BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — More than a couple people have brought up the word to Niskayuna boys’ basketball head coach Bryan Mattice. It’s just got to be a “rebuilding” year for the Silver Warriors after graduating 11 seniors from last year’s 13-9 team.
But Mattice, who guided Niskayuna to its first double-digit win total in a decade last season, doesn’t see it that way. He recognizes his team lacks the individual talent it had last season, especially in the backcourt with dynamic scorers Andrew Evans and Tommy Kelly gone, but sees the way this year’s group can compete each night in the Suburban Council.
“Quite honestly, I’ve really been excited about our potential,” Mattice said. “I really think that this team is going to surprise a lot of people.”
That confidence has trickled down to his players, too. Senior guard Justin Wise — who played well in the role he had last season backing up Evans and Kelly — has emerged as the team’s on-court leader and said the Silver Warriors expect to earn wins, not moral victories, this season.
“Honestly, I think we’re going to shock people. We all do,” Wise said. “People are probably going to think coming in [to play us] that it’s an easy win, but I know how hard we’ve worked every day.”
Mattice said he expects Wise to play a large role in any successes this season for Niskayuna.
“He’s had a great preseason,” Mattice said of Wise, one of five seniors on the Silver Warriors’ roster.
While Niskayuna still needs to sort out much of its perimeter rotation, an area of strength for the Silver Warriors should be its interior defense. Junior forwards Ben Funyak and Colin Detrick each saw varsity minutes last season, and should combine to form one of the more imposing defensive frontcourts in the area.
Niskayuna played several scrimmages during the preseason, something Funyak said helped the Silver Warriors determine the “character” of their team for this season. After entering the 2015-16 season campaign knowing it had an experienced core group, Niskayuna placed more importance out of necessity on those preseason matchups.
“This year, it was definitely a clean slate,” Funyak said. “We need to put our team together piece by piece as we go.”
Mattice said he’s spent more time this preseason on skill development than in past years, while he’s also devoted more practice time to scrimmaging so he could let his players compete and develop against one another. Each day, he said, he’s seen progress.
“They’re still very much going to keep learning as we progress into games 11, 12 of the season — and on,” Mattice said. “There are moments where [you can see] they’re very young and they’re inexperienced. I’ve had to adjust how I teach practice from last year, but it’s exciting.”
The Silver Warriors want to carry over that enthusiasm into the regular season, too.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Wise said. “We’re going to play very hard and our underclassmen are going to step up.”