With a winning basketball program that in the last two seasons has logged two Region championships, a District championship, a District final, and a national tournament appearance, the goals for Region XV Coach of the Year Jeff Brustad and the Monroe Mustangs remain the same.
"In plain language, we’d simply like to keep on winning," Coach Brustad said. "We aim to play well in each regular season game to get good position for the Region tournament. From there we shoot for the District, and then, of course, the national tournament, like we did two years ago. Those objectives are in our conscious sights from the first day of training."
With a handful of solid returning players, including one superstar, and some eye-popping recruits, for this year’s Mustangs these are attainable goals. From a national perspective, the reputation has been established. Entering as the pre-season 26-ranked NJCAA Division I team, Monroe can build on last year’s 24-9 and the school-best of 31-3 in 2002-03. Since 1991, the Mustangs are 212-103 (.673).
There are many talented players on the Mustangs this year, but anyway you look at it, 6’3" Bronx sophomore guard Garfield "Ricky" Johns is a standout. Last season’s Region XV MVP and Region XV Tourney MVP (who hit a buzzer-beater to win the championship), Johns was the Mustangs high scorer with 19.3 ppg. He was also the team leader from the arc, shooting a solid 36.6%. Already committed to the University of Utah for his junior and senior seasons, Johns is simply a great talent, capable of an explosive first-step as well as a dead-on, big-time jump shot. He enters this season with 636 career points, which puts him 9th on the all-time Mustang scoring list. The all-time leader is Isaiah Francis at 1274 points.
Another returning player who is expected to make a big stir is big man Nir Cohen. In his freshman year with Monroe, the 6’7" Cohen averaged 8.6 ppg and was second on the team with 5.5 rpg. In his second Mustang season, this Israeli should see enough playing time so he can be a big man on the floor in big spots.
Returning at the guard spot is 6’2" Canadian sophomore guard Jason Campbell. Last season Campbell had a leg injury which slowed him down so his 3.4 ppg are misleading. But his overall talent and court sense should carry him through the season and his pedigree is strong having averaged 21 ppg and 7 apg in high school.
The fourth returnee is Nana Baafi, a 6’7" Bronx forward, a strong rebounder and defender, who is projected as a role player on the 2004-05 Mustangs.
Running the show much of the time will be 6’0" sophomore guard Rashard Tuner out of Peekskill, NY. A Kent State transfer, Turner is the sort of a point guard who is as knowledgeable as a "coach on the court".
Also in the back court is 6’2" Philadelphia freshman Ronald Taylor. This "human highlight film" has the 'ups' to stir the crowd but also plays the intense, in-your-face defense. A three-sport athlete in high school, Taylor averaged 12 ppg, 7 apg, 6 rpg, and 3 spg.
Jamal Largie, a 5’10" sophomore ‘quickster’ from the Bronx who transferred to Monroe from Dominican College, rounds out Mustang back-court recruits.
A familiar face in the front court for the Mustangs is Andre Forrester, a 6’6" sophomore, who is the prototype modern-day forward with height, run-the-floor ability, and the size to be a strong presence in the front court. Forrester played his freshman year for Monroe in 2000-01.
The Mustangs have added a lot of size this year. Lounceny Kaba, a 6’8" freshman power forward from Guinea, who was named a defensive player of the year in high school, will clog things in the middle for opponents and should make a clean sweep off glass on both ends of the court.
Anthony Searcy, a mobile 6’8" sophomore center out of Boston, will keep opponents honest on the Mustang end of the floor. Searcy averaged 3.2 bpg in high school. Both Searcy and Kaba can be low-post offensive threats as well.