Image Courtesy Fordham Athletics
When I checked in with Keith Urgo back in May, just days after he was officially announced as Fordham’s next Head Men’s Basketball Coach, he explained that he was taking the with “an immense amount of pride.” Now, nearly six months into his tenure, Urgo and his team are just weeks away from tipping off their 2022-23 season. After checking in with Coach Urgo earlier this fall, that pride still remains, but is now joined by a flurry of new emotions.
“Just passion, and excitement,” Urgo described to me in a phone call last month. “There’s still an immense amount of pride, that’s never going to change. We’re really excited about our young kids, really excited about the leadership and maturity of our older guys.”
To build that excitement, Coach Urgo and his staff hit the ground running this offseason. After ensuring that last year’s core and this year’s recruits stayed with the program, as well as grabbing former Georgia Tech forward Khalid Moore out of the transfer portal, Fordham immediately went to work on preparing for tip-off in November. In two summer sessions, Coach Urgo and company worked at building upon last year’s foundation in order to create a much more competitive team. In the first session, Coach Urgo took a more hands off approach, allowing his assistant coaches and older players to lead a large portion of drills and individual workouts, meant to hone each players skills before they got into things like drills, scrimmages, etc. In the second session, more emphasis was placed on running new offensive sets, led largely by new assistant Coach Dave Paulsen.
Paulsen, who served in a special advisory role last season, was promoted to full-time assistant this June. With 27 years of head coaching experience, including 6 at George Mason, Coach Paulsen brings a large catalog of knowledge that Urgo is keen to pull from.
“There isn’t much that he [Paulsen] hasn’t seen from a situation standpoint,” Urgo explained. “[He has a] tremendous offensive mind. I expect us to continue our level, so offensively was something I wanted to focus on making sure we improve.”
Reflecting on last season, a high tempo offense was definitely a goal for the Rams, but injuries to Darius Quisenberry and Chuba Ohams forced the Rams to rework their game plan into a more defensive, forward-based style of play. At the core of this offensive mindset is Fordham’s frontcourt unit led by Abdou Tsimbila, Patrick Kelly, and Rostyslav Novitskyi. As Coach Urgo explained further at Atlantic 10 Media day, Coach Paulsen “is having a field day coming up with new offensive sets.” Along with Tray Woodall, who has experience as an assistant at St. Bonaventure, Fordham’s coaching staff is stocked with A-10 experience that he hopes can take this team to the next level.
Despite the success of these summer sessions, there is only so much one can do in your own gym with your own players. To avoid any training camp cabin fever, Coach Urgo, his staff, and the Fordham Athletic Department scheduled a 10-day foreign tour around the Caribbean. During this tour, the Rams competed in scrimmages against several notable basketball development programs in the region, including the Bahamian House of Hoops, as well as Trenes del Este from the Dominican Republic. In two scrimmages, Fordham took down each of these programs 92-58 and 95-68 respectively.
While wins are nice, foreign tours such as Fordham’s summer trip served to fulfill a lot more “bigger picture” goals, such as building team chemistry. With 9 new players on Fordham’s roster, this time in an isolated basketball environment is crucial to building a cohesive team identity. While long homestands help a team stay well-rested and grounded between games, Coach Urgo really emphasized the importance of these road trips, where your time both in and out of games is devoted to your team, even if what you’re doing together has nothing to do with basketball.
“A couple of guys on our program couldn’t swim and jumped in the water [when we] did a snorkeling trip,” Urgo recounted. “You really find out a lot about these guys when you’re facing adversity. Just traveling in general seems to bring us together.”
Spending quality time away from home was crucial for Fordham this summer, as their non-conference schedule sees the Rams at home for a whopping 11 games out of 13 in their non-conference schedule. During the first half of the season, Fordham will travel to Fayetteville on November 11th to take on 10 Arkansas, then to New Orleans on December 3rd to play Tulane. In between, Fordham will host their own MTE, the Tom Konchalski Classic. From November 19th to 22nd, the Rams will play UIC, Stonehill College, and longtime football rival Holy Cross.
“We feel like we put together a competitive non-conference [schedule] that gives us an opportunity to grow,” said Urgo. “The idea was to pick a few opponents that had some styles that we might face come January and February, and I think we did a good job with that.”
