Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with new information from athletics director, Bill Finn.
Sophomore forward, Luke Hook says it was “only a matter of time” before the Cyclones got “on the same page.” Indeed, with their win over Morton College on Tuesday night, the Cyclones have won their sixth straight game and are looking more like the team that has won the Skyway Conference in each of their last two years. Second year forward, Jordan Radcliffe said that their “team chemistry is finally catching up to the talent [Moraine Valley] has.”
Despite returning 11 players from last year’s team, the Cyclones struggled out of the gate this season, losing seven of their first ten games. When asked about the struggles earlier in the season, Hook said that whenever there’s a coaching change “there’s a period of adapting to the new changes.” When asked about the recent run the Cyclones have been on, Radcliffe added “the sky is the limit for our team… we’re just scratching the surface.” Cyclones athletics director, Bill Finn said the team’s biggest issue has been finding “a happy medium” with new talent emerging on the team and coach Amarino’s new system.
However, Finn also added that having that much returning talent is “not a major importance,” adding that the team could still be very good “even if no one returns.”
Hook refused to go into detail about the events surrounding former head coach, David Howard leaving the program, saying that it was a “combination of a few factors” and that he is not “in a position to speak.” Radcliffe also declined to comment on the situation, calling it “sensitive,” and wanted to avoid being “misconstrued.” Finn called Howard’s departure “amicable,” but avoided going into what he called a “personal decision” for Howard.
Howard’s dismissal at the end of last season was certainly a surprise to many, especially given the run of success Howard had with the program. Simply put, teams don’t often fire their head coach after a pair of conference championships, even for the opportunity to hire a coach like Anthony Amarino.
When asked about his decision to hire Amarino, Finn said he wanted a coach who “was very similar to [Finn]” and called Amarino “very prepared.” Finn also said that having a coach who “knows junior college basketball” was very important for him. The position, which is part-time, suits the retired Amarino because of his “flexibility,” Finn said.
To his credit, coach Amarino has navigated tricky waters in the wake of Howard’s firing. The Cyclones now have three double digit wins in their past six games including a 30-point win over Wright College and a 29-point drubbing of Harper College last month.
Taking over a two-time defending conference champion presents its own set of challenges Amarino and the Cyclones have to overcome. Radcliffe said the team “has a target on our back. We’re the team to beat.” However, Radcliffe doesn’t feel the pressure “It makes us play with a chip on our shoulder,” he added. With conference play underway, Radcliffe says the team doesn’t prepare any differently “we make little tweaks and adjustments… we prepare for every game the same way.”
The decision to retain Roosevelt Green, an assistant under David Howard has proven to be key so far this season. While Amarino could’ve easily replaced Green and instituted his own assistants instead, keeping some continuity from the old regime “helps with familiarity,” Hook said.
Indeed, replacing the entire coaching staff from a two-time defending conference champion could’ve produced disastrous results for a program accustomed to success. When asked about the importance of Roosevelt Green to the program, Radcliffe said he “gives the team an edge. [Green] challenges us.”
Finn added that while it’s hard to find a head coach for junior college basketball, it’s “ten times harder” to find an assistant due to the demanding nature and low pay. Finn called the decision to retain Green a “collaboration” between Finn and Amarino. Finn also praised Green for a doing a “great job.”
No matter how this season ends for the Cyclones, they have proven their resilience. Not many teams can respond to losing five games of seven with a six game winning streak. Then again, not many teams are the two time defending Skyway Conference champions.