NEW YORK — For the past two seasons, Tulane men’s basketball coach Ed Conroy has watched his team grow, and their overall maturation resulted in a postseason bid.
This season, Conroy believes his team can again follow the same route, but there is a crucial catch.
The Green Wave got a first-hand glimpse of their new opposition Wednesday morning at the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball media day at the New York Athletic Club.
Tulane, East Carolina, and Tulsa will be new members of the conference this winter. Ironically, Tulane received the least amount of votes (11) in the preseason coaches’ poll despite an overall 17-17 record last season.
Still, Conroy is excited and optimistic about a new set of trials and tribulations for his players and the program. Defending national champion Connecticut along with perennial powers Cincinnati, Memphis, and SMU will be on the docket this winter.
“I’m really thrilled for our student athletes that they get to experience the challenges and opportunities coming into this league,” said Conroy, who will begin his fifth season at the helm. “Our guys are wondering what this league will be like. And there is some familiarity because we were in a league with East Carolina, Tulsa, and SMU awhile ago.
“We have a young team with only two seniors and one junior, and this will be a heckuva challenge for these guys.”
In spite of a young squad, Conroy has been impressed with his team’s early returns in practice before they open the season Nov. 17 against Wake Forest.
“We are still extremely young, but at least we have some guys here with experience,” Conroy said. “Maybe we are a little ahead of last year, but we still have a long way to go. These guys are working extremely hard and they are very dedicated.”
Conroy also said he believed the new start is beneficial to the program.
“I think this is just what we need at the point,” Conroy said. “We have made such huge strides in the last four years with renovations, new practice facility and now a new league. We need to prove that we can compete here.
“I’m anxious to see how our guys do and respond.”
Senior guard Jay Hook and senior forward Tre Drye will be at the forefront, but Conroy also expects impact contributions from sophomores Josh Hearlihy, Payton Henson, Cameron Renyolds and Ryan Smith, who all will log more minutes. Redshirt sophomore Kajon Mack also will be in the mix.
“Hook and Drye mean everything to me. They have been with me since the beginning. Our program has been through a lot, and we have made this journey to get here now. Both of them are high-profile leaders and do all of the things necessary on and off the court.
“I expect both of them to lead the way this year.”
Hook, who averaged 13.9 points last year, expects his team to rise to the occasion.
“The level of competition will definitely pick up, and we will react to it,” Hook said. “It will be more competitive each night, and games will be on the edge. But we still have to be able to manage what we can do out there.
“Shooting has been my strength, and I was working on it during the summer. We have had good chemistry off the court, but we need to work on some things on the court. But we will be ready for the new league.”
Drye, who averaged 6.9 points and 7.6 rebounds last season, aagrees his team is ready to take another road.
“We’re a young team, but it is easier for us to come together,” Drye said. “(Hook) and I have been here for four years now, and it is up to us to help along the young guys. We just have to take care of the things we can, and go out and play as hard as we can against these new teams every night.”