To say that the Howard University 2011-12 men’s basketball season is a work in progress is a gross understatement. With a 4-16 record and a current seven-game losing skid, the Bison is a team still searching for an identity.

A combination of youth, lack of chemistry and injuries to key players, has contributed to the woes. Despite beginning the season highlighted by the influx of six freshmen and some key returnees, Howard showed promise early on in competitive road losses at Bowling Green and at Old Dominion.

The team appeared to be turning the corner during a December game against Georgetown that saw the Bison trail, 17-0 to start the game, only to rally and get within three before losing against the ranked Hoyas.

It was following that game the problems began. Howard started an arduous road schedule that included a cross country trip to Oregon State, followed by a trip to Indiana and then on to nationally ranked Kansas and Kansas State, all in a two-week span.

The Bison would go on to also have road games at Norfolk State and Hampton, making it 11 games in 20 days against three nationally ranked teams.

Howard’s problems were compounded by the inclusion of two new transfers, Glenn Andrews (Tulsa) and Tre Lee (Coastal Carolina) into the mix after being forced to miss the first 9 games. And if they needed any more challenges, the coaching staff had another setback when team leader and point guard Calvin Thompson and freshman Simuel Frazier, the back-up point guard, both missed games and time on the court with injuries.

After the brutal road schedule, the Bison had hoped that the back-to-back home games against

North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central would be just what the doctor ordered to help get out of its funk and re-charge its batteries. It did not happen as the Bison appeared sluggish and fatigued, missing easy shots and free throws, and not getting back on defense in the two home losses.

The team problems include missing assignments on perimeter defense and allowing opponents to have too much success from the three-point line. Andrews is a proven scorer, who has scored more than 25 points on three different occasions. But when he faced double teams or had an off night, there has not been anyone to pick up the slack.
The problems at point guard were magnified in the turnover area where games have been decided by points off turnovers, especially in the second half of games.

Despite the growth pains, there have been some bright spots. Prince Okoroh, a freshman guard forward, is showing marked improvement each game with his play. Freshman Oliver Ellison, a 6’8” freshman forward/center from Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., has started the past three games and has been a plus with his aggressive play in the post area.

Theodore Boyomo, a 6’9” red-shirt freshman center, got off to a slow start after missing all of last season with a knee injury. He has begun to become more of a factor the last four games.

Frazier has shown that when he is healthy, he has the potential to become one of the premier point guards in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. He has twice been named the MEAC Rookie of the Week. Mike Phillips, one of the most consistent players in the early part of the season, has been in a funk for the past seven games, but the veteran forward figures to get back on track soon along with sophomore center Alphonso Leary, who has struggled this season after a promising freshman season.

Howard is in the midst of a 10-day break from the schedule that head coach Kevin Nickelberry hopes will refresh the team and help it prepare for the stretch run and the MEAC tournament (March 5-10).

“I’m very confident about the direction of this program,” said Nickelberry, who is in his second year at the helm. “There obviously will be some bumps in the road, but that’s to be expected when you are rebuilding a program.

“I love this team and how hard they play, Nickelberry continued. “We will work hard to continue improvement as we move forward.”

The Bison will try to end its skid when it travels to Savannah, Ga. to take on Savannah State, 4 p.m., Jan. 28.


Ed Hill Jr.

Special to the AFRO