Some have suggested to Monroe Mustang head coach Jeff Brustad that finishing fifth in the national tournament in his first year as head coach was a mistake. Because after all, in 2003-04 how can he possibly improve? But for Coach Brustad, last year's success was a building block. "We have a chance to be even better," said Coach Brustad. "This year we're deep everywhere: inside, outside, big, small, scoring, defense. If we can get our talented, athletic players on the same page by the first of the year, the sky could very well be the limit."
The coach is not the only one who has high expectations for Monroe this year. Street and Smith's listed Monroe at #19 in their pre-season poll and the official NJCAA pre-season rankings had the Mustangs at #10. Returning from last year's dominating 31-3 team are sophomores Ed "Mike" Johnson, a 6'6" forward who was the team leader with a 60.1% field-goal shooting; a sharp-shooting Frenchman, 6'6"Willie Youtchou, who at 44.9% was one of three Mustangs over 40% from the arc; and 6'4" Randy Alexandre, a versatile Canadian guard who is a strong defender and will play a larger role this season.Also, after red-shirting last season, sophomore Rahssan Simmons returns to the Mustangs looking to reclaim his status after an All-region 13.3ppg performance in 2001-02.
The Mustang recruiting class looks to be excellent. From the Bronx, Garfield Johns (Wings Academy) and Elvis Rivera (Kennedy) are impact-type players. Johns averaged 26.4ppg in an Allborough high school senior year and scored 55-points in a playoff game. Rivera is a pure point guard who quarterbacked his high school team to two PSAL championships, averaging double-digits in assists. Monroe is also big this year, as Israeli freshman Nir Cohen, a physical, but agile 6'7" forward, should fill up the middle nicely. Though 6'11" sophomore Brahin Howard is tall, his ability to play on the wing as a number-three, adds a dynamic dimension to the team. Coach also loves the experience Howard brings from his freshman season at East Carolina.
New Jersey products, Mika Wilson, a forward from Rahway, and Keon Riggins, a lightningquick guard, means the Mustangs will not be wanting for ball-handling or scoring depth. Wilson can fly: he's a scorer on offense and shot-blocker on defense, who averaged 23ppg and 12rpg in high school. As for Riggins, though coming off a devastating injury, he keyed Teaneck High's state championship with 22-points in the finals.
Maybe the biggest challenge for Coach Brustad will be finding playing time for all the talent.Willie Barnhill, who transferred from Westchester CC, can score from everywhere on the court; another Canadian, Jason Campbell, averaged 21ppg at Florida Prep; Eric Jones can stick the three with anyone; Julio Checo was a team MVP in high school; Shawn Smalls is a versatile forward from New Rochelle, and Nana Baffi, a classic big man, can score and rebound from the post.