New Coach Brings Hope to Fordham Basketball

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New Coach Brings Hope to Fordham Basketball

(LAUREN MACDONALD /THE OBSERVER)

(LAUREN MACDONALD /THE OBSERVER)

(LAUREN MACDONALD /THE OBSERVER)

(LAUREN MACDONALD /THE OBSERVER)

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By MOHDSHOBAIR HUSSAINI
Staff Writer

For new members of the Fordham family, Jeff Neubauer appears to be the savior of Fordham men’s basketball. However, for those who have been around for a while, this program has long since fallen from its glory days. One can simply rewind to the previous five seasons, which were led by head coach Tom Pecora, to see Fordham’s failures. Pecora’s disappointing tenure, marked by a 44–106 record, booted him out of the head coach position this past March. Two weeks after Pecora’s firing, Fordham introduced Jeff Neubauer as his replacement. Neubauer brought with him a new style and a new focus, with the goal of making Fordham successful again.

Now, eight months later, Neubauer has set his sights on launching a new era of greatness in Fordham basketball. After all, he isn’t a stranger to success. Prior to settling in the Bronx, Neubauer was the head coach of the men’s team at Eastern Kentucky University. In his 10-season run with the Colonels, he earned two NCAA bids, as well as five 20-win seasons.

Many have doubted Neubauer’s opportunity for success in the Big Apple. At Eastern Kentucky, he was a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, and the difference in the level of competitiveness between there and Fordham is quite vast. This is where his critics are wrong. When asked why he chose Fordham in an interview with Bleacher Report, he said, “The number one reason I took this job is that Fordham competes in the A-10.” As a member of the Atlantic 10, Neubauer and his squad will have to battle teams like Davidson, George Washington, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth University, and George Mason, to name a few. Neubauer added, “Is this the right conference [for me]? Absolutely, the Atlantic 10 is the right conference.”

Many of Neubauer’s predecessors had also been successful before they took the keys to the Rose Hill Gymnasium. Unfortunately, they couldn’t convert their prior experiences into victories. Fordham fans can be assured that the story this time may very well be different. “I’m taking over a program that has really struggled, and it needs a new vibrancy. It needs new life,” Neubauer said at his inaugural press conference. “I haven’t walked in here with a five-year plan. I shared with our team that we are walking in here with a one-year plan.”

His dedication and commitment to turn around a program that was 10-21 just a season ago is evident in one line: “Our goal is to be the most improved team in the country.” Indeed, this starts on the defensive end. He built a reputation at Eastern Kentucky University as a defense-minded coach. The Colonels ranked first in the nation in the turnover margin last season, and Neubauer’s hope is to implement this same system at Fordham.

It’s no question that every team’s success relies on the efforts of its players. The Rams enter this season being led by seniors Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes, as well as graduate student Ryan Canty. Thomas averaged 13.3 points per game last season, and enters this season having scored 1,064 career points. He sits 29th on Fordham’s all-time scoring list. Rhoomes averaged 8.6 rebounds per game last season, bringing his career total to 635, which puts him at 15th on Fordham’s all-time rebounding list. Canty hopes to rebound to the high-level of performance he exhibited in the 2013-14 season after missing the entire 2014-15 season due to an injury. Neubauer can also look forward to working with younger players like sophomore forward Christian Sengfelder, who averaged 7.1 rebounds per game in his rookie season, placing him eighth among all NCAA Division I freshmen.

There’s plenty for Neubauer to look forward to. Not only does he have a group of players ready to step on the hardwood and win, but he also has the luxury of the Rose Hill Gym. He described it best when he said, “I love the Rose Hill Gym. It’s got so much personality, so much character. There’s no need to compare it to any other facility. We can win with this facility.”

Surely, Fordham can take advantage of its home court with the 18-of-29 games that it will be hosting this regular season. Coach Neubauer has been successful in leading his team to four wins in five games thus far, including wins by double digits against Queens College, Fairleigh Dickinson, Colgate and Manhattan College. This is the best time for fans to support a rejuvenated Fordham men’s basketball program. With a season highlighted by matchups against St. John’s, Boston College, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason and Davidson, there’s a new excitement on campus. Is this a new beginning for Fordham men’s basketball? In Neubauer’s words, “I really love challenges and am very aware of how competitive the Atlantic 10 Conference is. And I’m looking forward to helping Fordham move forward.”