If a sense of continuity keeps you at ease, this year's American basketball team might make you squeamish. The Eagles' leading rebounder last year, Stephen Lumpkins, left school this summer to pursue a pro baseball career. Last year's leading assist man, Nick Hendra, graduated in May. And the team's best scorer, Vlad Moldoveanu, is busy forging a basketball career in Italy.
Without a doubt, American stands as a team in flux. Four of the five starters on last year's squad, which many experts thought would win the Patriot League, have fled the D.C. campus for broader pursuits. The losses of Moldoveanu and Lumpkins, in particular, have forced coach Jeff Jones' unit to embrace a new identity, one less dependent on a formidable frontcourt and more driven by fleet-footed guards.
A renewed reliance on guard-play means Jones - a former point guard at Virginia who finished his career as the school's all-time leader in assists - will count on consistency from the position he emphasizes the most. This year, he is handing the point guard reins to Daniel Munoz, a 6-foot-1 junior who saw moderate playing time last year as a backup.
"The point guard spot for any team in college basketball is huge," Jones said. "I think it's fair to say that last year the point guard position was our Achilles' heel. So we're certainly hoping that Danny can step up. And thus far, he's clearly our starter, and he's been playing the best basketball of his collegiate career."
Munoz will take the place of Steve Luptak, another player lost to graduation. While players and coaches credit Luptak with getting the offense into its half-court sets, they emphasize the need for this year's floor leader to be more than just serviceable. Luptak averaged just 2.8 points and 2.2 assists last season, numbers that won't be enough for an offense that likely will look for scoring more from the perimeter than the paint.
Munoz understands the need for more balanced scoring means his numbers must inflate dramatically. Last season he averaged 3.0 points and 1.9 assists.
"[Coach Jones] definitely stressed to the point guards that we need to be aggressive and attack more often," Munoz said. "A couple of our sets are run specifically for the point guard to attack more, so I think the coaches are definitely looking for that position to be a little more aggressive in terms of scoring the ball and just attacking in general."
Perhaps the last American point guard to embrace that attacking mentality was Derrick Mercer, the diminutive four-year starter who averaged 11.5 points and 4.4 assists during his senior season in 2008-09. Although Munoz never played with Mercer, he is aware of his predecessor's attacking style and seeks to replicate it this season. Backing up Munoz likely will be Wayne Simon, who barely saw playing time last season as a freshman.
"[Munoz has] gotten more confident and mature on the court," said senior guard Troy Brewer, the team's only returning starter. "And we also have Wayne, who's just stepped up and he'll help out a lot for us, too, this year. So I think they'll be able to carry the load for us and help us run the show on the basketball court."
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