AURORA, N.Y. – The Wells College men's basketball program recently began their fifth season as an NCAA Division III program with lofty expectations. The Express have not posted a single losing season since their inception prior to the 2008-09 athletics season, posting a combined record of 66-45 and qualifying for the North Eastern Athletic Conference playoffs each year.
This season, Head Coach Joe Wojtylko welcomes back six players from the 2011-12 squad that posted an 11-4 record against NEAC competition. Despite losing in the opening round to the Nittany Lions of Penn St.-Harrisburg, the expectations for Wojtylko's squad remain the same – advance to the conference postseason and beyond.
"We are excited about the potential of this year's team," said Wojtylko. "We have a solid core of players returning that have played significant minutes early on in their careers, and we expect to have six players new to the program in our normal rotation, including four possible starters. With all the new additions, we know that there will be a roller coaster ride of peaks and valleys as we attempt to find roles for everyone."
Currently sporting an overall record of 2-2 prior to the start of NEAC play on Thursday, Dec. 6 against Cazenovia College, Wojtylko has scheduled highly competitive non-conference opponents early on in the season, including Penn St.-Behrend, whose defense topped all Division III programs last season.
"Our out of conference schedule is littered with some great programs, so our team will be exposed early on in the season to a very high level of basketball and we expect these games to really help us when we get into the NEAC schedule," explained Wojtylko. "As a team, we are going to have to learn what it takes night in and night out to be a competitive team on this level and focus on getting better every day."
This season, Wojtylko has tabbed three experienced captains, including junior E.J. Taylor (Tampa Bay, Fla.) in addition to transfer students Jonathan Hurtado (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Al Paul (Elmont, N.Y.). Their leadership will play a large role in determining where they will stand at season's end.
Taylor is one of five returning players familiar with the Wells College men's basketball tradition. A guard, Taylor made 20 appearances for the Express last season, drawing 17 starts in total. Averaging 8.6 points per game, Taylor was a workhorse for the Express, earning an average of 25 minutes of playing time per game. When amongst the five players on the floor, Taylor also posted more than 10 points per game six separate times, including a season-high total of 19 points against Cazenovia on Dec. 7, 2011.
"We expect E.J. to be one of our 'go-to' scorers," explained Wojtylko. "He has the ability to shoot the ball well, but we are also pushing him to use his speed to attack the basket more. His ability and hand speed make him a great defender and he has already proven to be one of the most clutch players in program history."
Hurtado, a 2010 graduate of Port Richmond High School in Staten Island, played basketball for the Raiders. Known to teammates and coaches as Noni, Wojtylko has high praise for his new captain, evident with his selection as a team captain.
"Noni is hands down the best athlete that we have ever had in our program," said Wojtylko. "His athleticism is off the charts at the Division III level – we expect him to be one of the guys scoring. We also expect him to be a great defender and help us with rebounding the ball. He is a player capable of putting together an All-NEAC caliber performance in his first year with the program.
Paul, a 6'5 forward, was a three-sport athlete for Valley Stream North High School and earned All-County recognition. His size at the post is a welcome addition for Wojtylko and he is expected to be an offensive force once the season is in full swing.
"He is a very strong and skilled big man that is capable of scoring not only on the blocks, but he also has range out to the three point line. His effectiveness is going to be determined by limiting some of his preventable fouls and learning that we need him on the floor as much as possible. He is also a quarterback of the defense and is a great talker on the defensive end."
In addition to Taylor, the Express also return five additional players from last year's team. Junior Jonathan Bonds (Chicago, Ill.) made appearances in 25 games for Wells College as a sophomore last season and has posted 45 total appearances for the Express in his career. Averaging 1.9 points per game last year, Bonds recorded a career-best seven points against the University of Rochester on Nov. 26, 2011. Additionally, Bonds pulled down a season-best seven rebounds against Penn St.-Abington on Jan. 22 of this year.
"Bonds is one of the most athletic and electric players that we have had here," said his Head Coach. "Whenever Jon is on the court, you can always count on him playing with a reckless abandon. He will do whatever it takes to get the job done and will sacrifice his body to do it. He is a great rebounder for his size and is more than capable of finishing above the rim. We expect Bonds to make a big jump going into his junior campaign."
Sophomore Erich Kaempffe (North Rose, N.Y.) played a prominent role off of the bench as a freshman, collecting 24 appearances for the Express as a freshman. Averaging a point per game, Kaempffe pulled down 12 rebounds and recorded a season-best six points against Fredonia St. on Nov. 18, 2011. According to Wojtylko, Kaempffe possesses a "tremendous basketball IQ" and is the type of player who has demonstrated improvement to his game in practice.
"He has always been a capable shooter, but has added the ability to get to the basket and finish this season. As a sophomore he already has a great understanding of how to run our offense from the point guard position as well. Erich is the type of player that every great team has to have," concluded Wojtylko.
Sophomore Darnell McDuffy (Rochester, N.Y.) also made 24 appearances for the Express last season. Making 24 appearances for the Express, McDuffy averaged two points per game across 214 minutes of action, tallying a season-best nine points against Penn St.-Harrisburg on Jan. 14 of this year while scooping up a total of nine rebounds.
