East Xtra: Griffins eager to play in PSAC

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Everyone knows someone who is "the new kid on the block."

Their family just moved in from out of town and the kids have to feel around their new school or new neighborhood and make new friends.

Well, Seton Hill University is sort of going through the same scenario.

The men's basketball team is entering its first year in the NCAA Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and the only difference is the Griffins aren't looking to make too many friends.

"We are always that way," Seton Hill coach Tony Morroco said. "We are nine years old as a program. We are happy to be in the PSAC. It is a good, classy conference."

The Griffins -- who were picked to finish seventh out of nine teams in the preseason PSAC West poll -- competed in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in Division II last year. They finished the year in seventh place and advanced to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament after finishing with a 16-12 overall record and 12-10 conference mark.

"Every night is the Fourth of July in this Conference but the WVIAC is no slouch," Morroco said. "It has great competition. This conference is a better half-court defensive conference. It is a little more bump and grind. Each team has big, strong physical players and you have to learn to play in the half court."

Morroco said his team won't have to make too many adjustments after switching conference's, but knows his team has a lot to prove.

"We've always played pretty much like the PSAC teams," Morroco said. "Every night is a different ballgame. I don't put a lot of stock in preseason. I know we are better than that. We need to prove ourselves."

Morroco has proven himself over the years working as an assistant coach at the Division I level. Morroco spent time with the University of Iowa, West Virginia University, University of New Mexico and University of Arkansas.

Morroco also served as a head coach in the International League in Puerto Rico.

The Griffins (3-1 before Tuesday night's game against Ashland) have six players returning from last year's squad led by seniors Malachi Leonard, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward, and Max Kenyi, a 6-5, 190-pound forward.

Leonard, who started all 28 games last year and was an All-WVIAC honorable mention, was the Griffins leading scorer with 13 points per game and had 6.8 rebounds per game.

Leonard is the leading scorer for the Griffins early on in this campaign, averaging 15 points through three games.

Kenyi, also an All-WVIAC honorable mention selection last year, averaged slightly below what Malachi did last year, pouring in 12.6 ppg. He also led the team with 42 steals.

He was second on the team through four games with 12.3 ppg.

The other Griffin in double figures on the young season is 6-6, 195-pound sophomore guard Kameron Taylor. Taylor has 12.7 ppg through three games.

"He is a young Julius Erving," Morroco said. "He is a really good athlete."

The other returning players for the Griffins are 6-2, 180-pound junior guard David Windsor, 5-11, 190-pound senior guard Oliver McGlade and 6-3, 190-pound senior guard Nate Perry.

Seton Hill also has some new faces, including two transfers. Senior Skylar Jones, a 6-4, 240-pound forward, will finish his career as a Griffin after starting it at Division I Niagara University.

Sophomore Jeffrey Burgos, a 6-6, 215-pound forward from Puerto Rico, will provide the Griffins a spark off the bench.

The Griffins got their first taste of life in the PSAC on Nov. 20 when they traveled to Mercyhurst University for their conference opener. The Lakers narrowly beat the Griffins, 79-74.

"We just couldn't get it over the hump," Morroco said. "They are a pretty good team. Playing as bad as we played, we still had a chance to win."

"It was like another game. We have gone to Gannon for a couple of years so we made that trip to Erie. There was no obvious difference. We just went up there and went to play basketball. We were lackluster. There was no particular hype about the first conference game."

Now with the first one out of the way, the Griffins are looking forward to what lies ahead in their inaugural season in the PSAC.

"This league is awful good," Morroco said. "A lot of D1 players. It is a credible, recognized well-run league."

"Our goal is to make the conference tournament. We want to take every game and possession as a step. It is all about rhythm, confidence and timing.

"This is a good basketball team. How good we can be on a consistent basis will determine how many wins we have."

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