By Matthew MacCormack, news staff

Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball Head Coach Bill Coen stresses the importance of transition every chance he gets.

“Everything is transition, and the better players and the better teams transition really, really quickly,” Coen said.

While playing well in transition will be a focus on the court for the Huskies this year, perhaps the most important transition will occur off the court.

Fresh off a conference title and the program’s first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament appearance since 1991, the Huskies will be forced to move on without two key contributors. Forwards Scott Eatherton, who led the team in points (14.7) and rebounds (6.4) a season ago, and Reggie Spencer (5.9 points, 3.1 rebounds) have both graduated.

“Scott and Reg were our captains,” said senior guard David Walker, who led the team in assists per game and finished second in scoring with a 13.4 point per game clip last year. “[We] just have to step up and become better leaders, and just everyone needs to communicate more and work hard every day.”

Walker is one of four returning starters for the defending Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) champions. Junior T.J. Williams joins Walker in the backcourt, and senior Zach Stahl and redshirt senior Quincy Ford return at the forward spots.

Ford is the team’s elder statesman as a fifth-year senior. The 6-foot-8-inch forward averaged 10.4 points and 5.4 boards a game last season and played well in the postseason, including a 22-point performance in NU’s CAA Championship victory over the College of William & Mary. Walker and Ford, who were named to the preseason All-CAA First and Second teams, respectively, are expected to be the go-to guys this year, according to Coen.

“They are going to have to shoulder the responsibility, at least initially,” he said. “The experienced player knows he has to step up and be a little more aggressive. That’s what we will be looking for.”

With the departure of Eatherton and Spencer, the team will look to redshirt junior forward Kwesi Abakah, among others, to take the minutes down low.

The incoming freshman class also hopes to make an impact in the Huskies’ rotation this season. Brandon Kamga and Donnell Gresham Jr. will provide depth at the already-stacked guard position. In the paint, forwards Jeremy Miller and Sajon Ford and center Anthony Green all stand at 6-foot-10-inches or above and should make an impact this season.

“We do have a talented group of freshman, particularly in the front court,” Coen said. “We have some size and length, [and] we’re hoping that group can get seasoned in non-conference games on the schedule and contribute heavily in the CAA slate.”

The biggest acquisition is Miller, who was rated as a 3-star recruit by ESPN. The 6-foot-10-inch forward from Milton chose Northeastern over more prestigious programs such as the University of Connecticut and Boston College. His inside-outside game should help the Huskies replace Eatherton’s production.

“He wanted to be a part of a winning culture and he wants a chance to contribute,” Coen said. “I think we had all those elements here for him and that’s what made it a natural fit for him. “

Coen said player development is crucial this season, especially with five freshmen on the roster. The team will be tested early on in the schedule, as NU has games against big-time programs such as University of Miami, Michigan State University and North Carolina State University.

“Year-in and year-out, we try to schedule ourselves against the very best competition we can find,” Coen said. “That’s what you’re looking for, because that’s where you’re going to find out about yourselves and that’s where you’re going to get better.”

The Huskies will also face some tough competition in the CAA this year. The team was picked to finish third in the coaches and media poll, behind Hofstra University. The defending champion Huskies know they shouldn’t expect any easy wins in their CAA slate.

“The conference is always strong,” Stahl said. “If we’re ranked first or last it’s always going to be tough, regardless. So I just think we have to go into every game prepared for a battle.”

Northeastern will open the season this Friday at 7 p.m. at Boston University. Coen said the cross-town rivalry adds intensity to the game, and he is excited for the team’s first test.

“Both student bodies get excited about that game and when you amplify that with the start of the season, you really get an exciting college atmosphere,” he said. “Right off the bat, we’re going to get tested.”

Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics