Patrick Grudberg ‘24
The Brett Nelson era at Holy Cross could not have started any worse. In July of 2019, only months before the season began, Coach Bill Carmody unexpectedly left the program and retired after coaching the Crusaders for four seasons. Any time a coach leaves that suddenly, especially months before a new season, there are bound to be negative consequences. A 3-29 record, dead last in the Patriot League, definitely counts as such. After this disastrous inaugural season in the Nelson era, the state of Holy Cross basketball could truly only go up.
And while it hasn’t always looked pretty, Holy Cross men’s basketball has slowly worked its way out of that deep abyss. Improvements in the win column have Crusader fans hopeful for a breakout season, from three wins in 2019-2020, to five wins in 2020-2021, and then nine wins last season. For the first time in Nelson’s tenure, things look stable enough to expect a jump in performance from his squad. Every player on the roster is now someone recruited by Nelson, either through standard high school recruiting, the transfer portal, or walk-ons. The team brings back four key rotation pieces, a few tantalizing transfer adds, and some promising freshmen. All that’s left is to put some tallies up in the win column.
For the Crusaders to achieve real success, coach Nelson will need to find a dependable secondary scoring option outside of Gerrale Gates. The burly, imposing 6’6” forward has been a central piece in this offense for two seasons now. While his post game and relentless offensive rebounding are essential to the team’s success, he cannot do it alone. Unfortunately, Kyrell Luc, the other main offensive force in this team’s offense last season, transferred to St. Bonaventure over the summer. Therefore, the most likely and enticing breakout star on this roster is Bo Montgomery. The 6’6” guard / wing has seen all his fellow guardmates from his class transfer out of the program (RJ Johnson, Dajion Humphrey and Judson Martindale). Over his freshmen and sophomore seasons, Montgomery slowly developed his three point shot and became a more confident on-ball creator off the bounce. The most striking statistic regarding his play last season was that in games when Bo scored more than 12 points, Holy Cross went 8-2. If he can continue to improve his three point shooting (24% on 1.6 attempts freshman year to 37% on 3.1 attempts last season), Montgomery has the potential to become an all-conference talent.
Defensively, a rim protector must emerge. Caleb Kenney is an excellent defensive weapon, but him and Gates cannot occupy the frontcourt alone with their 6’6” frames. The two most likely candidates to fill this need are junior forwards Louth Coulibaly and Mike Rabinovich. Coulibaly, who averaged fifteen minutes a game, flashed with stretches of low post dominance and certainly possesses the talent to fulfill such a role. Rabinovich, who actually represented Team USA in the Maccabiah Games this summer, should get opportunities in the non-conference slate to prove his spot in the rotation.
Perimeter defense should be strong on this team; Montgomery has been and should continue to be a lockdown on-ball defender, and Nolan Dorsey was surprisingly effective in similar scenarios. Caleb Kenney was an elite, suffocating presence on the defensive end and should continue to do the same this season. If all comes together, this defensive unit could catapult into the top two or three in the Patriot League.
The biggest questions surrounding this year’s team are on the offensive end. As mentioned, the Crusaders lost their leading scoring guard in Kyrell Luc to the transfer portal. Even with Luc, the team ranked 342nd last season in field goal percentage around the rim. For Nelson’s squad to have any semblance of offensive success, that must improve. The other element that would be crucial to any major success would be three point shooting. The team wasn’t below average in this category last season, but that was with long-distance weapons like Dajion Humphrey and Judson Martindale. Both are gone this season, so others must step up. This is where some of the new faces should be able to help. Joe Octave, a junior guard transfer from Air Force, shot 37% from three on low volume. Nolan Dorsey showed flashes of three point proficiency, shooting 35% from beyond the arc. Last year, Nelson frequently drew up offensive sets that created open looks for Dorsey. In the games when he got hot, the team often won. But, the most enticing possibility is the emergence of Austin Lewis. The sophomore forward only played six minutes a game, but he shot 40% from deep in those minutes. His jumper always looked smooth and natural when he entered the game, and his long frame makes it nearly impossible to block or contest.
To finish, here are some other names to look out for when the Crusaders kick off their season on November 7th vs Siena. Will Bachelder, a freshman guard from Newburyport, Massachusetts, might start at point guard for Nelson. Jaden Kirkwood is the other incoming freshman, a Canadian 6’5” forward whose brother actually played for Harvard. Jade Tse is another junior transfer guard like Octave, coming over from Houston Baptist where he averaged seven points and twenty four minutes a game. Simon Wilbar was third and final transfer addition for Nelson, coming over from Indiana State with a 6’11” frame, bringing more helpful size down low.
While I want to be super optimistic in my outlook for the season, I can’t pick them to win the league. But I do believe, biases aside, that this team is finally primed for a massive leap. I predict that Coach Nelson’s team will finish top four in Patriot League regular season play. And once the conference tournament starts, who knows what can happen. That’s the beauty of college basketball. Thankfully for us, we only have to wait one more week to see the Crusaders take the court when they take on Siena in the season opener. We hope to see you there!
Image courtesy of GoHolycross.com
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