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Mike Brennan continues to build young talent at American

Six new faces give the Eagles hope for the future

NCAA Basketball: American U. at Maryland Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Mike Brennan is showing that there is life after an eight-win season. Brennan has brought in six recruits to build upon the skills of rising sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini.

During the offseason, the Eagles lost seven players in various ways. Five players graduated including Alex Paquin, who graduated in three years and opted to return home to Canada to pursue his post-undergraduate education. Andrija Matic is returning to Europe to start his professional career, while starter Delante Jones and Lonnie Rivera decided to transfer.

Despite the losses, the Eagles return two of their key players in Nelson and Gasperini. Both were named to the Patriot League All-Rookie team.

Nelson is a slithery guard who can get into the lane with a combination of speed and strength. Despite being a freshman, Brennan felt confident to play him almost 38 minutes a night. His ability to use angles allowed him to beat guards off the dribble with regularity. He led the team in scoring, assists, and minutes played.

Gasperini is a traditional big with some stretch capability. His go-to shot in the post is the baby hook shot a la Magic Johnson’s game winner in Game 4 of 1987 NBA Finals. He was second on the team in scoring and blocked shots, but as the season wore on, he was in constant foul trouble. Big men with mobility gave him problems. He fouled out of seven games and had four fouls in seven others.

Even with the growing pains, the Eagles have two solid pieces to build upon in a conference that sees few early entries. Couple that with a coach who is willing to give freshmen major minutes and it should come as no surprise that he was able to get six solid recruits to sign with the program.

In the early signing period, Brennan was able to get early commits from Sam Iorio and Drew Lamont. Iorio garnered a lot of interest, including some from 2016 National Champion Villanova. The 6’ 5 guard/forward could make an immediate impact on the defensive end. American’s inability to keep wing players from penetrating was a constant problem last season.

He expects to see some familiar faces in the Patriot League.

"I have a lot of AAU teammates in the Patriot League, so every league game should be a lot of fun," Iorio said. "We'll have a good enough team to compete in the nonleague games as well.

Lamont will bring American a much-needed three-point threat. The Eagles were the second-worst three-point shooting team in the Patriot League and struggled when teams were able to keep Nelson out of the paint.

"Drew brings a similar skill set like Sam and is a long-range shooter," said Brennan. "He competes daily against several high-level D1 players at American Heritage."

Recently, the Eagles added four more recruits to round out a recruiting class that could be the base of a conference title contender in another season or two. Three-star recruit Jessie Little leads the way, as Marvin Bragg, Max Hoekstra, and Stacy Beckton Jr. round out the class.

Along with returning big Matt Cimino, the 6’10 Little will add another big to the program and should help spell Gasperini. ESPN.com ranked Little as the fourth-best recruit from Mississippi and the 51st best center in his class.

For American to get to the top half of the Patriot League, its wing defense and three-point shooting must improve. Brennan’s recruiting reflects that need. With their Princeton-style offense, there aren’t enough possessions in a game to be void of one, let alone both of those abilities.