By Adam Duke
The Griffs men’s basketball team had an eventful offseason, and the as the season begins, the Griffs have a new look highlighted by four freshmen.
Malik Johnson, Isaiah Reese, Spencer Foley, and Dantai St. Louis look to use their abilities to better the team in the effort to return to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship for the first time since 2001.
“I liked the style of play and I liked the school,” said Foley, a guard for the Griffs. “It’s closer to home, it’s closer to Chicago than most of the other schools that were recruiting me, so that’s kind of why I chose it.”
Guard Malik Johnson thought Canisius was a great fit upon visiting. He also cited Coach Reggie Witherspoon as a reason for his decision.
“Coach Witherspoon reached out to me and built a relationship,” said Johnson. “He made everything comfortable for me and made for a good situation.”
Johnson, a Richmond, Virginia native, helped lead the Blue Ridge Barons to a 24-4 record in the 2015-16 season and the third overall rank in the state with an average 12.4 points per game. He also helped in obtaining the Division 2 Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state championship as the VISAA player of the year in 2014-15.
“Obviously, we want to win, but just get better every day,” he said. “Individually and team-wise, that’s really our main goal.”
St. Louis, the lone forward of the group, graduated this past year from Orangeville Prep in Canada, where he was coached by Canisius assistant Larry Blunt. He signed with the Griffs in June and earned Orangeville Prep’s Most Dedicated Player award in 2016. He hails from the same program at Orangeville that Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets and Thon Maker of the Milwaukee Bucks, two 2016 NBA first round draft picks, played in.
Reese, the first recruit to sign under Witherspoon, is a Miami, Florida native who graduated from Miami Christian High School and played at DME Academy in Daytona Beach. He earned Most Valuable Player at the Junior Orange Bowl tournament in 2014 and averaged 10 points a game for the DME Lakers.
Reese was originally supposed to go to junior college in Santa Fe, but received a call from Witherspoon following his hiring at Canisius and came on a visit to the school soon after.
“He told me I was going to be his first scholarship. I’d be his first guard, his first recruit,” said Reese. “Once he gave me that call, I came on a visit, and then I committed. That’s what got me here.”
Foley, the first player from Commonwealth Academy to sign a Division I National Letter of Intent, averaged 14.5 points per game at Chicago’s Uplift Community High School in 2015, leading them to the Illinois State Class 2A Championship. He averaged 29 points per game in his junior season and was named all-city.
Coming into the program, the freshmen look toward the upperclassmen for guidance. They all said major influences on their time on the Griffs thus far have been junior Jermaine “Crump” Crumpton, senior Phil Valenti, and junior Kassius Robertson.
“Kassius was a lot of help on and off the court, helping me,” said Johnson. “Phil, guys like that. Coach Hawkins, Coach Witherspoon, obviously. I would say Kassius, Phil, and Crump stuck out the most.”
Reese was grateful for the push he receives from the upperclassmen, saying that they want him to play to his full potential. He also remarked that he wants to win a MAAC Championship during his time on the Griffs.
“We have some guys on this team and within these next four years, some we’ll bring in,” Reese said. “The team we have now, we’re able to really compete with dudes, with the message that they preach to the defense, I think we’ll win the MAAC Championship.”
Coach Witherspoon said he is eager to get the new players involved with the team. He wants the contributions from teammates to grow so that the freshmen will be able to complement the play of the upperclassmen.
“Each one of these guys come from excellent programs,” he said in an interview with gogriffs.com. “I am really looking forward to seeing them contribute on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”
The youngest group of Griffs prepare for the season by looking at every game as a challenge they are ready to take on.
“You treat it as if it’s any other game,” concluded Johnson. “You do scouting, you practice, you get better, know what they do, figure out their tendencies and try to stop those, or get them out of what they want to do, so treat it as if it were any other game.”