By Dylan Butler
The Queens College men’s basketball team reached the pinnacle of its sport last year as the Knights advanced to the 48-team Division II NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
What to do for an encore? Make the rare trip and annual occurrence and extend their invitation even further this year.
“It's all we’ve been talking about,” said Queens College head coach Kyrk Peponakis. “At the last meeting last year we talked about what to do next and what we expect to do. We had a great time, but we’re not going to happy with just being there. Now we have to do more.”
The Knights return nine players from a 2000-01 team that went 17-11, losing 85-67 to UMass-Lowell in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Queens will try and replace 27 points per game as the Knights are without Steve Sikiric and Anthony Washington, the team’s top two leading scorers last year.
Peponakis knew Sikiric, a senior guard who scored 13.2 points per game, wouldn’t be back, but losing Washington, the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, was a bit of a surprise as the 6-foot-7 versatile forward transferred to Division II Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla.
To fill the void left by Sikiric, Peponakis found another Sikiric as Steve’s younger brother John, a 6-foot-5 forward from Archbishop Molloy, is the gem of a solid recruiting class.
“He’s not the same player as his brother was, but we’re hoping he makes as much of an impact as Steve,” Peponakis said. “He can shoot it, he rebounds and he has a good handle. He’s like a Division I player.”
Peponakis is also pleased with the play of sophomore guard Greg Dickinson, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Ventura Junior College in California and a former standout at Van Buren, as well as sophomore Ofir Binyamin, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooter from Afula, Israel.
While they won’t replace the scoring touch of Washington inside, Queens returns seniors Will Hooks and Jurell Bonaparte as well as a healthy Mike Leonce, a 6-foot-5 junior from Jamaica, who averaged 7.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in just nine games last year, to the frontcourt.
The additions of Dickinson and Binyamin has improved an already solid perimeter game that features senior point guard Phil Lyons (8.0 points, 3.4 assists per game), junior shooting guard Gary DeBerry (9.6 points per game) and junior forward Dave Trani (10.1 points per game).
Peponakis knows returning to the NCAA will be tough, especially in the ultra competitive NYCAC, which is led again by Adelphi, pre-season ranked No. 10 in the country.
“We’re the hunted this year but there are still teams we’re hunting,” Peponakis said. “We haven’t had success against Adelphi, Philadelphia University, Concordia. We need to beat those teams because we don’t want to be the No. 3 seed [in the NYCAC tournament] again; we want to be the No. 1 seed.”
After opening its season at the Colorado Mines tournament this weekend and the Virginia Union tournament (Nov. 30-Dec. 1), the Knights open league play at Southampton Dec. 5.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.