Friday, November 11, 2016

With two years left, one thing is on Gustys' mind

Rokas Gustys is on pace — along with Jamaal Robinson and Andre Walker — to become the answer to an unusual trivia question that sums up a chaotic decade of Flying Dutchmen basketball: Who are the first players to play four seasons under one head coach since the class of 2009 graduated?

But Gustys has bigger things in mind than simply becoming a four-year player for Joe Mihalich. 

“It’s not a pressure, but it’s expectation to make an NCAA Tournament,” Gustys said during New York college basketball media day at Hofstra last month. “I’ve got two more chances. Going to try and do it.

“I don’t care it I average 10 (points) and 10 (rebounds), as long as we make the tournament.”

If the Dutchmen are to end an NCAA Tournament drought that stretches back to 2001, it’ll be because Gustys produces a lot more than the double/double minimum. Gustys emerged as one of the best big men in the country last year, when he racked up 22 double/doubles — including 15 in 21 CAA games — and finished second in the nation with an average of 13 rebounds per game.

No Dutchmen player had recorded 20 rebounds in a game since 2003, but Gustys did it six times in the final 17 games. And no Dutchmen had recorded a 20/20 game since David Taylor in 1982 before Gustys went 20/20 in consecutive games against James Madison and Northeastern on Jan. 16 and Jan. 21.

“Last year was a great year,” Gustys said. “It was my season to show myself that I can do all those things I did.”

If Gustys maintains the pace he established last season, he will have a real chance to become only the second player in program history to score 1,500 points and pull down 1,500 rebounds. Bill Thieben (2,045 points and a program-record 1,837 rebounds) achieved the feat in just three seasons (1953-56).

Those kind of numbers get a player immortalized forever at Hofstra Arena — as Gustys seems to know.

“He told somebody that he’d like to be up there,” Mihalich said as he pointed to the rafters where the numbers honoring men’s and women’s basketball legends hang. “So that’s the kind of guy you want to coach.”

Gustys’ path at Hofstra is thus far similar to that of the most recent men’s basketball player to have his number retired. Like Charles Jenkins, Gustys has emerged as a leader both in the locker room and within the student-athlete community.

Gustys, who is part of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and earned a spot on the CAA’s all-academic team last season, was the player chosen to speak to the crowd at the Arena following Midnight Madness last month. And prior to the presidential debate in September, he was pictured holding aloft a sign that read “Mihalich for President.”

“I’m just trying to get more and more involved,” Gustys said. “I love this university. I feel like Im going to be happy that I graduated and have a degree from this university. I just want to present this university, not just on the basketball court but off the court.”

Said Mihalich: “He’s the total package,” Mihalich said. “He’s liked and respected. He’s a good student. He’s a good classmate and teammate. I think he represents the kind of guy that we want everybody to represent.

“I knew he was a likable guy — you could tell that. But you don’t really know what a guy’s like until you’re with him everyday. He’s turned out to be everything you hope for.”

Now Gustys is focused on adding the final piece to the collegiate puzzle, the one that eluded Jenkins. The Dutchmen reached the CAA title game for the first time in a decade last season, when Gustys pulled down a tournament-record 23 rebounds in an overtime loss to UNC Wilmington. 

Gustys is friendly with Jenkins, who plays professionally in Europe. But he gets regular reminders on what Jenkins missed out on from assistant coach Speedy Claxton, who ended Hofstra’s 24-year NCAA Tournament drought when, as a senior, he capped his career by leading the Dutchmen to the 2000 America East title.

“He always talks about how great it was to be an NBA champion (with the San Antonio Spurs),” Gustys said. “And he put it on the same level as making an NCAA Tournament.

“Hopefully the next two years is going to be the years Hofstra makes it after, what, 20 years, almost? We’ve got to do it in the next two years or I’m going to be gone and I’m going to (have) regrets, because that’s what my goal was, for me to come and be an NCAA (Tournament) player.”

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