Sophomore Tyler Walker (Spencer, N.Y.) also collected 24 appearances for the Express as a sophomore, partnering with McDuffy and Kaempffe as valuable bench players. Averaging 1.2 points per game across 141 minutes, Walker tallied 28 rebounds on the season and posted a season-high five rebounds in 23 minutes against Hamilton on Jan. 2.
"Tyler is a post player that is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential," says Wojtylko. "He is very skilled around the basket and has shown improved footwork. He plays very hard and has been dominant at times in practice when he shows the flashes of what he can do. Once he develops a more consistent aggressive. on the court demeanor, he will be very tough to handle."
One of the more experienced players on the roster is senior guard Kenneth Boddie (Syracuse, N.Y.), who has made 26 appearances for the Express across the past two seasons. Averaging four minutes per game, Boddie has pulled down 16 total rebounds for the Express in two years while also recording three steals.
"Boddie is our lone senior on this year's team," explained Wojtylko. "He is a great spot up shooter and has to be accounted for when in the game. He has shown more confidence in his ability so far in practice and we expect him to make several big shots for us during the course of the season."
The Express also welcomes eight additional student-athletes to the roster, including Hurtado and Paul. Sophomore Salvatore Fabozzi (Staten Island, N.Y.) played basketball for the Eagles under Head Coach Charley Driscoll and was a member of the 2009 Long Island championship basketball team.
"Salvatore has a very high basketball IQ," said Wojtylko when asked about his sophomore transfer student. "His understanding of the game is a huge asset as he is like a coach on the floor. He has a very solid handle on the ball and his court vision and passing ability is really exceptional. He has been one of the more consistent shooters during practice and we expect him to be a major contributor even as a sophomore this season once he fully grasps our system."
Classmate Ryan Hood (Massillon, Ohio) is a 2011 graduate of Washington High School and was a three-sport athlete for the Tigers, earning Honor Roll recognition in the classroom. An athletic shooting wing, his ability to finish in traffic is an extremely important characteristic to Wojtylko.
He adds, "His length and jumping ability also allows him to play much bigger than his height. He is one of the best offensive rebounders we have had here as he always attacks the boards. Only a sophomore, he has the potential to be a double digit scorer once he grasps what we do here."
Guard J.J. Walton (Ocala, Fla.), a 2011 graduate of Lake Weir High School, played basketball for the Hurricanes under coaches Mike Sarber and Buddy Yeorolev. He was selected as the District 4A Player of the Year and also garnered ESPN Radio Player of the Week recognition. A two-time recipient of the Most Valuable Player award, he led the county in steals, assists and points.
A strong defensive player, Wojtylko characterizes Walton as the best "on the ball defender" on the roster. A proven hard worker, "he is extremely fast laterally and really prides himself on the defensive end of the court," according to Wojtylko.
Three freshmen round out the roster for the Express, including guards George Gera (Freeland, Pa.), Nate Mitchell (Madison, N.Y.) and Jordan Bishop (Arlington, Texas). Gera, a 2012 graduate of MMI Preparatory School, played basketball for the Preppers under coaches Joseph Flanagan and Ryan Jastremsky. He was named a PAHoops.org "Player to Watch" in 2012.
"George is one of three freshmen on the team this year," said Wojtylko. "He is a hard-worker and his personality has been great for team morale. We expect this to be a learning year for him as with many freshmen the transition to college basketball is very tough. George is learning to play at a faster level this year and he has been making improvements to his game already. Practicing against the guards he sees everyday will bode well for his improvement over the course of the season."
Mitchell, a three-sport athlete for the Blue Devils of Madison Central High School, earned All-League Honorable Mention and later earned Second Team All-League recognition for his performance as an upperclassman.
"Nate has already shown marked improvement during practice this fall," remarked Wojtylko. "He is a physical guard that has shown the ability to help on the rebounding end and a desire to become better defensively. This will be a learning year for Nate and we look forward to watching his improvement during the season."
Bishop, already a recipient of the NEAC Student-Athlete of the Week honors on Monday, Nov. 26, is characterized as very poised by his Head Coach. A 2009 graduate of James Martin High School, he played three years of basketball for the Warriors under Head Coaches Jeff Plemmons and Zach Burks.
"He has the potential to be a great leader and could be one of the best players to ever play here during his career," summarized Wojtylko. "He is another guard that we have that is very quick and a great on-the-ball defender. He takes pride in doing everything right, no matter what drill we are doing. Jordan is a capable scorer, either with his jumper or attacking the basket, that we envision having some big nights this winter. Even as a freshman, we expect some big things from him."
In total, Wojtylko believes that this year's men's basketball squad is the most athletic team that has ever been assembled in the team's five year history. He believes that it would not be farfetched to see around five or six players averaging double digit per game point totals, but the team needs to first buy into the team's identity as a collective.
"We are stressing that this team takes on an identity of being tough and scrappy. All of our guards are capable of putting a great deal of defensive pressure on other teams and they really fit into what we like to do on both ends of the floor. Our post players are capable of scoring in the post and we expect them to do a great job on the boards.
"Ultimately, we will be undersized so the willingness to do the little things is what is going to determine how successful we are this season," concluded Wojtylko.