Star URI guard Fatts Russell is a first team preseason All-Conference selection
By KEVIN McNAMARA
A year ago it appeared that only two Atlantic 10 teams – Dayton and Richmond – were assured of berths into the NCAA Tournament. This year the league promises to own a few more choices.
The A-10 released its preseason poll Tuesday of its 14 head coaches and 14 media members and Richmond is back and picked to finish first. Saint Louis is second and followed by Dayton, which lost All-American Obi Toppin from the 29-2 juggernaut that cruised through an undefeated (18-0) season in conference play.
But what makes the A-10 appear deeper this season is the rest of the poll. St. Bonaventure is fourth and followed by Duquesne. The Rhode Island Rams, a team that may just be more talented than any of David Cox’s first two in Kingston, was sixth.
Davidson, Massachusetts, VCU and George Mason round out the top 10. The Wildcats and Minutemen both have first-team all-league players, while VCU and Mason return the bulk of their teams.
The All-League team is made up of URI’s Fatts Russell, Davidson’s Kellan Grady, UMass big man Tre Mitchell, Dayton guard Jalen Crutcher, Jacob Gilyard of Richmond and Jordan Goodwin of SLU.
URI lost senior stars Jeff Dowtin and Cyril Langevine to graduation and Jacob Toppin to a transfer to Kentucky but a flood of off-season transfer additions has the Rams excited about the upcoming season.
Rhody added Syracuse transfer Jalen Carey to a backcourt that clearly will be led by Russell, the quickster from Philadelphia who is the second-highest returning scorer in the league at 18.8 points per game. Malik Martin, a transfer from Charlotte, and sit-out Jeremy Sheppard, both own significant collegiate experience and will impact the backcourt as well.
Up front the Rams will look to replace Langevine and Toppin with twin brothers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell. They spent one semester at Maryland before leaving the program and at 6-10 added needed size and skill to the Rams. Holdover Jermaine Harris returns for his junior season and a chance at an expanded role. Junior Antwan Walker and redshirt D.J. Johnson will also figure largely into the mix.
Russell was oddly snubbed from the A-10’s All-Defensive team despite owning superb ball-hawking skills. He snatched 86 steals a year ago and finished second in the country with a 2.87 average. Richmond’s Gilyard was first at 3.19 per game.