In 2022-23, the Rowan men’s basketball team exceeded expectations, winning their first regular season New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship since the 1998-99 season with a dominant 16-2 record against conference opponents, and secured their first conference championship since 2018-19 after taking down Stockton University in the title game.
The success wasn’t exclusive to NJAC opponents either, as the Profs finished the season with an overall record of 24-6, the most wins for the team since the 1998-99 season. The team also made a deep run in the NCAA Division III tournament, getting all the way to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
Fast forward to today, and there’s been plenty of changes for the Profs as they enter the new year. Joe Crispin, the team’s previous head coach, is no longer with the team, which has opened the door for Eric Brennan to step into his first head coaching role at the NCAA Division III level.
Brenna is very familiar with the program, as he’s been an assistant coach for the previous five seasons.
“I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity and it’s been a good transition overall,” Brennan said. “I got senior leaders on this team that have made it easy on me, I feel like this is a players-led team. As head coach it’s my job to get the most out of this squad, that leads us to getting wins”
Despite how successful the team was last season, Brennan says it wasn’t sufficient for himself or the players.
“It was good experience for that group of guys, we’ve never made it to the Sweet 16, but at the same time I don’t think anyone was satisfied with the outcome,” Brennan said. “It’s important to continue to build off of that experience and incorporate that into this year. I believe experience is the key to success for any team and we have a lot of experience that we’re looking to use to our advantage for this upcoming season.”
The conference has recognized the experience that the Profs have over the other teams, as Rowan is ranked No. 1 in the NJAC preseason rankings. However, Brennan has made it a priority to make sure that the team doesn’t let the rank get into their heads.
“I don’t read into it that much. Any type of ranking is all about potential, right? So it’s what people think you’re going to be, and that’s never gotten anybody anywhere,” Brennan said. “My message to the guys is that with these high expectations comes lots of responsibilities. It’s on us to come into practice every day to get better, put some wins together, and become a good team. We’ll see where that takes us.”
His first challenge is to figure out a new rotation for this Profs team, as the only two returning starters are senior guard Marcellus Ross and senior forward Ja’Zere Noel. The team also lost a key bench piece in Stretch Hawkins, which poses the question of what the rotation will look like come opening night.
“I have a lot of confidence in the guys that are returning that didn’t play much last year. Everyone has been working their tail off, as well as the new guys we brought in…what matters the most is who gels together the best, and for me to figure out the best rotations to put together that’ll lead to the most success,” Brennan said.
Noel will be looking to pick up where he left off last season, as he was selected to the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) after averaging 19.9 points and eight rebounds a game. To start the year, Noel has already been selected to the D3hoops.com All-American Fourth Team, however, he expects bigger and better things.
“Last season was definitely a learning experience, I definitely think it has been useful reflecting… all it’s done is motivate me to be better, to have a better year than I did last year,” Noel said.
The first game of the season will come on Friday, Nov. 10, when they travel to Rochester, New York, to take on Maryville (TN). For Noel, he and the rest of the team expect this game to be the first step to a feat the Profs haven’t achieved since 1996.
“We want to improve on what we did last year. Our expectation is to bring home a national championship when the season is done,” Noel said. “I’d love to bring a national title back to the school and for the community to see because they all deserve it.”