By Melinda Waldrop, email@example.com | 757-247-4634
4:49 PM EST, February 10, 2012
NEWPORT NEWS —
Jon Snead signed up a second time.
Snead, a junior guard playing his first season at Christopher Newport, isn't new to Captains coach John Krikorian. In 2009-10, Snead was the leading scorer on Krikorian's 24-5, NCAA tournament team at the Merchant Marine Academy, and this season, he's a key reserve for the coach's USA South regular-season champions.
His teammates think that makes him just a touch crazy.
"People questioned me, why I came here," Snead said. "They were like, 'You came back for this again? … You came back for him?' "
Not exactly, but player and coach's renewed partnership is working out well.
The 18-4 Captains, 9-0 in the conference and league champs after an 85-78 win at Ferrum on Feb. 5, are winning for several reasons in Krikorian's second season. They boast the conference's leading scorer in senior guard Conley Taylor, averaging 20.8 points per game, and the reigning USA South rookie of the year in sophomore guard Tra Benefield, back from an ankle injury and averaging 16.2 points.
They've gotten steady play at the point from freshman Mike Cherry, averaging 11.6 points, and in the post from fellow freshman Nik Biberaj, a 6-foot-7 forward averaging 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. And they've gotten enthusiastic play from a raft of reserves, such as Snead, who have embraced their roles off the bench as part of an overall depth that is hard to defend.
"Last year we had Conley, (senior) Mike (Green) and Tra," said Krikorian, who arrived at CNU last season after a 65-42 record in four years at the Merchant Marine Academy. "If one of them was off, it's hard to win games with just two guys scoring 25 points each, even. We were able to add to our depth with some very talented freshmen, and also with some experienced guys."
Guys such as Paul Meredith, a junior guard and product of Bethel High who arrived at CNU last season after one season at Virginia Wesleyan and another walking on at Old Dominion. Meredith started 20 games in 2010-11, averaging 5.4 points and dishing out a team-high 130 assists. This year, he's started eight games, losing his starting spot but still averaging 4.2 points and doling out a team-best 77 assists.
"To be able to bring guys like Paul Meredith and Jon Snead off the bench as juniors who have both started and played in big games for a long time, that's been a huge key to our success," Krikorian said. "… They both have made it clear through their actions and their words that they just want to win."
That desire is what brought Snead to CNU. He left the Merchant Marine Academy when Krikorian did — "After two years, I realized I didn't really like the sea, and boats, and actually I ended up failing physics" — and landed at Division II Dowling College in Long Island. Unhappy there during 2010-11 as a redshirt, Snead kept in touch with Krikorian, and the coach invited him to visit his new home.
"The school was beautiful," said Snead, who also was drawn to CNU's business program. "I knew they had some good players already and I knew Coach K's system, and I knew he always wins."
Snead wasn't worried about diminished minutes or points. He's just happy to be contributing on the court, four seasons removed from a torn ACL that ended his senior season at Holy Trinity in Westbury, N.Y., after one half and scared away any D-I interest generated by his all-conference junior year.
The Krikorian-led Merchant Marine Academy was "the only school that still wanted me," said Snead, and he's content to be helping Krikorian now.
"I like my role right now," Snead said. "When I get in there, I've just got to do what I know I can do and not try to do anything special."
That team-wide attitude led to a 12-game winning streak, from Dec. 16 to Jan. 25, that fueled the Captains' belief in what they had assembled this season.
"It started in the preseason," Meredith said. "Weights, waking up at 6 a.m. and running miles. .. I knew we were deep from the recruiting. We spent time in the open gyms, and we knew we had some talent. It was just a matter of how fast we were going to put it together."
Now, the Captains' attention is focused on finishing the regular season strong before beginning play in the USA South tournament on Feb. 21. CNU will have homecourt advantage as long as it wins, and a tournament title would put Krikorian and Snead back in the NCAA tournament together.
"It took a little time, but where we're at right now, I think we all know our roles and what we're counted on to do," Snead said. "… Coach K always says we can do something special with this team. He believes in us, and I think we're starting to believe it, too."
WHO: Greensboro (14-8, 5-4 USA South) at CNU (18-4, 9-0).
WHEN: 4:30 p.m.
WHO: Greensboro (17-4, 12-3) at CNU (18-4, 13-2).
WHEN: 2 p.m.