Catching Up With: America East Guru Sam Perkins

Sam Perkins is the Jay Bilas of the America East (or whomever you consider an elite basketball analysis). You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knws the league better than him, if such a person even exists. He was kind of enough to sit down with the blog and chat about how he came to love the America East, about this year’s UAlbany team and how the rest of the America East looks. Be sure to follow Sam over at his blog, One-Bid Wonders, a site completely dedicated to America East basketball.

PGN: Can you start off by giving us a quick synopsis of how your relationship to America East basketball?

Sam Perkins: Man, you could write a novel on my relationship with the America East.

Aren’t you in fact writing a novel on the AE?

I am writing a novel, but not on the AE per say. I was writing it with Trevor Gaines who played for Vermont from 1998-2002 and became my best friend.  But the book is on life and putting the pieces back together after tragedy which is why I suppose it is sadly and ironically fitting that Trev passed away this summer. People like him only come along once in a lifetime. Tom Brennan, Vermont’s former head coach, summed Trevor up perfectly: “Trevor Gaines: A wonderful basketball player, but a better person.”

That was such a tough story to hear about over the summer. I am look forward to getting a chance to reading the novel; I am sure will be a great way to honor your friend.

The first chapter of the book, while not focusing on, does actually deal with how I came to love the America East, to get back to your question. To try to make a long and tiresome story short, I grew up in – at least by Northeast standards – a basketball tradition. My dad played at Umass had the opportunity to play overseas afterwards and I grew up very involved in Umass Basketball back during the height of Lou Roe/Marcus Camby/John Calipari “Refuse to lose” era, so I really grew up around “Big Time” college ball.

Anyways, I loved college ball. I thought I was going to play but by the time I was in high school, football and baseball had taken over. I went through a few years where I got removed from basketball, but my senior year in high school the America East tournament was being played at Matthews Arena at Northeastern. My dad got tickets, I think he wanted to do something with me and my brother as a family with myself so close to setting off for college- the timing just happened to work out perfectly.

America East hoops was pretty far from what I had known of college ball, but I fell in love with it on Sunday, March 3, 2002. That was the semi-finals of the AE tournament. I was there for Stijn Dhondt’s miracle three that sent BU into the conference championship game and even more so the final game of Trevor’s career what the AE lacked in high-major talent, it more than made up for in heart: I’d never seen kids play that hard. And Trevor – well, he left an impression on me that day. I have never had any athlete – at any level of sports including my own college/pro baseball career – leave the impression he left on me that day.  Never have I seen anyone play that hard. That’s where the AE got me hooked.

A very fitting start. You’ve already made it to quite a few America East games so far where you’ve done live blogs over at your new website One Bid Wonder, how many games do you expect to hit up over the season?

Well, I’ve gotten close to triple figures the previous 3 seasons while writing for Hoopville, so hopefully close to that again. But, briefly, that game in Matthews Arena, me watching from the balcony with my dad and my brother, Trev playing his heart out… that’s where Trev and I first crossed paths. It was one of the last times I was ever around my dad, one of the most lasting memories I have of anything in any aspect of my life, and the opening chapter of me and Trev’s book.

I guess to try and give you a timeline from the 2001-2002 season through 2006-2007, I was an America East fan. I was a BU fan first and foremost, but starting 04-05 I was really just a fan of the conference. To me it was both because of the charm of the “Little Engine that could” America East and something to hang on to of my dad since going to AE games was one of the last things we shared together. Not to toot my own horn at all, but I’ve been to every single AE tourney from 2002 to present almost all of the championship games. After I graduated college in 2007 and my brief foray into Minor League baseball came to an end, I just kind of fell into my first writing gig, covering the America East for Hoopville because, frankly, they didn’t have anyone doing it.

The particular charm of mid-major basketball seems to be that since it’s not a railraod to the NBA, there is a lot more of the human aspect at play.

There certainly is. I’ve been around all levels of sports and, sadly, there are a lot of assholes out there and there aren’t many in the America East. It’s amazing the quality of people.

Let’s make strained segue to this year’s UAlbany squad. Have you had a chance to see UAlbany play this year? Anything jump out at you?

Aronhalt at times has been a stud. He’s still toeing the fine line between chucker and baller. Perhaps just as big, Tim Ambrose is staying out of the way. More than anything, Albany is playing really hard; they really got away from tough nosed kids who would run through a brick wall every night. Before the program turned the corner during the 2004-2005 season, they were really, really, really bad from 2001-2004 but they always played hard no matter how bad. Heck, they finished a game with only 4 guys on the court one year, but those for guys player their butts off.

5’9 Jon Iati carrying a miserable UAlbany team was got me hooked on America East basketball. He lead the nation in minutes for awhile. No quit in Iati, that’s for sure.

Jon is my guy. He’s the same height as me and I’m not 5’9″. As an aside, he is another one of those America East players who are really top flight human beings off the court. I can’t say enough about Jon or my buddy Levi Levine.

Both great representatives of the university. Will Brown has repeatedly said that Mike Black is the best point guard in the league. Do you agree? What’s your list of top AE point guards?