While all of this shows that Urgo and his staff have set this team up for success, how will the Rams rotation be constructed? Where will Paulsen’s schemes succeed? Most importantly, who will make the biggest contributions in crucial moments this season? For the Rams, this roster hinges on how well they balance their newcomers and returning stars, as both have so much to contribute to Fordham’s win total.
As for the newcomers, Coach Urgo could not be higher on Graduate Transfer Khalid Moore. After four seasons at Georgia Tech, the Queens native announced his commitment to Fordham on May 2nd, just four days after Coach Urgo was officially named head coach. With a 2021 ACC Championship on his resume, as well as 30 starts in 32 games played last season, Coach Urgo has teed Moore up to be one of the premier utility players in this conference. At 6-7, 200 pounds, Moore has the size and strength to play the 3-5, but can play the perimeter as well as any top A-10 guard.
“Every single one of them was impressive [on the foreign tour],” said Coach Urgo of his team. “But honestly, Khalid Moore was the best player on the floor in our opinion in both games. Not just from a scoring standpoint, but his ability to defend multiple positions, to score in the post, and his ability to score in transition at his size, his ability to shoot the open 3, make plays off the dribble, draw fouls. We’re really excited about his versatility.”
Versatility is also the name of the game for this year’s freshman class. Touted as one of the best recruiting classes Fordham has ever seen, Coach Urgo is eager to get his youngest players out on the court early and frequently. Will Richardson, a 4-star recruit from Bergen Catholic, is expected to make a big impact defensively, filling in the hole left by Josh Colon-Navarro as a scrappy, defensive guard who can force a lot of turnovers and excel in transition. Elijah Gray, a forward out of North Carolina, will serve as another athletic small forward off the bench along with Romad Dean, who Urgo described as “a motor that doesn’t stop.” Angel Montas, who had limited exposure in scrimmages this offseason due to a meniscus procedure, has recovered at a promising pace, and Urgo says that he’ll be evaluated frequently until the team is comfortable adding him to the full-time rotation.
As for Fordham’s key returners, Urgo feels like everyone is prepared to make a huge jump. According to Urgo, Darius Quisenberry has taken the biggest initiative in becoming a leader both on and off the court this season. Despite finishing 6th in the A-10 in average scoring (16.2 ppg), untimely injuries hampered Quisenberry’s impact in several games down the stretch, sitting out Fordham’s A-10 quarterfinal loss to Davidson. After declaring his intent to use his extra year of eligibility to return to Fordham, it was clear to Urgo that Quisenberry would put in the work to become a major voice in the locker room.
“Last year, I think we did a great job in getting middle of the pack, but I think the one thing we were really lacking last year was leadership from within. It was more of a coaches down set up,” Urgo explained. “This year we had a lot of energy a lot of vocal leaders within the locker room, Darius being the head of that, and I think that is going to make all the difference in the world.”
According to Urgo, Quisenberry is joined by players like Antrell Charlton, Kyle Rose, and Khalid Moore to form a close knit group of senior players to help guide the rest of the roster and mold them according to the coaching staff’s vision. Throughout the season, Fordham will rely on their depth to maintain stamina, overwhelm opposing defenses, and spread strong contributions throughout the roster.
“We could have a number of different lineups we can put out, such as a traditional lineup with 3 wings and two bigs,” Urgo explained. “We can play a massive lineup with everyone over 6-3 6-4, we can also play a really small lineup. There is a lot of diversity to our lineups and our depth.”
This Fordham team is fresh, this Fordham team is deep, and most importantly, this Fordham team is hungry. Despite the plethora of new faces, Coach Urgo made note of how those returning are ready to compound on last year’s successes and surpass their most recent finish. When talking about the relatively new mindset around Fordham men’s basketball, Coach Urgo definitely attributed it to the work his staff and players have put in, but also to the unified vision they share with the Fordham community at-large.
“Our student section is anxious to have a great basketball program. There seems to be a lot of energy, and we gotta capitalize on that.”
Fordham opens their 2022-23 campaign tonight against Dartmouth in the Rose Hill Gym. This game will be part two of a doubleheader, immediately following the Women’s Basketball season opener against Yale.