poll, but it’s good stuff. There’s just a long way to go from November to March.”
Roland Davis, Wayne Mack and Aaron Strothers, all 1,000-point scorers, have moved on, leaving Mike Clifford — 13.3 points, 8.9 rebounds a game last year — and a band of unknowns to pick up the slack. The roster of 13 features six freshman and nine underclassmen in total.
“We’re young,” admitted Hammel. “We’ll start two freshmen and come off the bench with two more freshman, but I love it. They’re puppies, and we’re just going to have to learn as we go along.”
The two newcomers jumping to the head of the class are New York City’s Gelvis Solana and Washington, DC’s J.T. Strickland, who will start in the backcourt together.
“Those two freshmen have a great sense of the game. It’s what I really like that about them. They have such a good feel,” said Hammel. “They are guys who we told in recruiting them that they had a chance to play up to 30 minutes a game right away, and that’s what they are here to do. They’re ready to go play. We’ve had a couple scrimmages, and so far I love the way they’ve reacted.”
Another rising star in the class of 2016 is Brooks School grad Anthony Barry, who played his high school ball for ex-Warrior John McVeigh.
“He’s one of our first guys off the bench, and he’ll play that three-four spot,” said Hammel. “I really like his game in the paint.”
Clifford, at 22 years old and a solid 6-foot-7, remains the focal point of the Warriors attack. A Bishop Fenwick product, and the NE-10’s leading rebounder a year ago, Clifford has to invoke his will.
“He’s got to be the mayor in the paint,” said Hammel. He knows it, and the freshmen respect him for that. They understand we have to go through him.”
Hammel will also count heavily on is forward Tyler Young, who started 10 games a year ago, averaging 5.9 points a night.
“He’s the X factor. He has to give us a lot,” said Hammel.
Two more names that area hoop fans might recognize — probably with a little disdain — are sophomores Ryan Woumn and Travonne Berry-Rodgers.
The two were huge factors on the Lynn English team that stunned No. 1 Central Catholic in the Division 1 North title game at Tsongas Arena.
Berry-Rodgers is a work in progress that Hammel expects to challenge for time.
The transfer Woumn has the makings of something special, but remains on hold because of the transfer process from East Tennessee State.
Merrimack has petitioned the NCAA for a waiver to make Woumn available this year, but it won’t happen this weekend.
Merrimack mens basketball 2012-13
Returning Starters: Mike Clifford, 6-7, Sr., F
Returning Lettermen: Travonne Berry-Rodgers, 6-1, Soph., G; Alex Morsey, 5-8, Soph., G; Tyler Young, 6-5, Sr., F; Adam Marshall, 6-8, Sr., F; Kevin Regan, 6-4, Jr., G/F
Newcomers: Ryan Woumn, 6-3, Soph., G; Gelvis Solano, 6-0, Frosh., G; J.T. Strickland, 6-0, Frosh., G; Troy Hammel, 5-11, Frosh., G; Chris Mendes, 6-0, Frosh., G; Anthony Barry, 6-4, Frosh., F; Marcus Swedberg, 6-7, Frosh., F