After a freshman season spent at Saint Peter’s winning MAAC Rookie of the Year and another in the Pac-12 with Oregon, redshirt senior guard Aaron Estrada knew Hofstra was the program for him.
“[Hofstra] was the first school to contact me when I entered the transfer portal again,” Estrada said. “I knew they were familiar with my game because coach [Mike] DePaoli had recruited me in high school when he was at Fordham.
“Also coach Speedy [Claxton] is an NBA guy and he did what I want to do, so I feel like he had the blueprint and he’ll put me in the best position to reach that goal. That’s ultimately why I chose Hofstra.”
Under the guidance of the Pride’s well respected coaching staff, Estrada would go on to win 2021-22 CAA Player of the Year, averaging career-highs across the board with 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
However, Hofstra fell short of any postseason glory while bowing out in the quarterfinals of the 2022 CAA Championship despite garnering the third seed.
This season, Estrada has put together another potential CAA Player of the Year campaign averaging a CAA-leading 20.9 points per contest, which is good for 15th in the nation, helping the Pride to a 21-8 record and a share of first-place in the conference.
Estrada points to the depth of the program’s roster for both the team’s and his own success.
“Having such a deep bench, I don’t always have to score 20-30 points,” Estrada said. “We’ve got other guys like Tyler Thomas - he’s a great scorer and when I’m not hitting, it’s always him. And as far as adding Warren [Williams] and Nelson [Boachie-Yiadom], they both bring a different type of game to our offense.”
In addition to Estrada and the transfer trio of Thomas, Williams, and Boachie-Yiadom, the Pride consistently see contributions from the likes of sophomores Jaquan Carlos, German Plotnikov and Darlinstone Dubar in addition to Amar’e Marshall and senior guard Bryce Washington.
Hofstra has 9 players part of the core rotation at this point in the season— Sidelines - Hofstra (@SSN_Hofstra) February 8, 2023
7 of those players played D1 basketball last season
5 of them have increased their PER compared to last season
Between the 7 players who played D1 basketball, their average PER went up 3.01. pic.twitter.com/fuehbMtnOb
Now with just two games left in the regular season, this roster has culminated in-conference play with one of the nation’s longest winning streaks at nine games which included wins over UNC Wilmington, No. 18 Charleston, Towson, Drexel, and most recently Hampton.
Obviously much of this is due to the success of Estrada, so much so that the Long Island faithful have dubbed him “Mr. Mid-Range”, a nickname which he feels suits his game well.
22 points from Aaron Estrada helped @HofstraMBB get to 20 wins on the year Monday night.— CAA Basketball (@CAABasketball) February 14, 2023
It also earned Mr. Mid-Range #CAAHoops Player of the Night honors from the fans! pic.twitter.com/a4bYYrzizo
“Last year, I was getting to [the mid-range shot] more often just because nobody knew what I was really capable of,” Estrada said. “So it was kind of like a layup for me, at least that’s what it was getting to. Next thing I know I went on Twitter, and they started calling me Mr. Mid-Range.”
And as a veteran leader on the team in his second season with the program, Estrada understands what it takes to be competitive for a conference championship and claims Hofstra has the intangibles to make a run in this year’s CAA Tournament.
“We’re probably at our peak right now and I think we can keep getting better,” Estrada said. “There’s obviously things we’ve got to work on defensively, but overall I think we’re growing at a high level. That’s what’s going to help us be successful if we want to win a championship, and we’ve been doing that so I’m pretty confident with this group.”
However, before the Pride look to avenge last season’s quarterfinals loss in the conference tournament, it will fight for the top seed in the CAA with Charleston, who is also sitting at 14-2 in conference play.
While the Cougars post a better overall record, Estrada and Co. hold the tiebreaker thanks to their January 28 win at TD Arena.
Hofstra is playing some really good basketball right now.— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) February 17, 2023
The race for the CAA Regular Season title between them & Charleston is going to be a fun one.pic.twitter.com/kpupcUwpna
With a chance to win the program’s third CAA regular-season crown in the last five seasons, Estrada said he knows just how crucial it’ll be for Hofstra to finish out the season strongly, maintain confidence and bring its momentum to the nation’s capital for the CAA Championship.
“We already feel like nobody wants a piece of us,” Estrada said. “We already have that confidence, so we just need to stay consistent, and everything will really speak for itself. I think we got the best team in the league, and I think we defend the best in the league, so ultimately we’re gonna go to this tournament in D.C., and we’re going to make it happen.”