NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Returning its entire starting lineup and over 90 percent of its scoring from last season, the Merrimack College men’s basketball team begins the 2015-16 season with as much optimism as the program has seen in recent memory.
The Warriors won 16 games last season and advanced to the Northeast-10 Quarterfinals, winning their first postseason game in four years in the process. Merrimack was selected to finish in second place in the Northeast Division in this year’s NE-10 Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
Head coach Bert Hammel enters his 36th as the head coach of the Navy and Gold. Last season he collected his 500thcareer victory at Merrimack, becoming the 14th active coach in all of Division II to reach the 500-win mark. Hammel enters the 2015-16 campaign as the 13th-winnigest active coach in all of Division II
The Warriors return arguably the program’s best-ever backcourt in seniors Gelvis Solano (Harlem, N.Y.), JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.) and Troy Hammel (Valencia, Calif.). Solano headlines the trio, as he has been named a Preseason All-American by three outlets this fall, including The Sports News. He returns as the nation’s eighth-leading scorer, averaging over 23 points per game as a junior. He also ranked among the top-five in the country in steals per game (2.79). Solano led the NE-10 in both scoring and steals, finishing the year as a NE-10 All-Conference First Team selection.
Strickland runs the point guard position for the Warriors, leading the team and finishing fourth in the conference with nearly five assists per game. He was one of six players in the league to finish with an assist-to-turnover ratio of at least 2.00. The fourth-year player needs just 79 points to reach 1,000 for his career.
Hammel has developed into one of the top shooters in the conference. He connected on nearly 44 percent of his attempts from three-point ranger, good for fourth in the league, while his 91.0 free-throw percentage ranked sixth nationwide. Hammel, Bert’s nephew, was the Warriors’ second leading scoring, averaging over 16 ppg, and will also score his 1,000th career point this year.
Sophomore Kyle Howes (Maynard, Mass.) returns for his second year after being selected to the NE-10 All-Rookie squad as a freshman. Howes started in 24 contests, scoring in double figures on ten occasions. Senior Chris Mendes (Somerset, Mass.) suits up for his third year with the Warriors and will provide depth at the guard position.
Senior James Kennedy (Dorchester, Mass.) will play in his second season for Merrimack in the upcoming year after transferring from Boston University. Kennedy emerged as the Warriors’ top low-post threat as a junior, averaging nearly 10 points and over seven boards per contests. He finished the year with three double-doubles and scored in double digits on eight occasions.
Redshirt-junior Anthony Barry (Uxbridge, Mass.) saw his 2014-15 campaign cut short by injury and is primed for a comeback season in 2015-16. Prior to going down after the fourth game of the year, Barry averaged over 11 points per game while shooting over 45 percent from the field. Redshirt-sophomore Tawayne Anderson Jr. (Garden City, N.Y.)also is back after he missed last season due to injury.
Senior Tyler Hunt (Oswego, N.Y.), junior Riley Calzonetti (Neptune City, N.Y.) and sophomore Doug Gemmell (Windham, N.H.) bring size and strength to the frontcourt. Hunt has appeared in 43 games over the past two years, while Calzonetti saw the most minutes of his career as a sophomore.
The Navy and Gold welcome a four-player freshmen class to North Andover this season. Ryan Boulter (Mansfield, Mass.) arrives on campus as a threat from beyond-the-arc, and will see time on the wing for the Warriors. At the forward position, Jordan Thornton (Dumfries, Va.), will be Merrimack’s tallest player at 6-foot-8-inches. Thornton will provide depth behind Kennedy in the frontcourt.
Merrimack will play seven teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, including all but one of the programs that qualified out of the East Region, as part of a 27-game slate.
The Warriors open up the regular season on Friday, Nov. 13, against Caldwell University as part of the Bentley Tip-Off Classic. The home slate kicks off on Tuesday, Nov. 18, with a battle between the top-two programs in the preseason poll as the Navy and Gold host Bentley at 7:30 p.m. from Hammel Court. For ticket information, call the Box Office at 978-837-5324; hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Please note all game dates/time are subject to change.