Leading up to the 2014-15 season, if you would have said that the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks would be one of the better, more surprising mid-major programs in the country, most people would have doubted you.
When reality hit, and the dust settled, the above statement would be one of the best predictions anyone could have ever made.
The Hawks didn’t enjoy much success in the past few seasons, leading to changes all across the program. In the three seasons prior to 2014-15, the Hawks won a grand total of 15 games. In 2013-14 alone, UMES was victorious in just six games, including just four in MEAC play.
The dismal season led to some changes for the Hawks, including a change at the head coaching spot. Bobby Collins was brought in to lead the Hawks back into contention in the MEAC after enjoying success at the Division II level at Winston Salem State.
It’s safe to say that even Collins surpassed his own expectations in 2014-15, as the Hawks ended up scoring 18 wins on the season. The Hawks finished the season with an 11 – 5 record in the MEAC, which was good for a tie for 3rd place in the regular season standings. Coach Collins took home MEAC Coach of the Year honours in the process.
An early exit in the MEAC tournament didn’t derail the Hawks’ chances of making a post-season appearance, as the accepted an invite to the 2012 CollegeInsider.Com Tournament. Despite an opening round loss to John Brown and the High Point Panthers, the 2014-15 season was seen as a big success for the Hawks.
The season put the Hawks back on the map in the basketball world, generated a sense of pride with people associated with the Hawks, and showed the nation that Maryland-Eastern Shore is ready to contend in the MEAC and the NCAA once again.
However, the 12-win jump from the season prior has led people to wonder if the season was a fluke or not. People are starting to wonder whether or not the Hawks can have a repeat performance in 2015-16.
The road to a repeat season will be a tough, slightly uphill battle, but the players now know what it takes to win, and will be ready for what the 2015-16 season has to throw at them.
Coach Collins and the Hawks will have to take on the 2015-16 season without two of their top three scorers from a season ago, most notably All-American Mike Myers, Jr.
Myers, a native of Camden, N.J., was the star of the Hawks last season. The transfer from Angelina College averaged 15.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season, while shooting 59.3% from the floor in 33 games.
After the season, Myers was recognized with various national accolades, including a spot on the CCR First Team All-Mid Major squad. The loss of Myers leaves a gaping hole in the front court that will need to be replaced.
Fellow senior Devon Walker is also gone from the 2014-15 team. Walker was third on the team in scoring a year ago, where he averaged 9.4 points per contest.
Ishaq Pitt, a fifth-year senior, is also graduating from UMES.
Junior forward Iman Johnson, who was expected to see a significant jump in playing time this season, transferred out of the program and enrolled at Samford University for the 2015-16 season.
Coach Collins will have some big pieces to replace in 2015-16, but the players who are returning are more than capable of carrying the torch.
Devin Martin is the top scorer returning, and will be looked upon to carry the bulk of the scoring load in 2015-16, as well as step up and become a leader of the team. In 2014-15, the native of Baltimore, MD, Martin averaged 14.0 points per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds.
Martin also shot 39.9% from three point range last season.
His scoring ability will be a big key for UMES; success in 2015-16, but he will need support from others to keep the Hawks in contention.
Ryan Andino put together a solid freshman campaign in 2014-15 that has people anticipating a bright future for the guard. He averaged 7.1 points per contest last season, while appearing in all 33 games but only making 4 starts. If Andino can build off his successful first year in the NCAA, and continue his development, he will be an integral piece of the Hawks’ future plans.
Add in players like Dominique Elliott and Mark Blackmon, two players who will need to step up their games in increased levels of playing time, and the Hawks have a solid base of players with a strong combination of talent and experience. The players returning know what it takes to be successful in the NCAA, and will need to put together career years to keep UMES in contention in the MEAC.
Without question, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks overachieved in 2014-15. Improving a win total by 12 games in just a year is definitely tough to do. It’s even tougher to repeat that performance the following year.
I see the Hawks taking a step back in 2015-16, as losing too many star players is tough for any team to overcome. They will still be a tough team to face in both non-conference action and in MEAC play, and should still contend in the upper half of the standings in conference play. However, it’ll be tough for the Hawks to repeat their 18-win performance from last season.
If the 2014-15 season proved anything, it’s that nothing is for certain. The Hawks proved everyone wrong in 2014-15, and could very well do the same again this season.