- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

With first-year coach Mike Brennan leading the way, the American University men’s basketball team is enjoying the spoils of an 11-game winning streak and a 10-0 mark thus far in Patriot League play.

The Eagles entered the season with “plenty of question marks,” according to the Patriot League preseason projections, but thus far all those questions have been answered quite emphatically.

Brennan, a long-time assistant whose resume includes a stint at American, has been able to get the best out of a group that had been overlooked. The Eagles were chosen to finish next-to-last in the conference. The team now finds itself alone at the top of Patriot League standings with a two-game cushion over preseason favorite Boston University — the same Boston University that got dismantled by American by 30 points Jan. 22 at Bender Arena.

American will put its winning streak on the line Wednesday night when it travels to Loyola to take on the Greyhounds in a Patriot League game.

“It’s just a good group of guys,” said Brennan. “They work hard and play together. It’s just been a great group to coach and to be around and they enjoy being with each other. I think our numbers speak to how well they are willing to share and play with each other. None of our guys are worried about themselves as individuals.”

The numbers Brennan is referring to have the Eagles ranked second in the country in field goal percentage at just a shade below 51 percent, to go along with holding their opponents to 60.2 points per contest.

After starting four years at Princeton, Brennan returned to his alma mater for 12 years as an assistant. Group that with a two-season stop at American and the past four years on the sidelines with John Thompson III at Georgetown and Brennan seems to be more than fit for his current position.

With the team implementing the Princeton offense this year, no individual stats jump off the page. With a sound, balanced attack, the Eagles are enjoying their best winning streak since closing the 2009 season on a 13-game tear, one that ended with a NCAA tournament loss to Villanova.

Brennan credits the fundamentals — cutting to the basket, sharing the ball, making the extra pass and helping one another on defense — for the team’s success.

There is a huge difference between experiencing success and sustaining it, however, as Brennan continues to try to ward off complacency.

“Coach pushes us hard every day,” said junior guard John Schoof. “Whether we just won by 20 points, or just lost by 20 points he’s pushing us the same way. I love getting in the gym and getting better, and so do a lot of guys on this team, and that’s something that he’s all about. He’s pushing us no matter what, every day of the week.”

Schoof is coming off a season in which he led the Patriot League and was third in the NCAA in 3-point shooting — scorching the nets at a rate of 50.7 percent. A product of W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax, Va., Schoof was mentioned as one of the keys to success for the Eagles coming in to this season.

“He’s a super hard worker,” said Brennan. “You can tell him to work on something, and turn your back and he’s doing it. You know he’s doing it, and you know he’s doing it the way you want him to — sometimes even better. I’ve been known to point to him to the rest of our guys and say ‘watch that guy.’”

Schoof has developed his game as the opposition has taken notice on his hot shooting from long range. Schoof is continuing to add dimensions to his game by working more in the post and beating opponents off the dribble.

While making adjustments to the new offense, Schoof is beginning to lean on his teammates for support while leading by example.

“The last two years I was more worried about what I had to do to play, and get on the court,” said Schoof. “Now I’m starting to see the bigger picture and see not just what I have to do personally, but the other things I can do to help us as a team and play the best we can.”

The work and example that Schoof has been providing is beginning to become contagious for the Eagles, which is causing Brennan to keep pushing forward.

“You can’t not give your all when you see the type of effort he puts in,” said Brennan. “If you watch [him work] and you’re on this team, you can’t help but emulate it and do all you can.”

Much like a pitcher his first time through the lineup, hitting his spots and retiring the side in order, American has made its first run through the conference unscathed.

Brennan is urging his team to improve each day, not just as individuals but as a team. Team play is what kept American within seven points of then-eighth-ranked Ohio State. Team play is what helped American overcome a 3-7 start and to avoid defeat for the past 50 days.

Team play is what got them to this point, and it will vital in the Eagles’ Patriot League title hopes and hopes for the program’s third NCAA tournament bid — all of which have been with Brennan on staff.

“We’ve been taking it one game at a time,” said Schoof. “We all understand what the main goal is down the road — to compete for the Patriot League championship — but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have that in the back of our mind, but we are definitely focused on one game at a time.”

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