Despite a difficult 75-66 loss to first place Mount St Mary’s in NEC semifinals, the future of Robert Morris basketball is very bright.
Everything from a new arena (UPMC Events Center), to having head coach Andy Toole under contract through the 2021 season, to returning ten players from this year’s team, the Colonials basketball program is in a good place right now.
Although they completed their second straight under .500 season, Toole’s 2016-17 team finished .500 in the conference and closed the season winning 7 of their last 10 games.
Considering the roster consisted of mostly freshman and sophomores, the winning atmosphere could be a springboard headed into next season.
“We were as happy as can be expected as to how the season ended. During the course of the season we improved greatly. Guys started to learn what it takes to be successful. I was happy they were able to win some games at the end of year. I think that gives them the understanding that if you put in the work and prepare the right way that you can be successful. When you step back and look at some of the improvement and things we accomplished, I think it’s something we can take into next year,” said Toole.
Unlike some of the past few seasons, roster stability is the biggest reason for optimism. Toole and his staff will return a majority of their young talent from this season.
Barring unforseen events, Colonial fans will get the chance to watch players like Isaiah Still, Matty McConnell, Dachon Burke, Braden Burke, Clive Allen, Lorezen Wright develop and continue to get better.
“A lot of the main guys will be coming back whether it’s Isaiah or Marty, who’ve played a ton of minutes the last two years. I think it’ll be nice to have some continuity. Now we’re going to have a group of guys that have gone through a year defending the way we want to defend, a year of competing the way we wanted to compete and now we’ll be able to add some players. So I think we have a nice foundation to build on.”
The expected continuity will be something new for Toole. So instead of a roster full of new faces, he’ll have players that know him, know the system and know what’s expected as a member of the Robert Morris basketball team.
“You hope that it’ll help, just the understanding but sometimes regardless of the number of guys you have returning, you’ll have to tell them the names of the drills again, explain to them how hard you have to work but hopefully they’ll be able to pick things up quicker with the experience they have. I’ll be nice to have some consistency, we hope, and have everyone understand what they need to do to have more success next year,” said Toole.
In order for Robert Morris to win more games and have the chance to return to playing in “March Madness”, they’ll need Still and McConnell to build off of what they accomplished this year.
Still finished his sophomore season averaging 15.7 points per game and becoming Toole’s go to guy on offense. McConnell scored 39 points the last two games and looked a lot like the dominating player he was in high school at Chartiers Valley.
“I was very proud of Isaiah’s growth throughout the year. He really matured on the court as a player that we could rely on. Isaiah raised his game to another level this season. He not only did it from a scoring perspective but he helped us win games whether it was from his rebounding, his defending, getting on the floor, getting a deflection. All those things were great to see as a coach.”
“In our final game vs. LIU, he took two charges, something I didn’t think he’d ever do. But I think he figured out that’s the best way to help the team win. I’m excited to coach him and think the sky’s the limit for him,” said Toole.
McConnell also seemed to figure it out and Toole wants to see more of that in the future.
“That’s the guy we envisioned but you forget he’s only a sophomore and forget that he said still trying to figure all of this out.”
Following the season, Toole sent McConnell a text message and thinks the Chartiers Valley graduate has finally figured it out.
“My text message was true, that has to be the standard (his play at the end of the season). He’s got to play with that sort of confidence, he’s got to play with that aggressiveness, he’s got to try and be more versatile,” said Toole.
“I think earlier in the year, he was limiting himself to just taking three-point shots and that was the role he built for himself but that’s not the player he is. He’s a guy that can make three-point shots, he can make plays, can drive the lane and be a big, strong, physical guard.”
“But that has to be the standard as we move forward because we need to be able to rely on those performances from him. It might not always be a 20 point game but just being a guy that goes out there with the threat of scoring and making the right decisions and playing with the poise that he did.”
The Robert Morris staff has received two commitments for the upcoming season (PG Jonathan Williams and F Koby Thomas) and have two more scholarships to offer. Toole is currently on the road recruiting so stick with Pittsburgh Sports Now for the latest news.