What does it take to make a rise meteoric? Not just a bump in the average performance, but the kind of thing that will be immortalized in story and song, or at least in a book written by a local hack sportswriter? I ask because Fairfield basketball has been the subject of just such a book, penned by someone called Don Harrison. That book, entitled 25 Years Plus One: Recounting the Meteoric Rise of Fairfield Basketball, documents the Stags’ dominant run of... making 3 NITs in 6 years. If that rise counts as meteoric, it’s only in that the only thing below it is surely the icy vacuum of space.
From there, the program continued to grow, though not in a form documented in a book. They made a couple of NCAA tournaments in the late 80s and led North Carolina at the half of a 1-16 game (they were the 16, not the 1) in the 1997 tournament before falling 82-74. In a fun Big East tie-in, possibly good coach Ed Cooley held the head job at Fairfield from 2006 through 2011, earning the inaugural Ben Jobe Coach of the Year award as the nation’s top minority coach in 2010. The Stags are currently coached by Jay Young, who sports a 37-55 record as head man.
It’s hard to tell exactly what Young’s strategy is, as his teams have generally been athletically unequipped to execute at a high level. One thing that is clear is that he plays super slowly, having never been faster than 323rd in the country in tempo. His offenses have consistently improved in ball security, but their assist rate numbers hint at a fairly iso-ball heavy setup. Defensively, they don’t force turnovers and are generally only adequate on the glass, but they lock down the arc like nobody’s business.
Guard Taj Benning was last year’s leading scorer, but he and his 11.1/4.3/2.2 line have moved on due to a completion of his eligibility. He posted a fairly brutal 43.8% EFG%, but his very low TO% allowed him to be just above average in ORtg. Also departing is the messianically named Jesus Cruz, who averaged 9.0/3.8/1.5 on .449/.323/.667 shooting from the wing. He had a real knack for getting called for fouls that limited his effectiveness.
Caleb Green was a 5’10” guard who was one of the team’s most accurate three-point shooters at 35.9%, albeit on low volume. He started at point and led the team in assists per game, though his assist rate of 16.9% is staggeringly low. Nobody else who averaged over 5 PPG is leaving this year.
Big man Supreme Cook is coming into his junior year, having averaged 10.1/8.3/0.6 in just 24 minutes per game as a sophomore. As you might guess, he bangs the glass at both ends. He’s not spectacularly efficient, shooting just 58.7% at the rim and not getting better as he gets farther away. He blocks a decent amount of shots and draws way more fouls than he commits.
Jake Wojcik is a 6’5” super senior guard who averaged 9.5/3.4/2.0 on .343/.345./.907 shooting last year. He led the team in steals per game with 1 and had excellent ball security numbers. As you have already figured out from looking at his line, he shot better from outside the arc than inside it.
Based on my expertise of having looked at Fairfield’s various stats pages for upwards of half an hour, I think TJ Long is a guy to keep an eye on to break out. He averaged 7.2/2.8/0.8 in just 18 minutes per game as a freshman and his more than 40% of his three-point attempts. There are minutes opening up for guards and he seems well positioned to step into them.
Rounding out the meaningful returning guys is Chris Maidoh, a 6’10” big who averaged 5 and 3 in 14 minutes as a junior. He leads a group of similarly sized and skilled dudes also including Allan Jeanne-Rose and Zach Crisler; at least one of them is going to have to get serious minutes in the post this year.
Coming over from Providence as the player to be named later in the Ed Cooley deal (citation needed) is guard Brycen Goodine. He played sparingly at Providence for two years after playing sparingly at Syracuse to start his career. The former ESPN100 recruit is likely hope dropping down a level or two will help him go out on a high.
Also joining via transfer is Caleb Fields, a guard by way of Bowling Green State University. He averaged 6.9/3.8/2.2 in 20-21, but he missed all of last season through injury. His career .378/.313/.622 shooting line seems to out him as a less than efficient shooter.
The gem of the recruiting is James Johns, Jr., a 6’6” guard out of Long Island. He was recruited by UConn and Maryland and rated as a high three-star kid before landing at Fairfield. He could offer immediate scoring punch if the scouting reports are to be believed.
It’s tough on any team to lose a leading scorer, but Fairfield brings back a decent amount of talent and has added a couple of guys who have experience at higher levels. They could challenge for a top spot in the MAAC if things mesh well for them, but they shouldn’t be anything other than a tune-up game for Xavier.