Prior to the start of the 2022-23 season, Head Coach Joe Crispin’s expectation for the men’s basketball team was simple.
“We think we can win the NJAC [New Jersey Athletic Conference],” Coach Crispin said in November. “We want to win the NJAC every year and go deep into the NCAA tournament, that’s our goal.”
Fast forward to March, and not only did the Profs hit on every goal that Coach Crispin set for them — they exceeded them.
Rowan ran through the NJAC all year, finishing with a 16-2 conference record en route to their first regular season title in a single division format since the 1998-99 season. The NJAC success didn’t stop in the regular season either, as the team won their first conference championship since the 2018-19 season after beating Stockton University by 15 points in the title game.
While the team dominated the conference, it was the same for games outside of the conference. They had an overall record of 24-6, the most wins in program history since that 1998-99 season, as well as their first NCAA Division III Sweet 16 appearance since 1997-98.
Even with these accomplishments, Coach Crispin has mixed feelings about how the season played out.
“I’m thankful, I’m satisfied and I’m dissatisfied all at the same time,” Coach Crispin said. “Winning is a gift, there’s so many things you don’t control… so in that respect, I’m thankful. I’m satisfied in the sense that I thought we were close to hitting our ceiling, but then I’m dissatisfied in the sense that I thought we could have done a little bit better… I’d feel better at 26 wins than I would 24, but I’d still be complaining that I didn’t get 28 if I had 26… so it’s all those things combined.”
As Coach Crispin alluded to, the Profs were the only team within the NJAC to roll out the same starting five for every game, as Connor Dickerson, Marcellus Ross, D’Andre Vilmar, Andrew Seager and Ja’Zere Noel rounded out the lineup.
The team’s good fortune with health proved vital for their ever-growing chemistry, which is something that Coach Crispin will always remember about this year’s team.
“I think we were pretty dynamic as a group… but also a fun group,” Coach Crispin said. “They enjoyed playing together, they enjoyed practicing together. We had our flaws and weaknesses, but on the whole, we enjoyed playing ball together. I think that’s a key component of our program, and they reflected that.”
As their chemistry grew, so did the offensive production. Dickerson led the team in assists, while Noel, Ross, Seager and Josh Wright all averaged double figures in scoring, leading to the team’s 91.4 points per game — the fourth-highest total in all of Division III.
“We were different in a good way, in terms of we were very one-on-one oriented,” Coach Crispin said. “We hit tough shots, we could beat people from two-point range. There’s a lot of dynamic things that people probably didn’t understand how disruptive we were because of the way we scored and the way we attacked. I heard that often from our opponents and their coaches.”
One standout for the Profs was the aforementioned junior forward, Ja’Zere Noel. In his first season with Rowan, Noel led the team in rebounds and led the NJAC in points per game with just a tick under 20, on his way to being named the NJAC Co-Player of the Year. Noel was awarded a plethora of other accolades as well, including being named the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division III District 4 Player of the Year and an NABC All-American First Team selection.
Despite all of these accomplishments, Coach Crispin believes Noel’s best days are yet to come.
“Ja’Zere’s a pleasure to coach, he loves basketball. He’s a good competitor, but he’s also a happy person,” Coach Crispin said. “He loves playing the game and he’s very unselfish. He wants to win, and I think for me it was great because he had a great year, but this was his first season in three years, essentially, with
the COVID year and last year he didn’t play. So, even though he was in shape and all this other stuff, I think his best days are way ahead of him next season.”
Noel will join Ross as the only two starters from this year’s team to return as Dickerson, Seager and Vilmar are all set to graduate. The bench will be shaken up too as Stretch Hawkins is also set to graduate and Damien Smith’s future with the team is uncertain.
Despite the question marks, Coach Crispin believes next year’s squad can pick up right where this one left off.
“We’re gonna have options. I’m very confident we’ll be good, I’m confident that we can be great,” Coach Crispin said. “Ja’Zere [Noel] is the best player in our league, so we should be the best team in our league… It’s going to be a challenge to mix a new group together, but that’s what college basketball is now, and that’s what you got to do.”
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