What kind of senior moments will Miklos Szabo and Cornelius Vines have?
A frustrating afternoon for Miklos Szabo Saturday appeared best summarized when the senior was on the court with freshmen Chaz Williams, David Imes, Yves Jules and walk-on Matt Grogan as time expired in the Flying Dutchmen’s 75-58 win over New Hampshire.
Szabo hoisted the Dutchmen’s first shot Saturday, a 3-pointer from the right corner that got stuck in between the basket and the backboard. Things didn’t get any better from there for Szabo, who picked up four fouls in just seven minutes, including two in the first 86 seconds of the game. Szabo sat the rest of the first half, started the second half and immediately hit a lay-up—and then recorded his third foul on the subsequent trip down the floor.
While Saturday marked Szabo’s briefest stint of the season, it was far from his first underwhelming one. He has picked up at least four fouls in six of 10 games this season and has recorded fewer than two rebounds three times and fewer than two points twice.
But if Tom Pecora was sending a message to Szabo by having him finish a blowout win as the only senior on the floor with four freshmen, it was one of encouragement, not punishment. Pecora typically relies heavily on his seniors, and he has been critical of Szabo and Cornelius Vines multiple times this season. But he also knows that he has to exhibit some patience with his lone seniors, both of whom transferred to Hofstra from community colleges prior to last season and who represent his least experienced senior class ever.
“It’s challenging for them, because you come from junior college, there’s still that transition period,” Pecora said last week. “But your timeframe is condensed. You don’t have that—I don’t want to say it’s a throwaway year, but you don’t have that freshman year where you can say ‘Hey, I’m only a freshman.’ So everything’s got to be sped up.”
Unfortunately for Szabo and Vines, injuries and/or ineffectiveness slowed their process as juniors. Vines started the Dutchmen’s first 17 games but lost his job due to his errant shooting. Szabo, who missed the first two games of last season due to NCAA sanctions, made seven starts in 19 games and missed 10 contests due to a broken arm he suffered against Northeastern Jan. 17.
“I think I was just starting to step up my game at that point, because I had my best game before the game I hurt myself [12 points and five rebounds at Drexel Jan. 14],” Szabo said last week. “I was just getting to start to play a little bit better and then all of a sudden I broke my arm. That wasn’t too good, but that’s life.”
Inconsistency remains an issue for both players. Szabo has six points and seven rebounds over 26 minutes in his last two games, but he had 22 points and eight rebounds against Towson in the CAA opener Dec. 5.
“We’re not going to dump on Mikey now,” Pecora said Saturday. “It’s easy, when, after Towson he’s 22 and 8. If I was hugging him then and I wasn’t hugging him today, then I’d be a fraud, you know? That’s not how we do it. He needs it more now than he did then. So we’ll stand by him. He’ll come around.”
Vines came around against both Towson, against whom he had eight points, six assists, five rebounds and no turnovers, and New Hampshire, against whom he scored 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point land. But in between against Manhattan, he had just one point, five rebounds, no assists and four turnovers.
Both seniors also have the task of adapting on the fly to new roles. The trigger-happy Vines, who was 3-of-20 from beyond the arc in the three games prior to his New Hampshire breakout, is being asked to serve more as a point guard who defends the opposition’s best player and drives the lane on offense while Szabo, who played more on the perimeter last season with Dane Johnson, Darren Townes and Arminas Urbutis occupying the inside, is being relied on far more in the paint this season.
“Last year, he wanted me to be more [like] Halil is this year—more of a screen and pop guy because I had the ability to shoot,” Szabo said. “But this year he wants me, because I’m the biggest [and] the strongest on the team, to represent more of an inside presence.”
While Pecora continues to preach patience and the ability of Vines and Szabo to play pivotal, starting roles on a promising Dutchmen team, the quality and quantity of the freshmen behind them means their margin for error is not limitless and that he may, a year from now, be referring to them as he does to the six seniors of the class of 2009, who were role players on last year’s 21-win team.
But even if that turns out to be the case, Vines and Szabo know they can still lead by example by counseling the freshmen on how to deal with Pecora’s high expectations as well as the inevitable ups and downs of Division I basketball.
“He demands a lot, and it’s on me and Mikey’s shoulders,” Vines said last week. “I talk to the freshmen, let them know you’ve got to understand and when you get your time, when you’re called on to go in there and produce, just be positive—every time, because I know last year, I started the first 17 games then sat a couple games and I got down on myself. But you can’t do that. So I can tell them from my experience that you can’t get down on yourself. Stay positive.”