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Coach Strickland leads transitional period for Men’s Basketball

By Joe Frescott, Assistant Sports Editor

Following a promising 2021-22 campaign that saw the Sharks place among the top three in the Northeast Conference (NEC), the LIU Men’s Basketball team underwent major changes prior to the 2022-23 season. 

It started with the coaching staff, as after the departure of Head Coach Derek Kellogg, the Sharks found their replacement in NBA veteran and local basketball legend Rod Strickland. 

Strickland, who was named the 15th Men’s Basketball Coach in LIU’s Division 1 history on June 30, 2022, played 17 seasons in the NBA, including two years with the Knicks. His 7987 career assists rank 13th all-time in the NBA. Following his retirement from the NBA in 2005, Strickland worked in various administrative roles in collegiate basketball. Before joining LIU, Strickland served as the program director of recruitment for team Ignite of the NBA G-League for the past four years.

Courtesy of Donny Chiarel

Strickland spoke with Sports Co-Editor of the Seawanhaka Joseph Simile about what led him to take the Head Coach position. 

“It’s a great opportunity, I’ve never been a Head Coach before, and it’s always been in the back of my mind. Obviously, being in Brooklyn, with me being from New York is a big piece in the puzzle,” Strickland said. “Having the opportunity to coach in my hometown, being around family and friends, I have a lot of relationships here in New York, so it’s comfortable. It just felt right.”

When transitioning to LIU, Coach Strickland brought along three assistant coaches with a plethora of experience: Chris Thomas, Shasha Brown and Maurice Hicks. 

With only one returning starter, this year’s roster has relied on its strong freshman class and transfer student-athletes. 

With sophomores Marko Maletic and Andre Washington leading the team in scoring, redshirt sophomore Jacob Johnson has proven to be the most complete student-athlete on this young Sharks roster. In an interview with WCWP, the 6’5” guard recalls his recruiting experience. 

“I was originally recruited by Coach Kellog. When Coach Strickland came in, I was leaving my other school a little late, and he gave me a call. He gave me a chance to show what kind of player I can be,” Johnson said. “Luckily, we got a great coach in Coach Strickland who called me, talked to the assistant coaches, and they instilled in me that they believe in my game.”

The University of Missouri-Kansas City transfer has lived up to the expectations thus far, averaging 11.0 points per game, third most on the team, along with a team-leading 5.8 rebounds per game. 

Johnson isn’t the only underclassman that has stepped up this season, as freshman Guard R.J. Greene has also solidified himself as a vital part of Coach Strickland’s rotation. Averaging 8.1 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.1 steals per game, the Bronx native has shined in his first season at LIU.

Courtesy of Donny Chiarel

With the duo finding success, Johnson credits the coaching staff for their ability to thrive so far this season. 

“It is super special. It goes to the way that both of us, me and RJ [Greene], are being used on the floor. It has been really good. We get to show different aspects of our game and show why we are meant to be here,” he said. 

The Sharks started their season with eight of their twelve non-conference matchups on the road. Facing ranked opponents such as the former No.1 team in the country, the UConn Huskies, to playing in front of over 12,000 people at the Fiserv Forum Arena, this young program had its work cut out for them in the early part of their season, as they started the year 2-10 in non-conference action. 

Despite the team’s early struggles, Greene cherished the experience that these tough road opponents provided. 

“It was crazy. I dreamed of playing at UCONN, Marquette, and St. John’s, which was packed. You can barely hear what your coaches are saying,” Greene said. “It was a great atmosphere.”

The pinnacle of the Sharks’ experience this season came just over a month ago, on Dec. 29, 2022, when they made their long-awaited return to the Barclays Center to face the team that knocked them out of the NEC tournament last season, the Wagner Seahawks. A tradition that spans 10 years, LIU returned to host a conference rival at the home of the Brooklyn Nets after a two-year layoff due to the pandemic. 

Although they would fall short in their semi-finals rematch, Johnson felt it was an unforgettable experience. 

“It has been really cool to be able to go there. It is a crazy experience to walk in there and be able to look around and see all the jerseys and know all the great players who have played there and be able to show what we can do,” he said. “So it has been really special.”

With conference play well underway, LIU has found limited success in Coach Strickland’s first season. The Sharks currently sit last in the NEC with a 1-9 conference record. Despite the underwhelming start to the season, Johnson is confident in the team’s development.

“The work we have been putting in in practice, finishing, working on our shoots and stuff like that, every day we come in here and get better,” Johnson said. “We have, of course, one of the greatest players of all time, one of the greatest finishers of all time, as a coach, so we have been able to learn from him, see different angles and learn a lot.”

Courtesy of Donny Chiarel

Greene shares Johnson’s faith in the team’s improvements and growth. 

“I think we have improved on our ball handling, being able to dribble the ball, handle the pressure, and be leaders,” he said. “But I want to improve upon being more vocal as a leader and leading my team.” 

With only six more games left in the season, the goal remains the same. 

“Honestly, we just want to win games. We had a really tough non-conference schedule. Being able to be sharpened by the best teams in the nation and then come to our conference and play against these guys is definitely an honor,” Johnson said. “We are just going to come out and do whatever it takes to win.”

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