By Sam Donnelly, Staff Writer
Despite the 2014-15 season coming to a close, the future for UNH basketball looks brighter than ever, but that in itself, becomes a challenge. The Wildcats fell in the first round of the CollegeInsiders.com tournament last Monday to NJIT, 84-77.
“We knew going into the game how good they were,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “Very, very talented basketball team so we knew going in it was going to be a tough basketball game.”
Despite the loss, the postseason game was the first the Wildcats have ever played in program history. Even though it’s just one game, Herrion believes that this will be a big deal for the future of UNH basketball.
“Getting to postseason play was really big for this team,” Herrion said. “This is a great step in the right direction. I know teams in the past have gone to the CIT and spring boarded into the NCAA tournament.”
Now that the season is over, the Wildcats have a chance to rest and recover from an almost six-month season. Freshman Tanner Leissner will continue to rest a high ankle sprain, while sophomores guard Joe Bramanti underwent surgery last Tuesday to repair cartilage in his knee. The recovery time for Bramanti is 3-6 months, depending on how his rehab goes.
“It went fine, I was at the hospital after the surgery,” Herrion said. “We wanted to do it now so we can get him back for September but everything is good.”
The Wildcats had taken everyday off until this Monday when the team had an informal meeting with the returning players. Herrion sat the team down to talk about the future. The focus was simple: expectations will be higher than they’ve ever been.
“We have laid a pretty good foundation,” Herrion said. “Now the bar has been raised. We want to take the next step in this program, which is winning a championship and get to the NCAA tournament. That is done this spring and this summer, that’s when we become better players.”
This postseason, Herrion was nominated for two different coaching awards. The first is the Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year, which is awarded to a coach that has brought his team to success in a short timetable. The Second is the Skip Prosser Man of the Year award which is awarded to the coach that not only has success on the court, but displays strong moral conduct off the court. As for the award nominations, Herrion is nothing but humble.
“I knew Skip Prosser personally,” Herrion said. “I had great, great respect for him. To be involved with something connected with his name is a great honor.”
Although the award is synonymous with success on the court, Herrion wants his players and the program to understand what they represent off the court.
“Everything that these guys do connected with our program, off the court, and in the community is representative of our school and our team,” Herrion said. “How you handle yourself outside the gym and in public is really important. How we act off the court is really important.” Despite Matt Miller being one of two seniors on the team this season, he might not have seen his last game of basketball in a UNH jersey. Herrion and UNH athletic office is currently in the process of appealing to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility for Miller. Miller attended the returning player meeting Monday before Herrion released him towards the end.
“We are still gathering information,” Herrion said. “If we feel we have the proper information to move foreword with the appeal, we will move forward at the appropriate time.”
As for how Herrion feels the process will go, it is clear there is plenty of uncertainty.
“I think it’s 50-50,” Herrion said. “I can’t say on way or the other.”
Miller also underwent surgery Monday on the same knee he tore his ACL in two years ago. The surgery was the same exact surgery Bramanti underwent.
Going into next season, The Wildcats will no longer fly under the radar. After beating Vermont and Stony Brook, while taking Albany down to the wire twice, every team now wants to beat the Wildcats.
“What we can’t do is now get comfortable because we won 19 games,” Herrion said. “The expectations are going to be higher from everyone. We have a lot of players coming back. Now the target is on our back.”
The Wildcats will hit the weight room in a few days and personal workouts in the next month. They will return to UNH for summer school in June and July to start preparing for a season of promise.