Youthful Robert Morris ready for opener against Penn
Robert Morris was performing a rebounding drill Wednesday in preparation for the season opener at Pennsylvania when coach Andy Toole called over heralded freshman Isaiah Still.
Toole put his arm around the frustrated Still, who got hit in the throat hustling after a loose ball, and suggested what he could have done differently.
The sixth-year coach knows he has to be patient with his relatively young team that includes more first-year scholarship players (six) than returning veterans (five).
Toole has high hopes for the Colonials just the same, and he'll get early looks Friday at the Palestra in Philadelphia and Sunday at Cincinnati.
The five freshmen and one junior-college transfer have had to adjust quickly to the speed and physicality of Division I.
“It's going to be a challenge this weekend and during the nonconference schedule,” said Toole, who as a player helped Penn win Ivy League titles in 2002 and '03. “We have to make sure the team is ready and do what they need to be successful.
“Penn has a new coach (Steve Donahue), new players and will be playing a different style than they played last year. We have to make sure we do the things that we do well and adjust on the fly. Then we have to get them ready for Sunday.”
Toole said knowing the scouting report is essential and added he's not especially eager about the trip to his alma mater because of the possible distractions.
“I have fond memories of Penn,” Toole said. “There will be a lot of familiar places and friends there.”
Robert Morris (20-15 last season) put together a six-game winning streak late in the season to win the Northeast Conference Tournament and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament following a first-round win against North Florida. The Colonials fell to eventual national champion Duke in the second round.
Penn (8-20 in 2014-15) is picked to finish seventh in the Ivy League. It returns five starters, but leading scorer Tony Hicks (13.1 points per game) decided to leave the squad.
Toole will rely on veterans Kavon Stewart, Rodney Pryor, Elijah Minnie and Aaron Tate, who is coming off leg surgery. Pryor scored 15.6 points per game last season.
In an exhibition victory against Division III St. Vincent, freshman Matty McConnell led the Colonials with 23 points.
Still and Tate missed that game because of injuries but are expected to play Friday and Sunday.
“It was a great start for Matty,” Toole said. “He put himself on the radar for future opponents, which is good and bad.
“We encouraged Matty to shoot, but we want all the players to be aggressive and make plays. We have no shortage of players who want to shoot.”