CASTLETON — There is plenty of buzz around Castleton University men’s basketball ahead of the team’s season opener Tuesday at home against Rivier University from Nashua, New Hampshire.
Much of the buzz, of course, is because this is the maiden voyage for the Spartans in the highly competitive Little East Conference.
But a couple of newcomers are also expected to add sizzle to the season.
One is freshman Calvin Carter, who scored 1,739 points during his career at Enosburg, leading the Hornets to a state championship.
“I’m excited. I thought he was the best high school player in the state two years ago,” Castleton coach Paul Culpo said. “Calvin is going to play the most of the freshmen.”
Carter spent a year prepping at Bridgton Academy in Maine, but was injured and did not play there. He is at full strength now.
The other newcomer who figures to create excitement in Glenbrook Gym is transfer Tank Roberson.
He played two years at Pine Manor College, where he was the Gators’ leading scorer, averaging 19.5 points per game in the 2015-16 season and 17.4 in 2014-15.
He hails from Culpo’s hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Ben Mrowka, the Australian who led the Spartans in scoring last year (11.2), returns for his senior season.
Other key returning players are Spain’s Julian Santos, Hazen Union’s Denis LeCours, Connecticut’s Casey Belade, Rhode Island’s Chris O’Brien and Missisquoi Valley’s Richard Walker, the tallest Spartan at 6-foot-7.
Igor Almedia, a transfer from Rhode Island Community College, is considered one of the key newcomers.
Cam Edwards, by way of Virginia, is yet another of the new players Culpo has high hopes for.
Other in-state players on the roster include Mill River’s Mike Morgan, Woodstock’s Caleb Webb, Hazen Union’s Nate Gilcris and Brattleboro’s Eli Lombardi and Josh Hanson.
“I have 22 guys. Obviously, not all are going to play,” Culpo said.
The Spartans have played at a frenetic pace in some of their years under Culpo, pushing the ball, pressing on defense and utilizing wholesale substitutions every couple of minutes.
That will not be the case this year.
“We will be pretty traditional; a bit of man and a little bit of zone,” Culpo said. “We always want to run, but I guess the best way to say it is that we will run opportunistically.”
A key to the success, Culpo said, is how well the other players blend with the transfers.
“We have a lot of new parts. Every day I am learning something about all these guys,” Culpo said. ”We are a work in progress.”
There is always an adjustment when a player comes into a program who is a prolific scorer. It creates a team dynamic that must sort itself out.
”Tank would have scored 2,000 points if he had stayed at Pine Manor. He is an important part of what we’re doing,” Culpo said.
The Spartans were picked to finish last in the Little East’s preseason poll, but they only need look at the school’s field hockey team to see what that is worth. Christine Kemp’s Spartan stickers were picked 11th out of 13 teams and won the regular-season league title.
Culpo’s squad finished 12-14 and 9-9 in its final season in the North Atlantic Conference.
Following the opener with Rivier, the Spartans head for The Cave Classic hosted by Bridgewater State, where CU’s first-round opponent will be Colby-Sawyer, a former NAC rival.
The Spartans are off to another tournament the following weekend (Nov. 24-25) , the Sig Makofski Invitational at Union College, where their first-round opponent will be Westfield State.
Their Little East opener will be Nov. 28 at home against Plymouth State.
Perhaps the most interesting nonconference game comes on Dec. 15 when the Spartans travel to St. Joseph University of Connecticut, coached by the legendary Jim Calhoun.
Calhoun’s University of Connecticut men’s basketball teams won three national championships. His record at UConn was 625-243 and his overall college coaching record is 873-380.
He came out of retirement to coach St. Joseph this year at age 76.
NOTES: Rivier was 2-23 last season. ... Not surprisingly, Mrowka likes the small-town feel of Castleton after coming from a high school in Australia that had about 600 students in grades 1-12. ... The top eight teams make the Little East’s conference tournament. Last year, Eastern Connecticut defeated Keene State 79-62 in the championship game to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. ... Castleton’s admission to the LEC gives the league a team in all six of the New England states.