No. Love Will Brown but there’s someone named Chris De La Rosa for UMBC. He somehow manages to lead the league in assists despite not having ANYONE to pass the ball too. (Ed Not: Better at UMBC than Siena) I was just talking to my One-Bid Wonders co-creator Matt Whitrock and we both feel that if De La Rosa was on Vermont (I know, bare with me on the huge “what if”) Vermont would have had a real good shot at beating UConn.

Does Black clock in soon after CDLR?

I think Black could be the next best after De La Rosa, but DJ Irving will be better down the road.

Speaking of freshman, last year’s class was fairly weak around the league- is this year’s class stronger?

Definitely. Irving is the fastest guard the league has had since JJ Barea. Dom Morris for BU could be a stud. The freshman Fraser for Maine is a LOAD and looked real Monday night. Voelkel for Vermont is a junk-yard dog in true America East style: no position, but just gets it done. Plummer for UMBC is also going to be a heck of a player. This years freshman class is a LOT better.

What do you think about Devlin and Puk? The America East is soft down low, can these two hang in there downlow this year?

Devlin is tough. He’s going to hurt someone – in a good way if people can conceive that. He’s Australian, so he must have gotten toughened up wrestling alligators, or boxing kangaroos or something. But seriously, he’s tough and toughness will get you a long way in this league. And he’s tough with some real skill. Puk is interesting, he’s big and fairly coordinated. I don’t think fans should go overboard with him though.

How closely do you follow the America East recruiting aspect? Do you know anything about Gerardo Suero? Some of the reports on him are unbelievably promising.

I’m not the best “recruiting guru” out there. I would say an awful lot of guys are hyped as being the next big thing coming to the America East and that in the AE an awful lot of the best players are guys who fly under the radar. No one had ever heard of Taylor Coppenrath, Marqus Blakely, or Rashad Bell before the America East. TJ Sorrentine and Tommy Brenton were both viewed as “DII Players.” Jamar Wilson was another unknown. John Holland too.

Well put. Another part of the AE draw for me is how little fans can obsess over recruiting compared to high-majors. This was an offhand comment so it may not be fair to put you on the spot, but on a live game blog you said that Will Brown will be happy when Tim Ambrose graduates? What’s your take on Tim? Do you stand by that comment?

I think Tim Ambrose was unfairly overhyped from day 1 as an “A10 level player” to begin with. I also think he has never taken everything that comes with being a D1 player, let alone a D1 star, seriously. The long sessions in the weight room film sessions learning plays, etc.

Here’s my latest Tim Ambrose theory: he’s a small forward who has been mislabeled from the start. If you look at his numbers, his skill set, everything but height, he’s a wing man. He a small forward in a sub-six foot body so we assume he has to be a point guard. In the right doses, he’s extremely effect, though not necessarily dominant.

Tim Ambrose is former Hartford Hawks guard Charles Ford, except not quite as physically gifted. If the AE were a pick-up league, he’d be a star. But I do agree Amrbose is suited to play the 3. I just don’t think winning and losing, or being a star means the world to Ambrose. Winning meant the world to Jon Iati, it meant the world to Levi Levine, but it doesn’t to Tim. I think he’s a fine kid, nice kid.

You can tell that from the character of Albany’s teams while he was at the helm. I think he’s settling into a more comfortable role this year as #2 option and not the leader of the team.

I don’t want this to seem like I’m bashing him, but with his skill set in this league, to have been as ineffective as he has been…And you are absolutely right. Ambrose isn’t a leader at all and doesn’t want to be. I read somewhere some fans taking shots at coach Brown for not selecting Ambrose as a captain this season I would respectfully say those “fans” don’t have any grasp of Ambrose as a leader, or the roll of captain. Amrbose doesn’t set the tone in practice at all

A little bit around the league talk before I have to let you go: Should we just dissolve Binghamton and hold and contraction draft of all their players? Between Wright, Sutton and Jabbi, they have some impressive parts, how has the team been so ungodly awful?

Well, they only have 7 scholarship players. They don’t have any leader at all. Greer Wright “just wants to get his” at this point and I’m using a direct quote there because that’s what his family was shouting at him for 40 minutes the last time Binghamton came to Boston.

Wow. Looking over the numbers this summer, I thought that for UNH to improve Alvin Abreu had to take less shots- he was taking far too many possessions to be producing that little. It has come about in particularly brutal fashion (a season ending injury) but do you think the Wildcats could end up as a better, more balanced team without Abreu?

I think UNH could be forced to be a better team because they will have to get the ball in to DiLiegro.

Top team in the America East- UVM or BU? Both have quality wins and also some glaring weaknesses. Will Maine sneak into the conversation?

Right now, UVM is better than BU, but BU could be better than Vermont. The verdict is still out on Maine. Depends if they can generate offense and rebound the ball. Maine is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – teams in the conference, but they are not a particularly good rebounding team

And finally, were you aware that the NBA star who bears your name graduated from a high school in the suburbs of Albany?

[laughs] I actually did know that. I’ve been hearing about Sam Perkins since kindergarten. I’ve been forced to learn everything about him.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Sam. A very engaging conversation- we look forward to hearing from you again throughout the season.

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~ by TheMidRangeGame on December 2, 2010.

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