Felician University men's basketball coach Ivan Lewis, even before making the statement, apologizes for using such a time-worn cliché. But in almost the same breath, he acknowledges that it is time for his Golden Falcons to "take the next step" in 2019-20.
"Our No. 1 goal is to get to that final four of our conference," said Lewis, entering his fifth season. "In years past we wanted to establish ourselves. Well, we've taken those steps. It's now time to get to the weekend of the conference tournament and see what happens."
In each of the last two seasons, Felician has finished fourth in the North Division of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and lost a road game in the CACC quarterfinals. Delving deeper into the history of the program, the Golden Falcons have not won a playoff game since capturing the league championship in 2009-10, when Lewis was in his second year as a Felician assistant coach.
However, this year's squad returns four starters. Its group of eight returnees has been surrounded an eager freshman class
"We're not looking past the process," Lewis said. "A lot of this starts by taking care of business during the regular season and maybe positioning ourselves better. But we also need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. By doing the job in the classroom, being leaders on campus and tying up any other loose ends in our culture, we'll be better teammates and continue our growth. All of those things will make us a better program day to day."
Felician fans can expect a continuation of the up-tempo style they have become accustomed to seeing under Lewis' guidance. While crowd-pleasing when run well, Lewis came to the decision to play fast for more practical reasons.
"We certainly didn't set out to play this way five years ago," Lewis said. "It became simply a matter of figuring out the best way to utilize the talents of the players we are able to attract. Then once our guys began to figure out the offensive side, it was only natural that to play even faster, we had to do the same on defense, so now we try to speed the game up there too with more pressure. We just believe there's strength in numbers."
POINT GUARDS: One of the challenges for Lewis and his staff this season will be making room for the talents of two starting-caliber point guards. Sophomore Jaylen Colon (Paterson, N.J./John F. Kennedy) is the incumbent and posted a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a rookie. Freshman Nas Amos (Newark, N.J./Newark East Side) enjoyed a highly-decorated and acclaimed scholastic career.
WINGS: Senior co-captain Zamir Wright (Newark, N.J./University HS) was a First-Team all-CACC selection a year ago and has already reached the 1,000-point plateau for his career.
Competing to start alongside Wright are senior Rachid Shimou (Piscataway, N.J./Piscataway), junior Manny Warren Jr. (South Amboy, N.J./St. Mary-Elizabeth) and sophomore Jay'von Jackson (Plainfield, N.J./St. Mary-Elizabeth). Shimou is a solid shooter and defender, Warren shot 62 percent from three-point range in 14 games last year, and Jackson exceeded expectations as a freshman, ending up starting 22 contests.
Redshirt freshman Jahid Jenkins (Newark, N.J./Newark East Side) and true freshmen Josiah Basket (Oak Ridge, N.J./West Milford) and Dieker Padrino (Bogota, N.J./Bogota) will look to push their way into the playing rotation. Another first-year player, Omar Ramos (Sicklerville, N.J./Williamstown) increases Felician's guard and wing depth.
POSTS: Senior Jeff Lewis (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek) is on the verge of an increased role in his second season in Rutherford after transferring from Cheyney University. He will be pushed by freshman Ky-Yon Chapman (Newark, N.J./Payne Tech).
Senior co-captain Marlon Reid (Englewood, N.J./Lovejoy [Ga.]) and sophomore Dee-End McRae (Newark, N.J./Newark Central) are the top candidates on the low block, although coach Lewis also intends to play them together for short stretches. Also available at power forward are seniors Chris Garcia (Howard Beach, N.Y./Forest Hills) and Jared Pearson (Woodbridge, N.J./Woodbridge).