Pecora, Severe, hope to lead Fordham out of A-10 cellar

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Fordham head coach, Tom Pecora, mentors a freshman version of Halil Kanacevic when the two were at Hofstra.

Fordham head coach, Tom Pecora, mentors a freshman version of Halil Kanacevic when the two were at Hofstra.

This past season two of Fordham head coach Tom Pecora’s recruits landed on All-Atlantic 10 teams: 5’9 point guard, Chaz Williams on the A-10’s First Team and 6’9 do-it-all big, Halil Kanacevic, a Second Team selection. Neither played for Pecora’s Rams.

That’s because Pecora recruited both to the Pride of Hofstra University in what would have been one heck of a 2013 CAA team had all three not gone their separate ways when Pecora accepted the head position in the Bronx for the 2010-11 season of Atlantic 10 play.

Pecora, a Queens Village, NY native, got his head coaching start at Hofstra in 2001 after serving as an assistant there for the previous seven seasons. He never led the Pride to an NCAA tournament but built the CAA team into a dangerous mid-major, winning 20 or more games for the first time in his fourth season (21 total) then followed that up by posting 26, 22, 21 and 19-win seasons with one 12-win clunker in the middle as he finished his time at Hofstra.

Pecora’s squads never punched a dance ticket but played in three consecutive NITs from 05-07 and quite possibly could have stolen a bid from the 2006 George Mason team that shocked the world as they become the second 11-seed to ever reach the Final 4. Hofstra had beaten Jim Laranaga’s Patriots that season, twice, including a March 5 CAA tournament win that ended GMU’s regular season. Hofstra finished the season ranked No.30 in the RPI but as an NIT team, passed over by the NCAA tournament selection committee.

In 2010 the chance came to head elsewhere, and with openings at Seton Hall and St. John’s yet to be filled, Pecora decided a move to Fordham was the right call at that time.

“I just know it feels right,” Pecora told a packed press conference room upon his hiring. “In situations like this, you have to go with your heart and go with gut. At Fordham, there is excellence throughout the university on so many different levels and that’s what our goal is now – to raise basketball to that level.”

Pecora left behind a Hofstra team that included that season’s CAA Player of the Year, Charles Jenkins, who would be selected as a first round NBA Draft pick a year later, and began what’s proving to be a tougher-than-expected rebuild at Rose Hill.

“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Pecora said at the time. “The Atlantic 10 is one of the premier conferences in the country with outstanding players and great coaches. But we’re up to that challenge.”

One of those challenges was in convincing players that Fordham, a team coming off an abysmal 2-26 season, after 3-25 the previous season, could win in a competitive Atlantic 10 conference.

“I talked to a lot of guys in the New York basketball community, high school coaches and AAU coaches,” Pecora said. “And they all encouraged me. They said, ‘Tom, we got your back, we’re going to support you. We’ve always felt (Fordham) was a sleeping giant.’ And that helped me in the process of making this decision as well.”

Fordham has landed their share of NYC recruits since the former Hofstra coach was handed the reigns, yet so far none have been able to elevate the program out of the basement of the league.

Rising sophomore, Jon Severe, hopes to be the guy to get the Rams on the right side of the win column.

Severe came to Fordham as a Rivals 3-star and top-150 player with high hopes.

“I think I can make a big impact at Fordham,” Severe explained to Yahoo Sports. “I think I can do a lot to help turn around that program.”

Severe certainly made an impact on the scoreboard, posting a 17.3 ppg average as a freshman and boasting a 20-plus average early in the season as the Rams reeled off an 8-7 non-conference record.

He dropped 20 or more points 11 times and hit 30-plus on three occasions including a season-high 35 at Duquesne, a game that like many for Pecora’s Rams, ended in a loss.

Fordham won just two Atlantic 10 games this season, both at home, both to teams that finished in the bottom four of league play (George Mason and Rhode Island).

Severe’s scoring totals raised eyebrows but the freshman will need to become a more efficient scorer — meaning not just a high-volume shooter —  if he is to be the player to lead Fordham to the promised land of conference respectability. Severe returns as the A-10’s most used player (29% of possessions) but ranked dead last for the Rams with a 41.1% effective field goal percentage last season.

Fordham loses leading-scorer Branden Frazier (18.2 ppg) to graduation, so even more of the burden (and shots) may come Severe’s way. Pecora will have to hope, like Jenkins (43.8% efg%), Williams (43.5% efg%) and Kanacevic (40.9% efg) before him — all of whom were ranked among the worst shooters on their Hofstra teams —  Severe will go from promising, but inconsistent freshman, to an all-conference player that can lead Pecora’s club to his first 20-win season since 2009.

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Mat Shelton-Eide has been involved in college athletics since 2007, starting as a co-founder of VCURamNation.com where he covered the Rams all the way to Houston as the one-time CAA darling shocked the hoops world with a historic run to the Final 4. He has worked within two Atlantic 10 athletic departments, first as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department during the '09-'10 basketball season, then after receiving his M.Ed. from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership, as a ticketing and marketing intern in the University of Richmond's athletic department during the inaugural season of Richmond's Robins Stadium, months before the Spiders 2011 Sweet 16 run.

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