Teamwork is Key to Men's Basketball Season


MCCC's new head basketball coach, Howard Levy, says he believed throughout the season that his team had a chance to win every game. The Vikings certainly came close to that goal on Feb. 21 in the opening round of the Region 19 tournament.

The Vikings faced Manor College, new to the league this year. Trailing Manor by 10 points late in the first half, the Vikings came back to score nine unanswered points and take the lead with eight minutes remaining. Several missed opportunities in the final minutes proved critical, however, and the Vikings lost 58-57. "I stress to my players that every basketball game is decided by a handful of possessions," Levy said.

The loss was a disappointment to both players and coach. Manor had proven beatable earlier in the season. In the teams' first match-up on Jan. 17, Mercer lost 56-52, despite a comfortable lead during much of the game, but on Jan. 27, the Vikings proved their mettle with a decisive 65-38 win.

Still, with a final record of 13-15, Levy is satisfied with his first season at the helm. "The players didn't know me until the first day of practice. I demanded a lot and they did their best to meet my expectations. Their work ethic was sound. The team was competitive in just about every game."

Levy recalls a good run in the middle of the season, when the Vikings posted a 7-3 record from Jan. 3 through Feb. 3. The last game of that stretch was a 78-73 overtime win against Essex that qualified them for the tournament. "But when we faced these same teams late in the season, to their credit, they had figured out our weaknesses. It got tougher toward the end."

Going into the season, Levy said the team's lack of height dampened expectations. "But then the players began to see that the difference between victory and defeat was not that great. We focused on the habits that bring success. We told the players to try to control everything that they could - avoid unforced mistakes, run hard, and stay alert."

Levy relied on teamwork above all else. "I stressed that I wanted players to think about the team more than themselves. Ultimately that benefits each player. Sometimes they got frustrated, but they gave of themselves for the team," Levy said.

The season's standouts included sophomore forwards and co-captains Todd Jones and Josh Caver, lead scorer Corye Payton, Steve Perry, Antoine Rogers, Eric Preston, Josh Merrington and Jonathan Jernigan. Payton and Caver were named to the All-GSAC First Team and All-Region 19 Second Team.

Levy notes that players learned another key lesson during the season - juggling basketball with academics. "We strongly encouraged attendance in class and productive use of their spare time on campus to study," he said.

Already focused on recruiting for next season, Levy anticipates the return of three or four players. He will resume practices this spring to keep both his returning players and sophomores intent on transfer in shape. "It's important to stay in shape in the off-season and I hope to continue the progress we made during the season," he said.

Josh Caver goes for the basket against Princeton
JV on Feb. 16. Photo by Stephen Goldsmith.
Corye Payton was Mercer's lead scorer.
Photo by Stephen Goldsmith.
Halftime strategy with Coach Levy
The Vikings controlled the action
in their 75-51 win over Salem Jan. 31.

Reflecting on his first season as head coach, Levy is upbeat. "After being an assistant coach at Princeton for so many years, I was ready. And I learned a lot - about the school and the students. I felt comfortable and I'm impressed with the staff and faculty at Mercer," he said. Levy was assisted by Roger Gordon, a former assistant at Princeton, Bryan Caver, a former player at Seton Hall, and Tom DeStefano, a former MCCC basketball and soccer player.

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